Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Bleed Red or Move Out of the Way

September 24, 2018
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This was going to be about the offensive line. Something more pressing came up Monday morning. When head coach Scott Frost got up in front of the podium following a 56-10 loss on the road to Michigan — the worst loss he’s ever endured as a player or a coach — red flags sprang up everywhere.

“To have a chance against Michigan, we had to utilize some schemes that were unique to that week and we didn’t handle that very well as a team,” he started. “That being said, we tried to stay pretty basic against Troy and we didn’t execute those things great.”

Um, what? Poor play against Michigan is one thing, stripping the game plan and still struggling to execute against a Sun Belt team is another. There’s more.

“I hope it’s correctable,” Frost said of the team’s proclivity for penalties through three games. “We’re working on it every day and have been for three weeks and some of it hasn’t been corrected.”

Well, most of it hasn’t been corrected. Nebraska had 11 penalties against Colorado in the opener, it had 10 against Troy and another 10 against Michigan. The Huskers are the third-most penalized team in football. They’ve been called for holding at least once every game, flagged for a delay of game in all three games and committed at least two special teams mistakes in every game. How has the message not sunk in yet? There’s more.

“The majority of the team is frustrated and wants to go to work to change it,” Frost said. “I’m not sure it’s 100 percent…”

Okay, hold on. Nebraska is 0-3 for the first time since 1945 and only a majority of the team is frustrated? The head coach can’t confidently say 100 percent of his team is upset with a season that has opened worse than anyone could have possibly imagined?

Maybe I’m reading too much into Frost’s words. But I don’t think I am. Those words ring loud and clear. Nebraska has lost seven straight football games and nine out of 10 dating back to 2017 and yet there are players on the team who currently don’t want to do what a recent Coach of the Year is asking of them.

Culture was a topic of conversation all last week. Guys are bought in, but not everyone and not all the way. That’s very evident right now. No one will publicly name anyone who’s stopping short, but the subtweets during press conferences say all us outsiders need to know for the time being.

The question now becomes something different: Why?

Why would you not jump in with both feet for an entire staff that just went 13-0 at a place where 13-0 seemed like a long shot? Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said it last week; Nebraska shouldn’t need Nebraska wins to be able to see that what Frost is preaching works.  

Why do you think your way is better? Your way resulted in 4-8.

Your way resulted in a 54-21 embarrassment at the hands of a Minnesota team who, in the two games before and two games after, was outscored 120-20 and shutout over the last 120 minutes of its season.

Your way resulted in three straight losses that saw the other guys ring up 50 on you.

Your way got the previous coach fired.

Your way doesn’t work. 

“I know what we’re asking guys to do works,” Frost said Monday. “Maybe this is a little bigger fix, or it’s taken longer than I expected but there’s no question in my mind we’re going to get it fixed."

If there are players in the locker room who need a win to validate that, they're not ever going to fully be in the boat. Frost said the team is anxious for the results to change, that’s fine. But needing to beat a team for you to show up on time for your meeting or show up to your class isn’t. Frost wants guys that stay constant.

“Times when things are going real well and times when things are going poorly, those are the best judges of your character,” he said. “When you’re winning and you’re undefeated, do you still come to practice and work like you’re winless? And when you’re winless, do you still come to practice and do everything you can to change your circumstances?

“In both of those situations, if you love football you’re going to come to work do the best you can because you love the game and you want to be great at it.”

Nebraska has “a bunch of those guys right now,” but not a whole team. Stanley Morgan Jr. is a guy Frost doesn’t have to worry about. He’s already gotten up and called out his team this season. Linebacker Luke Gifford is another. He’s spoken after every single loss. Linebacker Mohamed Barry is another.

That video is poetic in a way it probably didn’t intend to be. We see Barry pleading with teammates to give more. We know the ones that are getting it. We see their faces each week. We hear their commitment. We don’t see the guys he’s talking to. We don’t know the guys who need this very public push. But we know the effect they’re having.

Nebraska has looked progressively worse. Most prognosticators thought this season would follow the opposite trend. Nebraska looked like a team that should have left with a win against Colorado. It looked like a team that could have left with a win against Troy. It looked like a team that wasn’t close to a win against Michigan. The same thing has apparently happened in practice.

“We started off the week really well last week and then it got progressively worse. I’m not sure why,” Frost said. “Our best week of preparation was the Colorado game week as a whole. I talk about being better every single day, we weren’t better in preparation the last two weeks … There’s no excuse. If you’re getting ready to play well, it doesn’t just happen on Saturday, it has to happen in practice.”

There’s the argument to be made the ones taking days off in practice shouldn’t play on Saturday, but it’s not as easy a fix as that. If that was the route the coaches went with, it’s possible we’d see twos and threes all over the field on Saturdays. Frost said Monday they’re playing the guys that give them the best chance to win. Until the recruiting changes, he’s handcuffed by who he has to some degree.

A week ago, I wrote Nebraska was going to be fine. I still believe that. There were signs of progress in the first two games and there were brief moments on Saturday where Nebraska looked like a football team at least capable of hanging with the Big Ten’s best. Most of that faith stems from a belief in the guys leading the ship. And hearing from players that Monday’s practice was the toughest of the year reaffirms that. This isn’t really on the coaches, though. It’s on each and every player on the team.

Said safety Tre Neal: “Guys have to look at themselves in the mirror. If you were here just to be on the bandwagon ride if we were winning games, you shouldn’t have been here in the first place. It’s not a good thing, but we’re going to see people’s true colors coming out.”

Bleed red or move out of the way for those that do.

 
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