Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Revisiting The Top Nebraska Football Storylines of 2022

December 31, 2022

This past year brought a multitude of stories in Nebraska football. In a time where everything is documented and each momentary outrage shortens days into blinks, the last 12 months of Husker football were a blur. So let’s recap them.

Here’s a list of the top 10 storylines from the 2022 season. Now with 100% less offensive line vomits during practice.

1. Scott Frost fired

It had to be the top story. Nebraska hired its native son to revive the football program on December 2, 2017. He didn’t make it five years.

Despite a shuffle on the offensive coaching staff, Nebraska’s close-game woes continued in the first three games of the season. Nebraska started the season 1-2 under Frost with a stunning high-scoring loss to Georgia Southern. Students chanted for Frost’s termination as the Nebraska offense took the field without enough time to win that game. The 84,000 on hand saw the writing on the wall as they emptied Memorial Stadium.

Athletic director Trev Alberts issued a press release the next morning, announcing Frost’s termination. He discussed the decision in the afternoon. Two separate seasons unfolded from there—nine games to salvage a season and a search for a new coach.

2. The coaching search

Matt Rhule was on Alberts’ radar even before the Carolina Panthers fired him. But that move, made about a month after Alberts fired Frost, made Rhule a viable candidate. He became candidate 1A.

Alberts, chancellor Ronnie Green and president Ted Carter oversaw the search. Nebraska enlisted search firm Collegiate Sports Associates to aide the process. Nebraska’s athletic director said he contacted a dozen potential candidates for the job. Some became more serious than others when initial negotiations with Rhule hit a standstill because of the Panthers.

The search came to a close on Thanksgiving. It was roughly 10 a.m. that morning, according to Alberts, they knew they got their guy. News gained steam just before Nebraska’s Black Friday win over Iowa. Nebraska announced Rhule’s hiring the following morning.

3. The rise and fall of Mickey Joseph

Former Nebraska quarterback Mickey Joseph returned to Lincoln for the 2022 season from LSU as the wide receivers coach and associate head coach. Alberts appointed Joseph interim head coach when he fired Frost on September 11.

Joseph became a fan favorite in the final nine games. He coached the Huskers to a 3-6 record during that stretch, building fan energy while Nebraska finished with the most single-season wins (4) since before the pandemic.

But Joseph didn’t get the head coaching job. A meeting with Rhule about a potential spot on his staff didn’t come to fruition when Lincoln Police arrested Joseph on November 30 suspicion of felony domestic violence charges. The university placed him on administrative leave and then terminated his employment two weeks later.

4. Big portal team

Nebraska wide receiver Trey Palmer, an LSU transfer, makes a catch for a touchdown against the Iowa November 25, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. Palmer set a single-season record at Nebraska for receiving yards in 2022. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Along with the coaching shakeup came new faces. Nebraska secured 18 players from the transfer portal with game experience ahead of the 2022 season. The Huskers’ portal class was considered one of the best in the country.

Those transfers came from a multitude of levels. Most came from other Power 5 programs, some came from the Group of 5 and a handful came from FCS. They combined for 368 game appearances, 184 starts.

Frost said ahead of the season that it was an unusually large portal class. Most of them made some sort of considerable impact on the 2022 season, including key players in all three phases.

5. The trip to Ireland

Months of anticipation built as Nebraska started its 2022 season with hopes of turning the program’s fortunes around. The fever followed Husker fans across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland. Administrators and fans sprawled across Dublin and filled pep rallies.

Nebraska opened its season against Northwestern. It was the first Husker game on foreign soil since the game against Kansas State in Tokyo in 1992.

You know the rest. Nebraska coughed away multiple double-digit leads in a 31-28 loss. Nebraska fired its coach two weeks later and Northwestern didn’t win another game.

6. Defensive identity

Nebraska Cornhuskers Garrett Nelson (44) celebrates a sack in the first quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers during a college football game, Saturday, October 1, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebr. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Frost awarded Blackshirts to nine different defenders ahead of the season opener. He planned on doing it in Lincoln but the Blackshirts themselves were already packed for the flight so the tradition carried over to Ireland.

But the defense didn’t play up to the historic standard. Nebraska gave up over 500 yards to Northwestern, over 600 to Georgia Southern and nearly another 600 to Oklahoma. The final of those prompted Joseph to fire former defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.

Special teams coordinator Bill Busch stepped into that void and Nebraska’s defense played more inspired, holding five opponents to scoreless halves in the final eight games. Busch was not retained by the new coaching staff and Chinander was recently named defensive line coach at Boise State.

7. The quarterback situation

Casey Thompson started in 10 of his 19 games at Texas before transferring to Nebraska. His decision was born, at least partially, out of his relationship with Joseph. He started at quarterback in Mark Whipple’s offense, filling the shoes filled by former Heisman finalist and NFL starter Kenny Pickett.

Thompson finished with 2,407 yards with a 63.1% completion rate to go with a 17-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also ran in five touchdowns. But his season was largely riddled by hits. Opponents sacked him 24 times and knocked him down plenty more. Thompson missed 10 quarters with a nerve injury and required off-season shoulder surgery.

With Thompson out, Nebraska’s quarterback situation looked dire. Florida State transfer Chubba Purdy threw for 147 yards on 22 completions with six sacks, three interceptions and no touchdowns. His season ended at Michigan with a high ankle sprain that required surgery. Third-string Logan Smothers, one of the holdovers from the 2021 season, had 10 completions for 96 yards. Former Hastings Tiger Jarrett Synek finished the Michigan game under center.

8. Explosive Trey Palmer

One of Nebraska’s many transfers was a speedy receiver from LSU who couldn’t quite find his own space in a loaded receivers room. Trey Palmer arrived at Nebraska with 28 games and five starts.

Palmer’s only season in Lincoln is etched in history. He adjusted to the conditioning of a larger role, tallying at least 80 yards in three straight games after the opener before his first of three 150-yard performances. Palmer’s 237-yard game against Purdue was the most in a single game by a Nebraska receiver. His 1,043 yards were the most single-season receiving yards in school history.

Palmer scored nine touchdowns this season, two each in Nebraska’s final two games. With the Huskers’ season over, he promptly announced his declaration for the NFL Draft.

9. Courting Malachi Coleman

Nebraska’s highest-rated recruit in years nearly left the Cornhusker State. Lincoln East standout Malachi Coleman said he likely wasn’t staying in Lincoln until a recruiting push from former assistant coach Mickey Joseph.

Coleman announced his original commitment to Nebraska in a ceremony at East on October 22. That commitment held for just over a month, through the coaching change but up until Joseph’s arrest. Coleman re-opened his recruitment and kept Nebraska as an option.

Matt Rhule and his staff recruited Coleman heavily, bringing him in for an official visit on the first of two hosting weekends. Coleman then took his official visit to Colorado but, on Early National Signing Day, signed with the Huskers.

10. Beating Iowa

In a season of selective on-the-field celebrations, the Huskers ended on a high note. Nebraska traveled to Iowa City having not beaten rival Iowa in 8 years.

The Huskers jumped out to a 24-0 lead into the third quarter with hopes of spoiling Iowa’s hopes to somehow win the Big Ten West and play in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Hawkeyes mounted a late charge, scoring the final 17 points. They were unable to score on either of their final two drives, however, and the Huskers held on.

Nebraska stormed the north end zone for the Heroes Trophy. Team captain Garrett Nelson, now headed to the NFL Draft, carried the trophy up to Husker fans in the crowd. It was the sweetest victory all season.

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