Nebraska Football: Husker Fans Need To Make a Leap of Faith After Michigan Loss

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

When Scott Frost returned as Nebraska’s head coach, games like this weren’t supposed to happen. Nebraska wasn’t supposed to be embarrassed on a national stage. Nebraska’s wasn’t supposed to be the butt of the joke from a fast food franchise.

And, yet, here we are. Before the Michigan game, Frost said that things might get worse before they get better. After the game, he said that Nebraska had hit rock bottom.

How did this happen? How did a Michigan team that struggled at times against SMU the week before so thoroughly dominate Nebraska?

There’s plenty of potential reasons, of course. Michigan has better talent than Nebraska (although, according to the five-year recruiting averages, only three spots nationally better). Nebraska is in year one of a rebuild, with freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez still limited with a knee injury. And apparently Michigan players still had a burr under their collective saddle for Frost saying that UCF outhit Michigan when the two teams played in 2016.

But I thought what might have been the most insightful was a quote from linebacker Mohammed Barry (from Parker Gabriel of the Lincoln Journal-Star):

“The only [players] we would lose are the ones we never really had,” he said. “That’s probably better in the long run. … The guys we are going to actually win with and win championships with would never do that.”

“Let’s just be truthful: There are some people that want it and some people that don’t. That’s why we’re playing the brand of football we’re playing right now. We’re going to get there and it’s all positive, but I hope that if people have any doubt in us and our team that they make their exit now and we get better from here on out.”

Frost had a similar message to the team after last week’s loss to Troy (from Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald):

“I just got done telling the team that, when things get tough like this, you have two choices: You fight back and you work even harder or you give up,” Frost said. “I also told them if anybody doesn’t want to stay on board with this ride with us, let me know now and get off. Because I know where this is going. We just haven’t had the results early.”

After Tuesday’s practice before Purdue, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander added to the consideration the quote that the team needs “105 guys who love to play football, period” (according to HuskerMax). Read between the lines and it’s hard not to conclude that there’s a problem in the locker room with players who aren’t fully invested in Frost and his system. If that’s true, it would explain a lot of what we’ve seen at the start of this season.

Football isn’t a game you can play halfway, certainly not at the level of a major college football program. Football is hard. It’s a game of fine margins. At this level, players on both sides of the field are amazingly talented and athletically gifted. Except in the most extreme of physical mismatches, the difference between winning and losing is about which team is best able to work together and commit to its process, and which team is confident enough in its ability to be successful.

Given the quotes from Frost and Barry, it’s certainly plausible to conclude that there are parts of this Nebraska squad that aren’t all-in on Frost’s process. Don’t forget, the elder statesmen of this team are on their third head coach, including one who all but told the team they were justified in bailing on the program on his way out the door.

And as for confidence, well, it’s hard to see how this Nebraska team wouldn’t be reeling. Nebraska hasn’t won a game since October 28, 2017, when it went on the road to beat – Purdue. Since then, Nebraska has lost seven straight, and surrendered 50 or more points five times (including, weirdly, three straight 56’s being hung on the Blackshirts). Nebraska has come close twice this year but couldn’t get over the finish line, then got curb-stomped in Ann Arbor.

So when things started to go badly at Michigan, it’s only human that all those previous losses would come crashing down around the confidence of Nebraska’s players. Just ask Michigan safety John Metellus after Nebraska’s first offensive series ended in an interception (as reported by Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald).

“After that first series, when we went back out there, we just knew they wanted to give up,” Metellus said. “You could just see it in their eyes.”

Now, let’s be clear. Nebraska didn’t quit. Nebraska fought and tried its best against Michigan, start to finish. But trying your best also means summoning whatever confidence you can that you can be successful at something, especially something as hard and physically demanding as top-flight college football. Without that confidence, “your best” is still some percentage less than your potential.

And that’s what Nebraska is facing now. A crisis of confidence in a group of young men that wants desperately to be successful, but hasn’t seen that hard work pay off in almost an entire year.

Which brings us to Purdue on Saturday. The Boilermakers are 1-3, but coming off an upset of nationally-ranked Boston College. Purdue is going to arrive in Lincoln thinking it can beat Nebraska. The bookies agree, making the Boilermakers a three-point favorite.

All of a sudden, the Purdue game has become one of the most consequential games in recent Nebraska history. A win puts Nebraska at 1-3 overall and 1-1 in the B1G. But more importantly, it lets the team remember what winning tastes like, and gives them tangible proof that all the blood, sweat, and tears they’ve been expending has a payoff. A win gives Nebraska a legitimate, if narrow, path to six wins and a bowl game.

A loss, on the other hand, would make that albatross hanging around the neck of the Nebraska football program that much heavier. A loss to Purdue could put a catastrophically-bad season – 2-10, maybe 1-11 – on the table.

We will see on Saturday how much confidence Frost and his coaches can inject into Nebraska as a football team. But we will also see how the Nebraska fanbase responds to what feels like the other side of the college football looking glass.

This dope worried that a blowout loss to Michigan could start to turn Nebraska fans against Frost and the program and, if that happened, could start a cascade of events that could sink Frost’s chances of being successful. To their great credit, Nebraska fans have not done so (with very few exceptions) and have held fast to the faith that Frost will eventually right the Big Red ship.

There are a number of objective reasons for holding fast to that faith. Frost’s pedigree – learning from coaches as varied as Tom Osborne and Chip Kelly – suggests he has the experience to know what he’s doing, particularly on offense. His success at UCF is undeniable. His time both as a top-level college player and an NFL veteran gives him his bona fides. And his charisma and connection to both players and recruits keeps people listening to what he has to say.

But, let’s face it, Husker Fan. Part of the reason you’re continuing to believe is because you kinda have to. Giving up that faith condemns you to despair for the foreseeable future. Despair that the Nebraska team in which you’ve invested your passion (as well as your time and money) will never be more than the butt of a snarky social media manager.

You have the experience of recent Nebraska football history, from Frank Solich’s fumbling of Osborne’s mantle, to the experience of Bill Callahan and Steve Pedersen, to the plateau and drama of Bo Pelini, to the jovial mismanagement of Mike Riley, to 0-3 in 2018. Balanced against that, you have all of the legitimate reasons to believe in Frost’s ability to resurrect Nebraska as a national football power.

None of us know the future. So Husker Fan, you’re faced with a choice given those competing arguments, as to how you respond. And many of you are making the kind of choice we saw the android chief operations officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise face in Star Trek:The Next Generation.

Lt. Commander Data: Yes. The Starfleet officers who first activated me on Omicron Theta told me I was an android – nothing more than a sophisticated machine with human form. However, I realized that if I was simply a machine, I could never be anything else; I could never grow beyond my programming. I found that difficult to accept. So I chose to believe… that I was a person; that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and subprocessors. It is a belief which I still hold.

Lieutenant Worf: How did you come to your decision?

Lt. Commander Data: I made… a leap of faith.

Star Trek:The Next Generation, “Rightful Heir” (S6:E23), quote courtesy of IMDB (emphasis added).

That’s what you’re doing now, Husker Fan. Certainly if you’ve made it this far, you’re choosing to make that leap of faith, choosing hope over despair even in the face of current evidence.

You may be doing it in part for your own history, honoring your forebearers who introduced you to Nebraska football. For me, that’s my dad, with his comically-trinket-ladened Nebraska hat, taking me down to a frozen Astroturf field after Nebraska’s Halloween evisceration of Colorado in 1992 to throw around a stocking hat like it was a football. It’s my mom, who still comes to the home games with me to share the experience (and to sneak in a little time to spend with each other). I suspect many of you who have read this far have a similar story as to why Nebraska football is important enough to expend this energy.

And even if there’s not a sentimental attachment, don’t lose track of one very important thing – this is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, it’s just a football game. No one is going to lose their life or their freedom as a result of a college football game.

That blessed silliness is what makes an emotional investment in a sporting event so powerful and so liberating. As fans, we can wrap ourselves in the minutiae of the game and the roster, and surrender our emotions to the highs and lows of the contest. We get to feel those intense, authentic, irreplaceable feelings of joy and sadness that only come from following a game over which we have no control of the outcome.

And, win or lose at the end of the contest, life goes on around us. We can invest fully, experience those emotions fully, and walk away at the end of it with nothing lost outside of the feelings we chose to put on the line.

If that’s why we all get on this ridiculous roller-coaster in the first place, then why not choose hope? Why not make that leap of faith and believe in the possible, especially when there are still good reasons to think those dreams could come true?

A smart and particularly handsome analyst suggested that a particular song should be sung at Memorial Stadium by the whole crowd every home game. At this stage in the life of the program, it seems like we need it more than ever.

Don’t stop believin’, Husker Fan.

GBR, baby.

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Nebraska Football: Make The “Don’t Stop Believing” Singalong A Thing, Already!

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Nebraska was supposed to open its 2018 campaign — and welcome new head coach Scott Frost — with a game against Akron on September 01. Thanks to a lightning storm, the game never happened, which has caused all kinds of distress.

But there definitely was one very good thing that came from the lightning delay.

For those of you that didn’t click the video, that’s 90,000 people all singing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Not just the chorus.

The. Whole. Song.

It was amazing to be part of, and legitimately one of the most fun experiences I’ve had a chance to be part of in Memorial Stadium. (Although, given that Nebraska is in the midst of a six-game home losing streak, including losses to schools from the MAC and the Sun Belt, that might be setting the bar low).

Just because it was so much fun, I was all on board with Nebraska finding a way to do this singalong on a regular basis after the Akron non-game. But as this season has unfolded, I’ve thought about it more. There’s a deeper reason why a Journey singalong should definitely Become A Thing on gameday.

Look at the lyrics.

Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to the feelin’

Tell me, Husker Fan, that those lyrics don’t describe being a Nebraska fan right now.

Nebraska is 0-2. Nebraska has lost seven of its last eight games. Nebraska will go a calendar year without having won a home game.

And yet fans still, almost to a person, still have faith in Frost. Fans keep showing up to cheer on the Scarlet and Cream. Fans still believe that Nebraska can and will return to national prominence as a football program. And that continued faith — dare I say, belief — is what keeps the possibility of that return alive.

After all, as a smart and particularly handsome analyst has observed, the biggest danger to Frost is a traumatized fanbase turning on him if success doesn’t come quickly enough. With a daunting schedule to come, 2018 could be a very rough year for Nebraska.

If that’s the case, it is incumbent on the fanbase to weather the storm (both metaphorical and actual). Or, as the lyrics to a slightly-less-catchy song would say:

There is no place like Nebraska,
Where they’re all true blue.
We’ll all stick together,
In all kinds of weather,
For dear old Nebraska U.

We’ve seen all kinds of weather lately, haven’t we, Husker Fan? So why not find four minutes and ten seconds in the gameday experience to let the Sea of Red raise its voice as one and celebrate its faith and perseverance?

Don’t stop believin’, Husker Fan. Hold on to the feelin’.

GBR, baby.

 

 

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Troy 24, Nebraska 19

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cognitive dissonance (cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance)

noun – the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude changes

In Nebraska’s first two games under head coach Scott Frost, NU is averaging outgaining its opponent by 140.5 yards per game.

Nebraska is 0-2 on the season.

After an unprecedented level of excitement surrounding the arrival of a new coach, Nebraska’s self-inflicted wounds have left the team in a dangerous position and the fans puzzled as to how they should respond. There’s still plenty of belief, and plenty of things they’ve seen on the field to inspire belief.

Still, 0-2 is 0-2. Losing still hurts. So in picking up the pieces after Nebraska’s 24-19 loss to Troy …

The Good

More Mo. In Frost’s offense, Nebraska is always going to rotate running backs, so don’t ever expect to see a bellcow back that will get the majority of the carries. Having said that, at least over two games it looks like Nebraska’s best running back may have emerged.

Against Troy, Maurice Washington got 14 carries for 92 yards, and added in three receptions for 14 yards. Washington, a true freshman, showed lateral quickness to evade tacklers, power to run between the tackles, and speed to get away from pursuit.

Taking a Punch. In two games, Nebraska has found itself down 10 and down 17. Now, obviously, that’s not a good thing. But it’s also given Nebraska an opportunity to show that it can handle adversity and respond positively.

And boy, did Nebraska show that. Against Colorado, Nebraska came all the way back to take the lead, surrendering it only after a backbreaking penalty that kept Colorado’s game-winning drive alive. Against Troy, Nebraska was never quite able to get over the hump, but had the ball with an opportunity to drive and win the game.

Sure, it’s a much better scenario if Nebraska isn’t digging itself out of a hole. But particularly for a team coming off a 4-8 season, having the will to fight back from a double-digit deficit is an important demonstration of character.

Nothing. There Is No Third Thing. You guys, Nebraska just lost to Troy. Not Troy, your neighbor with the cute dog he walks on Thursdays. Troy, the Sun Belt team. In two years, Nebraska has lost home games to a Sun Belt team and a MAC team.

Yeah, that’s probably unfair to Troy, a very good team who now has wins over LSU and Nebraska on its resume. Still, this is Nebraska, and that is Troy.

The Bad

Déjà vu All Over Again. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Nebraska had three turnovers and double-digit penalties, and because of that NU was unable to overcome a slow start and dig out of a ten-plus-point early deficit.

The cliché is that a team always gets better between week one and week two. That might not have been entirely fair for Nebraska given that it had to start a walk-on at quarterback. But still, seeing a repeat of the mistakes that cost Nebraska a win over Colorado had to leave fans wondering how long it will be before NU runs out of feet in which to shoot itself.

Walk-On Woes. Bunch gave this game everything he had. Especially early, he was keeping plays alive rather than throwing the ball away – sometimes to his detriment. And while Bunch certainly has skills that most walk-ons don’t, at the end of the day he’s still a walk-on quarterback brought in to run Mike Riley’s offense.

That’s not to say Bunch couldn’t have been successful against Troy, he certainly could have. But he needed help, and Nebraska’s own errors were too much to ask Bunch to make up.

Close but No Cigar. Once again, this was a game that didn’t require to avoid all of the mistakes it made. Indeed, even with everything else, had Nebraska just cleaned up two pieces of execution – Pickering hitting a makeable field goal and Nebraska cashing in for six after getting a muffed punt at the Troy 8 – NU wins this game.

Once again we saw a team that was 4-8 last year being in position to win a game, but not knowing how to get out of its own way. It’s maddening, of course, and there’s only so many chances Nebraska will get before the season gets away.

And the Fragility of Faith

Football isn’t fair. For so many reasons, fans can see that the football being played by Nebraska is demonstrably better than it was over the last couple of years.

And yet, Nebraska is 0-2, the first time it has started this poorly since 1957. Coming up next for Nebraska is a trip to Michigan. Stranger things have happened, of course, but if Nebraska doesn’t pull off an upset in Ann Arbor it will be facing a scary high-pressure game at home against Purdue.

That’s … a lot to ask a group of college kids, particularly a group that just endured a 4-8 season a year before. Frost has been blunt with his team as to how he expects them to respond (as reported by Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald):

“I just got done telling the team that, when things get tough like this, you have two choices: You fight back and you work even harder or you give up,” Frost said. “I also told them if anybody doesn’t want to stay on board with this ride with us, let me know now and get off. Because I know where this is going. We just haven’t had the results early.”

Frost’s comments might as well have been to the fans. We’re two games into the season, and we’re already starting to see rumblings of discontent.

Of course, that’s not a representative sample. And, it’s Twitter, so it’s best not to take anything seen there all that seriously.

Still, the giddiness of the offseason has given way to the hard work of rebuilding a program. And as a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst told you, the offseason excitement carried with it a danger of unrealistically high expectations – which could come crashing to earth if not met quickly enough.

For those of you despairing, relax. Nebraska will win its share of games this year. The underlying performances we’ve seen have simply been too good for it not to pay off in the win column. And maybe things will click and Nebraska will get a big win in Ann Arbor or (more likely) Madison to calm the waters.

But pack your patience, Husker Fan. You made your decision that Frost was your guy – and by all accounts and metrics, that’s a really good decision. Don’t let a bad start – even potentially a catastrophically bad start – make you reconsider that decision. I’m not big on self-quoting, but I do think this bears repeating.

But this has been a traumatized fanbase, rent asunder by the firing of Frank Solich, abused and taken advantage of by Steve Pederson, willfully divided and antagonized by Bo Pelini, incompetently managed by Shawn Eichorst, and historically failed by Mike Riley. Yeah, I know, it’s only a game. But that’s a lot of trauma (in relative terms) for a fan base to absorb, especially one for whom Nebraska football is such a core part of its identity.

Winning, of course, makes that trauma go away. But continued lack of success – and how much and for what length of time is the great experiment upon which we are all embarking – will bring those demons to the surface.

Abraham Lincoln himself – the namesake of the school’s home town – said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Possibly the greatest danger to Frost being successful as Nebraska head coach is if that success does not come quickly enough, and a critical mass of that traumatized fanbase ends up giving up on hoping in Frost, turning in with negativity, and destroying itself.

I know, Husker Fan. Losing sucks. You’re sick of hearing it from all of your Hawkeye relatives – believe me, I’ve been there. When Frost was hired, you felt like Nebraska was going to be Nebraska again. And now you’re the butt of the jokes from the national media (although thank heavens for Florida State, amirite?)

Hang in there. Not just because Frost will get Nebraska back to winning big – although I do think he gives Nebraska the best chance to get there since Osborne’s retirement.

You need to hang in there because if the fanbase turns – and we’ve seen it turn just one year ago – then it makes Frost’s job all the harder.

Questioning decisions is fine. Criticizing execution is fine. Being hurt and angry after a loss is more than fine – if you’re not, something’s wrong.

But there’s a difference between asking questions and giving up on the program. The former is expected. The latter – especially in year one of a rebuilding process – is a surrender to the emotions of the moment that both you and the program cannot afford.

In other words, keep the faith.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Colorado 33, Nebraska 28

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The Scott Frost era didn’t start the way Nebraska fans had hoped, with a heartbreaking 33-28 loss to one of its ancient foes, Colorado. Nebraska outplayed the Buffaloes, outgaining them 565-395. But three turnovers, dropped passes, devastating penalties, and an injured phenom ended up being the difference between the two teams.

So in looking back at game one for Frost’s Cornhuskers …

The Good

A-Mart. If Nebraska’s quarterback competition really was razor-thin until the last week or so, then Tristan Gebbia’s a pretty impressive signal-caller. True freshman Adrian Martinez moved the offense consistently, showed both his elusiveness and his breakaway speed with his 41-yard touchdown run, and his arm with a picture-perfect deep shot to J.D. Spielman in stride for a 57-yard touchdown pass.

Sure, it was far from flawless, including a fumble and a cringe-inducing interception in the fourth quarter. And his injury left Memorial Stadium silent in the fourth quarter, as walk-on Andrew Bunch tried to lead Nebraska to a come-from-behind win.

But if A-Mart can stay healthy (and yeah, I’m gonna to my best to make A-Mart A Thing) and learn from his mistakes, my goodness could he be something special.

The Blackshirts Are Back. Last year, Nebraska had fourteen sacks. On the season.

Tonight, against Colorado, Nebraska had seven.

Nebraska held Colorado to 44 yards rushing. Absent two deep shots in the fourth quarter which were at least decently defended, Nebraska held Colorado’s offense in check pretty much the entire game. After a year of watching Bob Diaco’s defense (usually peering through your fingers in horror while swearing profusely, seeing Nebraska’s defense against Colorado – even in a losing effort – has to be encouraging.

Taking a Punch. With 6:47 left in the first quarter, Nebraska was down 14-0 with two of its newest offensive stars (junior college transfer running back Greg Bell and true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez) having put the ball on the ground. For a team playing its first game under a new coach, coming off a 4-8 season, you could understand how a team could collapse mentally.

Instead, Nebraska ripped off 21 straight points to take the lead, dominating Colorado on both sides of the ball. Although the result didn’t work out the way Nebraska wanted, the fact that NU could get off the mat and respond like that should give Nebraska fans lots of hope.

The Bad

A-Mart’s Knee. At the time of writing, Nebraska fans are still on tenterhooks waiting to hear the status of Martinez’s knee. With Gebbia’s transfer, Nebraska is down to two walk-ons – including one true freshman – on the quarterback depth chart.

There was so much to be positive about, to be hopeful about, in Nebraska’s performance against Colorado. But if Martinez is going to miss any significant time, Nebraska is going to struggle to improve on last year’s 4-8 record.

Mental Mistakes. The game was there for Nebraska to win. But being minus-three in turnover margin – including two that led directly to fourteen Colorado points – makes it awfully hard to win. Nebraska also committed eleven penalties for 95 yards. Two of those penalties – the personal foul against Antonio Reed that kept Colorado’s drive alive to take the lead, and Brendan Jaimes’ false start that cost Nebraska its last time out – were devastating.

Had Nebraska just made some of those mistakes, not all of them, NU likely escapes Memorial Stadium with a win.

Missed Opportunities. It wasn’t just the mental mistakes. Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan dropped a touchdown pass, and sophomore J.D. Spielman dropped a clutch pass late in the game that likely would have changed the outcome of the contest. And freshman kicker Barret Pickering missed a 43-yard field goal that would have left Nebraska just needing another field goal, rather than a touchdown, in its final comeback attempt.

Much like with the mental mistakes, had Nebraska converted on even some of these missed opportunities, NU likely beats Colorado.

And the Spark that Lights the Flame

If you really want to be pessimistic, you could look at the start of Frost’s career in Lincoln and see it starting the same way that Mike Riley’s did – with a heartbreaking loss at home to a team from the west.

But this feels different. Nebraska dramatically outplayed Colorado. Nebraska’s loss was largely self-inflicted, with the damage coming from the first game of the season, and the first game played under Frost’s tutelage. Although we’ll never know, had Nebraska gotten its first game against Akron in last week, it seems like some of the kinks we saw on Saturday could have been ironed out, and Nebraska likely wins the game.

Now, with Nebraska being (at this point) one game down and 0-1 on the season, the path to six wins and a bowl game is pretty narrow. Dreams of an eight or nine win season might have been a bit premature (as a smart and particularly handsome analyst reminded you).

But Frost said when he got here that this was going to be a multi-year project. There’s still going to be bumps on the road – after all, trips to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbus, Ohio, still await.

And after the performance Nebraska put on against Colorado – one game, one data point, to be sure – Husker Fan has to feel like there’s a spark that’s been lit, that has a chance to grow into a flame.

GBR, baby.

Photo gallery here.