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 …
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.
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.