Nebraska Football: How Is Joseph’s Close Loss Different than Frost’s Close Losses?

Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation

On Saturday, Nebraska was a double-digit underdog on the road to Purdue. After a wild defense-optional game, Nebraska ended up falling to the Boilermakers 43-37.

Nebraska’s spirited performance … offered the briefest of glimpse at the tantalizing possibility that Nebraska could be … good again?

Sound familiar, Husker Fan? It should. That’s what a smart and particularly handsome analyst wrote after the 2021 Oklahoma game.

Sure, most of Husker Twitter was pretty excited about the performance against Purdue. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph has built up quite a bit of capital with the fanbase after pulling out consecutive conference wins (which, fair enough, Nebraska hasn’t done that since 2018).

But I came across this tweet on my timeline during the game, and it really got me thinking.

It’s a fair point. Before we found out about the … other stuff, the j’accuse on former head coach Scott Frost was that he could get close but couldn’t win the big game. So what exactly is the difference between this team and the teams Frost coached?

When I sat down to write this, I thought the first point would be that Nebraska made a comeback against a large deficit. But then as I did my research (yes, Mr. Snarky-Pants, I do research for this), I realized that Nebraska was down 13 at the half against Michigan and down 12 at the half against Minnesota.

Nebraska could make comebacks at the half last year too. So why should we feel different about this Nebraska squad as opposed to last year’s?

Singular vs. Plural

One reason is contained in the headline. This is the first one-score loss under Joseph Nebraska has suffered.  Sure, that happened all the time under Frost. But teams take on the personality of their head coach, and there’s little doubt this squad is starting to emulate Joseph’s personality. The “here-we-go-again” mentality that haunted Nebraska under Frost is at least somewhat mitigated by the fact that there’s a new man in charge.

A Broken Streak

Part of the reason the one-score game hobgoblin haunted Frost was his continuous inability to win those game. That’s not the case under Joseph. A week ago, Nebraska won a one-score game on the road against Rutgers.

Sure, the game was retina-searingly sloppy. But there ain’t no style points in the standings. That means the Purdue one-score loss wasn’t just another brick in the wall. These Huskers have in their memory that they can win games like that – making it more likely they can retain the confidence they will be able to win the next one.

The Other Stuff

Why should we think that the team under Joseph is different than the team under Frost? Well, we now know that Frost as a head coach was quite the fraud. Once put in charge, Joseph fired Frost’s defensive coordinator Erik Chander after one week and has fundamentally purged the leadership of Frost’s influence.

We know that, at the very least, there are adults in charge leading the Nebraska football program. And because – maddeningly – that’s a change, that’s a reason to think this team could be different.

A Question of Faith.

Is this team under Joseph really just the same team under Frost?

Maybe. We’re really not going to know until we get through the rest of this season.

But is there reason to think – to hope – that things are different? Sure. And so it comes down to a question of faith. Does a new regime in charge give you reason to believe as a fan things could be different?

A smart and particularly handsome analyst talked about this back in 2018. Here’s what he said (with the inevitable nerdy pop culture reference to remain strongly On Brand).

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?

At the very least, Husker Fan, you’ve got reason to believe, to hope for things to be better. If you’re a fan – especially a Nebraska fan – I’m not sure how much more you can ask for.

So keep the faith, Husker Fan.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Is THIS The Turning Point?

On Saturday, interim head coach Mickey Joseph got his first win when Nebraska beat Indiana 35-21 on Homecoming. Nebraska held a 21-7 lead in the first half, but the Hoosiers went on a 14-0 run to end the first half tied.

Indiana went into the locker room with all the momentum, and Nebraska fans felt like they had seen this movie before. The third quarter didn’t help. Every time the game seemed like it was turning Nebraska’s way, something bad would happen. Sometimes it was an inopportune penalty. Sometimes it was an ejection of a key player. In one series, Nebraska got a turnover and a chance to take control, and promptly turned the ball right back to Indiana.

Nebraska fans knew what was coming next. Early success. Self-inflicted adversity. And when push comes to shove and the game is on the line, Husker Fan, you know what’s coming.

Honestly it was the comic book reference that was inevitable, wasn’t it?

For years, Nebraska fans solaced themselves with being *that* close, knowing that mythical corner was about to be turned. A smart and particularly handsome analyst went through Nebraska’s history under Mike Riley and Scott Frost trying to show how the gap was closing and soon, soon, wins would come.

And boy weren’t we desperately looking for that corner to turn. This dope thought it might have been Nebraska’s 56-7 win over Northwestern last year might have been the turning of that mythical corner for NU.

Instead, it was Nebraska’s last win for almost an entire calendar year. Any corner the Northwestern game turned just ran into a brick wall.

So why is this different? Why should you, Husker Fan, invest even a tiny bit of hope into this program?

Well, first, Frost is gone. And as it turns out, Frost may have been quite the fraud as a head coach. Now he’s gone and Joseph is in charge. And it seems like he might be a popular guy with the team.

But here’s the big reason why you should not immediately dismiss those feelings of optimism. Sure, Nebraska beat Northwestern last year and it felt good. But there was no time in that Northwestern game where Nebraska faced adversity. No time where that team felt a “here we go again” moment in the second half. No time where the ghosts of close losses passed had a chance to be exorcised.

We saw that moment on Saturday. Once Casey Thomson hit Trey Palmer for that long touchdown, it seemed like finally – finally – Big Mo was wearing scarlet and cream at the end of the game. And the defense – yes, that defense – twisted the screws and shut Indiana’s offense out.

So now, for the first time in a very long time, a Nebraska team can feel the weight of collapses past ease a little on its shoulders. Now when the next moment of adversity arrives, instead of “here we go again” Nebraska can think “we’ve done this before.”

It’s no guarantee, of course. Nebraska’s got to play a game in Piscataway on a Friday night, which is a recipe for weirdness.

But at least now Nebraska has had a little taste of success, of overcoming adversity. Let’s see how it responds now that it has that taste of blood in its mouth.

GBR, baby.