Nebraska escaped by inches against Northwestern in the latest of yet another consistently chaotic season. If fans had a bingo card for Husker football, they probably finished with some combination of quarterback injury, receiver injury, struggling run game, injured kicker, missed field goal, costly defensive penalty, blown lead or an official forgetting the rules of football (defensive penalties offsetting?). Anyone who didn’t get bingo was likely left only needing to fill the ‘fail to pick up a first down in overtime’ space.
Regardless, the Huskers are now 4-2 and 2-1 in conference play. If you’re a Nebraska fan, take a moment this week and appreciate that this program has progressed to reaching the four-win mark in the first week of October. Believe it or not, since 2015, the Huskers have only achieved four wins sooner once, with that exception happening in 2016. Mm
Anyway, here’s five for thought:
1. For the third consecutive week, Nebraska is facing its biggest game of the season.
Nebraska’s game against Ohio State was a complete dud and showed the squad is nowhere near competing with the top of the conference. Saturday’s win over Northwestern was an ugly but impressive response against a team playing with every bit of desperation.
The fact that Northwestern went into Saturday with a 1-3 record made this matchup even more challenging. The Wildcats have had fairly consistent success over the past 11 years, culminating in a division championship last year. There has been a standard set by Pat Fitzgerald that many programs would strive to match. So sitting at 1-3 with their starting quarterback out for the season and games against No. 3 Ohio State and No. 17 Iowa looming, Saturday was a must-win game for the Wildcats.
Northwestern played a tough, disciplined game and had the Huskers right where it wanted them, but Nebraska found a way to escape.
Minnesota is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Northwestern. Sitting at 5-0, the Gophers are still starving for respect. Its 40-17 win over Illinois Saturday was its first by more than seven points all season. The AP still hasn’t ranked the Gophers, one of only two unbeaten teams (Appalachian State) to be left out.
To add more fuel to the fire, Nebraska opened as a 2.5-point favorite in the matchup according to multiple sports books. Let me repeat: A team playing a road night game potentially without its starting quarterback, leading receiver and kicker that hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2011 is favored over a 5-0 team.
Winning a road game and ending a three-game home losing streak against Northwestern were two minor steps forward in Scott Frost’s rebuilding project. Knocking off a 5-0 team on their field at night would be another, and one that would do wonders for the team’s fragile confidence.
2. I’m starting to worry about Pat Fitzgerald.
It’s never a good sign when you Google a college football coach and two of the top news stories are by a cable news outlet instead of a sports one. After taking Northwestern to new heights this year, Fitzgerald was always in for a regressive season in 2019. Breaking in a new quarterback with four of the first five games being against Stanford, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska was never going to end well.
But surely Fitzgerald didn’t see 1-4 coming, much less the fourth loss being one where his team committed six penalties that ruined multiple scoring drives.
Since Media Days back in July, it’s been a strange fall for Northwestern’s winningest head coach. A national reporter was asking every coach why they thought college football was having problems with attendance, and most of them rightfully scoffed at the question. After all, four of the top 10 and seven of the top-25 leaders in home attendance came from the Big Ten Conference. Fitzgerald was the only coach to take the cheese, going viral in a clip where he blamed poor attendance at Northwestern football games on cell phones.
Then, after a 31-10 loss at home to Michigan State last month, there was his bizarre quote in response to fans being upset about the offense, where he told fans they can email him at “hashtag I don’t care.”
Following another close loss on Saturday, Fitzgerald was acting uncharacteristically once again. This time, he dwelled on the referees not calling pass interference on Lamar Jackson’s interception that set up the game-winning field goal. He said he would have liked to have challenged the call like coaches can do in the NFL.
There were 10 reporters at his press conference, and eight of them were college students. I’m sure that was odd for Fitzgerald, and he kept on dwelling on our age and status as millennials like he was our friend’s aunt on Facebook. He once said his defensive coordinator had been at Northwestern longer than all of our ages added up, then talked down to reporters when they asked about potential errors on the interception.
It was easily the most hostile press conference by an opposing coach that I have seen over the past two seasons.
Northwestern’s had similar seasons to this one before; just look up everything that happened in 2013. But Fitzgerald is handling this one in a much stranger fashion. It’s crazy to think he had the chance to coach the Green Bay Packers, who are 4-1, but instead is 1-4 with Northwestern.
3. Wan’Dale Robinson is quickly becoming a fan favorite as he states his case for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and his real name is Charles.
One of the more random nuggets in the postgame scene on Saturday was Noah Vedral revealing that he called Robinson “Charles”. When reporters asked why, he said to ask him about it. As it turns out, his real first name is Charles and Wan’Dale is his middle name. I don’t know if this was common knowledge or not, but I was shocked to learn this.
It seems that as things on offense spiral into chaos, Robinson thrives even stronger. He was the main difference in a game where Maurice Washington and JD Spielman were non-factors. As his confidence continues to grow, he will only become a more dangerous weapon on this team that will likely keep this rebuild on track, if not push it ahead of schedule.
4. The last time Nebraska played at Minnesota...
In 1975, Kentucky basketball ended Bob Knight and Indiana’s perfect season with a 92-90 victory in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, the original tape of the game was destroyed in a studio fire and very little footage of the game can be found today.
I’m sure anyone associated with Nebraska would love for all of the footage of Minnesota’s 54-21 seal-clubbing of the Huskers in 2017 to disappear as well.
5. Nebraska’s Spanish radio broadcast of Saturday’s game was an absolute success that should be a regular feature. The Mexican food served to the media before the game should not.
Do yourselves a favor and look up some of the best calls from Saturday’s game by the Spanish broadcast crew yesterday. @HuskerSports has them all on Twitter. It was a unique event that will absolutely help Nebraska grow its brand internationally and is something that should be repeated regularly for every game.
I understand the gesture, but serving enchiladas, rice and beans to a predominantly older media conglomerate should never be repeated again.