1. Nebraska's season ended in predictably heartbreaking fashion
I’ve had a feeling for about a month now that Iowa would be the team that gave Nebraska its seventh loss, but I had no inclination that it would happen in such soul-crushing fashion.
The truth is, it’s been clear that the 2019 Nebraska football team didn’t deserve a bowl game. Most of the team underperformed, and from the outside looking in, it looked like Scott Frost and his coaching staff never could find that unity of purpose that drives teams to be successful.
But just because this team failed to achieve even its lowest of goals doesn’t mean there wasn’t significant improvement. There have been a lot of doubts about whether Zach Duval’s strength and conditioning program actually improved the team’s size to the high standards around the conference, especially given how the other teams in the division ran roughshod on the Huskers.
Watching the trenches in matchups against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, it was clear that there has been significant improvements in strength. Nebraska has the size to not be pushed around anymore, but now both sides of the ball need to work on the mental side of football.
There will likely be a lot of shots taken at Nebraska football this offseason. The Huskers are an easy target after they underachieved this season. People will likely suggest that Frost should change his coaching staff and consider starting a new quarterback, if not implementing even greater changes.
The truth is, I doubt Frost will change much about the exterior of his program. His coaches are recruiting up to standard and are just now starting to have position groups almost entirely made up of players they recruited. Frost will likely wait at least one more year before considering making a change to his staff.
What I could see Frost changing is the way his coaches coach. Most of Nebraska’s errors in its seven losses were mental or execution errors. If Frost is willing to alter his offense’s scheme week-to-week like he did this season, I’m sure he’ll consider altering the way he runs practices. If he does, I’m not sure the public would ever hear about it given the privacy surrounding Frost’s program.
As for the possibility of changing starting quarterbacks, this is somewhat uncharted territory for Frost. As Oregon’s offensive coordinator, Frost had stability personified in Marcus Mariota starting for three of his four years. At UCF, Mackenzie Milton became the starting quarterback early in his freshman season due to an injury suffered by the starter.
No one outside the program really knows how injured Martinez was, but even to the common observer he was several steps slower this season just running the ball. It is worth noting that even in a lost season, Martinez did not have a multiple-turnover game after returning from injury for the final four games of the season.
One year after being a main storyline for his work with the entire team, Duval’s work with Frost’s starting quarterback in the weight room (or training room) may be the most crucial development of the offseason.
As for the Iowa game itself, the deficit remained the same, but last Friday was very different from what transpired one year ago. Last year, the Hawkeyes dominated the Huskers for three quarters and Nebraska essentially got several lucky bounces to get back in the game. This year, Nebraska controlled Iowa for three quarters of the game, but didn’t have enough playmakers to finish them off.
2. Speaking of Iowa…
Want to talk about coordinators underperforming? After watching Iowa’s elite defense carry an inept offense that went into the season with the talent to win the division, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz owes his entire team a trip to Indianapolis for taking that from them this year.
3. It was an interesting week in the Cayman Islands for Husker Hoops. Next week gets even more intriguing.
A 2-1 third-place finish was above expectations for Nebraska basketball, even though the competition was lacking. George Mason, who dominated Nebraska from the opening tip, was the clear-cut best team on the island last week and went on to win the championship over New Mexico State.
Washington State will be one of the worst power-five programs this season, given that the Cougars are also learning a new system put in by a new coach. It was encouraging to see that Nebraska is clearly better than them.
As for the third-place game, South Florida looked pretty evenly matched with the Huskers. The Bulls were missing some key pieces from a team that won 24 games a year ago, but still gave Nebraska a tough fight and forced the Huskers to make plays to win a close game.
This upcoming week will be interesting for Fred Hoiberg and his new team. Nebraska plays at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night in the team’s first true road game of the season. The Yellow Jackets are 3-2, playing just five games in the first four weeks of the season, but have had three close games against quality competition.
Georgia Tech opened its season by hitting a last-second free throw to win at North Carolina State in overtime, but lost on a last-second shot in overtime to Arkansas last week. The Yellow Jackets also were unable to knock off Georgia prior to the Arkansas game, losing by four points.
The Yellow Jackets average 44 rebounds per game, which does not bode well for the Huskers’ chances, but another strong shooting performance could help them pull out a win.
After that, Nebraska faces Creighton in Omaha on Saturday afternoon. This is a game that should help both fanbases move on from their favorite football team finishing 5-7. The Bluejays picked up an impressive win over defending national runner-up Texas Tech last week in Las Vegas, and should roll easily in this game.
Despite the predictable outcome, I’m interested to see the Huskers’ mentality going into this game. In the previous two years, Nebraska entered this game foaming at the mouth and played two of its most intense games of the Tim Miles era. Most of Creighton’s players have vivid memories of Nebraska dominating them in Lincoln a year ago. Most of Nebraska’s players weren’t even in the same city a year ago.
4. Some lessons learned in rivalry week.
Rivalry week usually determines how a team’s season will be perceived, and this year was no different. Here are some quick thoughts on what I saw across college football this week:
I’ve noticed a trend of coaches who get a lot of love on the national scale but are highly criticized by local media. Two perfect examples of this are Washington State coach Mike Leach and Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck. Both seem to go viral weekly, and have had impressive results at once-dormant programs.
This weekend, both got crushed by their rivals once again; both coaches went viral as well. A short video of Leach completely berating a local columnist showed his true colors, while Fleck tried telling the media that winning a share of a Big Ten West title is a huge deal and the loss didn’t matter.
Neither were good looks for the popular coaches. What was an even worse look for Fleck was Wisconsin players using Paul Bunyan’s Axe as an oar and rowing over the Minnesota logo at midfield. Fleck told an outright lie to the media and fans last year when his team won the axe that only Wisconsin’s seniors were allowed to touch the axe, then allowed private parties to rent out the axe for social events.
Back at Big Ten Media Days in July, most of the questions directed at Wisconsin were about Minnesota and losing last year’s game. They were peeved then and used that loss as motivation for an entire season. Even though the Badgers did not look good at all over the second half of the season, it was clear they were going to bring it against their biggest rival.
Elsewhere around the Big Ten, Ohio State showed that it is truly playing on a different level than the rest of the conference. Next week’s Big Ten Championship has a funny twist of irony, given that in 2017 we had 10-2 Ohio State taking on 12-0 Wisconsin.
A huge part of rivalry week is always the four SEC-ACC matchups down south. Sadly, all four were blowouts once again. However, it was amusing to see Kentucky rush for 517 yards with a wide receiver playing quarterback against a 7-5 team. What a turn of events for the school that brought the air raid offense to college football.
Speaking of Kentucky, it’s a good program for Nebraska fans to study this offseason. Like Nebraska, the Wildcats hired a young and inexperienced head coach when its program was at its lowest point. It took Mark Stoops until his fourth season just to reach a bowl game. Two years in a row, his team was denied bowl eligibility on the final week of the season by its biggest rival.
Since then, Stoops has led Kentucky to four consecutive seven-plus win seasons and one 10-win season. He built a program with enough depth that it could withstand two quarterback injuries and the program’s all-time leading rusher leaving early and still win seven games with an SEC schedule.
Nebraska’s ceiling is certainly higher than Kentucky’s as a program, but it is a good example of how patience can pay off when it comes to building a program.
5. A quick look ahead to September 2020
It’s strange to think about Nebraska’s next football game being against Purdue. If Brohm is still coaching the Boilermakers, this will be an excellent game to start the season. This seems like a game that may get flexed to the opening Thursday night.
Brohm doesn’t get enough credit for squeezing four wins and a lot of competitive football out of a team that lost its top two quarterbacks and best wide receiver to injury. Jack Plummer had an outstanding freshman season, and with Rondale Moore and David Bell both returning, Purdue will be a dark horse pick to win the west.
If Nebraska can win this game, it will do wonders for the team’s confidence the rest of the season. The following six games are against Central Michigan (who went 8-4 under former Florida coach Jim McElwain), South Dakota State (top-15 FCS program), Cincinnati (10-2 in 2019), Northwestern, Illinois and Rutgers. That’s basically half of a season playing trap games.
There will be a lot of buzz going into that week one game against Purdue. As I said earlier, the national media will likely not speak too kindly about the Huskers. My advice to Nebraska fans is to take a break from Twitter over the summer, follow the outstanding local coverage of the team by journalists who actually know what’s going on inside the program and enjoy the process of a rebuilding program.