Scott Frost 11.15

Nebraska coach Scott Frost speaks with the media at Memorial Stadium on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

On Monday of its bye week, the Nebraska football team announced it was firing four offensive coaches, effective immediately. Players spoke highly of their former coaches at Monday’s press conference, while simultaneously stressing the need to move forward.

“[Coach Verduzco] meant everything to me,” Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez said of his former position coach Monday. “Tremendous coach, tremendous person, and we’ll have a relationship for the rest of our lives.”

Verduzco coached Martinez each of his four years at Nebraska, and was let go along with running backs coach Ryan Held, offensive line coach Greg Austin and offensive coordinator Matt Lubick. 

Even with the shock of losing its offensive coaches late in the season, team leaders like Martinez are staying focused on the tasks ahead of them against Wisconsin and Iowa.

“It’s been a tough transition for the team and for the offense, I think there’s no hiding that,” Martinez said. “As leaders on the team it's our responsibility to make sure that we keep pressing on and give Wisconsin everything we have.”

Nebraska lost 26-17 against then-No. 6 Ohio State in its last game, coming up just short against a ranked opponent for the fourth time this season. Going at No. 19 Wisconsin gives the Huskers their fifth chance to get their elusive first ranked win.

Wisconsin is surging recently, having won its last six games after a shocking 1-3 start. The Badgers have bested the Huskers in their last seven matchups, with five being multi-score victories. The two teams did not meet in 2020, after the game was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The bad recent history is not lost on the Huskers, with players itching to get their first win over the divisional foe.

“There’s still a lot to play for,” junior tight end Austin Allen said Monday. “There’s still two trophies we need to bring home, and I know a lot of people in the state would be really happy if we got the next two done.”

Since the inception of the Freedom Trophy in 2014, the trophy has stayed in the hands of Wisconsin. The strong defense, which has been a staple of recent Wisconsin victories, is present again this season. On the Badgers’ ongoing six-game winning streak, their opponents have averaged just 7.3 points per game.

The offense has been strong too, with freshman running back Braelon Allen rushing for over 100 yards in every game on the win streak. Allen’s prominent offensive role will be expanded even further on Saturday, with junior running back Chez Mellusi out for the remainder of the season.

Nebraska has held top rushing offenses in check this season, only surrendering 61 yards to Michigan State junior running back Kenneth Walker III, and holding Ohio State freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson to a season-low 4.4 yards per carry. Nebraska sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer attributes the run defense success to a mentality of violence.

“You have to be extremely violent in the Big Ten, and that starts with the defensive line and linebackers,” Reimer said. “Even if you’re wrong in your call, if you’re violent you're not gonna be wrong.”

The Husker defense will be missing a key piece on Saturday, with senior linebacker JoJo Domann undergoing season-ending surgery on his hand. The sixth-year senior leads the team in solo tackles with 44, and has forced a team-high two fumbles on the season.

Expected to fill his role at the nickelback-linebacker hybrid position is freshman safety Isaac Gifford, who has tallied four tackles this season, three coming from special teams.

“He’s a grown up, he’s tough,” Head coach Scott Frost said Monday. “He’s got bright days ahead of him in football, and some of them are gonna have to start now.”

Frost gave updates on other roster news for the Huskers. Senior safety Deontai Williams, who has been nursing a knee injury since the Minnesota game, is making good progress in rehab and could be back Saturday for the Huskers.

Freshman running back Sevion Morrison, who missed the Ohio State game with a family issue, has left the team. Morrison played in seven games this season, scoring three touchdowns.

“I love Sev. Not everybody can play and this is the way college football is gonna be,” Frost said. “I’ll certainly bend over backwards for anybody that’s been here and does things the right way.”

The kicker position has been a position of much intrigue and controversy for Nebraska this season. Senior kicker Connor Culp, the 2020 Big Ten Kicker of the Year, struggled greatly this season, making just six of his 12 field goals.

Culp was benched for sophomore kicker Chase Contreraz in the past two games. Contreraz has made two of his four field goals, with a crucial miss in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. Despite the disappointing performance against Ohio State, Frost is sticking with Contreraz as kicker.

“I feel bad for Chase, he’s been doing a really good job and he’s a confident kid,” Frost said. “We’ll put him back out there and let him do his thing and make situational decisions as we go.”

Frost will also be calling the plays on offense solo, having previously shared the play calling duties with the now-fired Lubick. The new-look offense has some of its toughest tests remaining, starting with co-division leader Wisconsin on Saturday.

“Opponents are averaging 58 snaps against Wisconsin,” Frost said. “We certainly don’t want to go three-and-out fast and have them get the ball and grind it on us, so its important to try to do smart things and the right things.”

Even though a bowl game is out of the question for the Huskers, coaches and players, are still prepared for an emotional rivalry game on Saturday.