While the rest of the Big Ten played their second game of the year on Saturday, all Nebraska was allowed to do was sit back and watch.
The Huskers’ scheduled matchup with Wisconsin was canceled on Wednesday last week due to the Badgers’ COVID-19 outbreak. As of Saturday, 12 Wisconsin players and 10 staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus.
After the cancellation, Nebraska looked to replace Wisconsin with Chattanooga, but that request was shut down by the conference.
“We told the kids we were going to try,” head coach Scott Frost said at Monday’s press conference. “We told them it was probably going to go to a vote of the Big Ten, whether they're going to let us or not. We tried to do it the right way. I don't think they were very confident when they heard that, and they were right so we didn't get to play. You know the kids kind of laugh about those things now.”
Frost reiterated throughout Monday’s press conference that he and the players were ready to play.
In the meantime, the team held a “scary movie night” on Halloween to encourage players to stay safe and not attend parties. Other than that, the Huskers have had extra time to practice and prepare for their next opponent, Northwestern.
“We've officially set a record for most practices with one game under your belt in the history of college football,” Frost said. “There's no question about that.”
The team won’t be practicing tomorrow, however, due to Election Day. Frost said that most of the team has already voted, or plans to vote tomorrow.
“I think it's good for us to have the opportunity to go out and vote and do those kinds of things,” sophomore wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson said. “I think now it's a lot bigger deal to go out and vote and use your voice and do things like that now especially with everything going on in the world and that's something that hopefully all of our players go out and do.”
After Tuesday, the focus will return to Northwestern. Unlike the Huskers, the Wildcats were able to play on Saturday, taking on Iowa. Northwestern improved to 2-0 on the season, coming back from a 17-0 deficit to take down the Hawkeyes 21-17.
Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez likened the comeback to what happened the last time Nebraska traveled to play Northwestern on the road. In 2018, Martinez’s freshman season, Nebraska had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, and a 10-point advantage with less than six minutes to go. The Huskers ended up losing in overtime.
“They're going to be a tough, hard-nosed football team who's really not going to make a ton of mistakes,” Martinez said. “And they're going to come in and be ready to play. We're going to have to match them physically and be detailed in our work.”
Last season, Nebraska took down Northwestern with a last-second field goal. Robinson was a large part of that effort, scoring the team’s only touchdown of the game on a 42-yard run and bringing in a 32-yard reception to set up the game winning field goal.
The Huskers had five plays of 20 or more yards in the game, and Robinson accounted for four of them. Other than that, offense was hard to come by.
“They were stout, they didn't make a lot of mistakes, they weren't going to let you beat them deep or anything like that,” Robinson said. “They really try to limit a lot of big plays, but luckily last year we were able to come away with a few that helped us win the game.”
On the other side, Northwestern’s offense struggled in 2019, with only 293 total yards against Nebraska. That could change this year with the arrival of Indiana graduate transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey.
Against Nebraska last year, Ramsey had 393 total yards with the Hoosiers. While at Northwestern, he had 249 total yards in the Wildcats’ season opener against Maryland and 156 against Iowa.
“They look good. You know they're taking what they can get. The quarterback is making good decisions with the ball. The running backs are running hard for yardage. The running game looks good and gaps are opening up. We have to be there to fill. We have to be there in coverage and everything else will take care of itself.”
A blowout win over the Terrapins and comeback against the Hawkeyes wasn’t enough to propel Northwestern into the AP Top 25, but the Wildcats received the most votes out of the teams that didn’t make the cut.
With cancellations and unpredictability, each game will be crucial in the race for the Big Ten West title. Regardless, Frost and the Huskers are just happy to get back on the field and improve.
“They wanted to play. They see us fighting to try to get them to play. We've kind of failed at every turn. They just want to be on the field. You know, I think they feel like maybe some people are out to get them or have an axe to grind against them a little bit,” Frost said. “ … I think our program is ready to turn a big-time corner, but it's tough if we're given circumstances where we can't get on the field and get better.”