Huskers 'OK' Which Isn't OK With Frost
OK, so here's the deal.
Nebraska is an OK team, and as everybody around these parts knows, including its head coach, Scott Frost, Husker football being labeled OK is anything but OK.
That became a prevalent postgame theme following Saturday's maddening, frustrating, yet oh-too-familiar 38-31 loss to Indiana at Memorial Stadium in a game that featured its share of good, but too much not-so-good.
"I told the team, right now, that's where we are. We're just OK," Frost said. "We're just OK right now because a lot of the things that are done are just OK.
"I'm not going to be happy with just OK. I want a bunch of team players that aren't going to be happy with just OK."
How Nebraska (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten Conference) responds over its final four games could largely depend on how many players, regardless of age or stature, fully embrace those words from their leader.
Frost delivered a similar message, albeit more pointed, more dramatic, after a home loss to Purdue last season, amid a six-game losing streak. Enough Nebraska players heeded their coach's advice to help change the tide, turn the momentum, as the Huskers ended the season with four wins in six games.
That flourish, combined with what everybody knew Frost did in his second season of turning around a moribund UCF program, ratcheted expectations for Year Two in Lincoln. Truthfully, that narrative began with national spring and early summer publications, and trickled down, with Nebraska suddenly the trendy pick to have a breakthrough season, based on, well …
That's a conversation for another day.
Warranted or not, the lofty preseason predictions hinged greatly on what Frost reported to be a positive culture shift within his program.
A positive shift, yes, but as Frost explained Saturday, not a complete shift. There's a marked difference.
Yes, Frost was pleased with the culture of his second team because players were doing everything coaches asked. Make no mistake, that's an important change.
Yes, there's a "but" coming.
"But," Frost said, "if you look at this week or last week, there's a difference in doing it because we tell them to, and doing it because they want to be great. I think we still have some kind of ratio on one side or the other of that fence right now.
"I told them in the locker room, just OK never existed in a locker room that I was in when I was at Nebraska, because you were expected to live up to a standard. Our guys are doing the right things, which is a big improvement from last year. But I want guys that live and die for it and want to be great and are tough."
Guys like senior Darrion Daniels, a team captain, who had the gumption to speak up Saturday morning when he detected teammates weren't dialed in enough during a simple warmup to get players' blood flowing. On a good team, Frost said, that would look like a Marine drill.
But it didn't. At least, not until Daniels, a defensive tackle, had his say.
"He had to stop everybody," Frost said, "and yell at them."
That's notable, given Daniels is a fifth-year transfer, from Oklahoma State.
"Guy's been here for four months," Nebraska defensive end Garrett Nelson said. "Obviously, if he recognizes something is wrong, then guys who have been here for a while need to recognize that focus needs to be honed in at times."
To some, that may not fully explain allowing opponents to covert a plethora of third-and-longs, as Indiana (6-2, 3-2) did on Saturday, or the ill-timed turnovers (two of which the Hoosiers converted into touchdowns) or the shanked punts, the kickoffs out-of-bounds or the penalties.
But as Frost sees things, the details, the not settling for being OK, are most certainly a reason for the aforementioned negatives.
"Those details that we go through every day that are in our mind but we don't really focus on? That's going to change," Nelson said. "I'm excited for that to change. To take guys to the next level, take the defense to the next level, take this team to the next level, these little details that we hound on all the time, they need to get accomplished."
Yes, Nelson is only a true freshman. But he's a true freshman who's seeing increasing playing time, and who seemingly sees the big picture.
"Working on those little details that matter and having those things matter the most, we will turn that corner with that," Nelson said. "Some guys won't follow that. Some guys will fall off. If that changes things, then that changes things."
Nelson, a Scottsbluff native, grew up bleeding red. And black, for that matter. He tells of falling asleep in his room watching Blackshirts film of yesteryear.
So yes, to see Nebraska allow 415 yards to Indiana, playing its backup quarterback, on a day the Huskers wore alternate black jerseys in a nod toward the school's defensive tradition, bothered Nelson.
"It's frustrating to wear those jerseys and have that outcome, obviously," Nelson said. "A lot of former Blackshirts are probably punching some holes through some walls, but I don't blame them. I'm kind of on the same level with them right now."
Nelson expanded on Frost's "OK" mantra in a manner that made you believe the youngster not only truly understands his head coach but could also help instill the message within his teammates.
Players shouldn't be OK, Nelson said, with having a good practice, or being OK with just making it through practice, or being OK with surviving another Wednesday, or being OK with trying in class, or getting through meetings.
"There shouldn't be a lack of effort," Nelson said. "There shouldn't be a satisfaction with just being OK."
Nelson knows Frosts wants players attacking more with a mindset of getting better and taking care of details that matter.
And to say that didn't exist at all Saturday would be unfair to players like true freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who, in the most extensive time of his young career, led a couple of touchdown drives, including one right before halftime, when he delivered a 24-yard scoring pass to senior Kanawai Noa.
Nelson joked about McCaffrey being an "oddball," and how he wouldn't change a single thing about him.
"There's never a dull moment around him," Nelson said. "I swear he sleeps in the quarterback room because he works so hard to try to get the details down. We need a culture like that."
Nelson said that, knowing McCaffrey would immediately trade his 76 rushing yards and 71 rushing yards for a victory. Nelson knows, because he would do the same.
"I don't care how many snaps I got," Nelson said. "We didn't win the game. I don't care if I got a tackle or if I didn't get a single snap. I would've rather won that game."
That's the type of attitude Frost wants as he looks to continue to shift the culture and players' mindsets the remainder of this season.
"We're going to change it. To a degree that I want it at? No, probably not," Frost said. "But we can still change it enough to be competitive and have a chance in all four games.
"Listen, we're going to keep working, and just OK isn't going to be OK with me, but we have got to keep improving."
-Brian Rosenthal (Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal)
Huskers Come Up Short Against Hoosiers
Lincoln - Reserve quarterbacks Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey split time on the field and moved Nebraska for well over 500 yards of total offense, but a pair of costly turnovers were the difference in the Huskers' 38-31 loss to Indiana at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Huskers, who slipped to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten, piled up 514 total yards, including 294 passing and 220 rushing. Vedral started the game and helped the Huskers jump to a 14-3 lead midway through the first quarter and took a 14-9 edge to the second. In roughly two quarters, Vedral completed 14-of-16 passes for 201 yards and added seven carries for 21 yards and two touchdown runs to account for 222 total yards. He also caught a 22-yard pass from JD Spielman. McCaffrey, a true freshman, completed 5-of-6 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, while adding 12 carries for 76 yards to account for 147 total yards.
Indiana became bowl eligible by improving to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten behind the quarterback play of Peyton Ramsey, who completed 27-of-40 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns. He added nine carries for 42 yards and another score to account for 393 yards of total offense. Ramsey, who completed 14 passes for 178 yards to receiver Whop Philyor, helped the Hoosiers to 455 yards of total offense.
Nebraska true freshman Wan'Dale Robinson also had a big day for the Big Red with 22 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown, while adding a team-high six receptions for 71 yards. Spielman pitched in five receptions for 97 yards.
Nebraska was in position to extend its lead on its first drive of the second quarter, before Vedral fumbled on 3rd and 3 at the Indiana 19. The ball was scooped up by Hoosier defensive end Allen Stallings IV who appeared headed for runaway touchdown. However, Vedral got up and chased down Stallings from behind after a 68-yard return and stopped him at the NU 8. Although Vedral prevented the scoop and score, Indiana capitalized on the next play with Ramsey's eight-yard touchdown pass to Ty Fryfogle with 12:19 left in the half to give the Hoosiers a 16-14 lead.
The defenses finally slowed the offenses for the next 10 minutes. Vedral was injured on his eight-yard run to open a Husker drive from its own 3 with 5:25 left in the half. The hit by James Miller knocked the ball loose and knocked Vedral out until Nebraska's final drive of the fourth quarter. Dedrick Mills recovered the fumble, and McCaffrey entered the game but was unable to get the Huskers a first down.
Indiana started its ensuing drive near midfield and moved quickly to the Nebraska 27. But on 2nd and 4, Ramsey's short pass was bobbled and grabbed out of the air by Husker defensive end Alex Davis with 1:52 left. The interception not only stopped a potential scoring drive by the Hoosiers, McCaffrey and the Huskers turned the mistake into points.
Nebraska marched 74 yards in six plays capped by McCaffrey's 24-yard touchdown strike to Kanawai Noa with 39 seconds left in the half. It was McCaffrey's first career touchdown pass, and it sent Nebraska to the locker room with a 21-16 lead. McCaffrey was 2-for-2 for 46 yards on the drive and added a 12-yard run.
Indiana took a 24-21 lead midway through the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by David Ellis that was followed by a two-point conversion pass from Ramsey to Peyton Hendershot with 7:30 left.
McCaffrey was able to provide the Huskers with another answer by driving Nebraska 63 yards in 13 plays before the drive stalled, and Barret Pickering booted a 30-yard field goal to tie the game at 24 with 2:53 left in the third quarter.
The Hoosiers provided the final score of the period with Ramsey's two-yard touchdown pass to Matt Bjorson as time expired to send Nebraska to the final quarter trailing 31-24.
McCaffrey and the offense moved quickly on the ensuing drive, and he hit Noa across midfield for a first down on the second play of the drive. Noa made a move to elude a defender but was hit hard from behind knocking the ball loose. Indiana recovered at the Nebraska 43, and seven plays later Indiana scored on a nine-yard run by Stevie Scott III to give the Hoosiers a 38-24 lead with 12:08 left.
Indiana began to celebrate, but on the first play of Nebraska's drive, McCaffrey completed a short pass to Robinson who was thrown down hard well out of bounds for a 15-yard penalty. On the same play, Indiana roughed McCaffrey after the throw to give Nebraska another 15 yards and move the Big Red across midfield. Five plays later, Robinson coasted into the end zone from four yards out on a short scoring run to pull the Huskers back within 38-31 with 10:21 left.
The Blackshirts got a stop and Nebraska got the ball back with well over six minutes left in the game and all three timeouts, but were 93 yards from paydirt to start the drive. McCaffrey also stayed on the sideline after suffering a minor injury, and Vedral returned for the first time since the second quarter. Vedral marched the Husker offense again, but on 4th and 5 at the Indiana 34 his pass to Jack Stoll was incomplete with 3:23 left.
Nebraska still had all three timeouts, but Indiana was able to string together three first downs to run out the clock and record their first win in Lincoln in its first trip to Memorial Stadium since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten road action next week to take on Purdue. Kick-off between the Big Red and the Boilermakers is set for 11 a.m. with national television coverage on FOX.
Indiana 38, Nebraska 31
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019
First Quarter (Nebraska 14, Indiana 9)
NEB - 13:32 - Noah Vedral 4 run (Barret Pickering kick) - 5 plays, 75 yards, 1:28 - NEB 7-0
IND - 8:45 - Logan Justus 22 FG - 11 plays, 71 yards, 4:42 - NEB 7-3
NEB - 6:57 - Vedral 1 run (Pickering kick) - 5 plays, 75 yards, 1:48 - NEB 14-3
IND - 3:23 - Peyton Ramsey 8 run (Justus kick failed) - 7 plays, 71 yards, 3:30 - NEB 14-9
Second Quarter (Nebraska 21, Indiana 16)
IND - 12:19 - Ty Fryfogle 8 pass from Ramsey (Justus kick) - 1 play, 8 yards, 0:05 - IND 16-14
NEB - 0:39 - Kanawai Noa 24 pass from Luke McCaffrey (Pickering kick) - 6 plays, 74 yards, 1:13 - NEB 21-16
Third Quarter (Indiana 31, Nebraska 24)
IND - 7:30 - David Ellis 1 run (Peyton Hendershot 2PAT pass from Ramsey) - 5 plays, 35 yards, 2:27 - IND 24-21
NEB - 2:53 - Pickering 30 FG - 13 plays, 63 yards, 4:37 - 24-24
IND - 0:00 - Matt Bjorson 2 pass from Ramsey (Justus kick) - 6 plays, 65 yards, 2:53 - IND 31-24
Fourth Quarter (Indiana 38, Nebraska 31)
IND - 12:08 - Stevie Scott III 9 run (Justus kick) - 7 plays, 57 yards, 2:17 - IND 38-24
NEB - 10:21 - Wan'Dale Robinson 4 run (Pickering kick) - 6 plays, 75 yards, 1:47 - IND 38-31
Time of Game: 3:29