Steven M. Sipple: Patience, Husker fans, even if latest loss wasn’t necessarily rock bottom
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If you’re a Nebraska football fan, you’re perhaps tired of people telling you to be patient.
But you’re going to have to be patient if you’re staying with this big red ship. A simple acknowledgment might go a long way toward helping you cope:
Being patient often sucks. Remember that. It surely sucked during an otherwise gorgeous Saturday in the Big House.
If you’re an ardent Nebraska fan, you perhaps need a hug following a 56-10 loss to 19th-ranked Michigan. But, hopefully, you haven’t given up hope. My God, that would be a terrible decision. You don’t ever throw in the towel, especially not in a head coach’s first year of leading a program that was badly mismanaged by his predecessor.
Besides, I’m here to help you through the darkness.
Let’s start with what Husker coach Scott Frost told his team after it fell to 0-3 (0-1 Big Ten).
“I told them I honestly believe this is going to be the bottom right here,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been a part of a game like that. But we got beat in every phase.”
He paused before adding, “We’re really going to find out who loves football and who loves each other, and who’s going to band together.”
Let’s all take a step back now. Did you really believe with all your heart Nebraska would win this game? You were exceedingly optimistic if that was the case. The Huskers were 18-point underdogs on the road. I picked Michigan to win 31-13 in our newspaper staff’s friendly pick ’em contest.
That said, I didn’t envision Frost’s crew getting beaten in the trenches to such an astonishing degree. Keep in mind, Michigan’s offensive line was regarded as a team weakness. The Wolverines, however, accumulated 190 rushing yards by halftime, with an average of 7.9 yards per carry.
Frost said this game was rock bottom. But he might’ve forgotten about Nov. 3, when Nebraska plays at Ohio State. The undefeated Buckeyes feature the nation’s best one-two punch at running back in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. They run behind an ornery line. So, yeah, it might actually get worse. Brace for it. Better yet, don’t think about it. There’s enough to worry about before then.
But we’re splitting hairs on what could be Nebraska’s rock bottom. So, let’s take another step back. This was the third game of the Frost era at Nebraska, and this is the fourth year of the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan. Close your eyes, Husker fans, and think about where Frost’s program might be three years from now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ahead of where Michigan stands, especially on offense.
If Nebraska rises to Michigan’s level on defense, well, watch out. You saw four All-American level players in the Wolverines’ front seven (Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson). You saw speed and tenacity. At one point, you saw Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo take an option pitch and appear to have running room, only to be chased down by Bush.
Bush is an All-American. Nebraska’s defense last season had nobody on the Big Ten coaches’ all-conference first team, second team, third team or even an honorable mention. Michigan had nine players honored.
Patience, my friends.
If you’re skeptical about Nebraska’s chances to become a force again someday, you can lean on Frost’s level of confidence.
“I’ve seen it happen before,” said the 43-year-old who orchestrated Central Florida’s rise from the ashes.
But yeah, it all takes time. It takes time for Dave Ellis’ nutrition program to produce results. He’s barely had time to find a house.
It takes time to land players who best fit Frost’s systems. It takes time to develop walk-on players. Takes time for a culture to take hold.
Frost said Nebraska simply wasn’t “ready to beat a team like this, yet.”
“But the key word to me is ‘yet,’” he added. “Because I know where it’s going. It certainly isn’t happening as quickly as I would like, but I’m kind of excited because it’s not going to get worse than this and it’s only up from here.”
He thought his team competed hard Saturday but said execution was poor. That’s probably an understatement.
As for physicality, “We got whipped,” he said.
“If I had a team that didn’t compete, I’d be really worried right now, but I thought they competed,” he said.
That said, Nebraska’s penalty problems have been embarrassing, as has its special-teams play. Much of that is on the coaches, obviously. But virtually everyone’s culpable in a loss like this one.
“Guys have to look at themselves in the mirror,” said safety Tre Neal, a UCF transfer. “If someone’s here just to be on the bandwagon ride, even if we were winning, they shouldn’t have been here in the first place. It’s not a good thing, but we’re going to see people’s true colors coming out, being 0-3 and a good Purdue team coming in next week.
“Weed out the bad and move on with what we got.”
Said Frost: “The only (players) we would lose are the ones we never really had, and that’s probably better in the long run. If there are guys who jump off ship, then we never really had them, and the guys we’re going to actually win with and win championships with would never do that.”
He said “win championships” as if it’s a certainty. There are seldom certainties in high-level competition.
But I’m certain Frost will provide excellent leadership, and there’s no doubt he understands the game at a high level.
Patience, Husker fans, even when it sucks.