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Behind Enemy Lines: Nebraska Cornhuskers

We caught up with a few Huskers fans.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Nebraska is 2-1 thus far in the season/non-conference play. What grade do you give Scott Frost so far this season, and was the Colorado loss as catastrophic as it seemed?

Jon: I give my friend Scott a C+ because yes the Colorado loss was catastrophic. It wasn’t damaging in that it hurt our goals for the season - making a bowl game or winning the west. Where it hurt was - Nebraska fans (maybe me included… maybe) talked shit about Colorado for an entire year and then we lost. And we already get abused by those trust fund shitheads because they have mountains and slopes, and it hurts. It does. I am not going to lie. It hurts

/runs away weeping

Nate M: I’d give Frost a C. I think the further we get away from the Colorado game the less catastrophic it feels. I still remember sitting in the chair after the loss and looking through twitter for somebody to make sense of the loss. The biggest source of being upset is that we took over 70 percent of that stadium and lost. Well, now I’m pissed off.

(Breath)

Now, I have moved on. If we win like we hope then I will likely end up not caring at all about the loss to Colorado. I’m not surrounded by Colorado fans like I am Iowa fans.

Jill: I’d give Frost a C as well. Average. We were promised jet packs and flying cars on offense and he’s acted like he is driving a Buick. We saw him shake off some of that conservatism against Northern Illinois, but we’ll see if it continues.

The loss to CU wasn’t catastrophic, but it is definitely a bad, bad loss. The team did enough talking ahead of time that I was concerned about where their heads would be and I think it showed. The coaches took their foot off the gas after the Huskers rolled to a 17-0 halftime lead and couldn’t get the momentum back when they needed it.

Andy: I’ll be a little more generous & bump him up to a B. It was probably a D out of the gate, but they have improved noticeably each week and isn’t that what coaching is all about?

Brianna: I am going to go with a B-. There is still a lot to work on, but his play calling and player development has seemed to get better as the season has progressed.

The loss to Colorado was devastating for a day. I know for others it lasted longer than that, but a good showing last week made me forget all about it.

Uglydog56: C is passing in college. I don’t know if struggling against Directional Bama and losing to fricking Colorado is passing. If it is, it’s a C-. MINUS. That Colorado loss was bad. Superbad. Gigli bad.

2. Obviously Adrian Martinez is the guy who runs the show on offense. How do you rate him thus far in his 1 season + 3 games career so far? Do you think he is in the conversation as one of, if not the best Big Ten quarterbacks?

Nate M: I think if you took our “Heisman finalist” expectations out of it then I think he has actually played pretty well. I think he’s in the conversation, but that’s more because I think the Big Ten is relatively weak at the position. I will be interested to see how things shake out by the end of the year. Regardless, I’ll take him as long as he is here.

Jill: Martinez has been everything the coaches said about him in spring ball and fall camp - and you know that coaches are always saying nice things during those times and they don’t always turn out to be true. He has played okay this season, but probably below what Husker fans expected - you know things like “Heisman candidate” are a pretty high bar. As far as the conversation about top QBs in the Big Ten...I don’t know about that, but I’ll repeat what Nate said. I’m happy he’s a Husker for as long as he is here.

Andy: He just went 16/27 with 2 TD’s passing and added 44 yards rushing with another TD on the ground as people griped about his performance. It’s fair to say the bar’s set a little high right now. By the end of this season, he’ll be at or near the top of the B1G QB rankings. Ohio St next week could be the head-to-head matchup for that title.

Brianna: I think he’ll be near the top. Last year I was all in on him and I was a little concerned at the start of the season, but I think he’ll be performing at an elite level by in the near future.

Uglydog56: He’s been up and down. As many flashes of brilliance as there have been, there have also been turnovers. The Nebraska game plan is predicated upon forcing turnovers on defense, then capitalizing on them on offense. Our quarterback can’t be gifting the opposing team turnovers, he just can’t. This will clean itself up, and he will improve as the season goes on. Young Mr. Martinez is still growing into his position, and having to do it behind an offensive line that isn’t giving him any opportunity to dog-paddle. It’s all 100m freestyle in a pool of sharks right now.

3. This Cornhuskers defense seems loaded and full of experience. Aside from linebacker Mohamed Barry, who else do you expect on defense will jump off the screen and make Illini fans go “wow! Who’s that guy?!”

Nate M: Well I hope there are a bunch of them. If I could only pick one, then I’d pick...DiCaprio Bootle, JoJo Domann, Darrion Daniels, Lamar Jackson, Khalil Davis, Carlos Davis, Cam Taylor-Britt and one of my favorites...Collin Miller. We have been pleasantly surprised by the play of Nebraska’s defense. Quite opposite of the offense actually.

Jill: JoJo Domann has been the swiss army knife of the defense. He is officially listed as the nickel on the depth chart. He played safety for a while, was switched to linebacker and now “nickel”. Basically he’s deployed wherever the coaches are looking for havoc or a play. Cam Taylor-Britt has stood out, but he injured a shoulder and I don’t know if he will play against the Illini. The entire defensive line and the second string D-line have been solid. You don’t often say “wow” when watching DL players (Ndamukong Suh waves hello) but the line is solid and solidly two-deep.

Andy: The D-line is the strength literally rotate 2-deep with little to no drop off. Darrion Daniels is my favorite story.

Brianna: This is a tough one because I think we add new guys every week. Darrion Daniels and the Davis twins should get some attention. I also think JoJo Domann has been showing up big each week.

Uglydog56: If Cam Taylor-Britt plays, you will know it. If JoJo Domann is on the field, his name will be called often as well.

4. What is the expectation in Lincoln this season? How many wins? Is a Big Ten West title (and in particular overcoming Wisconsin) an attainable goal?

Jon: Well I am just not answering this question because I am trying so hard to live one day at a time.

Nate M: You talk in the present tense. Before the season, the majority of the fans were in the 7-9 win range. I believe that right now we are in the 6-8 range. Yes, I believe winning the division is obtainable. Unfortunately, it is obtainable for pretty much everybody in the division.

Jill: I think Husker fans were more reasonable than a lot of the national media. I had a hard time buying into the 10-2 notion but I got myself to 8-4. I think 7-5 or even 6-6 is more likely with the struggles of the offense. I did pick the Huskers to win the division - mostly because I thought it would be a tough slog in which a lot of teams beat up on each other. After watching the first three games, I’m probably backing off that, but hopefully Frost can get them rolling as conference play gets underway.

Andy: That is directly proportional to how much alcohol is being consumed. In the last two weeks, people have literally jumped from “We won’t even make a goddamned bowl game” to “Big 10 title game is totally doable!” Pour me another, Larry.

Brianna: Even though it pains me to think of 3 or 4 more losses. I think 8-4 or 7-5 is probably what we are looking at. Winning the West seems like an attainable goal.

Uglydog56: That Kool-aid seems to take quite a while to process out of your system. Luckily I did not partake during the offseason. 6 wins is my number, which will be completely unacceptable to the general populace.

5. Nebraska’s strength seems to be on the perimeter: Fast guys in the backfield and out wide on the edges. Would you say that’s true as the talent improves under Scott Frost?

Jon: No. It’s clear from Nebraska’s religious preferences that we must run up the middle. If we cannot run up the middle successfully, crops will fail, the cattle will all have brucellosis, and grandma will die of cancer now. It’s a very serious situation.

Nate M: Well the coaching staff wants as much speed on the field as possible. The speed we are missing is at the TE position. So I think that is what we are missing. We got guys who can block, but getting open is somewhat a problem. Nebraska did have a guy in Katerian Legrone who looked like that guy but from what we can tell he’s no longer on the team for off the field reasons.

Jill: Yes. Frost likes the perimeter passing game. He’s also got some backs that fit outside runs well (Washington and Robinson). Our between-the-tackles back (Mills) hasn’t really found much room to work and wasn’t seeing the holes in the first two games. He looked better in the third game, but the Illini DL seems like a very solid unit and our OL is well...a work in progress. So, yes, I expect the Husker game plan may be heavy on trying to get to the perimeter in this game especially, but probably throughout the season.

Andy: That was the thought and then former Freshman All-American Dedrick Mills starting seeing the holes and carried 11 times for 116 yards with a couple long jaunts that started in the heart of the line. If they can establish that then, getting outside will become much easier.

Uglydog56: Our success on the perimeter is directly related to the struggles of our interior linemen. You have to take what the field will give you.

6. Not necessarily related to this game coming against Illinois, but Nebraska is notorious for having some of the best traveling fans in all of college football. You guys have had some bad football seasons… how and why does Nebraska keep up the Big Red support?

At Illinois, attendance and fan engagement is a big problem. Can you help us put a finger on what it’s like to be a Nebraska supporter, even through some dark times?

Jon: There’s the constant perceived insult that goes: “In Nebraska, there’s nothing else to do.” I’d like to put this to rest. There is plenty to do. There is planting season, then irrigating, then harvesting. So f*ck you guys - there’s nothing else to do.

There is, OTOH, an identity issue. The identity is the football program. People might disagree with that, but take this perspective - what would you think of Oklahoma, the place, if it weren’t for the Sooners?

Do we have the mountains in Colorado? Do we have the beaches of Southern California? Do we have Broadway of New York? The blues of Chicago? The jazz and food of New Orleans? No. We have none of those things. (Although, to be true to my state, beef pretty much from anywhere else sucks by comparison.)

Nate M: Hope. I really think it is hope. Unlike other programs where there is no fan support, no money, and no facilities — at Nebraska there are all of those things. So while we are aware of our disadvantages (weather and location) we still believe that if we lean on the fans, money and facilities that we can be really good again.

Like I’ve joked about basketball (Fred Hoiberg), if Scott Frost doesn’t work out then we may have to move on to fly fishing.

Jill: Between the Devaney and Osborne years, it was pretty easy to build this cult-like following for Husker football. That fandom has taken on an identity of its own that has endured and remained hopeful through 20 years of wandering in the wilderness. Even if Nebraska wasn’t part of “flyover” country, the Huskers would still be part of the heart and soul of the state because of the high level of excellence that was maintained for such a ridiculously long time.

Andy: Don’t kid yourself - another major factor in Mike Riley’s firing (besides really sucking at his job) was the fact that people were starting to no-show home games. Tickets for Ohio St were selling for $20 in 2017. We were perilously close to losing the sellout streak and fan loyalty was pressed more than anytime since the 60’s.

The return of Frost and doing things a certain way has ended that brush with darkness and we are locked in & traveling & attending again. Why is it like this? Hell if I know why it took off. I guess we like football way too much or something.

Uglydog56: I think there are quite a few people who are in similar circumstances as myself. Nebraska has a relatively high-ranking educational system, but lacks a large industrial or tech base for jobs. Many people have left the state for career opportunities, but are still connected to and nostalgic for their roots. When the games are physically close, they show up to be a part of Nebraska again.