From afar, I imagine many people are looking at Nebraska, which is 0-6 for the first time in the storied history of that program, and saying, ``What the hell is going on there?’’
The Cornhuskers were oh-so-close to giving native son Scott Frost his first victory on Saturday, leading Northwestern 31-21 in the final minutes.
That prospect was very delicious for the thousands of Nebraska fans who descended on Evanston, Illinois. They turned the Land of Lincoln into the City of Lincoln—and gave the Cornhuskers a decided road-crowd advantage.
Big Red fans were particularly incensed by the failure to call inentional grounding twice late in the game. The referee’s explanation that there was an eligible receiver in the area failed to convince them.
Then they were crushed as Northwestern drove 99 yards in the final two minutes and won the game in overtime.
That was pretty good stuff for the Wildcats, as I detailed in my story for the Chicago Sun-Times.
The best Nebraska people get it. They are frustrated, just like Frost and his players. But the wise ones know that this is a process. Frost is the right guy. He quarterbacked championship Cornhusker teams. He apprenticed well, culminated by going unbeaten at Central Florida last season.
It would be nice to win some games—heck, to win one game—this year. But this is turning out to be a bigger project than anyone anticipated.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The Cornhuskers obviously played well enough to beat the Northwestern. They were very competitive in a 41-24 loss at Wisconsin last week. Early in the year, they lost heartbreakers to Colorado and Troy State.
But the real measure will come down the road. In 2019 and beyond.
The problem this fall is they’re not talented enough and not experienced enough to get over the hump. And the hump keeps getting bigger with every loss, which adds to the problem.
And yet, because it’s Nebraska, Frost is under the microscope. He’s running out of ways to say his team lacks the necessary talent and experience. (Keep an eye on his freshman quarterback. Adrian Martinez already is a handful.)
He’s thrown some unnamed players under the bus for lacking the required resolve. To his credit, on Saturday, he moved away from that and stuck with other vague explanations.
``Some of the things that are happening to us this year,’’ Frost said, ``I haven’t ever really seen before, so it’s hard for me to anticipate them and fix them. I’ve never seen that happen.’’
Frost also shrugged off the ESPN metrics thing that gave Nebraska a 98.7 percent chance of winning with less than two minutes to go.
``I always watch the ESPN deal when I'm not coaching a game and watch the percent chance of winning,’’ Frost said. ``Makes me sick sometimes when I watch teams that are 98 percent chance of winning. I thought that would be us, but it's hard to tell where ours was in this game. That's just heartbreaking for those guys.’’
His postgame message to his players?
“I’m kind of running out of words to tell them, other than just stick together,” Frost said. ``There’s no doubt they’re better. They deserved to win that game today, and I think they know how much we’ve improved.’’
The bottom line is, he needs better and more experienced players.
I keep thinking of what he told us at Big Ten media days: ``People better get us now.’’
I believe that is good advice.
And so does Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who played linebacker at Northwestern in the ‘90s when Frost was the Cornhuskers quarterback. (Their teams never met.)
``I have a ton of respect for Frosty,’’ Fitzgerald said. ``He’s going to do a terrific job there. They're playing much better since the Michigan game [a 56-10 rout]. He said they hit rock bottom there and were going to come out of it. It showed a lot last week [at Wisconsin] and this week They have a very talented group.’’
Until then, my advice would be to treat Nebraska as a work in progress. Think of the Cornhuskers as not ready for prime time and tune in elsewhere—or know what you’re getting into.
That said, the schedule still has some opportunities. If not Minnesota this week, Bethune-Cookman on Oct. 26 seems ripe for the picking. Say, at least a 98.7 percent chance.
Illinois and Michigan State, who have had their own ups and downs, also remain.
I agree with Frost: Better get the Cornhuskers now. Even if you have to take a number.[/membership]