MINNEAPOLIS — Nebraska’s veteran defensive linemen didn’t sound like leaders that are planning on an idle bye week.
Yes, Nebraska will have plenty of time to recover physically after playing eight straight weeks to open the season. Yes, there will be time to lick wounds or digest what’s happened the past two weeks in back-to-back rugged losses to Michigan at home and Minnesota here on Saturday.
But there’s also work to do.
“Some guys need to mentally recover. It’s a long season. Physical recover for some guys,” senior defensive lineman Ben Stille said after a 30-23 loss to the Gophers. “Honestly, we’ve got to get better. That’s the difference. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get that much better to make these close losses into wins. It’s not going to get done by sitting around.”
Junior defensive lineman Damion Daniels echoed much the same.
“Man, this bye week, we just need to get in the film room, make the little adjustments and, just basically go in and recover,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to do.”
Coach Scott Frost said before Nebraska ramped it up and played in front of a charged-up Memorial Stadium crowd against No. 9 Michigan that he wanted his team to think about the second half of the season as, essentially, three two-game mini-seasons. It was a way to put a brutal, 23-20 overtime loss to Michigan State in the past and focus on getting a couple of wins before their first bye week.
Instead, Nebraska went 0-2 in the first of its three two-game sets. The next begins Oct. 30 with Purdue and then Ohio State, both at Memorial Stadium.
The Boilermakers, by the way, who were 22-27 under Jeff Brohm, knocked off No. 2 Iowa in Iowa City on Saturday in relatively resounding fashion.
Everybody knows the November schedule. The Buckeyes and another bye week before the closing two-game set of Wisconsin and the Hawkeyes.
Nebraska looked like a team playing its eighth straight game in the first half Saturday against Minnesota.
The Gophers' production largely split around intermission. They were unstoppable before the break and stopped, nearly entirely, after it. Until the dam finally broke on a 56-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run form Bryce Williams that put UM up by two scores.
The trend in the run defense overall for Nebraska, though, is at least one warning sign that fatigue began to creep in. It’s worth noting that Michigan and Minnesota are among the more dedicated and productive rushing teams in the league, but so were the Spartans. The Blackshirts shut down MSU and Northwestern to the tune of 1.92 yards per carry, but allowed 204 to the Wolverines and 182 vs. to the Gophers.
Junior defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt said he didn’t think his side of the ball was ready to play at 11 a.m. after playing three straight night games.
Stille had other ideas.
“I mean, clearly the result on the field first half looks like we weren’t ready to play,” he said. “I don’t think that was necessarily the issue. There were a ton of one-on-one plays out there and we’ve got to make them. They made them all and we didn’t. I think that’s what it came down to.
"That’s what football is. Everyone’s got a one-on-one battle or a two-on-one battle. Whatever it is, you’ve got to win it. That’s what it came down to and we didn’t get that done in the first half. In the second half, we got that done better."
Whether the Huskers are tired or morale is waning or if they just got caught for one half and that’s all there is to it, some rest is coming.
The players are slated to be off from practice Monday and Tuesday. Part of the light load is because of a quirky rule. The Huskers played Week 0, so they were allowed to start practicing a week earlier than other teams. They don’t, however, actually get more practices to use over the course of the season, so they have to build in a week’s worth of off days along the way. Those will be mostly used this week and on NU’s next bye week (Nov. 13).
“They need a break. It’s been a grind. That’s not an excuse. Minnesota did more good things than us (Saturday),” Frost said. “But they need a break and I know they’ll come back strong.”
The break is here. Now it’s incumbent on the Huskers to make the most of it.
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