Intense Huskers Still Fighting
Ben Stille pursed his lips. His eyes narrowed. His hands, attached to mammoth arms, clutched a meager podium as the hulking defensive lineman rocked it back and forth.
That the construction of wood painted black with a Nebraska logo didn’t crumble to pieces is a minor miracle.
Yeah, that’s how intense Stille, a redshirted sophomore, a Nebraska native, from Ashland, appeared Saturday afternoon after yet another Husker football defeat.
In other words, Stille, who spoke in quiet, serious, measured tones, could feel the same intensity, the same emotion, that his head coach – another Nebraska native, mind you – had just displayed a few minutes earlier.
“He’s lived this, and it hurts him just as much as it does us,” Stille said of Nebraska coach Scott Frost, in his first season with the Huskers. “He puts everything he has into his game plan. It’s definitely inspiring to see that your coach cares that much. It makes the players care even more.”
Yes, Frost is upset.
Stille is upset.
Many other Nebraska football players are, too, for that matter.
Other players, too, of course, whom Frost didn’t have time to mention.
Players, Frost said, he will go to battle with, any day.
He lauds them. He treasures them. He appreciates them.
Frost just wants more of them.
“In order to have a disciplined team, you have to have guys that really care, and have guys that are accountable, and you have to have an environment where they’re held accountable,” a passionate Frost said late Saturday afternoon, after Nebraska dropped to 0-4 overall with a 42-28 homecoming loss to Purdue.
The accountability comment certainly resonated with Stille.
“That’s been a missing part here for as long as I’ve been here,” Stille said. “That’s definitely something that’s getting worked on that needs to be addressed.”
It’s the little things, Frost said, that players do on and off the field. Coaches continue to preach it.
“I don’t know if it’s taken root with everybody. I don’t know how many habits people have,” Frost said. “We’re trying to break a lot of habits. We’re trying to teach them how we want things done, because I know when things are done that way, you win games and you win championships.”
Frost’s voice quivered as he spoke.
“As hard as this team has played, and a lot of guys on this team have played well enough to win,” he said, “we’re not going to win as long as those things are happening.”
Of course, “those things” include penalties (Nebraska had 11 for 136 yards) and turnovers (the Huskers had only one Saturday, but a costly interception in a comeback attempt).
Mistakes, in general, prevented the Huskers from ending what’s now an eight-game losing skid, dating to last year’s victory at Purdue.
“He wants it just as much or more than any of us. That’s part of the problem,” Nebraska linebacker and captain Luke Gifford said of Frost. “Guys played hard today, that wasn’t it. We just have to, like he says, need a bunch of guys that love football, and that’s what gets you through tough times like this.
“It’s not easy; no one wants to lose. It’s really hard, but if we’re going to change the way this season is going, then we need guys that love football and want to go out there every day and work their butt off.”
Players like Ozigbo, who rushed 17 times for a career-high 170 yards, and two touchdowns. With freshman Maurice Washington ill last week, coaches turned to the senior, who responded in kind.
“Devine practiced better than anybody else,” Frost said. “When he got hot, he was a warrior today, and I’ll go to battle with him.”
Players like Martinez, a true freshman who went 25-of-42 passing for 323 yards and two touchdowns, setting career highs in each of those categories. He also rushed 18 times for 91 yards to account for a career-high 414 yards of total offense.
“I think Adrian grew up a bunch today. I saw a guy today that looks like he kind of figured out he can win a game,” Frost said. “Some of the throws he made, some of the decisions he made to take it down and run it. Now, he still made a few freshman mistakes, and in a couple cases we have to put him in a little better situation.”
Players like Spielman, who limped off the field in the second half, only to return, because he didn’t want to stay sidelined. He caught 10 passes for 135 yards to become the fastest Nebraska player in history to 1,000 career yards, surpassing Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, who accomplished the feat one game later than Spielman.
Players like Stille, who left a pass rush to run down a Purdue receiver 30 yards downfield.
“I’ll go to battle with guys like that anytime,” Frost said.
Still, Frost said he’s tired of coaching an undisciplined team and won’t hesitate to play other players who do things the right way.
Frost ended his news conference by recalling how he’d been through down times as a player here, too, and how the proudest moment of his career was when he fought back while facing adversity.
He’s certain Nebraskans can understand and relate.
“I appreciate the fans here so much,” Frost said, “because I walk out of that tunnel at 0-3, and little kids still want to slap our hands and people are saying, ‘You’ll get them going, coach.’ And we will. It’s going to happen.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@GBRosenthal.