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Reflections of 2018 Nebraska Football: A Corn Nation Roundtable

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Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to digest 2018, the CN team reflects back at Scott Frost’s first season leading the Huskers.

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect on the football season, the Corn Nation staff sat down and reflected on the 2018 Huskers.

I dare say, nobody around here expected another 4-8 season for Nebraska. What was the biggest difference between the 0-6 start to the season and the 4-2 conclusion?

Uglydog56: Uhh, that would be the 4 wins, Mike.

But seriously, once the team got a taste of win, everything seemed to work better in every phase. Penalties dropped, the offense gelled, the defense didn’t wilt quite so quickly, everything just worked better. It’s easier to believe in something when there’s tangible results proving the theory is viable.

Jon: The team finally understood that what they were doing during the 0-6 start was not what would help them be successful. It wasn’t about athletes as much as it was about teamwork and being accountable.

Nate M: The players started holding other players accountable. It isn't a sexy reason but when players start doing that then things change. A perfect example is the list that had the players who were not following team rules. The list was long during the first six games but then started dwindling down to none right around the time the team started winning. Coincidence?

Jill: I could repeat what Jon and Nate said, but I won’t. I saw something very similar happen to the women’s basketball team in Amy Williams’ first season. They had a miserable year, one of the worst in Husker history, but at the end they were scaring (and knocking off) ranked teams. That season and the first half of this season seemed to be a situation of “do things my way or get your butts kicked until you do.”

Mike: Lots of esoteric stuff there, but the one definitive thing I could identify was penalties. Nebraska was 12th in the Big Ten in penalties this season with 92. 61 in the first six games, but only 31 in the second half of the season. That’s a direct reflection of having more discipline, and simply learning how to win again.

Andy: With the exception of Michigan, they were in every game during the 0-6 start and got sidetracked by their own mistakes and some questionable refereeing for about a 3-4 game stretch.

There was a fighting spirit again and once the last of the chaff had transferred away from the wheat, it was just a matter of learning how to win again. In the previous three years, the body language of the coach when trailing was folded arms and a hung head. In 2018, the staff insisted the team never say die and worked to correct the mental mistakes of the first half.

Last year 4-8 was a few breaks from being 2-10. This year it was a few breaks from being 8-4 or even 9-3. Go back and check if you don’t believe me.

Who were your biggest surprise players of 2018 and your biggest disappointments?

Uglydog56: Biggest surprise would have to be Devine Ozibgo. I have never been a believer of his, and in every preseason thing we did, I foresaw him riding the pine except for obvious passing downs. With that kind of accuracy, I should be a meteorologist! He had a fantastic season, seeming out of nowhere. The dude picked up speed (which I didn’t think was really possible for a college player to do) and also got better at yards after contact, somehow at the same time. In 2018, Devine was divine. Biggest disappointment? Everyone below Lamar Jackson on the depth chart at CB. There was a huge opportunity to step here, and nobody could do better than him?

Jon: Dog took Devine, so... I’ll go with Adrian Martinez! That’s what you other guys get for being late to answer roundtable questions! WOooooo!!!!! It wasn’t just that Martinez was a good starting quarterback, it was his handling of the offense and his accuracy as a passer as a true freshman.

Disappointment? Greg Bell, perhaps? The guy who transferred because “I feel I am not being used to my fullest potential.” Okay, dude. Good luck to whatever you do, but it’s more like you didn’t want to compete for a starting position.

After Bell... The Third Down Defense. Nebraska ended up 105th in Opponent Third Down Conversions. That’s bloody damned awful. If our beloved Huskers expect to compete for the Big Ten West title next season, this stat has to come up to at least being average.

Nate M: Biggest surprise for me was Mohamed Barry. I think Zach Duval did a number on him. He looked like an all-conference player this past year. Over 100 tackles and an emotional leader on defense. He runs hot and I think our defense definitely need it. Another surprise is that Barrett Pickering appears to be a continuation of great kickers at Nebraska. He didn't look the part at the beginning of the year but he sure ended the season looking quite confident.

In regards to a disappointment I might go somewhere surprising. The Wide Receivers. We should have gotten more out of this group. Yes we had Stanley Morgan and Spielman. But after that there was not much to speak to. We thought we had a deep room of receivers but McQuitty (who looks the part) and Woodyard (sounds like he's not football fast) have been no-shows. Hopefully Mike Williams just didn't have the opportunities to show what he can do. Kade Warner has been a pleasant surprise but he happened almost by accident.

Jill: The guys already mentioned all the obvious ones. Ozigbo was definitely the biggest surprise and Martinez was better than advertised. Pickering got past his rocky start and really came on at the end of the season - so good for him. Mo Barry was a beast. So, if I have to pick a surprise player that hasn’t already been mentioned, I’d go with Isaac Armstrong. He displaced last year’s starter, a scholarship punter, and only posted the ninth best punting average in Husker history.

Disappointments. The guys already grabbed a lot of the obvious ones here too. For me, it might be the rush defense. The defensive line was supposed to be the strength of the Blackshirts but they finished 94th in FBS in rush defense giving up 5 yards/carry (I honestly thought it would be worse than that when I first looked) and 196 yards/game.

Mike: If I was answering first, I’d have also taken Ozigbo and then Mo Barry as my surprise players. But I’ll also mention DiCaprio Bootle, who really played solid at cornerback all season long. For a disappointment, I’ll echo the wide receiver depth. This spring, somebody is going to have to fill Stanley Morgan’s shoes, and he’s leaving huge ones behind as he heads to the NFL. Losing records in three of his four seasons at Nebraska, he probably won’t get enough credit for what he accomplished at Nebraska. I don’t think Scott Frost wanted to lean on Morgan and J.D. Spielman as much as he had to this season. Somebody is going to need to seize that opportunity.

Andy: Surprise - Devine. Well covered above, agree 100%.

Disappointment - Caleb Lightbourn. Hey, I’m the first to admit what a no-win situation he found himself in two years ago. However, after a breakout performance last season, 2018 was a regression for the ages. I feel as bad as anyone for him after his Charlie Brown Lucy Yanking The Football onside kick into YouTube history, but at this point I wouldn’t trust him to kick off from the 50.

We have to ask this: Any regret or “buyers’ remorse” over the hiring of Scott Frost?

Uglydog56: This over another season of Mike Riley?

Jon: No. This had to happen. One of our own had to come home to coach. It’s the evolution of Nebraska football. The only bad thing about it is everyone will be drinking the Kool Aid and expecting us to go 10-2 next season. We continue to look down on those around us, our opponents and think that they aren’t going to get any better and they should just bow down and let us win. It doesn’t work that way. Everyone is competitive. Everyone has players.

Nate M:. Ya Jon but nobody else has Scott Frost! We should probably win 14 of our first 12 games next year. I don't think “buyer's remorse” is possible with Frost. Now let's see where we are in three or four years.

Jill: No.

Mike: To me, this is an absolutely ridiculous question. I have ZERO regrets or remorse over the selection of Scott Frost. “But Mike! Why did you put this in the Roundtable if it’s so ridiculous?” Simple, while it’s a ridiculous questions to Nebraska fans, outsiders might just look at the 4-8 record and wonder. So let’s make it definitive that almost nobody regrets this move.

I will take issue with Jon’s response. There’s a certain thought process that Frost was the right guy because he’s a former Husker. And that is completely bass-ackwards. History is riddled with failed alums (John Blake, Mike Shula, etc.) who tried to be the head coach. You don’t hire a guy because he’s an alum. You can’t do that if you want success.

When you set out to hire a coach, you go out there and find the best coach you possibly can. A year ago, the best coach who wasn’t locked up at a national contender was clearly Scott Frost. SEC schools wanted him. Pac-12 schools wanted him. The ONLY reason why Nebraska was able to land Frost was because this was home. Nebraska didn’t hire Scott Frost because he’s a former Husker; Scott Frost chose to accept the Nebraska job because he’s a former Husker.

Andy: Well gawsh. As tough as it is was to cut the standard bearer of mediocrity loose after his proving he could successfully embed the culture of mediocrity in Lincoln despite its having superior facilities and support as compared to Corvallis, I think we may have done the right thing.

Granted - if the consensus national Coach of the Year is yours for the taking, you should stop and think long and hard about bringing him in if he is an alumnus of your university and has insane ideas about trying to reestablish the core beliefs and culture that was part of 25 years of sustained success.

This way madness lies.

With all due respect for the western thinking that has elevated the Pac 10 slightly above Conference USA in the CFP discussions, I’m willing to give this Nebraska guy thing a chance.

Rank the returning roster, by position group (Quarterback, I-Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Outside Linebacker, Inside Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety) , in terms of concerns for the future:

Uglydog56: Most concerning: Outside linebacker. The 3-4 needs one mountainous nose tackle to plug the center, and one blazing fast, angry, Bobby-Boucher-daddy-issues pass rusher to work. We don’t have that pass rusher yet. It’s the biggest deficiency on the team.

Jon: Everything on the offense is ahead of the defense.

Nate M: I actually would put the quarterback room up there for most concerning. I think Martinez is a generational player who could not be adequately replaced by anybody on the roster or recruits coming in. One play away from being injured. The Wide Receivers though are probably number one on offense for reasons I said above.

On defense the DL is number one because of the difficulty of getting that dominant NT and some pass rushers which we missed for an entire season last year. We saw what happened when we had to blitz to get to the QB.

Jill: Pass rusher (I’d prefer an edge rusher or two, but I’m not picky, I’d take an interior rush too), backup quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback (I thought about putting this ahead of wide receiver, but if we get a pass rush, it will help protect the corners), and everywhere else on defense.

Mike: I start with the defensive and then offensive lines. It all starts up front in football and Nebraska needs to get bigger and stronger. After that, I go with outside linebacker because Nebraska needs to generate more of a pass rush. Next is wide receiver, because SOMEBODY not named Spielman has to start contributing; preferably two or three. I-Back, because while I like Maurice Washington, Nebraska is going to need somebody else to contribute. With so many safeties graduating, Nebraska is going to need a lot of players step up in 2019. I think the depth at cornerback might be OK, though. Same thing with the tight ends. I’m not all that worried about inside linebacker, because Will Honas was about to claim Dedrick Young’s Blackshirt before he hurt his knee. That’s going to be a strength next season. Lastly, I think NU is set at quarterback, especially if the youngest McCaffrey arrives on campus next month.

Andy: No. I’m tired and drunk. Black guys help the white guys. (If that means nothing to you, go watch Stripes. RIP, John Candy.)

A first-chance to prognosticate next season, with Troy and Akron/BCU being replaced by South Alabama (3-9 in 2018) and Northern Illinois (8-5), along with Michigan and Michigan State being replaced by Indiana (5-7) and Maryland (5-7). What’s NU’s record?

Uglydog56: We’re winning the B1G and going to the playoff, of course! This is Nebraska, we don’t have reasonable expectations around here! Nobody would pick 8-4 with a bowl win like they should be doing! Although 11-1 is possible, with some luck. I’m picking 9-4 overall so all the 9 win jokes can be recycled.

Jon: We’re going 10-2 baby! I don’t even know where the two losses are going to come from, but I’m being conservative so that I don’t get my hopes up too high! Big Ten West Champs all the way! WOoooooohooooo!

Nate M:. I said 6-6 this past year. I think 8-4. Games against Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Iowa are probably the most likely losses. Oh and that other school.

Jill: I said 6-6 or 7-5 for this past season although I secretly hoped for more. As for the 2019 season, I am awfully worried about the defensive side of the ball. Special teams looked a little less, uh, ‘special’ by the end of the season, so I’m hoping that phase doesn’t cost us any games like it did in 2018. Given my question marks on defense I’m going with 8-4, although I will again be hoping for more. Fortunately we get late-season (playing a fourth string quarterback who is really a safety) Maryland instead of early-season (beats Texas HAAAAAHAAAAHAAAA!) Maryland. Any game on the schedule is winnable, but there are a lot of pick-em type games. Some bad injury mojo or turnover bad luck could easily cost this team some games in 2019.

Mike: I’m counting a continued jump in the program between year one and year two. Frost has talked of it, and frankly, I don’t think anybody comprehended how far Nebraska had fallen in terms of strength and conditioning during the last regime. UCF made a big stride between year one and two, and I expect something similar in 2019.

I don’t think that’s playoff-contending, though. I think Nebraska goes 9-3, with losses to Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. That won’t get them to Indianapolis, but should get them to a pretty good bowl game.

Andy: It’s too early to break it down game by game, so I’ll use the schedule info in the question, offset the loss of guys like Morgan with a full year in Duvall’s training program and learning the offense and say we’ve started learning how to win - 9-3 with a monster upset thrown in. BTW, given the trend lines of our division, that might get us in the B1G title game.

Might.

OK. What Say You?

Give us your reflections in the comments!