10 things we learned from Nebraska's press conference
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and several players met with reporters on Monday for their weekly press conference inside Memorial Stadium, recapping the win over Illinois and previewing this week's home showdown with Ohio State.
Here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned from the day...
1. Frost is embracing the hype
A lot of coaches would do all they could to downplay the hype surrounding a game like Nebraska has against Ohio State this week. Not Frost, though.
While he obviously wants to keep his team focused on the task at hand of preparing for a top-five opponent, he also understands what a game like this means not only to his program, but to the athletic department, fan base, and the state.
Frost wants atmospheres like Saturday – which will have the attention of the college football nation as a primetime showdown on ABC and ESPN’s College Game Day broadcasting in Lincoln – to become the norm for the Huskers.
How they handle the next few days could go a long way in keeping Nebraska in position to play on this kind of stage again going forward.
“Our guys need to be and need to learn how to be comfortable in situations,” Frost said. “This is special… Regardless of how this game goes this is a special time for Nebraska. There are some big things coming this week… This is a good opportunity to highlight our program, the direction the program is going, the improvement we have made, the path that we are on.
“It’s going to be great to get national attention here in Lincoln. If we weren’t improving and getting better and going in a really good direction that was obvious to a lot of people, we wouldn’t have those guys on ESPN coming to town. This is special. Our guys need to be able to operate and flourish amidst whatever distraction brings along with it.”
2. Huskers recovering after physical win
Nebraska pulled off an important emotional comeback win at Illinois, but it took a bit of a beating in the process.
Tight end Jack Stoll said that Saturday night was “definitely” the most physical game the Huskers had played this season, and the players were still feeling the toll of the victory when they returned to practice on Monday.
On top of that, NU didn't get back to Lincoln until close to 2 a.m. on Sunday, with most players not getting to sleep until after 3 a.m.
As a result, Frost opted to have his team practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts instead of the shell pads they usually wear on Mondays.
The good news was that Frost said “everyone was good to go today at practice” injury-wise, including running back Maurice Washington, who left the Illinois game with a head injury.
“We all feel well recovered. Coach Frost took care of us,” Stoll said. “So instead of going shells today, we ended up going helmets. I know everyone is feeling fresh and feeling good after today’s practice. It was a lot more mental reps making sure we have everything ready.”
3. Robinson’s breakout game earns Big Ten honor
Wan’Dale Robinson’s very good week got even better on Monday morning, as the Big Ten Conference announced that he had been named the league’s Freshman of the Week.
Robinson had eight catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 19 times for 89 yards and a score in Nebraska’s 42-38 win at Illinois. He also had the go-ahead touchdown – a one-yard run with eight minutes remaining – that eventually proved to be the game-winner.
The former four-star recruit became the fifth Husker to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors under Frost and the first to do so since kicker Barret Pickering on Nov. 19, 2018.
“You could tell we had a special one in Wan’Dale right away when he got here in spring,’ Frost said. “We kind of knew that it was a matter of time before he became a weapon for us…
“If he keeps playing like that, you have to try and create ways to make sure he touches the ball a certain amount of times. I don’t know how many he can handle, but he’s going to make us better.”
4. Nebraska knows it can match up with Ohio State
The first two times Mohamed Barry played against Ohio State, the games ended in humiliating blowouts. Last year, though, was a completely different story.
The Huskers went to Columbus in 2018 and nearly pulled off a stunning upset over the Buckeyes, falling a few plays short in a 36-31 defeat.
So what changed? From what Barry remembers, it was that NU truly believed that not only it could compete with Ohio State, but that it could win.
"I would just say the confidence that we belong on the same field with them and that we can play them as closely as possible,” Barry said. “Believing that we can win if we play our best football. I think in the past, prior to last year, I didn't think that everyone felt like we belonged on the same field as them.
“So that was the difference in last year. Believing in the scheme, playing with technique, playing with fundamentals and stuff like that. That was the biggest thing and biggest difference."
5. Domann earns his Blackshirt
JoJo Domann arrived for Monday morning’s practice and went straight to his laundry locker, and his red practice jersey was there ready for him like always.
When he got to his actual locker, though, a surprise awaited. After four straight strong performances to start the season, Domann had a Blackshirt hanging in his locker.
“If you've got a dream and you've got the courage to pursue it, anything can happen,” Domann said. “Just me earning my Blackshirt - I think it’s been a process in the making over the past year and a half. It’s a dream come true.”
The junior nickel back likely would have earned a Blackshirt before the season like everyone else had it not been for a lingering injury that forced him to miss the first week of fall camp.
But Domann quickly made up for his lost time by making play after play over the first four games. When he took the field on Monday in his new jersey, none of his teammates were surprised.
“Man, it is long overdue,” senior nose guard Darrion Daniels said. “I feel like he should have (already) had one, honestly… It was one of those moments where I was just really excited for him because he has been playing some great football. He has been playing some phenomenal football, and he has been making some great plays for us, and that is a guy who is well-deserving of it.”
6. Special teams will be a major focus this week
Nebraska’s kicking game has been an issue all season with Pickering missing the first four games with an injury.
But the entire special teams unit took a big step back at Illinois, as the Huskers struggled in every phase on Saturday.
Frost said the lackluster performance came as a surprise considering how well the units had played leading up to the game (aside from the obvious issues at placekicker).
“Until that last game I thought our special teams made huge improvements,” Frost said. “We didn’t kick it well at all. We didn’t punt it very well. We kicked some line drives that were very returnable in the kickoff game. We had some penalties on special teams.
“We didn’t play very well in that phase, so we will put a lot of emphasis on that this week. The reason Ohio State is so good is because they are good on offense, on defense, and they’re really good on special teams. They keep pressure on you on all three phases, so we need to be at our best on all three phases.”
7. Fields has NU’s attention
Ohio State’s run of quarterbacks over recent years has been as impressive as any program in the country, and the latest to take the mantel is Justin Fields.
A former five-star recruit who ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the country in 2018, Fields transferred to OSU from Georgia and quickly won the starting job this offseason.
So far Fields has lived up to every bit of the hype, completing 66-of-95 passes (69%) for 880 yards, 13 touchdowns, and zero interceptions while rushing 28 times for 173 yards (6.2 ypc) and six scores.
As would be expected, Fields has Nebraska’s full attention this week.
“To play him the best, you have to go in there knowing that you have to play your best football, because when I watch film, one thing I notice is it's like he has been running this system for multiple years,” Barry said. “It's his first year running this system. He is very comfortable in there in that system. I think it was made for him.”
8. The Huskers grew up a bit at Illinois
Nebraska was favored by nearly two touchdowns at Illinois and needed to rally from a 14-point deficit just to win the game.
But in doing so, the Huskers learned something about themselves.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez stepped up with his best performance of the season during the comeback. Robinson emerged as a breakout do-it-all weapon. The defense finally got the game-saving stop it had lacked so many times before.
The Huskers grew up during that victory in Champaign, and it could serve as a turning point in creating the culture of success Frost has been trying to establish since his return.
"It was a lot of mistakes, but then a lot of improvements,” Barry said. “Y'all see the offense came into a groove. Of course we don't want to turn over the ball, but 700 total yards is great. You see Adrian do a lot of great stuff and you see him play like himself. You see Wan'Dale find his confidence and start making great plays. A lot of good stuff…
“Bad teams will lose a game like that, and good teams will find a way, even in a sloppy game."
9. Spielman’s toughness earned respect of Frost, teammates
Illinois' defense might be at the bottom of most defensive statistics, but one thing the Illini can do is hit, and boy were they hitting on Saturday night.
Nebraska was able to move the ball with success through the air, but Illinois’ secondary made NU’s wide receivers pay with numerous punishing tackles. The wideout who took the brunt of those blows was JD Spielman.
The junior was knocked around by the Illini defense, but after every hit, Spielman kept getting back up. That toughness certainly didn’t go unnoticed by his coaches and teammates during or after the game.
“I don’t like seeing JD getting hit like that, but he has my back,” Martinez said. “He went up there and made a ton of tough catches, and he came back. He’s a true warrior, and I think that speaks to the type of player JD is. He’s willing to bounce back, and he’s willing to play for his teammates.”
10. Frost expects special atmosphere on Saturday
Frost wants his team to appreciate the opportunity it has this week against Ohio State. He wants Nebraska’s fan base to make the most of it, too.
With the Husker basketball team hosting its “Opening Night” preseason event with a concert from rapper Rick Ross on Friday night and College Game Day kicking things off on Saturday morning, this weekend will be a full-on celebration of NU athletics.
That’s why Frost and his staff have already made it one of the biggest recruiting weekends in recent memory with a massive visitor list coming to town.
Frost said he had little doubt that Nebraska fans would be ready to do their part to make sure this went down as one of the best atmospheres imaginable.
“I think it is great timing with all the official visitors we have coming in,” Frost said. “They are going to get to see a show. They get to see what Memorial Stadium in Lincoln looks like on a big game day. I think it is good timing. I know the fans are going to turn out.
“Fans here are always great. They are the best in the country, and we need them to be at their very best this Saturday and at Game Day. I expect for as many years as it has been since Game Day has been here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us set some kind of record for attendance at Game Day. That’s just what you expect out of Nebraska fans.”