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 to preview this week's home game vs. Indiana.
Here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned from the day...
1. Washington won’t play vs. Indiana, future status with team is TBD
The news of the day revolved around Maurice Washington, as Frost announced that the sophomore running back was not currently with the team and would not play this week vs. Indiana.
Even more, Frost said it remained to be seen whether Washington would return to the program this season or beyond. Frost said Washington did not practice at all during the bye week or on Monday morning.
"I think it's still to be determined," Frost said of Washington's status with the team. "I don't see him being part of the plans for the immediate future. The farther-out-future, we'll have to determine that based on circumstances.”
Frost said Washington was still enrolled in classes at UNL “as far as I know” and that his absence was not related to his ongoing criminal charges in California.
“There's certain standards that we ask our players to uphold," Frost said. "When those standards are not upheld, it doesn't matter who it is, they're not going to be part of our plans."
Frost said he had no regrets over how he handled Washington’s situation over the past two years.
"I wish things would be a little bit different," Frost said. "Coach (Tom) Osborne was this way; he wasn't quick to crumple kids up and throw them away. Some of the kids that are in some the situations, if they're gone out of this program, that road doesn't lead to many good places.
“As long as I'm here, I'm going to try to help these young men as much as I can. That's a promise I make to their parents when I sit in their living room and tell them we're going to try to help them no matter what. There are certain things that they know if they do I'm not going to help them and they're on their own, but I want what's best for all of these guys."
2. Martinez making progress but still listed as questionable
With Washington out of the mix for the foreseeable future, Nebraska needs all the playmakers it can get on the field. A major addition for the offense this week would obviously be the return of quarterback Adrian Martinez.
The sophomore was a late scratch from the lineup last time out at Minnesota as he continued to recover from a leg injury he suffered against Northwestern.
"Adrian has been working hard to get back, and he's doing really well, working hard,” Frost said. “It helps to have a bye week. It helps to have fall break here where he can spend a little more time rehabbing, so he's going to do whatever he can to get back."
Tight end Austin Allen said Martinez had been locked in on getting himself healthy enough to return this week.
“Adrian is always determined,” Allen said. “He has a different mindset to get better and get back out there. He’s got a good mentality about it. He knows it. He trusts Noah (Vedral) or Luke (McCaffrey), (Andrew) Bunch, whoever goes in there, but I can see it in his eyes that he’s anxious to get back out there.”
3. Pickering is back on the depth chart
Nebraska has been without its incumbent starting placekicker all season, and Barret Pickering’s injury has caused plenty of issues for the Huskers.
The good news was that the sophomore was back on NU’s weekly depth chart for Indiana, even if he was listed as the No. 2 kicker behind walk-on Lane McCallum.
Frost said Pickering had made progress in his recovery, but it was still too early to say when he would be ready to return to game action.
"As far as I know he is (close to returning),” Frost said. “We've got a whole army of kickers down there, and some of them are healthy and some of them aren't, and I can't really keep track anymore. Hope to get him back as soon as we can. I think from what I hear, he's getting pretty close."
4. Bye week was all about getting back to basics
While last week’s bye allowed Nebraska’s players and coaches to take a step back for a couple of days, it also saw the Huskers get back to basics with some tough, physical practices.
Several players used the off week to heal up some nagging injuries, but that didn’t stop NU from getting in some extensive one's vs. one's work during the team periods.
"I was pleased with the bye week,” Frost said. “I think there were a lot of fundamental things that we needed to clean up. Sometimes you get in the heat of the season and some of those things can deteriorate a little bit. I saw some of those things operate at a pretty high level and really improve throughout last week.
“Again, hopefully some of that back to the basics and fundamental stuff will provide a little spark for us and make us a little better at some of the things we need to be good at to be consistent."
5. Huskers trying to establish physicality in the run game
One example of how Nebraska got back to the basics last week was how much of an emphasis it put on just running the football between the tackles.
Allen estimated that about 90 percent of the Huskers’ team period work was base inside zone running plays.
“If you can be very physical, you can dice people on the base stuff,” Allen said. “That opens up a lot more stuff on the outside where we can really open up our offense.”
Frost said that was an effort made by the coaching staff to try and instill a physical mindset and identity on offense.
“Overall I think we need to be more physical, particularly on offense,” Frost said. “We worked the heck out of that last week. A lot of fundamentals, a lot of simple things, and hopefully it'll make a difference."
6. Mills ready for a bigger workload
The first player to take the podium on Monday was running back Dedrick Mills, and given the situation with Washington, it was fitting that Mills was the first in the spotlight.
Now the Huskers’ clear No. 1 running back, Mills said he was ready and willing to take on whatever workload his coaches asked of him this week and going forward the rest of the year.
“Most definitely,” Mills said. “I’m ready to carry the ball, that’s all.”
The junior currently leads the team with 76 carries for 350 yards and seven touchdowns, and his role should only get even bigger.
"He's getting better at it all the time,” Frost said. “I think probably the big thing was the vision and a little bit of patience in running in our kind of scheme. It's not so downhill and hit right now. You saw how natural he was when we lined him upright behind the center and gave it to him. He's learning how to run in our scheme a little better, and I think he's been getting better every week, so he'll continue to improve."
7. Will the redshirt plan change for Johnson?
Another running back who could get thrust up the depth chart in Washington’s absence is Rahmir Johnson.
Now listed as the co-No. 2 behind Mills along with Wyatt Mazour and Brody Belt, the true freshman could finally get his chance to be a factor in the offense. If he takes advantage of the opportunity, it could also change the plan on his redshirt status for this season.
The original goal was to play Johnson in his allotted four games and preserve his redshirt eligibility, but with depth now an issue at running back, Frost said Johnson might be needed for more than that.
The Oradell, N.J., native is now also listed as the No. 2 kickoff returner behind Wan’Dale Robinson.
"I think it could change if circumstances change,” Frost said of Johnson’s redshirt plan. “We'd like to try to save the year if we can, depending on how the last half of the season goes."
8. Indiana has quarterback questions of its own
Nebraska won’t be the only team trying to figure out its quarterback situation this week, as Indiana announced on Monday that starter Michael Penix Jr. would be a game-time decision to play against the Huskers.
The dual-threat Penix left last week’s game vs. Maryland with an undisclosed injury. He also missed two games earlier this season with an injury to his throwing shoulder, though IU head coach Tom Allen said his latest issue was not related.
Penix has appeared in five games this season and completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,232 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Should he have to miss Saturday’s game, the Hoosiers would turn to Peyton Ramsey.
Ramsey filled in for Penix against Maryland and led Indiana to a 34-28 road victory, going 20-of-27 through the air for 193 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and adding eight carries for 46 yards on the ground.
Ramsey has also played in five games this season, going 79-of-107 passing (73.8 percent) for 843 yards, six touchdowns, and two picks.
“Right now, do not know what his status will be,” Allen told Indiana reporters on Monday. “It will be a game-time decision… I’ll probably know some more this afternoon about that, so then we’ll have to take it day by day and see where that leads us. Don’t have that answer for you right now.”
9. No changes expected on the offensive line
One position group that won’t be shaking things up this week is the offensive line.
Even after pulling starting left guard Trent Hixson for Broc Bando midway through the Minnesota game, Nebraska’s o-line depth chart was the same as usual for Indiana this week.
Frost was asked how close some of NU’s younger linemen like Bryce Benhart and Ethan Piper were to seeing some game action this season, and he said they weren’t ready just yet.
"You guys keep asking me; We're going to play guys when they're ready,” Frost said. “All those young guys keep improving. One thing you learn about this league pretty quick is this is a grown man's league, and guys have to be ready. It's hard to -- it's probably hard to win in this league, particularly in the trenches, with 18- and 19-year-olds. We're expecting help out of those guys.
“I think they're really close to helping us. But they're also first-year guys, and when you throw them in, you can expect some first-game mistakes and first-year mistakes. We've got to be smart as a football team when we use them, but I've been pleased with the progress of several guys, including Piper, Benhart, and some other guys."
10. The Blackshirt alternates will debut this week
It might not seem like the ideal time to do it, but Nebraska announced that it would debut its new Blackshirt alternate uniforms this week vs. Indiana.
When the uniforms were first unveiled before the season, Frost said the idea was to wear them after strong performances by the defense. The Minnesota game was anything but, but with only three home games left on the schedule, Frost said they had to wear them sooner than later.
"We're running out of home games," Frost said.
Seeing how the defense is coming off one of its worst performances of the season, Frost’s message to the group on Monday was all about earning the right to don black.
"I told the team this morning if we're going to wear them, they better show up and play with an attitude that makes the Blackshirt alumni proud," Frost said.