10 things we learned from NU's Monday press conference
1. Bye week turns into 'bye day'
This was supposed to be Nebraska’s bye week, but after losing the season-opener to Akron due to weather cancellation, the open weekend was eventually booked with a home game vs. Bethune-Cookman.
After playing seven straight games and now five more in a row still to go, head coach Scott Frost decided to give his players Monday off in order to help them regroup and recover both physically and mentally.
“It’s not ideal because we need to get ready for this game," Frost said. "We’re going to approach this game like any other and we have to be ready to go out and play well and win the game. Twelve weeks in a row is tough. You see the NFL coaches all the time when they win talk about victory Mondays and say, ‘see you on Wednesday.’
"Not only do our guys need to rest physically, but this has been long, a little bit stressful on these guys and I think a day where they don’t have to come into the building is positive. We are going to make up for that time tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and make sure our guys are dialed in and ready. We just kind of felt like one day off would benefit us more than trying to get them back out there right away.”
For the players, getting even one day to themselves was a much-needed reward, but all said they knew they would be ready to hit the ground running when the team returned to work on Tuesday.
"I woke up at 8 o’clock (in the morning)," senior offensive lineman Jerald Foster said. "It was kind of nice, take it for what it is.”
2. At 1-6, Huskers know they don't have the right to overlook BCU
It’s been four years since the last time Nebraska hosted an FCS opponent, and with Bethune-Cookman now coming to town in the heart of the Big Ten Conference schedule, it would seem a bit natural for the Huskers to take this week of preparation for granted.
Even after giving NU the day off on Monday, Frost said he had no intention of allowing his team to overlook anyone.
"This is a team that’s 4-4, that’s a better record than what we have, so we’re going to do everything we can to prepare them," Frost said.
The Wildcats are Nebraska’s first FCS foe since McNeese State came to Lincoln in 2014 and nearly pulled off a stunning upset. It took a miraculous 58-yard catch and run by Ameer Abdullah with just 20 seconds left for the Huskers to escape with a 31-24 victory.
"I could tell you I’m not satisfied," freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez said. "I know the team isn’t. We’re going to go work just like we have been this year. We can’t treat this game any differently. We know we need to keep winning as many games as we can so we’re going to approach this as a must-win and go make a statement.”
3. Martinez's Freshman of the Week honor no surprise to Frost, teammates
One of the first questions to start Frost’s press conference was his reaction Martinez being named the Big Ten’s Co-Freshman of the Week following his big game vs. Minnesota.
“‘Co-Freshman of the Week?’” Frost asked back. “Who was the other one?”
It was Purdue receiver Rondale Moore, who racked up 252 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in Purdue's stunning upset over No. 2 Ohio State.
“Oh, yeah, he deserves it, too.”
But given how good Martinez was in Nebraska’s 53-28 rout of the Golden Gophers, Frost nor any other Husker player was surprised at all by Martinez’s first weekly conference honor.
"We’ve got a good one," Frost said. "For him to be doing what he’s doing at his age - I’ve said it a bunch, but it’s pretty impressive. I didn’t realize he was 25-of-29 and really had another one that got dropped, their middle of the field safety made a good play on another one, and he threw one of them away.
"So it’s hard to be much more efficient than that. When I was here I didn’t get to throw 29 passes in a game, but there’s no way I would’ve completed 25.”
4. NU using Domann's versatility at outside linebacker
Sophomore JoJo Domann was well on his way to pushing for a major role in Nebraska’s safety rotation, if not a starting job, this fall before another injury setback paused his ascension.
Now back to 100 percent physically, Domann is again back in the mix to see the field on defense this week vs. BCU, but at a brand-new position.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Domann was listed as the co-No. 2 outside linebacker along with Alex Davis behind starter Tyrin Ferguson. Frost said it wasn’t an outright position change, but something the staff wanted to do against pass-heavy offenses like the Wildcats’ that uses primarily three wide receivers.
“That’s not a position move, that’s just a guy that knows safety that can also play nickel for us," Frost said. "Our outside backer and nickel is kind of interchangeable. JoJo is a safety, but especially with Ferg gimpy a little bit we needed another body down there.
"He’s a smart enough kid to know both of those spots and give us some depth at Sam 'backer, particularly when we’re playing teams with three wide receivers.”
5. Offense finally looked how it should vs. Minnesota
The final box score of Saturday’s win over Minnesota, which featured 53 points and 653 total yards, already said it all about how good Nebraska’s offense was in the game.
But looking back on the film, Frost said there was one play in particular that defined how the Huskers were finally starting to look like the unit he had envisioned since Day 1.
Running back Devine Ozigbo took a handoff around the edge and got around the corner. It was one of NU’s basic run plays, but the next step was for the back to get a key block from the receiver out on the perimeter, something that hadn’t really happened all year.
This time, though, wideout Mike Williams threw a perfect block to spring Ozigbo for a big gain.
Frost said that was just one example of Nebraska’s offense turning the corner, but it especially struck him because it was the type of play his old NU teams ran all the time with great success because of effort blocks just like Williams’.
"Any time you’re in quarters and we have one hat for the corner and the safety we want our wide receiver to block the most dangerous of the two," Frost said. "We called it double read when I was in school. Matt (Davison) did it, Jeff Lake did it, Lance Brown did it, Sean Wieting, all those guys. Jonny Vedral was the best at it.
"Haven’t really seen one that looks like it’s supposed to look yet until Saturday. Devine broke the run to the front side the other day and Mike came down and got the safety and the corner fit late and it turned into a touchdown. Those are the kind of unselfish plays that we need to have"
6. Frost doubles down on praise for Ozigbo
Frost raised some eyebrows after Saturday’s win by saying he felt Ozigbo was “a Sunday guy,” meaning he was capable of playing at the next level in the NFL.
He didn’t back off those comments on Monday, either, this time comparing Ozigbo to former Oregon Heisman Trophy candidate and now Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman.
"I think you were able to see his top speed the other day when he broke them he finished them and he’s big and strong enough to run powerful," Frost said. "I had the opportunity to coach a great player before named Royce Freeman, Devine is a lot like him.
Royce is having a really good rookie year and I love watching him and following him, and Devine is the same type of running back.”
7. Washington's passion, ability on full display in win
There’s already been plenty of praise for freshman running back Maurice Washington over his first few months as a Husker, but his team saw him take another step in Saturday’s victory.
Not only did he rack up 142 total yards and a touchdown against Minnesota, but he also showed everyone the competitive fire that’s helped separate him in the running back room along with his obvious ability.
The best example came on a long scramble by Martinez, when Washington threw a crushing block on the perimeter to spring Martinez for several more yards and a first down.
“When the ball gets kicked off he’s ready to play. I love guys like that," Frost said "The best thing about Maurice is he loves football and you can see that in the way he plays. You can tell when a guy doesn’t even have the ball in his hands and he’s trying hard; he must love the game. Maurice has a passion for the game and he’s going to keep getting better too and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
8. Offensive line had 'cleanest' game yet
Penalties had plagued Nebraska’s offensive line all season, but the unit was finally able to stay out of its own way on Saturday.
Not only did the Huskers win the penalty battle for the first time this year (six for 43 yards compared to UM’s eight for 80), only one of their flags were on the offensive line.
Even that one penalty – an unsportsmanlike conduct call on left tackle Brenden Jaimes in the second quarter – was up for debate in Frost’s eyes.
The game showed the offensive line just how good they could be when they weren’t constantly putting themselves behind the chains with penalties.
"You talk about things we need to improve and that is definitely one of them," Frost said. "I thought in this game we were more disciplined. We didn’t have any dumb penalties again. Effort penalties we can live with, but the bad mistakes and the guys not paying enough attention or being focused enough to get those type of penalties are types we can definitely fix. A lot of those went away on Saturday so we need to keep that up."
9. Huskers not afraid to showcase Martinez in recruiting
Martinez emerged as one of the faces of Nebraska’s program since the day he was named the starter at the end of fall camp, and his profile has only continued to skyrocket with every breakout performance he puts up.
The freshman was as good as ever against Minnesota, and with the Huskers’ offense finally clicking on all cylinders for the first time, there was no doubt the coaching staff was going to use Martinez as a key piece in their recruiting pitches.
“If I was a receiver or running back or tight end coming into a program and I knew somebody had a freshman quarterback playing as well as Adrian is, I would want to be at that school," Frost said. "I think that is a big selling point for us, particularly on offense and even on defense to be able to play with a guy like that. You want to see where our program is going.
"That’s a huge piece when you've got the right guy under center, and I think a lot of guys that we have had in to visit can recognize that.”
Martinez said he was perfectly fine in that role and that he was willing to do whatever he could, on or off the field, to help his team get better. But, in his opinion, his impact on recruiting was minimal compared to the overall product Frost and Co. were building.
"I think this place sells itself," Martinez said. "I think Coach Frost sells itself. I don’t feel obligated to sell anything. If they don’t want to come play here, I think that’s on them. This is a special place and if you can’t see that we’re building something special, you’ll just have to be on the other end of it.”
10. Frost's emotions showed after win
Senior safety Tre Neal has seen Frost win a lot over the years going back to their time together at Central Florida. But even after all of the success Frost had in Orlando, Neal said the head coach showed a new kind of emotion following his first victory at his alma mater.
“I was there for his first win at UCF and the Peach Bowl win, and I think this one was probably up there with his most celebratory moments," Neal said. "You could tell it was starting to weigh on him a little bit. Coming back home for his alma mater and trying to win a football game.
"Losing their first six when you’re back home, everybody has these expectations for him, but I think once he got that first win you could tell it was a relief for him. More of a relief I think than us. He wanted to come in here and turn this thing around. This place means the world to him, so I think once he got that win, you could tell he was just super-excited.”
Foster said one quality that made Frost so much different than any other coach was his ability to relate to players on a different level. Foster said that the passion Frost showed on Saturday was exactly what the players were feeling.
“Coach Frost is a player that is coaching us," Foster said. "He is a guy that wants to be out there as much as us and you can see it in his eyes. It is a whole lot of fun to play for him. I can already tell you that if we strapped him up today, he would go in for every single snap. He is that kind of person.
"I am really happy that I got to have my last year be with such a guy. He really does understand this game and he understands people. After we are all done here, us seniors, I know that we will have a place to come back to.”