There was a point about midway through the third quarter of Nebraska’s 53-28 win over Minnesota where everyone watching, including Scott Frost, thought they were witnessing another meltdown. The Gophers scored 22 straight points and what looked like an old-school Husker beatdown suddenly appeared to have a familiar 2018 theme. How would the Big Red find a way to lose this one?
Whether through costly penalties, poor defensive scheming, lack of effort or one of a million little things, Nebraska has invented impressive ways to undo progress this season. Giving the home crowd so much hope before having it yanked away not only would’ve been par for the course, but, at this point, it was expected.
Then something happened.
Frost’s first Husker team had vastly different body language than it ever has this season while building a 28-0 lead. At its most simplistic, it was a belief in winning coupled with a disgust of losing. It was something that water in the Cornhusker State ran thick with during the 1990s but has been in short supply over the past 20 years.
While older members of the team such as Devine Ozigbo and Stanley Morgan Jr. fed off of this energy, Nebraska fans had the opportunity to see the biggest reason for hope. Not just for this season, but in Frost’s vision. On offense, three young players in particular had upperclassman-level impacts.
The first two are obvious. Quarterback Adrian Martinez went 25-of-29 passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns while aiding the ground assault with 125 yards and a score. This marked the fourth game of 300-plus total yards for Martinez this season. He’s played in six. Nebraska didn’t even know if Maurice Washington was going to qualify prior to fall camp. While Ozigbo was relaxing during his 150-plus-yard day, Washington ran for 109 and a score of his own versus Minnesota’s top-30 rushing defense.
These two — and the Huskers’ offense in general — made the Golden Gophers appear that they were stuck in quicksand while trying to stop the onslaught. After Minnesota shook off the cobwebs and fought back, Martinez and Washington — true freshmen and the program’s future — were a significant part of the knockout haymakers.
One player who won’t get the amount of praise he deserves is sophomore Matt Farniok. Heading into the Minnesota game, he looked to be outmatched by one of the best defenders in the league: Minnesota’s Chris Coughlin. Farniok has the physical makeup for a great interior offensive lineman, but he’s been doing his absolute best to hold down the right tackle spot. Nebraska schemed for Coughlin perfectly and Farniok stepped up to prove he can, in fact, perform at a level Frost needs him to at the position.
Nebraska’s defensive performance was solid overall. Not great, but the Huskers made extremely clutch plays in moments that could’ve blown the game wide open for Minnesota. However, there is a player who deserves the spotlight. For the second straight contest, junior cornerback Lamar Jackson looked like he truly belonged opposite Dicaprio Bootle.
A former four-star prospect, Jackson’s hype-to-production ratio hasn’t been good since he landed in Lincoln and he was actually benched in favor of Eric Lee earlier this year. Since regaining his spot, he’s been more physical, aware of his surroundings and played much cleaner. Yes, he did get burned a time or two, but he looks the part of a starting defensive back something he had yet to show through almost two-and-a-half seasons.
Despite how historically bad 2018 began for the Huskers and how mentally beaten down this team has been, they’ve fought back and never entirely quit. Yes, they have made major mistakes and cost themselves wins, but they never stopped actually giving effort. Last year’s squad couldn’t say that. Now, Nebraska knows it can win. Not just win, but take out the frustrations of going a full calendar year without doing so on its opponents.
Perhaps the Akron washout in week one was a blessing in disguise. Without it, the Huskers would be going into a bye week with momentum but also the potential to second guess their performance versus Minnesota. With Bethune-Cookman coming to Lincoln this Saturday, that’s not an option. They have to keep building because it’s just another game week. Frost continued to preach how it was a matter of time before the Huskers broke through and now they have. Now it’s time to practice all of the steps towards that victory again and again until it becomes second habit.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) plus keep up with stat-filled features on his Patreon page.