Coming off of a bye, the Huskers are basically in a must-win situation against the Hoosiers
Scott Frost and the Nebraska Cornhuskers have had time to get their heads right. Now it's time to get back to work and focus on those vicious Indiana Hoosiers out of Bloomington.
The fact is the Huskers have a similar choice to make as they did following last year's 0-6 start. They can address the problems, do their absolute best to bounce back in a positive way, and always compete even in defeat... or not. Give up. Call it a season. Blatantly quit.
This isn't a time for hubris or a lack of cohesion.
After watching what happened in Minneapolis ad nauseam, Frost shared some thoughts on his weekly radio program late last week. One statement, in particular, stuck out.
"It's hard to be a leader if guys don't want to follow. And the majority of the team does, but maybe not everybody. And the leaders need to continue to improve, but we need good teammates, not just good leaders."
There's quite a bit to unpack here. Nebraska has some established leaders. Four specifically in team-voted captains Adrian Martinez, Matt Farniok, Mohamed Barry, and Darrion Daniels.
Then there are the players that lead by example. Perhaps the standard-bearer of this is outside linebacker/safety hybrid JoJo Domann. It's hard to discount former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson as someone the team can look to.
However, the problem Frost lays out is that these guys can push, shove and shout as much as they want. If the rest of the group isn't interested in giving effort, it’s all for naught. It’s hard to be a leader if guys don’t want to follow.
But Nebraska's head coach notes this isn't a widespread problem in his eyes and that makes sense. Frost did a rather significant purge of those who don't buy into his philosophy last year. This was no small reason why the Huskers stumbled to the start that they did.
Despite that, some can gut it out through the first wave of adversity but not the long haul. The demands of the program can beat against you mentally and physically like 10-foot tall waves that drag you into an ocean of apathy. The majority of the team wants to follow the leaders, to fight against lethargy and defeat. But maybe not everybody.
There's plenty of room to improve from the captains to the guys like Domann and beyond, but there are only so many leaders of the pack. Not everyone can be the alpha dog. And there's nothing wrong with that. Insert your favorite cliche along the lines of "too many cooks in the kitchen," etc.
Nebraska's staring at another crucial point in the evolution of Frost's program. Indiana, Purdue, and, Maryland all seem like winnable contests and the Big Red only needs to secure two victories among those three to go bowling. Illinois showed Wisconsin is beatable just this past weekend.
Northwestern, a team whose offense has struggled even more than Nebraska's, lost by all of nine points to the Badgers in Camp Randall earlier this year. Iowa proved itself susceptible to Purdue's passing game giving up 327 yards through the air to the Boilermakers and required four field goals to win by six. Keep in mind that Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore are still out for Purdue.
All of this is to say that Nebraska has the tools to win these games. But it will take everything Frost is capable of to make this happen. The Big Red Machine has been out of whack. Its gears have been gummed up. The cogs have come loose. It has rarely been in sync and constantly breaks down.
Perhaps those teammates who aren't pulling their weight as Frost theorizes are what's causing the engine to stall the most. There are places for these individuals if that's the case. Maybe they get tossed on the shop's floor or even in the scrap heap. But the time for tough decisions is upon those who make them in Lincoln.
The game against Indiana is the biggest of the Cornhuskers' 2019 season yet. Then the one after that will be. And the one after that. Some coaches use that message as a throwaway line. If Frost says it between now and when the lights go off in Memorial Stadium for the last time this year, he'll be telling the God's honest truth.
Damn the torpedoes. Burn all the redshirts. The future is now. Nebraska can't afford anything less.