The kind folks over at Corn Nation were kind enough to answer my silly questions. The whole gang got involved. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
This is unrelated to this weekend’s game, but given that you’ll no longer be a newbie in the Big Ten starting next season, any advice for the fan bases of the new teams coming in?
Patrick: Newbie? Our newness wore off when Maryland & Rutgers came aboard. At least it felt that way. Especially since they, at the time, seemed like a stretch to bring into the conference. Of course, times have changed and now we have four teams from the west coast coming on board. The only advice I would give is that it’s hard to pass the ball once the month of November hits and to have a strong gut for the hearty foods you will get traveling through the conference.
Andy: I’ll be honest, you may have a point there. Ever since we joined, it feels like the pecking order has been Michigan/Ohio St., almost everyone else, and then us/Rutgers/Maryland. And I am curious to see how the four newbies fit in. We entered on a pretty good roll and found out the defense we’d built to stop more wide open Big 12 offenses didn’t cut it here and it took a few years to rebuild for the new digs.
I feel like our Pac-12 transfers are in a very similar situation and that maybe Utah would have fit in the quickest. And the whole travel thing? We’ll find out.
Jill: My advice? Play defense, run the damn ball and don’t try to make the rest of us think that wine is an acceptable tailgate beverage. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a glass of wine, but tailgating is not the time or place.
Jon: DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT ANY OF YOUR SPORTS TEAMS ARE GOING TO DO IN THIS CONFERENCE BASED UPON WHAT YOU’VE DONE IN THE PAST.
Your baseball teams will be playing in the snow. So will your football teams. You’ll say things like “Northwestern won’t ever beat us in anything” and they will because they’re the best at dragging everyone into rock fights the likes of which you’ve never seen.
HAHAHAHAHA WELCOME TO THE BIG TEN YOU SUNSABITCHES. WELCOME TO HELL!
Building on that, now that you’ve been in the conference for 12 years, do you think it has been positive or negative for the Cornhuskers?
Patrick: It has been positive for the most part. Football has struggled but that is more internal and administrative than anything. I don’t blame the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten on that. Other sports have done just fine in the conference and the fit has been good. In my mind, people who pine for the days of the Big 12 only miss the proximity to other schools in the conference.
Andy: Overall, it’s been good. The Ohio St./Michigan bias does get annoying (You two don’t want Friday games? No prob - ok, here’s the Friday schedules - Nebraska, you mind eating that shit every year, amirite?) That being said, with new superconference landscape and TV basically calling the shots, we landed in the best spot possible - for pretty much all sports. (No, baseball, not you. Sorry.)
Jill: Positive. I do miss the easy travel down south to Kansas but we’ve gained much more than we’ve lost in terms of traveling to iconic stadiums and being able to afford nicer accommodations for that extra travel. I am slightly disappointed Lincoln will no longer be the San Diego of the B1G.
Also, I don’t think we’ll be starting a lacrosse team anytime soon. Sorry.
Jon: Positive. Things haven’t gone as we planned, obviously, but it’s a competitive conference. It’s fun. And fuck Texas. And Oklahoma. I live in Minnesota, so I’m probably biased in that I get to see more Husker sports.
Sitting at 4-3 right now, how would you evaluate the first year of the Matt Rhule era?
Patrick: It is an old school rebuilding year. Full stop. There is no magic going on behind the scenes to pull off wins. No quick fix is happening in Lincoln. There is grit and mental fortitude that is bringing this team through the season. This is all good. I believe Nebraska will be better off in the long run.
Brian: This has to be a success in my eyes. We knew this was going to be a rebuild but maybe not a complete tear down. Talent was on the roster. Rhule said this was more like year 2 in his previous stops and based on the record that looks to be true.
Andy: Given our finishing power since 2017, that story needs to play out, possibly until after the Iowa game, before we’ll have that answer. With the unbelievable rash of injuries on offense and our miserable history in one-score games, a 2-5 finish may be asking a lot. But even if it doesn’t finish like we want, there’s definitely a sense of building for long-term success now.
(As opposed to the Riley’s lazy/it’s ok to lose culture and Frost’s constant resets.)
Jill: TBD. Thus far, he is living up to his reputation and past results as a program builder with a gritty season where success is measured by things other than W’s. The team seems to be building mental fortitude and recovering from mistakes rather than letting them spiral. That’s nice to see. Year 1 under Rhule at Nebraska seems to be going better than Year 1 at his other rebuild stops in terms of wins/losses but the proof will be in the pudding in Years 2 and 3. I wouldn’t believe the list of injuries on offense was possible even in a Hollywood movie so we’ll see how this team finishes. The defense will have to drag the team over the finish line.
Jon: The guy took a team that lived with dysfunction of a head coach who barely bothered to do his job and made them into a cohesive unit. They may not be very good overall but they’re not falling apart at the end of games… or at least they’ve progressed past that point since the beginning of the year.
He doesn’t act like a petulant child in pressers. He doesn’t look like he’d rather be anywhere else.
Which unit on each side of the ball is the strength of this Nebraska team?
Brian: On offense it has to be tight end which may be the only position not affected by injuries. Thomas Fidone was a former 5 star tight end that is finally healthy while Nate Boerkircher may not be elite but can do about everything well. Defensively the linebackers have had the most success. You have an established stud in Luke Reimer along with veteran Nick Heinrich but then add in some youth in Mikai Gbayor and a couple of converted safeties in Javin Wright and John Bullock that have emerged.
Patrick: I would agree with Brian on both. The tight end group is talented and healthy. It is rare to have both things on the team this season. As for defense, the linebackers have been solid since the first game and have only improved. Outside of Reimers infection that took him out a couple of games the unit has been very reliable.
Andy: I would say right now on offense, it’s the running game which is among the top two or three in the country in rushing YPG turnaround from last season. Yes, the leading rusher is Haarberg, but take the injuries into consideration - a 4th string RFr at the start of the season will likely be starting his 3rd straight game. With only two original starters on the line this week after Ethan Piper and Turner Corcoran went down against NW, we’ll see how that continues.
On defense, I would go with the D-line led by Nash Hutmacher who has arrived later than we would have preferred, but man, has he arrived. Throw in a physical linebacking corps and they have kept everyone but Michigan under 100 yards rushing this season and established their first serious pass rush in years.
Jill: I do like the tight end talent, but our five star is having a hard time holding on to passes. He’s still relatively inexperienced so I’ll wait and see before I worry too much about him. I’d agree with Andy that the run game is what needs to be the focus for the rest of this season. I hate seeing the QB continue to lead the team in rush yards, but we perhaps haven’t mentioned the level of injury “luck” enough (or perhaps we have)? I’d also like to see the young wideouts that have been pressed into service develop enough to make teams pay for stacking the box.
On defense, I really appreciate what the line is doing. The big guys deserve some love too.
Alternatively, which unit on each side of the ball would you say has weaknesses?
Patrick: For the offense I would say the receivers. Injuries and lack of top tier talent have hurt the position all season. As for the defense, it would be the secondary. We give up too many yards.
Brian: Offensively I think it has to be quarterback. Jeff Sims started the year but made some crucial errors and then was injured. Heinrich Haarberg has come in and done some damage with his legs but is inconsistent at best as a thrower. He’s had his own issues with turnovers but he’s been lucky so far that they haven’t cost the team any wins.
Andy: It’s the passing game. Soph Heinrich Haarberg is learning on the fly and turned in his worst throwing performance against the Wildcats - though he did drop a perfect 44-yard rainbow to Malachi Coleman to start the 4th quarter. Speaking of freshman WR’s and people calling for the QB’s head, there will be two of those starting Saturday because that position has also been decimated with three starters done for the year along with a likely 2nd teamer quitting football 2 weeks before the season opener.
On defense, they been burned deep a few times, but what’s really needed are takeaways. The last time, the Huskers finished on the right side of turnover margin was 2014 and they’re still behind.
Jill: On offense, the pass game has been hampered by injuries, more injuries, and then even more injuries as well as inconsistent QB play.
Defense - the secondary is the weak link but only because the line and LBs have been so good. Get a couple more INTs and I may have to revise my assessment.
Finally, if you woke up Sunday having been unable to watch the game but see that Purdue won, what would be your guess as to how?
Brian: Nebraska’s offense continued to sputter and the defense wasn’t able to cover up the turnovers that have plagued this team since Heinrich Haarberg took over.
Patrick: We got outcoached and our injuries just were too much to overcome for the backups.
Andy: We went into the 4th quarter up 8 and feeling confident, drove the ball inside the Purdue 10 and promptly jumped twice, then got called for holding and missed a FG. Purdue got a 68 TD pass after a corner slipped but missed the 2-point try. Trying to run out the clock, we fumbled at midfield and the Boilers did a scoop and scramble down to the Husker 10. FG as time expired, Purdue by 1.
But life would never be merciful enough to ever let me miss another of those horror shows, so I have confidence this scenario would never pass.