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Huskers get a day off but keep focus on starting a win streak

October 24, 2018

LINCOLN — Nebraska doesn’t get a bye week. But on Monday, players enjoyed a bye day.

Mike Williams slept in until 10:30 a.m. — “It was great,” the receiver grinned, considering team breakfasts are usually at 6:30 a.m. Linebacker Mohamed Barry did some arm workouts on his own. Offensive lineman Jerald Foster got up at 8 and tried to think of the last time he ever had two consecutive days off.

This change in routine, the Huskers insist, is more about maintenance than facing an FCS opponent for the first time in four years. What was once a scheduled weekend off becomes the eighth of 12 straight weeks of football games following the season-opening cancellation. A short breather can go a long way to ease the grind.

“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,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “We are going to make up for that time (Tuesday), Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and make sure our guys are dialed in and ready.”

To a man, every player who spoke with reporters Monday said they would prefer to play Saturday against Florida-based Bethune-Cookman than take a week off. Much of that enthusiasm comes in the wake of the first win of the season — a 53-28 victory over Minnesota in which the offense put up NU’s most points against a league foe since joining the Big Ten and piled up nearly 700 total yards while the defense made timely stops.

The other prevailing sentiment, which suddenly takes on an optimistic tone: Nebraska still hasn’t come close to playing a perfect game.

“That’s the motto every week, is to go 1-0,” safety Tre Neal said. “It doesn’t matter who you put in front of us. You could put the New York Giants in front of us, we’re going to approach them the same way.”

Said Williams: “It’s another opportunity to get better and get another win for these fans, for the coaches, everybody around here.”

And offensive lineman Matt Farniok: “We got a game instead of a bye week. I mean, who doesn’t want to play football?”

What in some years would be a sleepy Saturday against an overmatched nonconference team has become more for Nebraska in the wake of the 0-6 start. Seniors spoke of the game as another chance to lay a foundation for what they believe the program will become in the next year or two. Underclassmen — particularly backups — may finally get a chance at extended playing time.

Frost said a couple of coaches would be out recruiting this week, which Nebraska has also done previously this year. But the top priority is Bethune-Cookman, a school coming off a 35-10 loss to North Carolina A&T and whose best win might be 28-26 over South Carolina State (2-5) the week before.

“This is a team that’s 4-4,” Frost said of the Wildcats. “That’s a better record than what we have (at 1-6), so we’re going to do everything we can to prepare them.”

In perhaps another sign of the ongoing culture shift, Nebraska seniors Foster and Luke Gifford made sure freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez knew where Bethune-Cookman was located (Daytona Beach, Florida) in case he was asked during his press conference.

The co-Big Ten freshman of the week — coming off a 25-for-29, 276-yard passing day for three touchdowns along with another 125 rushing yards and score — didn’t end up needing the knowledge. But he said the next step in this rebuild is letting that consistency ride. Keep the penalties down and the efficiency up. Start the first winning streak of the Frost era.

“We need to keep building upon that and be known as a great offensive team,” Martinez said. “... We’re going to approach this as a must-win and go make a statement.”