Driving for 6: Osborne feels better about ‘walk-on thing’; Copeland MVP?; and Snyder’s impact

December 4, 2018

Nebraska’s football season is over. No more morning practices to cover. So you know what that means.

The return of our drives.

Let’s look backward before we move forward.

1. Tom Osborne last winter told me over and over: Be patient with the Nebraska program in Scott Frost’s first year as head coach.

Of course, Osborne was right. The first year was a struggle in several ways.

“I had watched the program closely enough to realize that a lot of things had unraveled and gone downhill -- things that needed to be addressed and fixed,” the legendary former Husker coach said last week. “And those things weren’t going to be quick and easy. One thing was just accountability. Players going to class, being on time, being in the weight room, giving a great effort in practice. Those kinds of things, once they begin to slip, to get them back in place is hard.

“Then, of course, the walk-on thing…”

Osborne’s voice trailed off, but when pressed to elaborate on what he meant by the “the walk-on thing,” he said:

“There are lots of people who sort of understand it, but they really didn’t totally understand it.”

Let’s put it this way: Osborne is thankful Nebraska has a head coach who emphasizes the importance of walk-ons the way he did from 1973-1997, when he was 255-49-3 (.836) at NU and won three national championships.

Osborne didn’t mention any previous Nebraska head coaches by name, but it was clear he feels the walk-on program was glossed over in previous years.

“They would tell some players you can come walk-on but they didn’t realize we once recruited those kids almost as hard as we did scholarship kids,” Osborne said. “We really got to know them. I don’t think most players, if you went around the locker room, could tell you who exactly was a scholarship player and who was a walk-on. We tried to make sure it was a straight meritocracy -- if you played better than the guy ahead of you, you moved up. If you didn’t, you moved down. And it didn’t make any difference who recruited you, how many stars you had by your name or where you came from.

“I’m not saying coaches didn’t do that, but I know sometimes if a coach recruits a player, particularly if he’s the position coach, he’s going to favor that player a little just because he recruited him. You can’t do that.”

Osborne attended about two practices per week this season and liked what he saw from Frost and his staff, even as Nebraska skidded to an 0-6 start before finishing 4-8.

“They just kept coaching and teaching and being as positive as they could,” Osborne said. “I think they continued to work at culture and trying to get people to understand what they were doing and pull together. I thought that accomplishment in and of itself was remarkable.”

Even so, Osborne returned to a theme emphasizing patience with the program.

“For those walk-on kids, a lot of times it’s two or three years before you really begin to see the full impact of what those guys can do. It does take time.”

2. After the final buzzer sounded Sunday, ending Nebraska’s 75-60 home win against Illinois, it was no surprise that the first Husker player to congratulate radio play-by-play man Kent Pavelka on his 1,000th NU hoops broadcast was senior forward Isaac Copeland.

I like that Copeland conducts himself like a professional. He’s a stabilizer. You often see him huddle up the team. It seems he just does the right things.

James Palmer will lead Nebraska in scoring this year. He’s averaging a team-best 18.3 points through eight games. But Copeland’s value is enormous as well. He’s averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 58.1 percent from the field. Glynn Watson also is playing well -- 14.6 points per game (51.2) with 29 assists versus only nine turnovers.

So, one might say Palmer is Nebraska’s best player, but I’m going with Copeland as the most valuable.

Nebraska head coach Tim Miles says Copeland is playing like he’s 18 again. Perfect. He’s playing like he’s 18 and leading like a veteran.

3. You perhaps noticed Miles switched his defense into a 1-3-1 zone late in both halves Sunday. Seemed like a good move.

In the first half, 6-foot-8 Isaiah Roby was playing at the top of the 1-3-1.

His enormous wingspan can be an absolute headache for guards trying to throw passes above or around him.

Plus, Roby playing that spot could help keep him out of foul trouble.

(Husker fan on Twitter: “Roby starts the game in foul trouble.”)

I’m guessing Miles will continue to go to the 1-3-1 in certain situations. Such a move can create turnovers that lead to baskets.

In other words, it can be a good spark during a scoring drought. Just sayin’.

4. Back to football: Mick Stoltenberg became one of Nebraska’s foremost leaders this season -- he likes to lead -- and strikes me as an excellent communicator. His passion for the game is as evident as his 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame.

His mental toughness also is evident. Think about the way he’s continued to fight through injuries since, well, forever.

So, the Gretna native’s plans for his post-playing days make sense.

“I want to coach,” he said. “I don’t know what the opportunities are going to be. But I’m hoping I can find something to do around here. If not I’ll have to have some of the coaches I was here with reach out to connections. I just want to find a grad-assistant job somewhere.”

It’s a rugged profession at the major-college level. But big Mick can handle it. He’s handled plenty as a player.

5. I’ll long remember Bill Snyder for his steadiness. For his professionalism. For his teams’ toughness and discipline.

He’s one of college football’s foremost statesmen. An icon of the sport.

The way he transformed Kansas State football from weakling to powerhouse was remarkable, to say the least.

However, the timing for change at K-State is right, writes veteran Kansas City Star columnist/reporter Blair Kerkhoff ( click here ).

Kerkhoff included in his column this vignette: Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer once said of a season in which Snyder won an award, “He’s not the coach of the year, he’s not the coach of the decade, he’s the coach of the century.”


6. Oh, yes, you know how I’m going to end this drive ...

I remain (somewhat) stuck in the 70s. Don’t judge me.

Don’t judge Harry, either.

“I’m going to destroy the Soviet Union.”“I’m going to destroy some names and a case of Budweiser.” pic.twitter.com/a4M1nH7S4f — Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) December 2, 2018

A look back at Frost’s first year as head coach