It’s been hard enough for Scott Frost to find success at Nebraska. Sustaining it has been harder yet.
The last three times the Cornhuskers have won, they lost their next game. They’ve won back-to-back Big Ten games just once since Frost took over in 2018.
Their next chance to stack wins comes Saturday when a Minnesota team coming off a COVID-19 outbreak visits.
Nebraska (2-4, all Big Ten), which beat Purdue on the road last week to end a seven-game losing streak against West Division opponents, hopes to avoid a repeat of what happened after their win over Penn State on Nov. 14. A lethargic week of practice followed and the Huskers lost 41-23 at home to Illinois.
“Well, you gotta learn from a win and learn from a loss,” Frost said. “I’ve really seen our habits and a lot of things around the building get better the last couple weeks. Coming off a win you have to double down and do even more of it — make sure your focus is good, your practice habits are good, your effort is good. I expect the guys to respond well this week.”
Minnesota (2-3) was forced to cancel its last two games because 23 players and 26 staff tested positive for COVID-19. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said there have no positive tests since Dec. 3, but more than 20 players will be missing against Nebraska because of the Big Ten’s 21-day return-to-play protocol.
The Gophers re-started full-scale practices Sunday.
“The guys who were out there did a great job … and really look forward to playing again,” Fleck said.
Frost said he expects the Gophers to show up “fresh and ready.”
“I’m sure they’ve had time to look at us,” he said. “I feel bad for them that they’ve had the COVID cases that they’ve had. It’s just a tough year. They whipped us last year up there, they did a great job with game plan, coaching and playing and certainly got the better of us. I think our guys are anxious to play.”
Nebraska has shored up its kicking situation with Connor Culp. The graduate transfer has made nine straight field goals and is 12 of 13, including a career-long 49-yarder against Purdue. He’s tied for the national lead with two field goals per game. Last year, the Huskers used six kickers.
This will be the Gophers’ first game without junior wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted out Nov. 25 to begin preparing for the NFL draft. He led the Gophers with 36 catches for 472 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’re talking about a young man at wide receiver who can come out early and be a possible first-round pick,” Fleck said. “These are things you want in your program, decisions you want kids to be able to have to make hopefully after their true junior year. I wish him all the best.”
THE NEW ADRIAN
Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez has been sharp since getting his starting job back two games ago. Against Iowa and Purdue, he completed a combined 82% of his passes (41 of 50) for 416 yards and a touchdown and has run for three TDs.
Martinez’s 70.8% season accuracy rate is on school-record pace. He’s still struggling in the downfield passing game, however, completing only 12 of 24 balls thrown over 10 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
Nebraska senior Brenden Jaimes will start his 40th consecutive game, a school record for an offensive lineman. His streak began in 2017 when he started the final nine games at right tackle. He has started every game at left tackle the last three seasons.
SECOND HALF WOES
Nebraska and Minnesota have struggled in the second halves.
The Huskers have been outscored 99-36 after halftime and have just one touchdown pass and nine turnovers. The Gophers’ problems have come in the fourth quarter, when they’ve been outscored 59-19 and passed for a combined 113 yards.