A day after Nebraska closed its COVID-19 truncated 2020 season with a 28-21 win against Rutgers, Illinois hired Bret Bielema as its new head coach.
At some point in the 250-plus days between that move and last Saturday's Illinois-Nebraska season-opening tilt, the Cornhuskers began to plan for what they believed the Illini would present them on defense.
Scott Frost & Co. prepared to get the Illini, with a first-year staff on that side of the ball headed by defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, in an odd-man front.
Illinois countered with its ends split wide -- to mitigate the rushing lanes for Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez and also to help give its pass-rushers an angle upfield.
The result? Not only another damaging loss for Nebraska, 30-22, that left Frost 12-21 through his first 33 games but also a concept that by Frost's own admission left the Cornhuskers with half of their playbook.
“I give them credit, we watched a lot of tape on them, tried to give our best guess to what they were going to do. They played an entire spring game in odd (gap-fit) and came out played an even with wide 9s and 5s and we just hadn't had many reps with that,” said Frost. “So that had a little bit to do with it. But hey, we've got to be better. We've got to establish run, we've got to be ahead in the game so we can commit to the run. When you get behind in the game then you're forced to do a few more things. Lot of factors to do with that. …
“It was just an interesting game, because about half of our game plan was kind of out the window when they came up and lined up the way they did. We really had to scramble and go to our alternative plan and tried to adjust. We did some good things, but not enough.”
Frost said it wasn't rare, but the embattled fourth-year coach – who also said he called all of Nebraska's offensive plays – admitted the move caught the Cornhuskers off guard.
“Not rare, just we weren't expecting it,” Frost said at his Monday press conference. “A lot of people play wide 5s, wide 9s; we had prepared some for that look, we had prepared for the contingency that they might do that, but certainly not what we were expecting.
“We had every opportunity to be in command of the game at halftime and made some critical errors that turned it into a deficit at halftime and that changed the style of play for both teams.”
Told that Nebraska's sell-out streak of 375 games was on the line this week as the Huskers make their home debut against Football Championship Subdivision Fordham, Frost touted his team and pleaded with fans.
“Well, I hope nobody lost excitement after Saturday,” Frost said. “This team has a chance to be really good. I think this team's going to prove a lot to a lot of people.
“If there are still some tickets out there, buy 'em up and come watch this team. This is a special group of kids with a lot of character, lot of talent.”