As Big Ten beats up Big Red, Husker A.D. Bill Moos points to ‘mismatch in talent’ for struggles

As Big Ten beats up Big Red, Husker A.D. Bill Moos points to ‘mismatch in talent’ for struggles
The Husker football team has won one game since Athletic Director Bill Moos was hired Oct. 15, 2017. (MATT DIXON/THE WORLD-HERALD)

LINCOLN — Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos played college football and has been an avid watcher for decades while overseeing the sport at Montana, Oregon and Washington State. Now at Nebraska, Moos has seen the Huskers win exactly one game since his arrival.

His assessment of the program through an 0-6 start under Scott Frost? NU needs more talent.

“Sometimes, in my opinion, we may be getting manhandled a little bit,” Moos said Tuesday. The players are in better shape and Frost’s spread, no-huddle offense is proven to work, Moos said.

“We have a plan, and the plan is solid, it’s just that you can’t do it overnight,” Moos said. “It doesn’t take a season to go from first to worst and it doesn’t take a season to go from worst to first. I’m not saying we were ever first or we were ever the worst, but we’ve got to go from the lower end to the higher end and that’s going to take more than a year.”

Even Nebraska’s penalty problem — the Huskers lead the nation in penalty yards per game — points to a lack of quality players.

“Holding calls and whatnot often have to do with a mismatch in talent,” Moos said.

In recent weeks — but especially after a 56-10 loss to Michigan — Nebraska coaches have discussed the need to recruit more players for the program. Though NU added more than 50 players to the roster in Frost’s first nine months, only a few — quarterback Adrian Martinez, running back Maurice Washington and safety Deontai Williams chief among them — have made a major impact in their first years.

Nebraska plans to sign another big class of recruits and walk-ons in the 2019 cycle. Once Frost has his players in the program, Moos said, NU will begin to compete with the league’s best programs.

“You can’t waltz into a place that played at the level we were playing at, install what Frost is running, and expect to walk into a place like the Big House and expect to beat Michigan,” Moos said.

That line Tuesday is a shift from Moos’ talk in the spring to Husker boosters.

“You’ve got Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh thinking, ‘We better put a little more into that Nebraska game coming up.’ And that’s the way we want it. They’re running a little bit scared right now,” Moos said in April. “And they won’t admit it. We’ll leave that at that.”

At Big Ten media days, Frost intimated that the Big Ten West — NU’s division — would improve in strength once Nebraska had returned to power. This week, Frost said he was impressed with the depth of teams in the league.

“It’s funny, I didn’t know much about this league, but on our half there’s not a ton of difference between the teams we’ve seen on our half so far,” Frost said. “They’re all good teams and they’re all games we can win if we play really well and teams that will beat us if we don’t play well.”

In Nebraska’s last 50 league games — which includes the 2012 Big Ten title game — the Huskers are 25-25. NU is on an eight-game losing streak within the Big Ten that stretches back to a 31-24 overtime loss to Northwestern in 2017.

Don’t expect Huskers to go in the tank. ‘The season is not lost by any means’

LINCOLN — Make it three “great” practices for Nebraska this week. At least that’s how offensive coordinator Troy Walters has seen it.

Nebraska offensive coaches speaking Wednesday said anyone who expects the Huskers to fade in the wake of an 0-6 start doesn’t know the team and what it’s building within the Hawks Center and North Stadium.

“They’re mad, they’re frustrated,” Walters said. “They know we’re close, and they want this to be the week.”

With a home game against Minnesota on deck, Walters said Big Red has an opportunity to go 1-0 starting this week.

Offensive line coach Greg Austin said his players know why the Huskers remain winless. They know the details they missed and the plays they’d take back if they could. Just as important — their efforts during the week show no one is giving up.

“I don’t know if people are expecting this team to tank or guys are expecting this team to just tank it and pack up their bags and get ready for spring ball and next season,” Austin said. “But there’s a lot of games out there to play, there’s a lot of games to win. The season is not lost by any means. These guys are working toward the next game.”

Stock tip: buy low

Walters has a question for any prospect who wonders if he should visit or commit to an 0-6 team.

Do you understand the stock market?

“You want to buy stock when the stock is down, and right now, we’re down, so to speak,” Walters said. “In a year, two years, we’re going to be all right. We’ll be at the top. Now’s the time to jump in, now’s the time get on board and be part of the reason why Nebraska gets to the top.”

Walters said he’s looking for players who want to leave a legacy of returning Nebraska to glory. He’s looking to take three, four or five receivers/athletes in the recruiting class.

“We’re going to take guys who help this offense, help this team be successful,” Walters said.

Change in perspective

Tight ends coach Sean Beckton knew Big Ten opponents would have big people and play physical football. But Beckton — who’d spent his entire coaching career in Florida before this season — has been surprised by something else.

“The skill level has shocked me,” Beckton said. “The skill level is a lot better than I initially thought outside of Michigan. I thought these other teams — Northwestern and all those guys — didn’t have skill. They do. Looking at Minnesota this week, they have some skill guys who are pretty active … The skill level has basically impressed me.”

Beckton said NU’s coaching staff agrees it’s a strong league — it’s one of the reasons he joined it. Nebraska has to continue working on its physicality.

“We’re trying to get our receivers to be more physical on the outside,” Beckton said.

Gophers don’t beat themselves

Austin said Minnesota’s defensive line isn’t huge but does a good job of staying in its gaps and rushing the passer.

“They do a good job on third down in terms of running stunts and games,” Austin said. “We’re excited about that because that’s been the challenge every week.”

Austin said the Gopher front “can be blocked, but it’s gonna take some effort.”

Walters and Austin said that overall Minnesota’s defense — ranked 54th nationally in scoring defense (24.5 points/game) and 45th in total defense (354 yards/game) — presents a tall task.

“It seems like every week I repeat ‘(The opponent is) stout up front; we’re going to have a challenge running the ball,'” Walters said. “But it seems like each week we’ve stepped up to that challenge and we’ve run the ball well. (Minnesota) doesn’t beat themselves, they don’t have a whole lot of penalties. They’re going to make us beat them.”

Quick hits

» On Adrian Martinez’s third-quarter interception against Northwestern, position coach Mario Verduzco said it was his fault for not directing Martinez to better watch the Northwestern safety who eventually intercepted the pass intended for Jaron Woodyard.

“I would have preferred he’d either burn (the play) or run it,” Verduzco said. “And I’ll take the bullet for it. I should have forced him to have his eyeballs on the field safety, and I didn’t. And that’s unfortunate. I should have made certain — beyond all certainty — that he had his eyeballs on that guy.”

» Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan has been a “true pro” despite not accumulating the statistics or victories he expected when he decided last winter not to leave early for the NFL, Walters said. The coach added that Morgan has been a main reason why this week’s practices have gone so well.

Morgan caught 10 touchdown passes in 11 games last year and set a school season record with 986 receiving yards. This year he has 393 receiving yards in six contests and has found the end zone one time.

» Austin said left tackle Brenden Jaimes felt like “a fish out of water” while playing the right side of the line last season and has enjoyed his new spot. In particular, the sophomore has built off a poor showing at Michigan in recent weeks.

“Quite honestly, since then, he’s kind of turned it up and been a damn good tackle for us,” Austin said.

Everything Husker fans need to know about the Minnesota Golden Gophers

A preview of Minnesota, the first game against an opponent named after a small rodent of the Scott Frost era.

* * *

Record: 3-3

Offensive yards per play: 5.1 (112th nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 5.4 (61st)

Turnover margin: minus-6 (118th)

Penalty yards per game: 43.2 (21st)

Coach

P.J. Fleck (8-10 at Minnesota)

Minnesota will row that boat down to Nebraska for Fleck’s first visit to Lincoln. Fleck got his start as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2006, turned that into a job at Northern Illinois coaching receivers for three years, spent two years at Rutgers and one year in the NFL before landing his first head coaching job at Western Michigan. The high-energy, high-intensity coach turned Western Michigan around from 1-11 to 13-1 in four seasons. He’s trying to do the same at Minnesota.

Offense

Type: Run heavy

Coordinator: Kirk Ciarrocca

Western Michigan finished 2016 ninth in scoring in college football. The staff has not turned Minnesota into that kind of offense yet. Minnesota starts true freshman walk-on quarterback Zack Annexstad, who is completing 52.3 percent of his passes for 1,142 yards. He has eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. The ground game is where Fleck and Ciarrocca want to dominate, but they’ve had trouble there, too, averaging 150.5 rushing yards per game, for 10th in the conference.

Defense

Type: 4-3

Coordinator: Robb Smith

Fleck hired Smith from Arkansas, where he was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach for Bret Bielema. The Gophers are solid up front, allowing 121.5 yards per game on the ground. They kept Ohio State below 100 rushing yards last week. Minnesota is fifth in the conference in total defense. It did allow more than 40 points to Maryland and Iowa.

Players to watch

Annexstad: The second walk-on freshman to start the opener at a Power Five program, the other being Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech. Annexstad has struggled of late, throwing all seven of his picks in the Gophers’ past three games. But he threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns against a good Iowa defense.

Shannon Brooks: Minnesota’s star running back was slated to return from an ACL injury this week. Now he’s being investigated for allegations of domestic assault, so it’s unclear if he’ll play. If he does, Brooks has more than 1,000 career yards rushing. He ran for 369 yards in six games last year.

They said it

“This team could easily be 5-1, 4-2. Easily. They’ve lost on just strange oddities. If I would tell you stories of how they lost when you’re watching these games, you’d be like, ‘no way.’ ” — Fleck on Nebraska

Three stats

28.67: Minnesota is the best punt return team in the country, averaging just over 28 yards per return. Nebraska is last in the Big Ten in punt returns, and 13th in punt return coverage. The Huskers give up 35 yards per return.

0.4: Nebraska and Minnesota have played 58 times. The average score is 17.7-17.3, the Huskers having the 0.4-point advantage.

3: The Huskers are last in the conference in three stats: scoring defense, punt returns and penalty yards. Minnesota ranks ninth, first and second in those categories.

Schedule

Aug. 30 New Mexico State, W 48-10.

Sept. 8 Fresno State, W 21-14.

Sept. 15 Miami (Ohio), W 26-3.

Sept. 22 at Maryland, L 42-13.

Oct. 6 Iowa, L 48-31.

Oct. 13 at Ohio State, L 30-14.

Oct. 20 at Nebraska.

Oct. 26 Indiana.

Nov. 3 at Illinois.

Nov. 10 Purdue.

Nov. 17 Northwestern.

Nov. 24 at Wisconsin.

Minnesota at Nebraska

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Pregame: 9:30 a.m.)

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln

Radio: 103.1 FM

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