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Nebraska Football
Via Alan Slank Via Flickr

From 1973 through 1997, the Nebraska Cornhuskers displayed their dominance of college football, winning at least nine games every season. During that time Nebraska was coached by one person, the legendary Tom Osborne. Osborne is the Golden Standard at Nebraska, winning 255 games in 25 years and capturing National Championships in 1994, 1995 and 1997. The most impressive thing about Osborne always winning at least nine games each year is that this came at a time when the NCAA regular season was only 11 games.

Since Hall of Famer Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 national championship, Nebraska has been seeking someone to live up to Osborne’s lofty standard. Accomplished coaches such as Frank Solich, Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini, Mike Riley have all tried and not been successful.

Matt Rhule
Via Eleven Warriors Via Flickr

The latest individual to try to resurrect the Nebraska program is Matt Rhule, who was hired by Athletic Director Trev Alberts on November 25, 2022. Rhule takes over for Scott Frost, who quarterbacked Nebraska’s 1997 national championship team and coached UCF to a national championship claim in 2017, and who was not able to turn the Huskers around.

Rhule has a history of success building programs that have hit hard times. He took the Temple Owls, a program that had been considered the laughingstock of college football for many years, and won 28 games in four seasons, including ten wins each in 2015 and 2016.

Rhule then was hired by Baylor University to take over a program in shambles. The Bears were in the midst of a sexual assault scandal that resulted in the entire football staff either being fired or resigning. In Rhule’s first season in Waco, the Bears went 1-11. The next two seasons saw significant changes as the Bears went 6-6 and 11-1 respectively. The success of this latest turnaround landed Rhule a chance to coach in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers. However, Rhule’s time in the NFL lasted a little more than two years as he was fired midway through the 2022 season.

Nebraska AD Trev Alberts saw in Rhule a coach who has resurrected programs that were stuck in the basement. Coach Rhule was able to win over the Nebraska fans with the style of football the Huskers will play. Since Frank Solich was let go at the end of the 2002 season, Nebraska has tried to shift from an option, power running style of offense to a more spread style.

In his introductory press conference, Coach Rhule said, “We’re not going to be the new spread team. We’re going to be more of an old school type team. We’re going to be a physical team.” Rhule hired Scott Satterfield to be the offensive coordinator, who immediately stated that the Huskers would be back to a team that huddles and utilizes a fullback, two things in today’s college football world that are outdated. If ever there is a division in college football that this style of offense fits, it’s the Big Ten West. Programs such as Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern all run a similar style of offense.

Rhule landed Georgia Tech transfer quarterback Jeff Sims, who started 23 games for the Yellow Jackets in three seasons. There will be no quarterback competition in the fall, this is Sims’ offense to run. If the Spring Game was any indication, Sims is a perfect fit for what Satterfield wants the offense to do. The junior signal caller threw for 138 yards and ran for a touchdown. “Jeff’s really cool and calm out there. I like his demeanor and feel,” Coach Rhule said after the Spring Game. “He’s played a lot of football, so I thought he looked pretty good.”

The Cornhusker defense looks to improve on a unit that gave up 414 yards and 27.6 points per game. Getting junior linebacker Nick Henrich back from a season ending knee injury is a great way to start that process. Defensive coordinator Tony White will use multiple defensive sets, particularly the 3-3-5 as a base. The defense has eight starters returning, including the top three tacklers from last season.

At Big Ten media days, Coach Rhule mentioned the need for using a different style on defense. "Obviously we're bringing in a 3-3-5 defense that not many teams are running." Rhule added, "To thrive in a conference as prestigious as the Big Ten you have to be a little different, you have to evolve."

But now it is Coach Rhule’s job to turn around the Nebraska program. During Frost’s tenure, the Huskers were 5-22 in games decided by a touchdown or less. That kind of record can have a negative impact on the players and it’s up to Coach Rhule and his staff to change that.

Also in his introductory press conference, Rhule said “I want to build a team that’s tough.” The toughness Coach Rhule is referring to can mean mental toughness, not just physical. It is Coach Rhule’s job to ensure doubt does not creep into the minds of the players if the Huskers are up by a touchdown or less late in a game. Over the past five seasons, these were the situations where mistakes were made which cost the Huskers a win. The coaching staff needs to mentally prepare the Huskers to make the plays needed to be on the right side of those one score games.

"We want to compete in every game," Rhule answered when asked at Big Ten media days about the expectations for Nebraska this season. "There was a time when Nebraska football was feared. And we certainly want to get back to that."

Coach Rhule has also benefited from the presence of the man all Nebraska coaches are chasing, Tom Osborne. "I've been very blessed that Coach Osborne has been willing to share some things with me," Rhule said at Big Ten media days. "I'd be a fool not to ask Coach Osborne what the blueprint is. And he doesn't talk about plays, he talks about the way they practiced first and foremost."

With the history of the program, including five National Championships, Rhule has his work cut out for him to bring the Huskers back to national prominence. But if Rhule’s history is any indication, this Nebraska program should be back to double digit wins in no time. In my opinion the Huskers have, finally, hired the right person to bring Nebraska back to the top, to get wins in those close games. It may take two or three seasons, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers will be back as a national power!

1 comment

1 commentaire

George Hancock
George Hancock
08 août 2023

Great read! Awesome job!

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