WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The last time Nebraska had an off week, Austin Allen gathered all his fellow tight ends and made the one-hour drive west to his hometown of Aurora.
They ate together. They hunted (rumor has it freshman Chris Hickman was the best shooter). They got away from football.
Fast forward two weeks, and a wind-whipped Allen stood on a concrete slab in the southwest corner of Ross-Ade Stadium with a frown of determination following the Huskers’ third straight loss. What this team doesn’t need right now is more time off.
“We gotta come out and practice our butts off,” Allen said. “... We’re clicking on different areas of the team at different times. We just gotta put it all together.”
Nebraska’s bye week last month was about recovering — physically and mentally — after 24 straight games without an in-season break. Coach Scott Frost’s staff hadn’t enjoyed a traditional bye in nearly four years together.
Now NU receives a second bye week for just the third time in the last 14 years (2013, 2014). And with three regular-season games remaining after that, many Huskers agree there is only one way to approach the extra days: Attack them.
“We just gotta be ready to go back to work,” running back Dedrick Mills said. “This is a mindset. Everybody gotta have that same mindset, just be ready to go back to work.”
Added receiver Kade Warner: “It’s just back to our roots again. We gotta work on those details. Work on finishing.”
And Allen: “I want to see more guys just unleash and let go and just play football. (We have been) kind of timid, I guess.”
Home contests against Big Ten bullies Wisconsin and Iowa loom along with a 1,200-mile trip to Maryland. Win two, and the Huskers avoid missing a bowl game for a third straight season.
Multiple players said reaching that six-victory plateau will be a motivation this week as they prepare for the final quarter of the 2019 campaign. Others pointed to fixing mistakes on offense — particularly on third and fourth downs or in the red zone — as reason enough to keep grinding.
Same thing on defense, where Purdue netted a pair of long touchdown drives at the end of each half Saturday. NU’s opponent conversion rates on third down (41.9%) and in the red zone (89.5%) remain among the worst at the FBS level.
“We definitely know what to expect and we definitely know that we have to practice hard,” defensive back Dicaprio Bootle said. “We have to do everything in our power to be able to keep this thing going and just get these wins. Just end these games in the positive category instead of the negative.”
The bye will also allow Nebraska coaches to continue working on a 2020 recruiting class that, with 13 commits, is roughly half complete with the Dec. 18 early signing period creeping near.
Running backs coach Ryan Held said last week the challenge is that NU is getting close to the limit of 42 evaluation days allowed to coaches from September through November (the next contact period begins Dec. 1). Tight ends coach Sean Beckton said on “Sports Nightly” last week most assistants will take one or two days this week. He’ll be in south Georgia looking at 2021 prospects, he said.
“Recruiting has changed where you have to get on the class that is almost two classes ahead now,” Beckton said. “If you’re not reaching out to those coaches via text, you’re way behind. So I’m going to take advantage.”
Beyond talent acquisition, Frost said Saturday the only way he knows to improve is to work and practice harder. If Nebraska did everything a little better — he listed blocking, tackling, throwing, catching and covering — it could own a record of 7-2 instead of 4-5.
Those gains don’t happen away from the field, Frost said. Quarterback Adrian Martinez agreed. In his eyes, whatever Nebraska puts into the last three games is what it will get out of them.
“It’s really just about heart and having faith in the rest of this year, having faith in each other,” Martinez said. “We’re playing for each other at the end of the day. If the guys in that locker room truly believe that, there’s still a lot to play for this season.”