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Steven M. Sipple: Key takeaway from Peach Bowl? Nebraska has itself a coach
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Steven M. Sipple: Key takeaway from Peach Bowl? Nebraska has itself a coach

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

We all know the value of hope.

Well, Nebraska football fans saw hope in many forms Monday, as the Huskers' new head coach, Scott Frost, guided Central Florida to a 34-27 triumph against Southeastern Conference power Auburn in the Peach Bowl, capping the Knights' undefeated season.

Many Husker fans rejoiced as if their own program had prevailed.

Yeah, hope can be that powerful.

Six takeaways from UCF's golden triumph:

1. Dave Flemming, ESPN's play-by-play announcer, made what is ordinarily an innocuous comment during the third quarter as UCF pulled to 20-20 on dynamic quarterback McKenzie Milton's 12-yard touchdown pass to running back Otis Anderson.

Auburn had appeared to seize control before the Knights' TD.

"They aren't going away," Flemming told viewers.

Yeah, sounds simple enough. But to Nebraska fans, who watched the Huskers "go away" time and again this season, it must have sounded like sweet music.

I've heard in recent days from folks who wondered how much Nebraska fans and media should take away from UCF's performance in the Peach Bowl. Well, the way a team responds to adversity in a game is in most cases a reflection of its leadership.

Auburn (10-4) punched UCF in the mouth hard early in the second half, and the Knights kept coming.

They showed poise and fight from the get-go.

They played with a hard edge -- a direct reflection of Frost.

Yeah, it appears Nebraska is getting a sizable upgrade in the coaching department -- certainly as it relates to resilience and overall toughness.

2. Admit it, Nebraska fans, you were concerned about Auburn's offense putting up a big number.

After all, this was Gus Malzahn, one of the most respected offensive minds in the game, against Erik Chinander, age 38, in only his second season as a defensive coordinator -- at any level.

You had legitimate reason to worry, as UCF in its previous two games -- wins against South Florida (49-42) and Memphis (62-55 in two overtimes) — had allowed 1,406 yards.

It's safe to say Chinander had a much better day at the office, as UCF forced three turnovers -- a Chinander defense's staple -- and ended up plus-2 in the turnover column.

That was critical.

The Knights entered the bowl season ranked fifth nationally in takeaways with 29 and were tied for second in turnover margin at plus-15.

Chinander's crew in 2016 recorded 26 takeaways (18th nationally).

You saw a group of hungry UCF defenders that swarmed to the ball from start to finish.

How often did Nebraska fans see that from the Huskers this season?

Don't answer that.

3. You saw why Milton, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore, was able to put together the second-most-efficient passing season in the nation at 184.4 entering bowl season.

Perhaps more important, Husker fans saw the benefits of having a quarterback who can gain big yards via the ground.

Maybe they had forgotten.

Thing is, Milton was awful throwing the ball in the first half. Awful to the tune of 3-for-17 for 30 yards. But he rushed seven times for 83 yards in the first 30 minutes, and his team led 13-6 at the break.

As an aside, Adrian Martinez caught some of the game. He's the dual-threat quarterback who signed with the Huskers last month and will be going to classes at NU this coming semester.

"I think my ability to make plays in and out of the pocket kind of resembles (Milton)," Martinez said from Florida, where he's practicing for the Under Armour All-American Game, set for Friday in Tampa. "And my ability in the run game, I feel like I can do those things UCF does.

"He's a great player," Martinez said of Milton. "I'd love to be able to run the offense to the ability he was able to this year."

UCF on Monday had 414 yards of offense. Milton accounted for 358.

4. Auburn's losses before Monday were to Georgia in the SEC title game, Clemson and LSU.

Auburn had manhandled top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl and beaten Georgia earlier in the season.

You think 12th-ranked UCF was just a tad underrated by the College Football Playoff committee?

Those who favor an eight-team playoff -- and finding a way to get a Group of 5 team into the mix -- just picked up some serious steam for their argument.

5. You think UCF's performance might help Nebraska's recruiting a tad as it gets ready for the big push toward the second signing date on Feb. 1?

"I think it's undeniable," said Martinez, out of Fresno, California, who recognizes his importance as peer recruiter. "You know, Nebraska's going to sell itself as a program with its natural pedigree. When you combine that with coach Frost and his staff, I feel like it's impossible to turn down."

Pretty powerful statement from the young man.

Pretty powerful win for Frost, his staff, for the UCF community, and for all those Knight players.

And, yeah, pretty powerful for Husker Nation.

6. Anyone else notice what Frost told the ESPN sideline reporter when she asked what the win and undefeated season meant to him?

"It's about the players. It's always about the players ... " he said.

Nebraska has itself a coach.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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