Spend about 20 minutes with Mark Philipp, and a few of his traits surface quickly:

He's intense, friendly and, perhaps above all, team-oriented.

So, naturally, the second-year Nebraska head football strength coach is thrilled with the eighth-ranked and undefeated Huskers' 88-13 overall advantage in fourth quarters this season. The 75-point margin in the final period leads the nation, 15 ahead of second-place Arizona State.

"I just feel like, man, they're going to turn it on," Philipp said of the Husker players. "These guys are fighters, man. They're going to go toe-to-toe with anybody."

Philipp watched from the sideline with pride late in the fourth quarter Saturday as Nebraska powered through a 15-play, 60-yard drive to a field goal, helping subdue Indiana. That was just the latest show of late-game strength from a team that last season too often faltered down the stretch of games and finished 6-7.

"I would say we had a tremendous offseason," Philipp said. "Our guys were a lot healthier this summer. Nobody was on the bench. Everybody trained. It was awesome."

In explaining Nebraska's fourth-quarter success, Philipp emphasized the importance of several entities working together as one. He mentioned everyone from head coach Mike Riley and his coaching staff, to team nutritionists, to trainers, to members of the school's athletic performance lab.

"I'm definitely not going to sit here and try to take credit for our strong fourth quarters," Philipp said.

The players put in the hard work. Nebraska senior linebacker Josh Banderas spoke of several players leading the charge in summer workouts, as opposed to only a few.

"Everyone was chirping, and it was back and forth, just good communication," he said. "It wasn't one guy (in a position group) yelling at everybody. And now you can see it transferring over to the field. Everyone's picking each other up. Everyone's helping each other with things they need.

"We started that in the summer. It makes all the difference in the world, just being closer as a team and knowing you got guys around you who are going to help you and not tear you down. That brotherhood feeling really has came up big for us in the fourth quarter."

Philipp also emphasized that it takes time for a culture to take hold in a program. To be sure, a strong second-half mentality doesn't spring up out of nowhere.

In January 2015, when Philipp came to Nebraska from USC, he faced a challenge similar to that of the Husker coaches. He had to get to know the players, all the while laying the foundation for his program.

"We felt it was more important to build the foundation before becoming more dynamic with what we do," he said. "This summer was a lot different than our first one here. We did a lot more position-specific work. Just doing a lot more change-of-direction movements has helped prevent some of the past injuries that we had, like the groin and hamstring issues." 

Philipp's staff stressed technique over "chaotic running." For instance, players were drilled on how to properly accelerate and decelerate.

"It's a lot harder when you have to slow something down and do it exactly right, as opposed to just going 100 mph," Philipp said. "There was more attention to detail."

Throughout the process, getting to know the players was of paramount importance, he said.

"I think relationships with players is the most important thing," he said. "We see them a lot, and I'll say this a million times: We often see these kids in a totally different light than some of our coaches do only because we see them so much more than them.

"We see them almost 365 days a year when they're training with us."

To best motivate a player, Philipp and his staff try to achieve an understanding of each player individually, which makes it easier to press the right buttons, so to speak.

It takes time to learn players' wants and needs.

It also takes time to build trust.

"Everyone comes from a different place, and they have different stories of how they were raised," Philipp said. "I can tell you a lot about these guys that most people don't know. We'll have conversations that aren't about football. It's more about life in general."

He sees ample toughness in the group, particularly during fourth quarters.

Nebraska has averaged a startling 9:58 in time of possession in the final quarter.

"I don't think they're going to break," Philipp said. "When you talk about somebody having to dig deep, they've proven it."

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


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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