Scott Frost evidently worked some serious magic Saturday, and I don't just mean Nebraska's 659 yards of total offense.
His first win as Nebraska's head football coach, a 53-28 decision against Minnesota, actually made Husker fans look forward to next Saturday's game against Bethune-Cookman. I mean that in all seriousness. Keep the Big Red train rolling. That was a popular sentiment after NU won its first game of what had become a bizarre season of setbacks.
The home crowd roared as Frost ran into the tunnel afterward. You saw Memorial Stadium still nearly full even though Nebraska had established control with well over five minutes left in the game. Yeah, forget a bye week. The Huskers (1-6, 1-4 Big Ten) are definitely better off trying to put together a two-game winning streak after ending a 10-game skid that dated to last season. They now have something positive — something very positive — to build on.
It's been far too long since Nebraska could say that.
"It would be nice to try and get two in a row if we play well," said Frost, whose tone was one of relief and gratitude, a bit dialed down from his brash remarks during the offseason. "We're missing out on a bye week and a chance to rest our guys. We're beat up a little bit and tired. We will keep on adjusting as much as we can.
"I would love to see that stadium full again. That is what it's supposed to feel like out there. I can't thank the fans enough. Those guys stayed right until the end of that one to see that. Our fans have been supportive this whole way, and that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be back here."
Even the most hardened cynic had to feel good for Frost. Nobody in the world anticipated Nebraska's 0-6 start. Nobody at all. It was becoming excruciating to watch the solemn faces of players, especially veterans, heading toward the locker room following defeats. The Huskers entered the day having lost 12 of 13 overall and seven straight at home. Yeah, it was weird and sort of uncomfortable.
No way Frost saw all the losing coming. You can bet it humbled him. It had to humble him. But here's where you salute the head coach. He somehow kept his team in a sound frame of mind. That clearly bodes well for the future. Yeah, a few guys jumped ship this season, but it was for the better. It sure looked that way against Minnesota (3-4, 0-4), which entered the day ranked 28th nationally in rushing defense but surrendered 383 rushing yards, Nebraska's highest total since piling up 458 against Illinois in 2014.
The Huskers averaged 8.9 per carry. They sank P.J. Fleck's row boat.
"Monday's practice was amazing," said Nebraska senior receiver Stanley Morgan, who recorded a career-high 10 receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
Morgan mentioned last week's 34-31 overtime loss at Northwestern in which Nebraska blew a 10-point lead in the final six minutes of regulation. If you were wondering how Frost's crew would respond, well, it bolted to a 28-0 lead in the second quarter against Minnesota. That probably tells you a lot about the culture Frost is establishing. It's early, mind you, but it's working. It's much better than last year, when Mike Riley's crew routinely threw up the white flag.
Even in victory, however, you see Frost still has plenty of work remaining in building up talent and forming a champions' mentality throughout the program. After all, Minnesota — playing with a backup quarterback in Tanner Morgan who had completed only two collegiate passes before Saturday — stormed back in the second half. The Gophers pulled to 28-22 with 7:22 remaining in the third quarter. Uh, oh. Not another collapse. Tell me you weren't thinking that, Nebraska fans.
Even your head coach's thoughts went in negative direction, if only momentarily.
"I thought it myself: 'I've seen this movie before,'" Frost said.
You know what else bodes well for Nebraska's future? Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez was marvelous. After Minnesota pulled to six points down in the third, Martinez gunned a 35-yard TD pass to Morgan, followed by a dart to Morgan for a two-point conversion. On that drive, freshman running back Maurice Washington had rushes of 22 and 11 yards. Those two perhaps help preserve Frost's sanity.
He'll long remember getting that game ball in the locker room, presented by defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.
"We're getting better every day," Frost said. "We're still not so good that you can sleep on a lead or not play your best. But I'm so proud of this team. They could have quit a long time ago, could've shut it down. This team every week does more of what we ask, does it better, keeps getting better. That was a pretty good show out there today."
So good that it perhaps made Nebraska fans look forward to Bethune-Cookman. You know the story. The game came about because the Huskers' opener against Akron was canceled by a lightning storm, the start of a run of bad news. But then came Saturday's win and now, an important week to build on it.
"The win's a quick sigh of relief," said Husker senior running back Devine Ozigbo (12 carries, 152 yards, two TDs). "But we have to get right back at it."
That suddenly feels like a better alternative than a bye week. Imagine that.