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Steven M. Sipple: Frost's crew still shows ample 'dog'; NU backs on attack; and Bud, the artist

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Nebraska vs. Wisconsin, 11.20

Nebraska's Nick Henrich celebrates after Wisconsin missed a field goal in the second quarter Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wis. — Things I know, and things I think I know: 

Nebraska football coach Scott Frost and three of his players — Adrian Martinez, Austin Allen and Garrett Nelson — took the podium to answer several media questions following Saturday's 35-28 loss at Wisconsin. 

Lo and behold, it appeared the session may end without a topic arising that's been around since Aug. 28, when Nebraska dropped its season-opener at Illinois. 

Nelson, a sophomore defensive end from Scottsbluff, stepped to the microphone last of the four. With his session nearing an end, here it came: How do you expect the team to finish off the season? 

After each crushing loss, fans and media essentially wonder if this Nebraska team will fold up its tent, as was the case down the stretch in 2017. 

Well, how about it, Garrett?

"It's Iowa," he said without hesitation, referring to Friday's opponent. "We've got to go practice tomorrow. Some of us operate on a little bit more 'dog.' So, let's go get it done." 

Some of us operate on a little bit more "dog."

Translation: Nebraska (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) has plenty of fighters on its roster who probably don't even understand the notion of quitting on themselves or their teammates or their university or their fan base. This team shows up and plays with a hard edge far more often than not. It's never quit. It has plenty of "dogs."

Huskers falling short to UW the only predictable outcome in an otherwise weird Big Ten tilt

Yeah, there are definitely people in this world who flat-out quit when times get tough. There are teams that trend in that direction, too. In 2017, Nebraska put up little fight in losing 56-14 to Ohio State in a mid-October home game. Same goes for a 54-21 road loss to Minnesota and a 56-14 home loss to Iowa. Oh, and it put up a half-baked comeback at Penn State before losing 56-44.

In those four games combined, Nebraska surrendered 7.3 yards per carry — emphasis on "surrendered." 

As humans, we can forgive a lot. But giving a half-hearted effort, especially in high-level athletic competition, is hard for most people to tolerate. 

Others tolerate it quite well. They eloquently rationalize it away. 

Fast forward to this season: We thought we might see a massive letdown from Nebraska after its crushing overtime loss Sept. 25 at Michigan State. We thought we might see Frost's team fold up after Martinez's fumble doomed his team in the waning moments Oct. 9 against Michigan. Perhaps the Oct. 30 loss to Purdue would push NU toward a 2017-like stretch run.  

Instead, Nebraska held Ohio State to 26 points, 20 fewer than its average, in a nine-point loss Nov. 6 in Lincoln. That's the same Buckeye team that produced 655 yards of total offense in its 56-7 home win Saturday against No. 7 Michigan State. 

Instead of folding up like a lawn chair, Nebraska rattled Wisconsin's top-ranked defense to the tune of 452 yards and four times scored touchdowns that tied the game. In other words, the Huskers punched back until the final bell. 

Frost's team has an awful record largely because of its inability to close out games. Whether that's an incurable defect in Frost's coaching acumen or actually a sign that his program is poised to turn the corner is the subject of great debate. 

Meanwhile, there are those of us who absolutely appreciate Nebraska's willingness to keep punching back. We know it's not a given. We know it for a fact.

I would be shocked if this particular Nebraska team fails to show up Friday with a hard edge. 

Thanks for asking, though. 

* Speaking of showing up with a hard edge: Nebraska's aggressive, pass-heavy game plan against Wisconsin's top-ranked defense was complemented by three running backs — Markese Stepp, Brody Belt and Marvin Scott — who consistently attacked the line of scrimmage. Emphasis on "attacked." 

Wisconsin entered the day holding opponents to 60.6 rushing yards per game. But Nebraska's rushers hit creases hard from the start, with Stepp powering for a seven-yard gain on the opening possession, which he capped with a one-yard touchdown run. Scott and Belt had five-yard runs on the second possession. 

The tone was set. Nebraska finished with 35 carries for 101 yards, or 2.9 per carry. The stats aren't spectacular. Far from it. But the mindset of the backs was clear. They would fight for yards on every carry. 

Give Ryan Held, one of four Husker assistants with whom NU parted ways last week, credit for establishing that sort of mentality in the backs. 

Give Ron Brown, one of the assistants pressed into duty for the final two games, credit for bringing out the "dog" in the backs Saturday even during a trying time for the players. 

Brown, 64, has worked on Nebraska staffs for Tom Osborne, Frank Solich, Bo Pelini and Frost. He's worked as a senior offensive analyst under Frost. Would Brown once again take over as Husker running backs coach on a permanent basis, as he did from 2011 to 2014? It's an intriguing question to ponder. You have to think Frost would at least consider it. 

* Yes, Jaquez Yant made the trip and was suited up. Nebraska played three running backs who fought hard on every play. Yant apparently was fourth on this week's depth chart. Not sure we need to know much more than that, especially considering what we saw in the game. 

Brown has long since earned our trust on personnel matters.

* I've said it before: Terence "Bud" Crawford is an artist in the ring, as genuine as the canvas on which he works.

"I appreciate everything that everybody says about me and how well folks support me," he told me a few years ago. "I just try to make everybody a believer."

He did it again Saturday. He's an artist with knockout power in both hands. 

He's an Omaha guy, but also a Nebraska guy. He's a Husker fan. 

Tip your cap to arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.


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Husker sports 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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