LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska will play a Week Zero game for the second straight season, and coach Scott Frost can’t afford a repeat of what happened a year ago.
The Cornhuskers’ loss at Illinois set the tone for a 3-9 season that ended with Frost clinging to his job after taking a $1 million pay cut and firing four offensive assistants.
Frost’s fifth season begins Saturday against Northwestern in Ireland, and another Week Zero flop would be an ominous sign. Frost said his team must play looser than it did in the 30-22 loss to Illinois.
“We’re going to go out there and let it rip,” he said Sunday. “I’m going to have more conversations with them about it. They have earned the right to be confident, and I’m sure Northwestern is, too. I think they’re going to be a really good team this year, and I don’t want the guys to worry about anything.”
Nebraska beat Northwestern 56-7 in Lincoln last year and is nearly a two-touchdown favorite for the game at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Northwestern, also looking to bounce back from a 3-9 season, is the home team. With temperatures forecast in the 60s, it should be ideal football weather.
“I’m looking forward to the experience,” Wildcats defensive back Cameron Mitchell said. “I’ve heard a lot of things about the food and the weather. It’s going to be interesting. But it’s a business trip. We’re going to get some revenge on Nebraska.”
The Huskers are scheduled to fly to Dublin on Monday night and practice at the stadium Tuesday. Shaking jetlag and getting acclimated to the six-hour time difference is the priority.
The staff has spoken with people from NFL teams that have played in London and consulted with researchers in the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab to prepare for the trip.
“If you’ve traveled to Europe, I don’t think there is a perfect way to do it,” Frost said. “You’re not going to feel perfect when you get over there.”
Frost said it’s a delicate balance getting ready to play a game while allowing the players to enjoy the experience of visiting the Emerald Isle.
“I think it would be a mistake to go over there and have the guys’ mind on football 24/7,” Frost said. “That is when you do get tight. We’re going to try and enjoy the people and the country and when it’s time to focus I want the guys to be sharp and focused.”
All nine of Nebraska’s losses last year were by single digits, with turnovers at the worst possible times and shoddy special teams play the difference in most.
“Last year was really hard for a lot of people,” linebacker Nick Henrich said, “but we took that and learned a lot of lessons from that, and we are going to take those over to Ireland with us.”
Nebraska brought in 15 players from the transfer portal, and seven or eight likely will be starters. Among them are quarterback Casey Thompson (Texas) and defensive end Ochaun Matthis (TCU).
“Last year is last year,” tight end Travis Vokolek said. “Guys know what we need to get done this year. Obviously, we have thought about it a little bit, but we know how important this first game is. We know how important it is to start on the right track. This first game is huge.”
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