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The Catalyst

The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

New coach, same disappointment

A look back at Nebraska football under Matt Rhule’s first year
Nebraska Head Coach Matt Rhule embracing quarterback Chubba Purdy before the Iowa-Nebraska game. The team went 5-7 in Rhule’s first year, but showed a lot of promise for the next year. Photo courtesy of Syracuse.com

I was at the Black Friday game in Lincoln last week. To say the 13-10 loss to 17th ranked Iowa was devastating, would be an understatement. But at the same time, you could use the phrase “devastating loss” for pretty much every single Nebraska football loss since 2021. 

When Nebraska hired Matt Rhule last year, my mind went to two trains of thought: 1) this year of Nebraska football would be one of the best seasons I have ever seen in my entire 17 years of life, or 2) it would be one of the worst seasons Nebraska football has ever seen in its 133 year history. 

Historically speaking, Matt Rhule led teams tend to stink in their first year. And when I say stink, I mean a combined 3-21 record with Temple and Baylor (if you include his time with the Carolina Panthers in the National Football League, his record is 8-32). 

However, the common consensus was a comparison of the situations that both Temple and Baylor were facing at the time. Temple had only gone to four bowl games before Rhule took the helm, and went 4-7 the year prior. The Baylor football program was in much hotter water, were it came out 31 Baylor Bears had committed a total of 52 rapes, and other sex crimes, from 2011-2014. In terms of rebuilding a program, Nebraska would be one of the easier tasks for Rhule, as all the fanbase wanted was a team that could win one-score games. 

When you ask a Husker fan about the coaches after the legendary Tom Osborne, many things come to mind: “He should have never been fired (Frank Solich),” “He should have never been hired (Bill Callahan),” “He should have never been fired (Bo Pelini),” “Remember that one year we made a bowl game (Mike Riley)?,” “Waste of money. Couldn’t win a one score game if his life depended on it (Scott Frost).” But all anyone wanted in the state of Nebraska was a simple request, close out those one score games.

So, did Rhule change the culture to start closing out those one score games? Nope. Not even close. 

As fans, we should have known we would be in for one heck of a season after week one against Minnesota. While many fans would blame the obvious missed touchdown as the reason for Nebraska’s loss, the terrible quarterback play by Jeff Sims was the blame in the 13-10 loss to the Golden Gophers. The following week, Nebraska was manhandled by Colorado, which was to be expected. However, Husker fans figured out the identity of this team: the defense. A teenager like myself had few and far between memories of Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David and Prince Amukamara all becoming generational talents in all levels of the defense. But this unit was special. People well older than myself that witnessed the legendary defensive units of the 90s knew this core was special. 

That was something Rhule wanted to bring back to the state of Nebraska. He wanted to run the ball, and play great defense. And he also ran the ball. He ran the ball so much in the first two weeks, his running back one and two both went down to season ending injuries. Not necessarily what you want in your first year when it comes to establishing an identity, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Rhule did what he said he would do. That gives me a lot of faith for next year.

Following the blowout loss to Colorado, Nebraska would rattle off two wins against Northern Illinois and L.A. Tech (UNI would end up qualifying for a bowl game with a 6-6 record, while L.A. Tech finished 3-9).

Heading back to B1G Ten play against second ranked Michigan with a .500 record, there was false optimism surrounding all of Nebraska. Regardless of if the Wolverines stole signs from Nebraska, it probably didn’t matter because UM smoked the Huskers, 45-7. 

At 2-3, fans were split on what this season would hold at the end of the year. With seven games left, this was when Rhule’s first season standard of losing would come into effect. But that’s the thing, it didn’t. The month of October was huge for the Cornhuskers. First, the 20-7 win over Illinois was an unexpected win. Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg led the team in rushing and passing yards, but everyone knew he wasn’t the solution at quarterback. Haarberg started the season as a tight end, and with the injury to Sims in the Colorado game, and preseason QB2 Chubba Purdy suffering a groin injury early before the season, who we would see later in the season.

Then, in what was a game that gave me PTSD from last year’s Frost choke job game in Ireland, the Huskers hosted Northwestern. In yet another one score game, they took down the Wildcats, 20-7. Nebraska was finally getting hot, and just needed two more wins to make a bowl game. 

Then, in the last game of October, Nebraska beat down on the Boilermakers. At 5-3, all they needed was one win, and there was even a way that Nebraska could make the B1G Ten Championship game, if they got enough to go their way. 

Then came November. The lowly Michigan State Spartans, who fired their head coach just weeks into the season. After their home stand, they had to travel to East Lansing, which was cold. It got to the Huskers, and they lost 20-17. Was it a bad loss? Very much so. But with a struggling Maryland, Wisconsin and an Iowa team with no offense, there was still time to get that final win.

All three of those games were losses. Nebraska finished 5-7. There was one common trend in all three games; incredible defense, terrible offense. I was at the Iowa-Nebraska Heroes game. I remember when Tommi Hill picked off Deacon Hill, and ran it to the 30. We started the drive at the 50, because of a holding. The clock management from before didn’t allow us to run the ball, then Purdy threw the pick to seal the loss. The agony and pain I felt, everyone felt it. The amount of people that yelled out “We suck, again!” was just comical. We were never good to begin with.

But how do we become good again? The most important thing is to get a quarterback from the transfer portal. Get a guy that has a strong pocket presence. The dream here is Will Howard from Kansas State. He has started following different offensive staffers from Nebraska on X (formerly Twitter), however that is a long shot. With the offensive talent coming next year (Danny Kaelin, Carter Nelson, Isaiah McMorris, Daeveon Hall, Caleb Benning and others), I like where we sit on that side of the ball. Regardless of who we snag from the transfer portal, the quarterback of the future is Kaelin, at least in my eyes. The Elite 11 finalist and winner of the accuracy contest shows promise, and was originally a target of the ninth ranked Missouri Tigers. 

With Rhule’s comments on NIL and the transfer portal, the 1890 initiative needs to bring in enough money to bring in a veteran quarterback. I expect Sims and Purdy to hit the transfer portal. I expect Haarberg to stay, and move to receiver. In the portal, we need to get a new, big linebacker, two more receivers, and one above average offensive tackle. It’s not the time to throw every transfer money. Next year Nebraska has the chance to start a strong 7-0 or 6-1 before their bye week. 

But, I’m excited. This was a year where we were supposed to win just one or two games, but we almost made a bowl game, and there was even a chance to make the B1G Ten Championship game. That is nuts for a year one coach. Time will tell, but Go Big Red.

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About the Contributor
Logan Moseley, Staff Reporter
This is Logan’s senior year and 4th year on staff. Last year he was the MWHS Wildcat News Broadcast Editor In Chief, Striv Executive Producer and one of the piloting students of the “High School Radio Project.” Moseley won 1st place in the NSAA Class A News Broadcast category, and placed in the Broadcast Feature category as well. Moseley worked with the President of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, Jim Timm, on the HSRP, worked for the Corn Belt baseball summer league live streaming service, and was a PA for Millard North Legion Baseball. Moseley is a fan of the Los Angeles Rams and Nebraska Cornhuskers.

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