LINCOLN — The bye week produced one change of note to Nebraska’s offensive line depth chart.
The Huskers list sophomore Ian Boerkircher as their No. 2 right tackle, a significant step forward for the walk-on from Aurora who transferred from UNK.
“He’s been working his butt off, I’m so proud of this guy,” starting left tackle Turner Corcoran said. “He’s come a long ways.”
Corcoran started at right tackle against Northwestern and Michigan before shifting back to the left side for Minnesota following the injury to freshman Teddy Prochazka. Bryce Benhart reassumed his starting job at right tackle against the Gophers.
The 6-foot-6, 280-pound Boerkircher — whose brother, Nate, is a Husker tight end — has appeared in five games this year. He redshirted at UNK in 2018, sat out 2019 as a transfer and didn’t play in 2020.
Corcoran said Ian Boerkircher is curious, always asking questions and learning. He’s smart, reacts on the fly and can quickly bounce between left and right tackle, which Corcoran said is “pretty rare” for a walk-on.
Nouredin Nouili, who has started the last three weeks at left guard, spent 2020 on the scout team with Boerkircher and said he’s seen big strides from him.
“He’s been grinding,” Nouili said. “He doesn’t really care where he is on (the depth chart), he will cheer for everyone in front of him and behind him. He’s been doing a great job at keeping our heads up when we mess up something, and we did the same thing to him. He’s one of the guys that holds us all together.”
Scott Frost has seen “obvious” progress over the last four seasons, and based on feedback from the recruiting trail, he isn’t alone.
The Husker staff fanned out last weekend during the bye week to work on its 2022 class and beyond. Frost attended the Lincoln Southeast-Elkhorn South game to watch multiple NU commits and targets.
Big Red coaches hadn’t been on the road recruiting since late January 2020. The team has eight commits in the 2022 class and two in 2023.
The response from high school coaches, administrators and students last weekend was “awesome,” Frost said. There was an acknowledgement that Nebraska is playing at a higher level, even if the program has yet to “get it over the hump” with five one-score losses this fall.
“I think people are enjoying watching this team,” Frost said. “I think they’re proud of this team. … It’s really tough recruiting without being able to go out and evaluate and go out and get in front of coaches and get into high schools. We needed this and it’s a good first step.”
The Blackshirts uncharacteristically allowed three first-half touchdown against Minnesota, but responded after halftime by forcing two turnovers and allowing just one late score.
For the most part, they’ve been able to flip the switch all season. Rogers said heartbreaking losses haven’t broken their spirits.
“It hasn’t caused any difference, if anything it’s making guys work harder,” Rogers said. “That’s the thing about this team, you would expect people to get frustrated and shut things down. That's not the case here.”
The culture Frost has built has been a big reason why. Rogers cites an emphasis on making the best of every situation.
The preparation this week hasn’t been much different despite Purdue employing a different approach than Michigan and Minnesota — relying heavily on the pass instead of the run. But the Blackshirts are look forward to a slightly different challenge.
“Every team comes out first and tries to establish the run game, we’re gonna have to shut that down so it’s an all-pass game,” Rogers said. “Fortunately for Purdue, that’s what they like, but that is every pass rusher’s dream, a game where you can pass rush a lot of downs.”
Defensive tackle Ty Robinson believes the pass rush is performing better than some may think. NU tends to get a good push early in the game, Robinson said, before teams switch to a three-step pass attack that negates the pass rush, which is why defensive linemen are coached to get their hands up in passing windows.
Purdue is a little different. The Boilermakers throw 44 passes per game, and their three quarterbacks make a habit of holding the ball a long time to make way for deeper crossing routes.
“They’re a big pass-heavy team,” Robinson said. “I don’t think they have an identity in the run game. … The pass game is going to be the key focus for us this week. We can’t overlook their run game at all — we’ve got to stick to our bread and butter — but I think we know we can handle their run game.”
The Huskers are determined not to let the trials and tribulations of the past dilute the opportunities ahead of them to salvage the season.
“(Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti) has a saying, ‘The past is to learn, not to live in.’ So I think a lot of guys really go by that,” Rogers said.
The Huskers watched the Illinois-Penn State marathon, and — like the rest of the country — struggled to comprehend what they were seeing.
Linebacker Chris Kolarevic couldn’t believe how tired the players must’ve been. Nouili called the game “crazy.” And Frost wondered how each coach kept generating two-point play ideas.
“I had anxiety watching that game,” Frost said. “You’d run out of things to call.”
The rule that spawned Saturday’s nine-overtime contest is new to college football. Starting with the third overtime, teams take turns running two-point conversions from the 3-yard line until somebody wins.
Nebraska’s players like it. Nouili likes the value it adds to each overtime possession. Kolarevic appreciates the NCAA’s desire to shorten games.
Frost didn’t comment on the rule itself, but he’s glad he got to watch that game before applying the rule himself.
“It was good practice for the coaching staff to see that,” he said. “Just to make sure we can be ready for it.”
» Frost said safety Deontai Williams — who injured his knee against Minnesota — will be back at some point this season, but he doesn’t know when. Myles Farmer slides into the starting role, and Noa Pola-Gates or Marques Buford will get a look at Farmer's old spot if NU chooses to have a three-safety rotation.
» Tight end Thomas Fidone is still “shaking off a little rust” as he returns from a knee injury, Frost said. He and other tight ends will play when they can help NU win, Frost said.
» Brant Banks returned to practice Wednesday after missing several weeks due to injury. Frost said it helps to have another experienced offensive lineman available, and “we’ll see” where Banks factors into Nebraska’s plans over its final five games.
» Frost said he simulated several end-of-game situations during last Wednesday’s practice.
Two-minute drills, four-minute drills and other scenarios where the “game is on the line.”
Frost said the Huskers “did a lot of really good things, and we did a couple of dumb things” during those drills.
» Frost said NU’s “basic stuff” in the red zone has to be executed better.