The bye week could not have come at a better time for Nebraska football.
Throughout the first seven weeks of the season the Huskers won just three games, had to play back-to-back top-ten opponents inside Memorial Stadium for the first time in school history, and racked up quite the injury list in the process.
After a 3-4 start to the season, head coach Mike Riley said the team looked at different ways they could improve.
"What we did was we did a lot of self-evaluation, and working with our team," Riley said. "Not necessarily game planning, but just working on whatever we saw as we evaluated those things that would be necessary to help our players get better."
The grind of a 13-week season can take its toll on any team. During the season, practices are focused mostly on preparing for the next team on the schedule.
The bye week gave the Huskers some breathing room to get back to the basics without sacrificing any time for game preparations.
"The practices that we did have I see as kind of a release to get out there and get to play without a game right in front of you," Riley said. "We interacted and played offense against defense most of the time during that time without scout teams so they could just play football and coaches could coach, and hopefully technically help guys grow in some of the things they needed to improve on. We could get a little bit better idea of how we can forward.”
Injuries and a lack of depth has forced players without a single down of college football experience to go compete against the top teams in the nation. With a team like that, working on fundamentals is just as important as preparing for the next opponent.
"We kind of hauled it back a little bit," junior running back Devine Ozigbo said. "We just kind of stayed fundamental scheme-wise during the bye week. We laid the physical aspect of the game off which helped our bodies get back."
The bye week also helped the Huskers regain some healthy bodies. Offensively, wide receivers JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan Jr. both suffered minor injuries in the Ohio State game. Both anticipate playing against Purdue.
Nebraska's top three safeties, Joshua Kalu, Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed, missed all or most of last game. Riley said he thinks all three are healthy enough to go this week. Linebackers Luke Gifford and Dedrick Young are both questionable to participate this weekend.
During Riley's Monday press conference, he answered some "mid-season review" questions. He noted that this year, his third at Nebraska, has more resemblance to year one of a rebuilding process.
With the quarterback and offensive system change, the installation of the 3-4 defense and injury problems, it's given the team and its players something defensive coordinator Bob Diaco calls "gaps".
He described this at length after practice Tuesday with this statement:
“This isn’t add powder to water and shake,” Diaco said. “It’s a holistic, all-encompassing all-consuming process to create a great defense. It takes time. Mick Stoltenberg is a great example. He is physically capable to do all the work at a very high level. The gap he has is our new defense so he’s new to the defense and that gap is shrinking. The gap I’m talking about is his play and dynamic production. That gap is shrinking with participation and time. You take Dicaprio Bootle. He’s big enough, fast enough and courageous. His gap is that he is new to playing college football. He possess all of the tangible and intangible traits and he’s invested and passionate. I can’t say enough about both of those guys.”
“That’s just two quick examples of reality which closes the gap with time participated in the system. The other one is a brand-new player in the system. There is no doubt we are going to create a great defense. There is no doubt that we are going to create the best defense in the country. It is going to take time as these gaps are eliminated for every player. These player are good enough to do just that. We know them [the gaps], and we are closing and eliminating them. With each one that closes and minimizes, we’ll get better”
Will the Huskers be able to close those gaps before the end of the season? That's a question we'll have to wait to answer. But one thing is for sure: the bye week helped.