LINCOLN — Austin Allen learned the lesson during his first college football season. The only way to be at peak performance for weekends is to do the little stuff all the week.
That’s recovering properly after games. Good nutrition. Lots of sleep. Going full speed in practice when the 5:30 a.m. wakeup call hits like a blitzing linebacker.
“It’s physical, Big Ten football,” said Allen, the fifth-year Nebraska tight end. “Your body’s going to feel like crap for a couple days. But you’ve got to grind through it, and your body will feel right by Saturday and you’ve got to trust that the strength staff and the coaching staff is going to get you to that point.”
Nebraska still has five regular-season games left but is preparing for Minnesota as the last of eight straight contests before a bye. The Huskers have two more “two-game seasons” after that — home tilts with Purdue and Ohio State followed by a Nov. 13 bye and Wisconsin and Iowa to finish.
Playing eight consecutive weekends isn’t unheard of for college football, or even Nebraska. Big Red played 12 straight weeks in 2018 when it had to fill its scheduled bye following the canceled opener. It went seven in a row the last two years, and 11 straight in 2015.
A little time off will be welcome when it arrives, the Huskers said. Until then, they have a job to do.
“We have one game until a bye week,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “I know the team knows that and we’re going to push through.”
Martinez — still sporting an injured jaw from a hit he took at Michigan State two weeks ago — said no one is truly 100% once the season gets going. Not staying up on physical and mental maintenance during the fall might not have immediate effects, but this is when those consequences begin to come due.
Sixth-year defensive lineman Ben Stille, 23, said he’s in bed by 8 p.m. most nights in order to get 10 hours of sleep. That will certainly be his approach now following a physical game against Michigan in which he stayed down on the turf after a fourth-quarter play.
The former Ashland-Greenwood standout said he does it all for football. He has the rest of his life to stay up late. Right now every game and practice is a thing unto itself.
“I could care less (about the bye),” Stille said. “We could play 16 weeks straight. It’s obviously going to be welcomed. It’s good for any team to be able to de-load a little bit. (But) that’s the last thing we care about right now.”
Other players echoed the sentiment Monday. Punter William Przystup said he didn’t know Nebraska had any kind of bye week this year following the condensed COVID campaign. Defensive lineman Ty Robinson said he’ll be ready to roll again — schoolwork and movies keep him mentally fresh. Junior 325-pound defensive lineman Damion Daniels said he’s holding up well physically despite a career-high usage.
Said left tackle Turner Corcoran: “It’s been a grind … but we’re really ready for this challenge next week with Minnesota.”
Monday practices typically include good-on-good periods full of hits and popping gear. Scott Frost had players remove their pads this week, and he said they responded with a clean day of work. He also reminded the team that anyone with NFL aspirations will get one week off while navigating multiple preseason games and a 17-game season at the pro level.
“Eight weeks is a lot for college football,” Frost said. “But our guys got plenty of gas in them.”
Frost likened the Minnesota task to running the last of 20 sprints. The 20th one isn’t the hardest — the 16th, 17th and 18th are.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is coming off a bye after playing five weeks in a row. It has proven the last two years to be the tougher group. It clobbered NU 34-7 on a frigid Minneapolis night in 2019 and then won 24-17 in Lincoln last year as a 10-point underdog despite missing 33 players because of injuries or COVID-related issues.
Allen said he doesn’t see it as the Gophers being more rested. Nebraska is like a marathon runner ready to kick for the home stretch before receiving some relief.
With the hourglass of the season continuing to empty, there’s a sense of urgency among the team. There's precious little time left for the program turnaround they all believe can still happen.
“It’s a good mindset for us that we’ve got a bye week next week,” Allen said. “Let’s give it our all, let’s put our bodies on the line. We’ll get some rest under us next week.”