LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph took full responsibility for his team’s performance in a 49-14 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday, repeatedly saying in his postgame news conference, “This is on me.”
Joseph was promoted to interim coach last Sunday after Scott Frost was fired following a 1-2 start to the season. Throughout the week, Joseph promised he would bring more energy and enthusiasm to the program and had his players get back to the basics at practice — while also removing the black shirts that are a trademark of the defense.
But after their first offensive series ended in a touchdown, nothing went right for the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma dominated in every area, as Dillon Gabriel threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns while Eric Gray had 113 yards rushing and two more scores.
The same tackling issues and missed alignments plagued the Nebraska defense, while the offensive line had a tough time protecting the quarterback, making it difficult to gain any rhythm on offense. Oklahoma finished with four sacks and nine tackles for loss.
“This is on me, not my players, not my assistant coaches,” Joseph said. “I’ve got to do a better job, and I will. I’ve got to accept responsibility for it, and I have. We’ve got eight games left, and we’re going to get ready to win some games. “
When asked what he could have done differently in his first week as head coach, Joseph said, “I guess I didn’t do enough last week to get them ready. We’ve got to do some individual work, some more drill work next week, less team work and get some fundamentals straightened up.”
Joseph got his players back to tackling again during practice, something that hadn’t been happening under Frost. He said he plans to do more tackling work during the upcoming open date, before Nebraska gets into the heart of its Big Ten schedule.
In addition, he wants to give younger players more reps and would consider shaking up the depth chart if those players are deserving of more playing time. As for whether he plans to make any changes to the coaching staff, Joseph said, “I can’t see that right now.”
To be sure, the entire week was challenging for Joseph and his players. Joseph, a former Nebraska quarterback, had been on staff for less than a year as receivers coach. Meanwhile, players had to say goodbye to the head coach who recruited them. Among the three players made available for postgame interviews, none blamed Joseph for what happened Saturday.
“Coach Joseph did an incredible job all week,” linebacker Nick Henrich said. “Players were the ones playing the game on Saturday, so we’ve got to buy into what he says and continue to work and believe in him, and I know this team believes in him.”
During Frost’s tenure, Nebraska had a habit of losing close games. Too many close games. Nebraska was 5-22 in games decided by one score or less in his four-plus seasons as head coach. That includes a closer-than-expected 23-16 loss to Oklahoma a year ago.
So to go from so many close losses to not even being close Saturday seemed particularly distressing. Joseph said the performance surprised him. Defensive back Myles Farmer said he felt like things were going Nebraska’s way at the outset, before the game got out of hand.
“You’re going to ask me all these questions that I really don’t want to answer,” Farmer said. “But at the end of the day, you’re not in here with us. You’re not at practice with us. We’ve got to keep playing football, basically.”
The 35-point margin of victory is tied for Oklahoma’s largest in the series since 1990. It also snapped a streak of 13 straight losses by single digits for Nebraska.
Athletic director Trev Alberts, who declined a request to comment, said during his news conference last Sunday that Joseph would have an opportunity to interview for the head-coaching job.
A source close to Joseph said he believed the coach would be given a fair shot but that the remainder of the season would essentially be an on-the-job audition.
With that as the backdrop, during the Fox pregame show outside the stadium fans started chanting, “We want Urban!” as former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer sat on the set.
No matter what happens in the future, Joseph wants to make sure his players remain focused on the eight Big Ten games remaining.
“If you’re going down at this point, you ain’t meant to play football,” Farmer said. “You got to keep playing, got to keep your head up.”