Nebraska Football: It’s the clock management, stupid

Nov 18, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 18, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Nebraska football’s 2023 campaign could be quite a bit more successful if Matt Rhule simply understood how important better clock management is.

Back in 1992, political analyst James Carville came up with the line that would carry Bill Clinton to the White House. “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The message from Carville was aimed at Clinton campaign workers as one of the three pillars they were to focus on as they tried to round up support for their boss. Clinton won – upending what had been 12 consecutive years of Republicans holding the White House – thanks in large part to that messaging.

Fast forward to 2023 and Nebraska football is desperately in need of focusing on three pillars that will take it back to a bowl game after six straight years of sitting home for the postseason. There’s the offense, there’s the defense and then, it’s the clock management, stupid.

While I still count myself as a staunch Matt Rhule defender, there is a pattern emerging that needs to fixed ASAP. If there is a blindspot for the head coach, it’s clock management at the end of a half.

We saw it in the first half against Minnesota. The Nebraska football team had the timeouts to calmly and collectedly march towards the endzone and at least settle for a field goal. Instead, the team went hurry up, looked frantic and eventually threw an interception in the endzone to come away scoreless. If the Cornhuskers hit a field goal on that drive, they likely beat the Gophers.

That would have been the first of six victories. It’s the clock management, stupid.

Nebraska Football needs to learn It’s the clock management, stupid

To Matt Rhule’s credit, bad clock management isn’t a constant. At least not as glaringly as it was on Saturday night against Wisconsin. To his detriment, it sure feels like his clock management played a role in the loss.

The first half gaffe wasn’t as bad as the end of regulation.

With 1:48 to play, the Huskers got the ball back with a chance to put a drive together to widen their 14-10 lead. Perhaps the Nebraska football coaches weren’t all on in on going for a score off the bat.

Whatever the approach, the Huskers completed pass to Thomas Fidone on 2nd and 19 and then allowed about 22 seconds to run off the clock before the next snap. Nebraska had all three timeouts at this point.

With 1:13 on the clock, NU hit Billy Kemp on a little WR screen that got them near a first down. They allowed another 21 seconds to run off the clock.

With 52 seconds left, they ran up the middle with Emmett Johnson, got the first down and the clock stopped, allowing the Huskers to keep three timeouts when they snapped the ball with 44 seconds to go near the 50. They got another first down, that stopped the clock with 39 seconds to go.

But Nebraska football still had 3 timeouts. A holding penalty negated a play with 26 seconds left and the Huskers had to call timeout in order to avoid a clock runoff.

From his own 40, Chubba Purdy uncorked a big-time pass to Malachi Coleman that moved Nebraska football to inside the Wisconsin 35. But instead of using one of their two timeouts, the Huskers went hurry up after the first down, and it wasn’t until six seconds had ticked off the clock and Wisconsin called a timeout, that the clock stopped. 14 seconds left, NU still had two timeouts.

With just 14 seconds left, the Huskers ran an option that took 8 seconds off the clock, setting up for a field goal, apparently. NU uses its second time out. Rhule then decided to try a shot into the end zone rather than a field goal, and by sheer luck, ended up with one second left on the clock.

Tristan Alvano missed the field goal, and Nebraska went to the half scoreless and with a timeout in its pocket.  Had the Nebraska football coaches used that timeout earlier in the drive, one has to wonder if NU might have gotten closer and given Alvano a better shot than a 42-yarder. It’s the clock management, stupid.

Fast forward to the drive at the end of regulation for Nebraska football.

With about 3:30 to go in the game, the Huskers began their final drive. But it wasn’t until Nebraska got down to the Wisconsin 25 with 1:35 to go. Once again, the Cornhuskers had all three timeouts to play with.

After a seven yard run by Emmett Johnson, Rhule ran the clock down to 51 seconds. Then a one yard gain saw the clock get drained all the way down to 20 seconds. On 3rd and 2, Nebraska got another first down, took a timeout and the clock was at 13 seconds.

One shot to the endzone ran off six seconds and the Huskers kicked the field goal. They made it, went to overtime and lost.

But what if there had been more than 20 seconds to go in the game before the Nebraska Football team got to Wisconsin’s 20-yard line? What if they’d saved up enough time for a couple of shots to the end zone? There’s no guarantee that the Huskers would win, but it sure feels like they would have had a better shot.

It’s the clock management, stupid. Nebraska football needs to get better at it. And it only has one more week to show it has.