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Matt Rhule reveals how he's instilling physical toughness back into Nebraska

Barkley-Truaxby:Barkley Truax07/01/23


Matt Rhule comes to Nebraska with the goal of winning football games the old fashioned way — through sheer physicality and out-toughing their opponent on a weekly basis. It’s same mindset that previously built the Cornhuskers into a national power — something the Rhule wants to recapture during his tenure in Lincoln.

“We have to make sure that we establish the way that we want to do things,” Rhule said, via ESPN. “This is how we’re going to practice. Some people might call that culture, some people might call that process, whatever it is. It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s establish this so that as the talent gets better, it grows up, develops, or we bring players in, there’s a standard for how we’re going to do things.'”

So, how does Rhule plan to implement that?

“I want to tackle at practice, I want to run the ball and I want to play defense,” Rhule said. “I want to use a fullback. All these things that I did (at past jobs) is what the people here in the state want.”

As it seems, Rhule’s players, staff and Nebraska fans alike have completely bought into the vision he has for the program. If you don’t believe in the hype, just ask the 66,000 fans that packed Memorial Stadium for a spring game last month. Based on the incredible turnout for a scrimmage — just imagine what the Huskers’ first home game will feel like this fall.

Jeff Sims, Nebraska’s presumed starting quarterback in Lincoln after last year’s QB1 Casey Thompson entered the transfer portal last week, is 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds. His stature and natural running ability suggests he’d rather run over someone than play two-hand touch.

Sims welcomed contact with open arms (or rather, a lowered shoulder) during the spring game earlier this year. He earned his first touchdown inside Memorial Stadium after bouncing off two defenders, walking straight into the end zone on a designed quarterback run — a play that wouldn’t have been possible if Rhule hadn’t made the scrimmage full contact.

“[Live hits in the spring] help a lot. As you know, in football the quarterback is live in the game, so I’ve always been one to want to be live in practice. You feel like it’s more of a game rep,” Sims said after the spring game. “As a quarterback, if you’re not live, you’re going to dial it back a little bit as far as running the ball, but once coach decided to make us live, I feel like it has helped us a lot because the intensity in the room picked up.”

The Cornhuskers’ fortunes might not get turned around right away, but Rhule has eight years to get the ball rolling in Nebraska after signing a contract totaling $72 million over that span. Still, 2023 is a trial run as Rhule is inheriting a fair few of the players on his roster, but that isn’t stopping them from rallying behind their head coach in year one.