Seizing control. Nail in the coffin. Step on their throats. Piling it on. Putting the game away. However you say it, the concept of “finishing a game” is still completely foreign to Nebraska football. It’s as though the players are allergic to the lead or something. And the lack of that kind of mentality has plagued Nebraska for years now, so it’s not going to be developed overnight. We all just wish it would hurry up, because it’s downright exhausting not having much confidence in a team that’s filled with some pretty good guys. It’s a tough thing to have a much more negative outlook on the team after the clock hits all zeroes, even when there were a lot of great things that happened. But none of those “great things” were in crunch time, unfortunately.
Forget the past decade of blunders, think back to last year and how several games slipped out of the Huskers’ grasp. A blown two-touchdown lead against Northwestern, a loss to Ohio State in which one more score in the third quarter might’ve made the difference, the loss to Colorado where a late penalty gave the Puffs one last gasp that lead to taking the lead, and Iowa when all NU needed was one last fourth-down stop but instead gave up a first-down pass within winning field goal range. And that’s not all of them! This program is so close, yet so far away.
What transpired last Saturday was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Husker fans took over the stadium that was definitely one for the ages. What an embarrassment to Colorado officials, fans and coaches. But they had the last laugh, ... in a game that Nebraska had complete control of, the same issues that we’ve covered for years reared their ugly heads once again, leaving fans, coaches and players absolutely disgusted.
A lot of thoughts on this one, so let’s get to some random points.
— Somehow, some way, Nebraska is going to have to find some resolve and a killer instinct. The players play hard, are improving and are “all in” so to speak, but that’s just not enough. It’s a four-quarter game, and no matter how awesome they play at times, I’ve yet to see a complete game. How many chances did NU have to ice that game? The answer: a lot! I get that the altitude in Boulder probably had an effect on the Huskers, but by then, the game should’ve been put away anyhow. Listen, there’s no team on the schedule that is gonna turtle up, pack it in and go home if Nebraska grabs a lead. Every team knows it can beat the Huskers, and that’s a trend that just needs to stop.
— What’s up with Adrian Martinez? Is it “paralysis by analysis?” Is it the worry of the inexperienced offensive line up the middle? Is it the playcalling? Does he miss Stanley Morgan that much? It’s probably a multitude of things, but after an extremely hot start, the second half became a nightmare. The predetermined run plays for Martinez were successful all game long, and he looked comfortable in doing so. But once those plays disappeared in the second half, so did his ability to find open guys, usually across the middle or on a secondary read. It’s as if the moment the offense loses its tempo, Martinez has too much time to think, instead of just reacting. He played a heck of a first half, though.
— Are the struggles due to playcalling? As I just mentioned, Nebraska was pedestrian when the offense seemed to shrink and became less aggressive. Where was the QB counter play? How about the tight end pop pass? Did the tight ends even play? No reason that they can’t get into the offensive rhythm. And what about more swing passes to the flats where NU killed Colorado early on and the Buffs were completely susceptible to the Husker athletes out in space? Along with the swing passes, how about a screen pass of some kind? Like, just throw Wan’Dale Robinson the dang ball and let him run with it! And jet sweeps, I think I counted one? Just not good enough with who we have as playmakers.
— We have to use our athletes throughout the game. Stay aggressive because unless Maurice Washington can get to the edge every time and outrun defenders, the running game with him, Dedrick Mills and the offensive line is not good right now. Mills’ issue is the inability to see cutback lanes. He runs so hard that he’s not able to press the hole and make a move off of it or have the patience to let the cutback lane develop. He’s never been a zone runner, and it’s taking him a long time to figure it out.
— Scoring on the opening drive against Colorado now makes it eight straight games for Nebraska. That’s pretty incredible. It shows how good this staff is at scripting the first drive of plays but also puts a huge black eye on the second-half effort and choice of plays that derailed the offense. It’s pretty safe to say that head coach Scott Frost got outcoached in the second half.
— Nebraska has played five overtime games in five seasons, resulting in zero points. How is that even possible? No killer instinct or guys out there making winning plays. Last Saturday, NU even got the perfect setup for overtime. Colorado had the ball first and the Blackshirts held the Buffs to a field goal. But Nebraska’s playcalling went into shell. Even though Frost said the first two running plays were successful earlier in the game, without any push up front, they were gimmes for the Puff defense. They were too “safe” of calls that went horizontal instead of vertical and were susceptible to negative results. Not exactly game-winning material right there. Puzzling at best when you have options of tunnel screens, tight ends up the hash, jet sweeps and everything else noted earlier. Get creative!
— Mentioned in last week’s column that the game could come down to the kicker. Well, that’s exactly what happened, and now we know just how important Barret Pickering is to this team. The loss was definitely not because Isaac Armstrong missed that field goal.
— Untimely penalties continue to cost NU in a huge way. The block below the knees, sideline coach infraction and intentional grounding all destroyed late drives and momentum by the Huskers. But how about several of those blatant missed holding calls on Colorado? I’ve never seen so many times defenders got hooked and pulled to the ground, yet no whistle.
— The Blackshirts looked really good for three quarters. You saw sacks, gang tackles and lots of energy. But with the high altitude and how much they had to be on the field when the offense went south, they started breaking down. The number of missed tackles was staggering (more than 10), and with each first down, Colorado just kept grabbing the momentum.