Well, unfortunately, here we are again reliving another stain that is Nebraska football.
The Huskers lost to Purdue. Again! This was totally unacceptable. Fans know it. Players know it (hopefully). And the coaches darn well know it. Nebraska had ZERO excuses in this game, even taking into consideration its own faults and injuries.
The Boilermakers entered the game ranked 129th in rushing and 83rd in total defense, just to pick a couple of stats to show you where they were as a team. Purdue was injured in a big, big way, too. It had vital players sitting out everywhere, which included the starting quarterback. Eventually the third-string walk-on came into the game during crunch time. The Boilermakers also were missing one of the best slot receiver/athletes in the nation, a second starting wide receiver, their best linebacker, a second starting linebacker and their best starting defensive tackle who caused havoc against the Huskers in previous games. And that’s not all, but you get the picture of how crippled the roster was for them in key spots. The season has been an ultimate struggle for Purdue, and the record (2-6 at the time) was indicative of that.
But guess what? No matter how bad you are, all you have to do is hang around while playing Nebraska. Keep it close, play hard every snap and let the Huskers mess it up themselves and you’ll be right back in the game. I watch a lot of football each Saturday, and I see so many teams play smart, tough, physical, disciplined football, no matter the conference.
They play to their strengths, play to their identity and give themselves a chance. What hurts is when watching Nebraska, you get nearly the opposite of all that, and you wait for the other shoe to drop. Player development, recruiting, schemes, play calls, toughness and effort, in some cases. It all has to get better. A lot better.
I love Husker football, but that was a colossal failure and, with only three games left in the season, there’s probably not time to fix things. I don’t think a bye week will fill the holes on this team needed to beat the next two or three opponents. The toughness, the killer mentality — it’s just not in the DNA of all the players yet. Make no mistake, there are some of those guys on the roster, ones who aren’t used to losing coming from high school. Those are the dudes who have to help build this new foundation.
— Let me ask you, do we know how to play with the lead? Absolutely not! If I remember correctly, Nebraska has blown leads of 10, 11 and 17 in recent games. In each one of those, if the Huskers score one more time, or maybe just pick up one more defensive stop, they win. But no step-on-your-throat mentality. More like fold-and-make-some-ridiculous-mistake-to-lose-the-game mentality. It’s a trend going on for years now. Maybe it’s a curse from someone down in Texas? I’d probably believe that one, actually.
— Nebraska was beating Purdue 10-0 at one point in the game, and it should’ve been 24-0. And I’m not even being a homer about that. It really should have. The number of opportunities that the Huskers’ defense and special teams gave the offense was tremendous. You couldn’t even had planned it any better. Two blocked punts? Yes! Two interceptions in positive territory? Yes! Average first-half field position of your own 46 while Purdue’s was its own 13? Yes! Winning the turnover AND penalty margin (10 flags for Purdue)? Yes! But with all of that, just 10 points in the first half and losing? Ye…...puke! The offense really stunk up this game until late in the fourth quarter. What else did they possibly need to light up the scoreboard with opportunities like that? It’s just discombobulated. From the scheme, plays calls and players executing, it’s always something that isn’t right. Boom-or-bust offense will not win this league. With Nebraska staggering through the game, all it did was give life to a team like Purdue that had no life to begin with. But when you let a team hang around and gain some confidence, well, that’s what happens. Once Purdue scored to take the lead before half, you could tell it was now playing for the win, instead of just going through the motions during a difficult season.
— Purdue averaged 68 yards per game coming into last Saturday. It ended with 36 rushes for 145 yards, mostly in the second half, too. Nebraska continues to give terrible, terrible teams season highlights.
— Nebraska’s defense has allowed 31 or more points in all nine road games under this new coaching staff. Last Saturday, for more than three quarters, this loss wasn’t the defense’s fault. It fell squarely on the offense. But, as we all witnessed, when it came down to getting ONE MORE STOP with four minutes to go, with the lead, and facing the third-string walk-on quarterback, it didn’t go so well. That quarterback went 6 for 6 and calmly took his offense 80-some yards for the winning score. Over and over again, even when playing well enough to win for the majority of the game, NU fails to deliver in clutch moments. After everything that happened in that game, just make one more stop. One.
— Forget shovel passes at the goal line. What a joke to only get three points after Darrion Daniels’ incredible interception down to the 2- or 3-yard line. Too bad he didn’t get it. The play-calling was not good on that short “drive.” What you do is what you did later on — use your 225-pound quarterback with some sort of quarterback power and hit that into the end zone. Why get so cute? Do it three times if you have to.
— I know he’s coming off of injury, but Adrian Martinez is still not playing well. When he does, it’s in spurts and usually when the tempo ramps up and his back is against the wall. It can’t be that way, though. He can’t continue to be hesitant to run, miss reads and not see open receivers and tight ends crossing the middle of the field. He’s locked in on one guy more than he ever seemed to last year. When Martinez is in, the offense goes almost strictly horizontal. Seventeen forms of swing passes in one game? Come on. Without the threat of an inside running attack, those swing passes aren’t as effective.
— Speaking of inside running attack, wasn’t Dedrick Mills brought here for just that? I think that’s been abandoned too quickly by coach Scott Frost.
— And back to quarterbacks, Noah Vedral was apparently still sidelined by injury and couldn’t play. But, a few days after the game, some information contradicted that. Look, I have no idea, but I think if he was healthy enough to play, it might’ve been a good idea. Nebraska’s offense does go vertical once Vedral’s in the game. It’s almost as if the field opens up. One positive is that Nebraska does have a stocked quarterback room for the foreseeable future.
— Some of Nebraska’s injuries in the secondary led to some serious shuffling. Starting cornerback DiCaprio Bootle had to move to safety after Cam Taylor-Britt injured his shoulder again. That led to young Braxton Clark getting serious minutes at corner, which was good for him and his development. The rangy corner played pretty well, too.