Nebraska dropped to 3-6 and 1-5 in Big Ten play Saturday with a demoralizing 28-23 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, which improved to 5-3, and 3-2 in the Big Ten.
Nebraska will return to Memorial Stadium next week as it hosts the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1, 4-0), who are playing No. 20 Penn State on Saturday night. If the Buckeyes beat the Nittany Lions, they’d be riding a six-game win streak since that early-season loss to No. 12 Oregon.
Here are three thoughts on Nebraska’s loss to Purdue:
This felt like the knockout blow to the Scott Frost era
Another loss to a Big Ten West opponent. Another one-score defeat. Another game that wasn’t finished. Another example of this team coming up short under pressure. Memorial Stadium was completely flat in the second half, just like the team it was rooting for was.
The Huskers had a 17-14 lead at halftime, and got outscored 14-0 in the third and fourth quarter in a must-win game. They were getting booed at home. Where’s the momentum for this program? Where’s the progress?
One more rambling question: Ready for Ohio State next week?
That’s not how good football teams play the third quarter
Iowa Western Community college transfer kicker Chase Contreraz nailed a 33-yard field goal—the first of his career—to put the Huskers up 17-14 late in the second quarter, which meant Nebraska had a chance to grow its lead and double up Purdue by getting the ball first in the second half. But that didn’t happen.
Instead of taking control of the game coming out of halftime, the Husker offense fell flat. It’s first three drives of the third quarter consisted of two three-and-outs with an awful underhand interception by Adrian Martinez, who was trying to do too much.
Purdue wound up taking its first lead of the game, 21-17, when quarterback Aidan O’Connell found wideout Milton Wright in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. It was pretty much the worst way to start the second half in a must-win game.
The third quarter was forgettable altogether for Nebraska’s offense. It consisted of four drives that produced 24 net yards, three punts and an interception. That’s really bad.
Martinez’s mistakes were especially bad in a must-win game
Nebraska’s offense did well generating big plays in the first half. But like there always seems to be, a mistake held the team back.
Frost’s offense had four passes of 15-plus yards and three rushes of 10-plus in the first half while the Blackshirts held Purdue to just one rush of over 10 yards. Yet, the Huskers led just 17-14 at halftime.
Why? Because of Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham’s 45-yard pick-six early in the second quarter. It was a bad mistake by Martinez, a fourth-year starter, to not see or be aware of where Graham was on the play. Without that pick-six, Nebraska leads 17-7 heading into the break.
But Martinez had two more head-scratching mistakes. His second interception was an awful decision to underhand the ball to Travis Vokolek under pressure, which Graham grabbed for the pick. Why even try that?
His third interception wasn’t even in the same orbit as his target, Samori Touré. Martinez had one of, if not the worst, second halves of his career on Saturday in a game the Huskers couldn’t afford to lose.