To the right and to the left there’s sun. There is blue sky peeking out from behind puffs of white. The clear and calm lives there. Directly ahead, stretching for miles and miles back, there is this singular black cloud. Dark. Striking in its difference. It drops a bit of rain here and there but this isn’t an angry storm, this is just dark. It blocks the sun and it blocks the blue and it doesn’t seem to be moving.
Trying to think of how to piece together something new and insightful and unique on Nebraska’s fifth loss in nine games this season and its fourth loss in its last five and its third straight, trying to hear something new in the same words that have been rehashed week after week, trying to figure out how a 10-0 lead turns to a 31-27 loss, and yet this cloud staring back at the sixth-floor press box at Ross-Ade Stadium is all that really makes sense.
You see the light on the edges. You see the day beyond the dark. And yet the most central thing is still dark.
Nebraska feels a lot like that right now.
Even when the Husker offense looks good, it ends poorly. A holding penalty is followed by a 16-yard gain that erases the yardage forfeited is followed by a fumbled quarterback-tailback exchange and Nebraska ends up punting the ball away.
The defense gives the offense the football at the opponent’s 2-yard-line and the offense goes back, settling for three points instead of seven. It was 7-0 at the time. But 10-0 on the heels of a goal line stand feels a lot different on the Purdue sideline than 14-0 after a critical turnover and a quick score surrendered. We’ll never know how that Purdue team would have responded.
Because the group that held Nebraska at bay rallied from 10-0 down, and then 17-14 down, and then 27-24 down and left the field with its third win of the season thanks to its third-string quarterback. Aiden O’Connell went 6-for-6 on a game-winning drive that went 82 yards in 12 plays and ended with a perfectly timed and perfectly executed end-around.
Great defense doesn’t stop PU wideout David Bell walking into the end zone.
Nebraska played great defense early, giving up just 34 yards on the Boilermakers’ first five drives, forcing two turnovers, bailing the offense out.
“The defense played well enough to have the game put away in the first half and the offense didn’t,” Frost said after.
Then the missed tackles came back, the cloud that doesn’t seem to want to leave.
Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez led back-to-back scoring drives of 75 yards and 71 yards in the fourth quarter, and then he moved the team 7 yards on the Huskers’ final possession when they needed 80 to win the game.
Freshman Adrian Martinez, and all the promise he showed and excitement he inspired, is being blanketed and suffocated by Sophomore Adrian Martinez, with all the missed throws and poor reads and late decisions. Martinez played for the first time in nearly a month and ended 22-for-39 for 247 yards and an interception through the air. The pick came in the second quarter with him trying to hit JD Spielman on a wheel route; Purdue baited the throw, sitting on the top of the route. Martinez missed Jack Stoll open up the seam and then he missed Kanawai Noa open up the seam and late in the fourth he missed Stoll more open than any Nebraska receiver has been all season over the middle of the field, behind the Purdue defense. Put it anywhere but behind the big tight end. Martinez put it behind him.
“A lot of those plays should have resulted differently if I would have done my job the right way and would have executed to the fullest of my ability,” Martinez said. “And I didn't do that today."
Nebraska crossing the 500-yard threshold as an offense a week ago feels like a season ago right now. Frost has that in his bag, with the tempo and the direct snaps and the loose play sheet, and then shows this a week later. They say the night is darkest just before the dawn but how far off is that? When is this cloud going to move? When is the light coming back?
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Last week Nebraska lost a game in which it out-gained its opponent and posted a better yards-per-play average. Teams with the better per-play efficiency win 80% of the time. Nebraska has lost seven times under Frost when winning that number.
This time, Nebraska’s average starting field position (own 41) was nearly 20 yards better than Purdue’s (own 23) and it lost.
These things don’t happen, and they continue to happen to Nebraska.
“We gave too many chances away,” Frost said. “Again, that’s on all of us to figure out how not to do that. The defense played great and gave us a bunch of opportunities to take control of the game. Collectively we made too many mistakes and should have really been ahead at halftime. Ahead by quite a bit. Instead, we found ourselves in the hole at halftime. Sooner or later that stuff has to stop.”
The message, for weeks, remains unchanged.
“There were mistakes made on the coaches’ end, there were obviously mistakes made on the players’ end,” said tight end Austin Allen. “We haven’t really played a full game yet and it shows.
“I really can’t tell you how to fix that.”
It may have been foolish to expect 4-8 to become West champs, but preparing for this? Nebraska has losses this year to Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue. Yes those trophy cases in North Stadium are dusty but this is still the University of Nebraska and trying to restore the brand means not getting dusted by perennial cellar-dwellers regardless of how above-average they may play for a blip of time. This is a depth no rational observer could have expected.
“I came back to Nebraska to get this fixed,” Frost said. “I’m gonna do it.”
Nebraska goes on a bye next week. After, it hosts No. 18 Wisconsin, travels to Maryland then hosts No. 19 Iowa. To go to a bowl game, Nebraska needs two of those.
“There isn’t a whole lot to be said at the moment,” Martinez said. “It’s really just about heart and having faith each other. We are playing for each other at the end of the day. If the guys in the locker room truly believe that, there is a lot to play for.”
If not, the cloud will stay right where it is.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.