Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Despite Gut-Wrenching Loss, Huskers Still Believe They Will Turn the Corner

October 10, 2021

With 1 minute, 24 seconds left in the game, Nebraska’s offense had one drive to potentially kick a game-tying field goal or beat Jim Harbaugh and his undefeated ninth-ranked Michigan Wolverines with a touchdown.

Spirits were high when the offense trotted onto the field. And why wouldn’t they be? The Huskers had answered the Wolverines in the second half, outscoring Michigan 22-7 in the third quarter and even found a way to gain a lead, which is the first time an opponent has done that against Michigan this season.

“I think everybody thought we were going to win this game,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said of that last drive. “It wasn’t, ‘What’s going to go wrong, let’s make sure they don’t have time to go win.’ We were going to go win the game and got a first down to start it.”

That first down was a 25-yard strike from quarterback Adrian Martinez to wideout Samori Touré. But two incomplete passes followed to make it third-and-10. Martinez found running back Rahmir Johnson on a screen. The play initially looked like it may have gained good yardage against an aggressive and fast Wolverine defense, but it went nowhere because a block was a half-second too late.

The screen almost worked. Nebraska almost beat Michigan, just like it almost beat Michigan State and Oklahoma and Illinois. But “almost” doesn’t get the job done. Almosts can turn ugly after games real quick. But not on Saturday night. Instead of anger and frustration, there was a different tone.

Frost and Nebraska’s players spoke of love and unity.

“This team loves each other. They love the coaches and the coaches love them,” Frost said. “This is a tightly-knit team, and, gosh, I’m proud of them. We’ve come so far. I thought tonight was the night.”

Martinez was the one who fumbled the ball late in the fourth quarter in a tied game. Michigan recovered and kicked what turned out to be the game-winning field goal. Instead of the blame game, corner Cam Taylor-Britt defended his quarterback.

“I love Adrian,” Taylor-Britt said. “He’s been playing lights out. Even just with the little nicks and bruises and this and that, I wouldn’t want nobody to be our quarterback other than him. He gives 110% every play. Everybody has mess-ups, I have mess-ups.”

Martinez didn’t want to make excuses after the game. He knew that he needed to have better ball security, even if he believed the play was over and his forward momentum stopped.

“I feel terrible for him (Martinez) and the team because, gosh, they did so many things good tonight,” Frost said. “That was as much fun as I’ve ever had coaching a football game, with the fans the way they were and the stadium, the way we responded.”

Despite close loss after close loss, the confidence has never been higher. The Huskers just traded blows with a top-10 team—what are they capable of if those one or two mistakes don’t happen? Martinez and the rest of his teammates truly believe they’re going to turn the corner, and it starts at Minnesota next week.

“We have a special group,” Martinez said. “We have guys with a lot of confidence and we know we’re a good football team. Now, we need to get some more wins and we’ve lost some really close, tough games, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a special group of guys.”

How do the players keep their heads up after another gut-punch loss? Frost pointed to the fact that, in past games this season, he got the sense that the team didn’t believe it would hold on to a lead if it got one, that something bad would eventually happen.

But not Saturday. Against Michigan, it was a different feeling.

“I told the team that we are so close. One more play. One more stop,” Frost said. “When we get ahead by seven with 7 minutes left, we need to win the game.”

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