Not that there was much lack of clarity last week, but there’s none this week for Nebraska football. The Huskers (3-6, 1-5) need to win each of the remaining games to qualify for the postseason.
Keeping that hope alive requires beating No. 6 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) Saturday in Lincoln. The Buckeyes opened as a 14.5-point favorite and have won five straight against Nebraska since 2016.
Clarity at present, however, leaves the future in a murky place. Two-thirds of the way through Scott Frost’s fourth season, Nebraska must win out to avoid finishing below .500 for a fifth consecutive season. Frost’s career record is 15-26, and questions over his future status are only picking up steam.
At Monday’s press conference, Frost acknowledged that uncertainty.
“We’re close,” he said. “I don’t want to overstep here, but I’m really excited about the rest of this year. I’m really excited about next year. I hope we get it. I think we should.
“With the young guys we’ve got coming back and an opportunity to go out and get a few more pieces to add to that, I think this thing could be really good. I really thought this year it would pop, and we’ve been so close. When you’re so close and you don’t get it done, unfortunately you have a mindset, when we got here, that ‘we’ve been beat a lot.’ Winning’s a habit, losing’s a habit. Trying to break that cycle just takes a few wins in a row and some momentum and a little more belief.”
Against one of the most difficult schedules in the country, all six of Nebraska’s losses this season have been by eight points or less. Three of those were to teams currently ranked in the AP top 10. Three, including Saturday’s loss to Purdue, were to Big Ten West opponents in games in which Nebraska was favored.
“We’ve got to the get the wins,” Frost said. “Wins take care of everything. Despite all of the improvement, that part hasn’t improved.”
Athletic Director Trev Alberts was at his son’s wedding and not in attendance for the Purdue game, but Frost said the two spoke on Sunday as they have done after every game since Alberts took over.
Frost was asked if Alberts’ playing experience helps him perhaps see some of the improvement Frost sees with the team, improvement that has yet to show up in the win column.
“Those are questions for Trev,” Frost said.
Some other notes from Frost’s time at the podium.
>> Nebraska’s defense ranks 27th nationally at 20.3 points allowed per game and has been the Huskers’ most consistent phase of the game in 2021, but the Blackshirts face their most significant challenge yet. Ohio State leads the country at 47.3 points per game.
“The defense has kept us in it and at times has been dominant,” Frost said. “I’d like to see that be a little more dominant. That’s the little bit the defense can get better at.”
In the last two losses, Nebraska’s defense has been on the field for more than 38 minutes each game.
>>Quarterback Adrian Martinez entered last Saturday having thrown three interceptions on the season. He threw four, a career-high, against the Boilermakers. Frost said the first interception, resulting in a pick-six for Purdue, was a case of Martinez just misplaying the defender.
The play was preceded by a holding call against Nebraska. Instead of first-and-10 at the Purdue 34, the Huskers faced a second-and-15 from its own 44. On the next play, the Boilermakers’ defense put points on the board.
“That’s catastrophic,” Frost said.
He added that one of Martinez’s interceptions, which bounced out of the hands of tight end Austin Allen, wasn’t the quarterbacks fault. Frost also said he shared the blame for another interception. It came after he chastised Martinez for going out of bounds short of the first-down marker, and Frost said that maybe led his quarterback to trying to do too much the next time out.
>>At backup quarterback, Frost said freshman Logan Smothers is a strong runner and improved passer, but inexperience remains his biggest hurdle at this point. He is still Nebraska’s top backup, and the plan is not to redshirt him. Smothers has appeared in four games this season, the maximum a player can appear in and still maintain a redshirt.
>>Ohio State is yet another top-10 opponent for the Huskers, but Frost doesn’t sense any apprehension from the team in face of the Buckeyes’ strength.
“Our guys are excited. They love these games. I think we’ve played our best football against the best teams we’ve played this year.”
In this week’s AP poll, Oklahoma (23-16 winners over NU) was No. 4, Michigan State (23-20 over NU) was No. 5 and Michigan (32-29 over NU) was No. 9.