Down the stretch against Minnesota, a series of miscues kept Nebraska from completing a comeback.
With the Huskers down 21-16 entering the last 20 minutes of the game, they turned it over on downs twice and missed a field goal over three consecutive drives.
Two of these endings came with play calling questions. On the team’s second-to-last drive of the third quarter, it got to third-and-goal at the Minnesota 1-yard line. The first play from that spot was a shotgun run with Adrian Martinez, who was called down short of the goal line. He thought he got in, citing that his feet made it into the endzone, but the play stood on review.
On fourth down, Nebraska lined up in shotgun again and ran it with running back Jaquez Yant. He stumbled after taking the handoff and was stopped short. Head coach Scott Frost defended the decision postgame to not opt for something under center.
“I’ve watched every snap of their tape this year and they’ve done a pretty good job against sneak,” Frost said. “There’s kind of another reason I didn’t feel great about that play right then. I think [Yant would] have been in if he didn’t stumble in the backfield. I think we were in the right thing but we didn’t execute very well.”
This season, Minnesota hasn’t seen quarterback sneaks very often, but it did twice in a win over Miami (Ohio) with mixed results. On Miami’s first drive, it tried for a sneak on third down in its own territory. The play never moved forward and the quarterback fumbled the ball away.
Later in the game though, the RedHawks got another chance on the goal line. This time they used backup quarterback, AJ Mayer, who made it in for the touchdown.
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez also defended the decision.
“For a team that’s predominantly shotgun, we do work on under-center snaps, we do have QB sneak, things like that,” Martinez said. “But there are exchange problems you could worry about and it just takes repetition. Running backs, hitting the hole is different out of the gun than it is when you’re under center, you have different landmarks, different aiming points for handoffs, things like that, and those things have to be worked on and that takes time out of practice.”
He added that the team “runs what is called” and would be just as confident if put in that position again. A similar situation arose on the next drive, after the Golden Gophers went three-and-out. On third-and-12 from the Minnesota 17, Nebraska ran the ball with Yant for eight yards, then lined up for a field goal rather than going for it inside the 10.
Kicker Connor Culp, who had made a 50-yard field goal earlier in the game but missed an extra point, missed the 27-yarder. Frost said he considered going for it, but opted to put his trust in Culp.
“We talked about it a lot on the headset, and at that point I thought making the field goal and only being down two, the way we were playing on offense, that we’d get it back down there to have another chance at a field goal,” he said. “We would have if we would have made that one. I’m kind of scratching my head with that. We make a 50-yarder then miss a PAT. We’ve got to be more consistent there.”
Culp has been inconsistent throughout the season, and once again owned his struggles postgame.
“I’m doing my very absolute best and I need to do better,” Culp said. “… I will get through it eventually.”
Martinez gave a similar sentiment of trusting the coaches when asked about the decision to kick.
“It’s not my choice, right? You know, obviously, the players always feel like they can make plays, and that’s no matter the circumstance,” he said. “So either way, we had confidence in Culp to make that kick, confidence in ourselves to get that fourth down, if called on.”
The Huskers turned it over on downs on fourth-and-long with the ball in Martinez’s hands on the next drive, and he was flagged for intentional grounding on the drive after that for a safety.
Postgame, Frost didn’t focus as much on the missed opportunities late as he did the team’s slow start to the game.
“When you play a team like this, first of all, if you’re ahead you’re in good shape. The game didn’t start very well for us,” Frost said. “We as a staff got to get the guys a little more juiced up to play. I didn’t think we had quite the same energy and that’s on us. Then we had every opportunity to be in control of the game after the third quarter.”