LINCOLN, Neb. – Ohio State took the measuring stick Nebraska was hoping this game might be and hit Huskers right in the teeth with it. Repeatedly.
“We’ll see where we stack up,” Scott Frost said the Thursday before what was, up until kickoff, the biggest home game of his season-and-a-half here..
From the first drive of the game, the Huskers never did stack up. Not once before indifference became a plausible explanation for Ohio State. A win as a 17-point underdog was always going to be a big ask, but you thought the Huskers might be able to at least trade a few punches with the class of the Big Ten. Did last year.
And, for outward signs of progress for the program, needed to again.
“I thought we had a puncher’s chance if we played a really good game,” Frost said. “And we didn’t. So that’s the result.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day compared this game to a prize fight earlier in the week. The boxing metaphors were common for this one. Had this game been one, and you consider each exchange of drives a round, it would’ve been stopped after four. It was 24-0 at that point and Nebraska had already thrown three interceptions.
No real need to recount it in detail. That pretty much tells you exactly what you need to know.
No real need, either, to list the horrific losses—at the hands of Ohio State and others, but most often the Buckeyes—and show just how dominant those wins have been. I pulled some of that stuff together, but it doesn’t increase our understanding of anything, so what’s the point?
The most interesting thing that happened on a great day that turned into a gruesome night was how at peace Frost seemed with it after it was over. He got off the field pretty quickly. No wave to the fans after this one, which is understandable when you’ve just lost 48-7. Not a slight, just frustration. All of those that remained to watch him run off—and it was more than you’d find just about anywhere else—were frustrated, too.
But unlike past losses like this—and we’re talking multiple former coaches and staffs here––there was no gut-reaction soul searching. That stuff never got Nebraska to a point where losses like this didn’t happen, anyway. Nothing that’s said after a game like this calms anyone down, makes them feel better or erases what happens.
What you do get is clarity. Frost said the Huskers had earned their 3-1 record entering tonight, the good and the bad of that. They earned every bit of 3-2, too, but while others may have been shocked to find out this Nebraska team is still no-punts-in-the-first-half-far-away from the Buckeyes, Frost almost seemed relieved that everyone now knows how much further there is to go.
“We’re getting better at things and tonight exposed a few things that we need to get better at,” he said, “but you can’t run from who you are, and you can’t run from where you are.”
You also, of course, have to factor in where Ohio State might be, too.
“I knew they were a good team and they’re really good now,” Frost said, noting that he’s been on the field with more than a few good teams over the years. You can view what happened Saturday in its simplest terms; Ohio State is elite and Nebraska, clearly, is not. There’s a chasm there that’s still pretty wide, but just how elite is Ohio State? Is that part of this discussion?
It should be, and will be when the pain of yet another high-profile loss wears off for Nebraska and its ever-loyal fan base. Games like this stack up. They get more painful each time. They feel like a referendum on the program.
But that’s only the most obvious view. Frost didn’t seem to look at it that way. It wasn’t good. He wasn’t happy. But it sure didn’t seem like he was shocked either. Nebraska didn’t prove it was any closer to the Buckeyes, and that part of this ongoing rebuild is done and finished.
“We’re going to get more opportunities with games like that,” Frost said. “I’ve only been part of a game like that once as a coach. We’re building this thing. The kids know where this is going, the coaches know where this is going.”
They’ll be the only ones saying that for the next six days until Nebraska gets the chance to put something else on film. They’re the ones that need to.
There’s a reason this is a coaching cliché and there’s a reason it came out again tonight: “It’s never as good or as bad as you think.”
Day said that one after his team punted once and scored on eight of the nine drives not ending with zeroes on the clock.
They all say it because it’s usually true.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.