WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Nebraska and Purdue have met only eight times in program history. The two split the series now, 4-4, with the most recent addition to its history taking place Saturday afternoon. The Huskers fell 31-27 to Purdue.
It wasn’t the first time Nebraska has lost in West Lafayette. The first came in September 1958. The second came on Halloween in 2015. And now you know the third.
Nebraska’s 2017 win in West Lafayette—its most recent both in West Lafayette and over Purdue in general, to be clear—was part of its final season with former coach Mike Riley. It took place on Oct. 28 that year. Current coach Scott Frost was hired by the Huskers just over a month later.
We’ve spent the better part of two years now trying to understand what Nebraska is. It’s not a Huskers team of the past—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—but it’s hard to understand what it is. Or, better yet, what it’s becoming.
Coach Scott Frost has tried to make sense of it all, or at least enough to satisfy those asking. He’s provided the reasons over his time as Nebraska’s coach for why things are and are not working. From some players not being bought in to others being OK with just being OK to, heck, who even knows now, it feels like anything and everything is on the table. But it also doesn’t feel like Frost is making up excuses for the sake of doing so.
It honestly feels—at least from where I’m sitting—like he’s grappling with what to make of all this. With what needs to be done. With how to “fix” Nebraska.
“We had a long talk,” Frost said post-game about his time in the locker room. “Just that we all need to get better. Coaches, players, we all need to get better. The thing I know how to do as a coach to keep moving it forward is just work harder. Keep practicing harder. Keep trying to get guys better.
“I told them that I think the last two games are games we could have easily won and we didn’t for a lot of reasons. There’s stuff we all can do better. The guys are hurting right now.”
Some of it is simply things not clicking, for whatever that’s worth. It’s felt like Nebraska could turn a corner at any moment, if things just start working in tandem with one another.
“I’m frustrated with at certain times the offense is clicking,” tight end Austin Allen said. “At certain times the defense is clicking. At times, special teams is clicking. We had two blocked punts today. The defense had two interceptions. We drove the ball but had turnovers. It seems like we can’t put it all together.
“I really can’t tell you how to fix that. We are clicking at different times. It’s going to line up one of these weeks and I’m looking forward to it.”
Maybe it’s a controversial opinion but the defense played well enough––for most of the day on Saturday—to beat Purdue. The Huskers had three sacks. They had seven tackles for loss. They forced two turnovers.
But here’s the issue: Of those two turnovers, they only resulted in three points. An incredible interception by defensive lineman Darrion Daniels took the Huskers into a first-and-goal situation, and yet they couldn’t get a touchdown from it. Nebraska settled for the only three points a turnover would create.
“I remember that sequence,” Frost said. “We studied it all week. We had a little shovel pass to Wan’Dale [Robinson] dialed up but we missed a block on the backer that took it away. Then on second down we ran an RPO. They switched it off. We need to hand that off or throw it away and not take the sack. Then we get it down to the one-yard line. At that point, I wanted to go up two scores so we kick the field goal.
“That wasn’t the only drive. There was other drives where we had chances. We missed blocks, throws. Coaches and I have to do a lot better job of continuing to put our guys in the best possible situations that we can. So we need to get better. At that point we just have to make some plays.”
The offense had its moments too. But when you’re only converting six out of 16 third downs and only rushing for 128 yards (because establishing the run remains a problem), it’s hard to overcome.
Based on starting field position, the #Huskers six drives have an expected point value of 18.6. That’s good.
Having 10 points is not.
— Brandon Vogel (@brandonlvogel) November 2, 2019
It’s fine to be a little—or a lot—frustrated by all of this. It’s OK to be confused and disappointed. Really, any feeling is likely justified at this point. After all, Purdue fans stood in the councourse of the stadium yelling down at Frost during his post-game comments.
“Bring back Pelini!” they yelled and taunted. They heckled about Nebraska once being able to put together nine- and 10-win seasons. They laughed as Frost directed his eyes forward at the media standing in front of him.
It’s hard to know what Frost could hear from where he stood. It was windy and there was a lot of noise on the councourses. We could barely hear him from a few feet away, so who knows what he could hear being yelled from above.
If there’s one thing we all heard though, it was every celebration song Purdue could play. From Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” to Jay Rock’s “WIN,” the Boilermakers ran through their winning playlist for nearly 20 minutes following the conlusion of the game. And nearly two hours after, the stadium lights still flickered in celebration.
Purdue is 3-6 on the season. Nebraska is 4-5. In some ways, Purdue is probably still figuring out who it is to some degree, too. They might have just a little more clarity than Nebraska right now though.
The Huskers open the 2020 season with the Boilermakers on Saturday, Sept. 5 at Memorial Stadium. Guess we’ll see if anything becomes a little more clear by the ninth meeting between the two.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.