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Nebraska Looking to Find its Killer Instinct on Offense

September 09, 2019

Looking at the film changed nothing for the Huskers. Saturday stings the offense because they just didn’t finish.

“We’ve got to have a killer instinct and finish drives,” Scott Frost said of the Husker offense immediately following the game. “One more score and it’s 24-0 and I think the stands would have started emptying out. Instead, we’re dealing with noise instead of them dealing with the noise.”

Up 17-0 going into the half, Nebraska had 266 yards on offense, a more-than-healthy 8.6 yards per play average and only faced four third downs. In the locker room, Frost told his group one of two things was about to happen. 

“Right before we left the locker room at halftime I had the whole team up and I said one of two things is going to happen — we mess around and don’t finish this and let this team eventually get back in the game and it gets interesting, or we go out and finish them right now,” Frost said Monday morning when the team met with the media. “They were all excited looked ready to go to me.”

But we all know what happened in the third quarter. Nebraska went 1-for-4 on third down, punted on all four of its drives and crossed midfield once. The Huskers had a chance to put the game away in the third quarter and didn’t.

Frost said the offense played three strong quarters. He said the defense played three quarters as strong as any he’s been a part of. The problem was the absence of a fourth, but also the fact the defense was strong until the fourth, and the offense fell apart in the third.

“We had them in some good stuff, we just didn’t quite do the little things right that we needed to finish it,” Frost said. “I think more than anything it’s a mentality to get over. The expectation to win and desire to go out and make the play that’s going to make it happen.”

“We just failed one quarter,” added left tackle and captain Matt Farniok. “We started that third quarter and it wasn’t good, it wasn’t us. For whatever reason we came out slow and that third quarter killed us offensively.”

Adrian Martinez could have fallen into a trap when asked about Frost’s play-calling both in the second half and in overtime, but he said he doesn’t just have confidence in Frost’s thinking, he’s on board with it at all times. 

“It’s my job to execute [plays],” he said. “We as players have to make plays work. We have to, and I think that’s something we’ve put an emphasis on this week — make plays work, don’t just go out through the motions, go and make that play work each play, every down so we can move the chains.”

Nebraska had either a sack or a penalty on each of its four third-quarter possessions, and it’s just hard to get any rhythm going when that’s the case. More than anything, though, there’s a mental hurdle the Huskers need to work on clearing. 

“I think at some point you could feel that some of us were comfortable being up 17-0 at half,” said tight end Austin Allen. “We’ve got to change our mentality to just destroy the opponent, whether that’s the first play of the game or the last play of the game. You’ve got to win every battle, every play no matter what the score is. I think that was a little bit of a mentality shift for us.”

He said they’ll get it fixed, and Frost said Monday’s practice was “really good,” but how exactly does that get fixed?

“I think it starts with energy,” Allen said. “Even last year, like kickoffs for instance, everyone’s getting hyped on the sideline, scout team, the guys out there who are not necessarily playing are bringing energy. I didn’t really see that on Saturday. That’s with me, that’s on me too.”

That the Huskers were on the verge of maybe a 31-10, 34-17 win and instead left with a 34-31 overtime loss and part of the reasoning has to do with four faulty drives in the third quarter speaks to just how small this team’s margin for error right now is. Nebraska’s offense — at 3.08 yards per run and only a plus-1 in the turnover margin after five defensive takeaways in Week 1 — is idling when most expected it to be supercharged. 

“I think our margin for error is pretty small right now,” Frost said. “We had a pretty big margin in that game and as a head coach I’ve got to find a way to get that done and the assistants do too and the players do too. There needs to be a sense of urgency to get it done.

Frost said the offense needed a sense of purpose more in the third. Instead of thinking “Is this going to happen again?” he wants his group thinking “Let’s end this.” 

“We let them back into it and the results are because of that,” Farniok said. “That’s on all of us regardless. We can’t throttle down, it’s got to be an attack mentality four quarters regardless of the situation.”

In 2017, Northern Illinois caught Nebraska by surprise. The Huskies left Memorial Stadium with a 21-17 win and most Huskers Monday agreed they didn’t show their opponent the respect they deserved that week. They figure to have Nebraska’s attention this time around as Big Red looks for that killer instinct. 

At some point, though, talk becomes cheap. Nebraska has lost eight straight road games and lost to Group of 5 opponents in back-to-back years. 

“I shouldn’t have to tell the team anything,” Martinez said. “We should be ready to play. Coach Frost does a great job of that, of preparing us and all our coaches. We will be ready. Nothing should be said. I don’t feel the need to, and I think the guys are ready to get after it.”

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