Nebraska football’s loss to Ohio State officially doomed it to its fifth consecutive losing season, and the fourth straight under head coach Scott Frost.
In 2019, the Huskers still had the chance to clinch bowl eligibility in the final game of the season. That wasn’t the case last year and it won’t be this year, although the 3-5 2020 team turned down any bowl opportunity.
Still, with a .500 record impossible at this point and two more ranked opponents on the schedule, Nebraska players still believe they have a lot to play for.
“We got a chance to beat some rivals, we got a chance to storm across the field and take back some trophies. I mean, there’s a lot of things to play for these last two games,” tight end Austin Allen said postgame. “Who doesn’t want to beat Iowa? Who doesn’t want to beat Wisconsin? If you don’t got the fuel behind you to go do that, you’re playing for the wrong team.”
The Huskers haven’t beaten the Hawkeyes since 2014 and haven’t taken down the Badgers since 2012. Since the Freedom Trophy was introduced in 2014, Wisconsin hasn’t had to let go of it.
The more experienced players on the team have additional reasons to keep their motivation up through the end. Multiple seniors last year, particularly on the defensive side, had the choice of returning for another season due to COVID-19 eligibility rules instead of just leaving Nebraska.
Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt would have had an extra year regardless of rule changes, but was considered a possible NFL draft pick. He said he “came back for a reason.” Stille, who is in his sixth college season now, reiterated that message.
“Guys are playing for pride, that’s the main thing at this point,” Ben Stille said. “I came back for a sixth year, a lot of these guys did, and we didn’t come back to give up on the last two games.”
Some players also have more than the games to consider down the stretch of the season. Allen hopes to play in the NFL after his Husker career concludes, but could come back for another year if he so chooses.
Over the bye week, he said he’ll look to gain clarity on that decision. At the moment, he’s split.
“It’s going to take a lot of discussion with coaches and really kind of what grade I’m thinking I’m sitting at,” Allen said. “If I get a good grade, then I’m going to play some professional football. But if not, I think there’s an opportunity for me to get bigger, faster, stronger next year.”
Others have fought through injury to stay on the field through the end of the year. Head coach Scott Frost said that starting quarterback Adrian Martinez is playing through a broken jaw and high ankle sprain at the moment. Martinez had the option to get surgery and end his season, but chose to go in a different direction.
“It was a tough choice, and one I wanted to make for my teammates and wanted to do for our team,” Martinez said. “Simple as that, continue to fight and lead the guys.”
JoJo Domann was another Husker playing hurt, and Frost said the linebacker will have his own decision to make when it comes to the bye week.
The off week will provide rest and help players like Domann make a decision. After that, though, the team will be focused on finishing the year strong.
“Like I told the guys last week, it didn’t matter how many games we got, we still got to play football,” Taylor-Britt said. “We’ve played this game since we were little, why give up now.”