Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

3 Thoughts from an Ugly 31-27 Nebraska Loss to Purdue

November 2, 2019
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Nebraska had a late lead, but Purdue made plays as an offense that Nebraska couldn’t match. The defense, which gave up 449 yards and allowed Purdue’s back-up and third-string quarterbacks to combine for 304 yards on 31-for-41 passing, broke when the Huskers needed stops at crucial times, but this has to fall on the offense. 

Nebraska had chances to put the game away early and it failed. The defense once again opened strong. Nebraska’s offense sputtered. In doing so, the Huskers now face an uphill climb to reaching bowl eligibility. 

Nebraska (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) is off once again next week, and it faces 18th-ranked Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) the following week.

Here are three thoughts from Saturday’s game.

Confidence

Scott Frost’s hubris is getting in the way. 

A week ago the Husker head coach said Nebraska was “just OK” because a lot of things they do are “just OK.” I’d argue that’s overstating where his offense is at right now. The football we continue to see isn’t OK. At halftime against Purdue, after his team held a 10-0 lead before a 10-play 89-yard drive and a 12-play, 96-yard drive (back-to-back) gave Purdue a 14-10 halftime edge, Frost said “I hope the guys flip the script this half and I think they will.”

They didn’t. 

With just over four minutes to play in the first quarter, Nebraska holding a 7-0 lead, Purdue sitting at its 22-yard-line, and the Blackshirts coming off back-to-back drives where they punched the other guys off the field on third down, Boilermaker quarterback Jack Plummer tried to shovel a pass to running back King Doerue but instead pitched it right into the gut of Nebraska defensive tackle Darrion Daniels. 

The grad transfer grabbed, he goed, he side-stepped a would-be tackler, he nearly scored. 

Nebraska’s offense was set up with a first-and-goal from the Purdue 2 yard line. 

The game should have been 14-0 after a play or two. Three at the absolute most. Line Dedrick Mills up in the backfield and hammer the nail home. The Boilermaker offense was lifeless. Continue to punch. 

Instead, Frost called his own shovel pass on a congested field with tight windows all around and his quarterback nearly gave the ball right back. Frost called for a fade to the left corner on second down and his quarterback took a 5-yard sack. Another called pass on third down saw Martinez scramble for the right pylon, dive (and nearly hurt himself in the process), and set up a fourth-and-goal from Purdue’s 1. 

Nebraska took a delay of game to make a field goal easier. 

From the 1. 

Nebraska began a drive on Purdue's side of the field four times. To show for it, the Huskers got:

  • 25 total yards on 17 plays
  • An interception
  • A three-and-out
  • A turnover on downs after four
  • Three points

Frost is adamant his way works. Instead of doing what his team can effectively accomplish, he time and time again tries to get too cute, tries to out-scheme, tries to find the perfect play. He called that a problem back on Sept. 7 when the team lost to Colorado. Its four losses and two months later and nothing has changed. 

Nebraska makes bad decisions at bad times. 

Nebraska commits bad penalties at bad times. 

Nebraska misses bad tackles at bad times. 

Nebraska can’t step on a team’s throat when it needs to. The Husker offense, on its first six drives of the game, averaged a starting field position at the 50 yard line. Purdue’s average drive began at its own 16. Without Daniels’ interception, how many points would NU have with all that field position? Seven? 

Purdue’s first five drives gained 34 yards combined and ended with two turnovers on its own side of the field and three punts. And the Husker offense mustered 10 points from that because the offense won’t do the few things it has consistently done well this year. 

Nebraska needed a quarterback change at halftime that it didn’t get. Won’t ever get? How does JD Spielman finish with six catches for 123 yards and continue to seem like he has vanished from the game for long stretches? What do you call the guy who continues to bang his head against a wall and expect different results?

Nebraska won’t run Mills out of the I-formation, a role the junior running back is comfortable with and a style of blocking the offensive line has said they enjoy, because that’s not what this offense is. Because the Big Ten has to adjust to Nebraska, not the other way around. Nebraska won’t change personnel on the offensive line even though things continue to stall (3.9 yards per carry on the day, adjusted for sacks)

Frost’s bravado is going to be praised when Nebraska starts winning football games—which I still believe will happen, by the way—whenever that may be. But right now it looks stubborn, the double-edged sword that is unyielding faith in your stuff.

When your team is just OK, it doesn’t look great. When your team isn’t even just OK, it looks like that.

Nebraska is Trying to Kill Wan’Dale

Nebraska ran 10 plays inside the Boilermaker 5 yard line. 

Dedrick Mills, the Huskers’ biggest and most physically well-put-together running back (read: sturdiest), got one carry. He scored on that carry, from 1 yard out. Because that’s what Mills should be, your between-the-tackles runner. The guy you use when you need something to happen up the gut.

Nebraska removed Maurice Washington from the equation two weeks ago; since, Mills has 14 carries in two games. The 5-foot-9, true freshman wideout Wan’Dale Robinson has 36. 

I hate Robinson’s usage right now. 

He is not a guy you send running up the middle with an offensive line that can’t block. That’s how you break him. Call tunnel screens. Leave him in the slot now that you have Kade Warner healthy enough to play wide and run him on crossing routes over the middle. Give him the ball in space instead of asking him to beat a guy twice his size and then create space.

And I really can’t put a finger on why Mills hasn’t been used more, why he can’t stay on the field and why he isn’t trusted. Frost said he had faith in Mills, but the junior is averaging 3.4 yards per tote, which isn’t what you want but also isn’t grounds to lose a job when it’s hard to run in the first place. 

It’s a small thing, and yes, Robinson is basically the bulk of the Big Red offense at this point, but there just has to be an easier way to get him in spots to make plays. He keeps telling media when asked that he’ll carry it 30 times if he has to. That’s the kind of mentality you love in a player, especially a young one. But it’s the responsibility of the coaches to put him in the best spots. 

Twenty-nine yards on 14 carries, 46 yards on seven catches, and needing to be pulled off kick return to save hits is what happens when they don’t. 

Third Down

It’s still an issue. 

Purdue converted eight of its 14 third downs while facing an average distance of 7.4 yards. 

It got eight of its final 11 and its final four, including the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining, a beautiful end-around call from Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm that gave wideout David Bell a walk-in score. 

I’m not sure what else to write at this point.

 
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