So … now what, Husker Fan?
Nebraska came to Evanston with an opportunity to put itself right in the mix for the B1G West title. In a pandemic-shortened season, and with division heavyweight Wisconsin in question, the door was wide open.
And, as we have seen time and time (and time, and time, and time) again, Nebraska ran face-first into that mythical door as opposed to kicking it open.
Nebraska outgained Northwestern in total yardage, 442-317. Nebraska gained more yards per play, 5.02 to 4.88. Nebraska ran far more plays than Northwestern, 88-65. Nebraska was even with Northwestern in turnovers, with two apiece.
Those are numbers that should point to a win. But those numbers cover the game as a whole. When Nebraska’s offense was called upon to produce when it mattered, it fell flat. Nebraska was 4-for-16 (!) on third-down conversions. Nebraska only scored one touchdown in six trips to the red zone – and turned the ball over twice in Northwestern’s end zone.
Indeed, the second interception – Luke McCaffrey bouncing a pass off his lineman’s helmet and having it flutter softly into the hands of an opposing defender for an interception – feels like a distillation of Nebraska football over the last five years.
And, really, that’s the ball game. If Nebraska puts the ball in the end zone, rather than turning it over, that’s a fourteen-point swing in a game Nebraska lost by eight.
So stop me if you’ve heard this one. Nebraska’s own ill-discipline and inability to perform at the crucial moment was the difference between victory and defeat.
A smart and particularly handsome analyst said this after Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State this year.
Nebraska, for the most part, held up physically against the Buckeyes, which is probably the most encouraging thing about the contest. For at least a half, Nebraska went toe-to-toe with the best team in the B1G.
Unfortunately, Nebraska in the second half looked quite a bit like the Nebraska we saw last year – sloppy, self-inflicted mistakes letting an opposing team get away. So next we we’re really going to see what this Nebraska team is going to be.
That’s what’s terrifying, isn’t it Husker Fan? Terrifying that the self-destruction in Evanston, the interception bounced off an offensive lineman’s helmet in the opponent’s end zone, is what this Nebraska team is going to be. It’s probably a little hyperbolic (not to mention pedantic) to be reminded of George Orwell’s “1984” quote about how a seeing the future is to “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”
But sometimes that’s what it feels like to be a Nebraska fan. When Scott Frost arrived in Lincoln, he was able to unite the fanbase around the hope of a dynamic offense and a tough-minded attitude. But what we have seen since his arrival in 2018 is exactly what we’d seen before – a team with flashes of potential that was utterly unable to get out of its own way.
Now, in year three, we’ve seen a re-run of the same movie that has all but foreclosed Nebraska’s chances of winning a wide-open B1G West division. And fans are running out of reasons for hope.
Winning begets winning, and losing begets losing. I do think Frost was right in that when Nebraska turns the corner, it will happen quickly. I’ve just become fairly certain that “when” in that sentence is doing a lot of work.
Frost ain’t going anywhere, and his inclusion on any hot-seat rankings is silly talk. He’s just signed a multi-year extension, he’s still recruiting at a high level, and making any judgments about a program in this pandemic-altered season is folly. If you’re looking for true danger signals about Frost’s tenure, watch to see if the recruiting rankings start to slip.
Until then, Frost is the guy, and he should be. He’s got every chance to get the gigantic ocean-liner U.S.S. Nebraska Football Program turned away from its current course into the Cove Of College Football Irrelevance.
But the Northwestern game felt like a turning point, at least for me – and it seemed like a lot of Nebraska fans as well. Everyone is, of course, still hoping Nebraska will turn that mythical corner and start to be a contender in the B1G West.
The certainty that Nebraska will turn that corner under Frost, though, feels like it died in the long Evanston grass on Saturday morning. Now we’re back to where we were in late-era Pelini and the entire Riley era – going full Missourian and waiting for Nebraska to “show me” before investing any kind of confidence in future competitiveness.
Penn State is coming to Lincoln this weekend. How are you approaching this game, Husker Fan? Excited at the chance for (at least on paper) Nebraska to finally get a marquee win? Or resigned to watching a game that you hope like heck Nebraska wins but holding your breath and waiting to see what borderline-comical way Nebraska finds to lose?
The answer says a lot about where you’re at 26 games into Frost’s tenure in charge.