There’s just no way around it.
This 2019 Nebraska football team is not good enough to win in the Big Ten.
We saw it again Saturday when the offense struggled once again early in the game. Given the ball time after time in good field position, the Huskers struggled to score points.
And the defense, which at times played well, gave up two long touchdown drives in the second quarter and again in the fourth quarter.
The end result was another disappointing loss, this time 31-27 to a young Purdue team that entered the game 2-6 and was missing two of its top offensive weapons.
The Huskers had chances, so many, many chances.
In the first half, the Huskers had great field position time after time. After the drive on the opening kickoff, they started on their own 49 (touchdown), their own 27 (punt), the Purdue 3 (field goal), the Purdue 29 (interception), the Purdue 47 (three-and-out) and their own 25 (punt).
“We gave too many chances away,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost told reporters after the game. “Again, that’s on all of us to figure out how not to do that. The defense played great and gave us a bunch of opportunities in the first half to take control of the game. Then I don’t think it would have came down to what it came down to.”
It continued in the third quarter. Eric Lee Jr. blocked a punt to give the offense the ball on the Purdue 34.
And the offense went four-and-out.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez struggled much of the time, and he’s too good of a player for that to continue. He missed a couple of wide open receivers for touchdowns, he threw the ball when he should have run, he basically zigged when he should have zagged.
Martinez and the offense did get it going early in the fourth with a nice touchdown drive for a 20-17 lead.
And then the defense gave up a 13-play, 78-yard drive and the Boilermakers were back on top.
Martinez led the Huskers down the field again for another TD and they were in a position to win the game if the defense could get a stop.
Instead, Purdue’s third-string quarterback drove the Boilermakers down the field for the winning touchdown.
It was just more of the same old same old and the Huskers lost another close game.
“I’ve been in a lot of games already at Nebraska where if we make one more play, we win the game,” Frost said. “One more play right there.”
Nebraska went 1-5 in one-possession games a year ago. This year they are 2-3 so far with wins over Illinois and Northwestern and losses to Colorado, Indiana and Purdue.
There were some head-scratching play calls as well, but you know Frost always has a reason for what he calls.
After Daniels’ interception gave the Huskers a first-and-goal on the 3, Frost went with a shovel pass to Wan’Dale Robinson that didn’t work. Martinez took a sack, then scrambled down to the 1-yard line to set up a short field goal.
Why a shovel pass? Why not hand the ball to your best short-yardage runner Dedrick Mills and let him pound it up inside four straight times if needed?
Frost explained his thinking for some of that.
“We studied them all week,” Frost said. “We had a little shovel play to Wan’Dale. We missed the block on the backer that took it away. Then on second down we ran an RPO. They switched it off. We need to either hand that off or throw it away, not take the sack.
“Then we get it down to the 1-yard line. At that point I wanted to go up two scores so we kick the field goal.”
At the end of the game, Robinson, who was battling an injury, was on the sidelines when the Huskers had one last opportunity to win the game. Many on social media — which is something to avoid after a loss — were questioning that.
Frost answered that as well.
“He was saying he was available and the trainer said he wasn’t,” Frost said.
So now the Huskers need to win two of their last three games to qualify for a bowl. After a bye week, they host Wisconsin, travel to Maryland and then end the regular season at home against Iowa.
You can’t say they have no chance against Wisconsin and Iowa, but the odds of beating either one of those teams aren’t great. They Huskers could beat Maryland, but they could have beaten Colorado, Indiana and Purdue as well.
This may well be the third straight year that the Huskers won’t go bowling.
Frost vowed once again to turn this thing around.
“I came back to Nebraska to get this fixed, and I’m going to do it,” he said. “If there’s anybody that doesn’t need to be here to make that happen, then that’s the way it has to be. I hope every single one of them stays on board and does what we need to do. We’re going to get it there. I won’t let anything else happen.”
Frost may well do it. Fans can all complain as much as they want, but it’s not happening this season.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.