Wisconsin Nebraska Football

Wisconsin’s Aron Cruickshank (1) returns a kickoff for a touchdown past Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (5) during the first half Saturday in Lincoln. The Huskers now must win their final two games to qualify for a bowl.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s football team has no more room for error.

The Huskers are 4-6 heading into Saturday’s game at Maryland. In order to go to a bowl game, the Huskers have to beat Maryland and then win their regular-season finale Nov. 29 against an Iowa team that knocked off previously unbeaten Minnesota on Saturday..

“I hope they understand their backs are against the wall,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said after his team’s 37-21 loss to Wisconsin Saturday. “But I want a team that plays like their back is against the wall in every single game.”

The Huskers (4-6, 2-5 in the Big Ten) haven’t been to a bowl game since the 2016 team lost to Tennessee 38-24 in the Music City Bowl. The senior players, including defensive back Eric Lee, were a part of that team.

“I think it’s (added) experience because now you’re talking 15 additional practices you have when you go to a bowl games now,” Lee said. “If we don’t go to one we’re missing out on 15 development practices going into spring ball. I think that’s a big aspect.”

That bowl game preparation was big for players like Lee in 2015.

“You know just preparation for that game, guys got better,” Bootle said. “I got better myself. I went against the No. 1 offense because I was on the scout team back then. It was just the experience overall, playing a team out of conference.

“I didn’t have a big role in that game. I didn’t play at all, but it was definitely good for my development as a player.”

Those bowl practices may be the most important thing to come out of the experience for a program trying to move on to the next level. It didn’t help enough in 2016 because the Huskers went 4-8 the next season and coach Mike Riley was relieved of his duties.

But now, with Frost implementing a new system and all the things the new coaching staff is trying to do, an additional 15 practices would be invaluable.

“A lot of the younger dudes would get a lot more reps in practice and get them kind of acclimated going into the next year,” Lee said. “Just the overall experience being able to go to another place you haven’t been before, possibly being able to play a team from another conference and just kind of see what else is out there.”

Junior defensive back Dicaprio Bootle was a freshman on that 2016 team.

“It’s very important,” Bootle said. “You know that final push these last two games would be very important for them to get that going into the bowl game to get better, because every team doesn’t go to a bowl game. Some teams got to end the practices. The more practices you have, the better you get so it’s really important for us all.”

If the Huskers don’t win the last two games, then the Iowa game will be the end of the road for the seniors. Lee certainly understands that.

“We got 120 minutes in order to get to a bowl game and every second matters,” Lee said. “So if you’re not playing hard to the end, it might be in your best interest to do so.”

Senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis isn’t ready to see his college career end.

“It means everything because I will do anything to be able to play with my brothers and this team,” Davis said. “I’ve been here for five years, and I’ve been with these guys every day. It means everything to have another game to play with them.”

But you can’t win two games before you win the first. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez said it starts with beating Maryland Saturday.

“I think we have to take it one at a time and we have to focus on beating Maryland,” Martinez said Saturday. “Right now, it is kind of still the 24-hour rule and kind of regroup and watch this last game. Then we will move on to Maryland and plan on winning. That is what it comes down to. We are going to be determined and fight and we are not going to quit.”

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