The numbers don’t lie.
The numbers are stark reality, and they’re ugly for the Nebraska football program when it comes to playing on the road.
The Huskers have now lost eight straight road games. The last road win came on Oct. 28, 2017, when Tanner Lee hit Stanley Morgan Jr. with a 13-yard TD pass with just 14 seconds left on the clock to give Nebraska a 28-27 win in West Lafayette, Indiana.
The Huskers want to end that road losing streak when they play at Illinois Saturday night in the Big Ten opener.
“I would say it’s very important and it’s something that we aim to do this Saturday,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “We haven’t won on the road yet, and I think we are definitely capable of doing it. It’s time to go out there and get it done.”
When Martinez says “we haven’t won on the road yet,” he means himself and head coach Scott Frost. Six road games into the Frost/Martinez era, the Huskers have yet to return to Lincoln with a win.
They’ve lost in a variety of fashions. It started with a 56-10 blowout loss in Michigan early last season. Frost was disappointed and vowed that things would get better.
They did, but not good enough to win on the road.
There was a 41-24 loss at Wisconsin, and the Huskers showed promise.
That was followed by a heartbreaking 34-31 overtime loss to Northwestern in a game the Huskers held a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska battled Ohio State to the wire in Columbus, but fell short 36-31. They did the same at Iowa to end the 2018 season, but a late field goal gave the Hawkeyes a 31-28 win.
And then this year. The pain from the 34-31 overtime loss at Colorado hasn’t completely subsided yet.
Frost said there’s no magic to getting that elusive road win.
“We just need to do what we do,” Frost said. “It’s not about anything we do traveling or at the hotel or any superstition. It’s about practicing really well, being in the right frame of mind and going in and playing the best we can.”
Junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle knows all about the road losing streak.
“We are very aware of it,” Bootle said. “You guys talk about the struggles to win on the road, there were struggles to win period no matter where we were in the past. Those are things we have to overcome.
“I see this thing turning in the right direction. Going in on the road, we are very mindful. We are mindful of our previous experiences. We’ve got to make that change.”
The Huskers want to get off to a fast start, something they have done so far this season. At Colorado, Nebraska went 95 yards in five plays on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead.
The Huskers have scored on their opening possession every game so far this season, but defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said they have to do more.
“The key to winning on the road is coming out really fast, which we’ve done and finishing the football game, which we haven’t done on the road,” he said. “The big focal point last week with Coach Frost was finishing the football game. That’s probably why we left some of the older guys in (against Northern Illinois). We want to teach these kids that we have to keep our foot on the gas both offensively and defensively. We can’t be in prevent mode.”
Senior nose guard Darrion Daniels has been in on road wins when he was at Oklahoma State. He knows what it takes to get a victory in an unfamiliar setting.
“Preparation. Being able to do everything full speed with our eyes closed,” Daniels said. “That’s the best way to go into hostile territory and bring the same energy that we bring to practice and home games. That’s the only way I feel like is the approach to playing in hostile territory.”
Throw in that this is the Big Ten opener and the game has even added significance. This is the game that matters right now, not Ohio State in one week.
“Every game is going to be important for us and this week is no different,” Martinez said. “Big Ten play starts and it’s very important to start 1-0. For the guys that have been here and maybe the guys that haven’t, it’s my job to let those guys know that this is the Big Ten.”
The Huskers have just four Big Ten road games this year after playing five last season. They also play at Minnesota (Oct. 12), at Purdue (Nov. 2) and at Maryland (Nov. 23).
Daniels wants to feel that joy of winning on the road several times this season.
“It’s a fun feeling,” Darrion Daniels said. “Going into someone else’s territory and ruining their day is actually kind of fun. Your back is against the wall, so the only thing you can do is swing forward.
“Going into a hostile territory and ruining their day makes me personally feel like I did myself an honor with my back against the wall coming out victorious.”