10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Purdue
1. The toll of 0-4 is blatantly clear
All of the frustration, disappointment, anger, and sadness that comes with Nebraska’s unfathomable 0-4 start to the season were as clear as day on head coach Scott Frost’s face during his postgame press conference.
Frost has always taken losses personally, but Saturday’s 42-28 homecoming loss to Purdue brought out a new level emotion from the first-year NU coach.
His voice quivered at times as he tried to explain the countless ways his team shot itself in the foot time after time in every aspect of the game. His players were almost as visibly upset as they tried to do the same.
What happens next as Nebraska turns the page to a road trip at Wisconsin next week remains to be seen, but for whatever it might be worth, Frost looked like a man who had finally had enough.
“I’m tired of looking at it,” Frost said of NU’s weekly mistakes. “There’s really no difference from a coaching perspective from 'I can’t do it' and 'I won’t do it.' The people that won’t make good decisions, the people that are hitting people that are three yards out of bounds - if that keeps up, I’m just going to ride with the guys that are doing it the right way.
“We’ve got a lot of warriors on this team and a lot of guys that played well enough to win, but I’m tired of coaching an undisciplined team.”
2. Frost says NU looked 'like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country'
Nebraska has struggled with mental mistakes and self-inflicted errors all season, but Saturday took the cake regarding the Huskers’ being their own worst enemies.
While the officiating was questionable at times, to say the least, NU still ended up with a staggering 11 penalties for 136 yards.
It wasn’t only the sheer volume of penalties, either. One defensive holding flag took back an interception in the second quarter. Another roughing the passer call that turned what should have been a Purdue punt into an eventual Boilermaker touchdown.
In all, six of Nebraska’s 11 penalties resulted in Purdue first downs and four arguably changed the course of possessions on both sides of the ball.
The Huskers have now been penalized 42 times for 401 yards through the first four games of the season.
“In my opinion, we honestly look like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country, and it kills me because it isn’t like we aren’t trying to give them messages,” Frost said. “It isn’t like we aren’t trying to hold them accountable… It’s up to us as coaches, but it’s also up to that team to stop allowing the other stuff to happen.”
3. Major shakeups could be coming
One thing that was undeniably clear following Saturday’s loss was that whatever Nebraska was doing with its personnel at a few key areas simply was not working.
The Huskers tried to change some things up this week with some depth chart moves in all three phases, but even more shakeups could be coming next week.
Frost pointed to a handful of guys that he “will ride with” moving forward who he thought have consistently played with high effort and execution.
He mentioned guys like Adrian Martinez, Ben Stille, Devine Ozigbo, J.D. Spielman, Stanley Morgan Jr., and Luke Gifford by name, but added there were others who were included in that group as well.
There are some other players, however, who could be in line for demotions this week. Frost all but called out cornerback Lamar Jackson – who committed the costly penalty that negated Marquel Dismuke’s interception – by name.
Jackson was sent from the bench after that play and did not return to the field the rest of the game. There’s a good chance Jackson won’t be the only first-teamer who sees a lessened role this week and potentially beyond.
“We’ll take a look at the tape and we’ll let you know,” Frost said when asked about any potential changes. “I don’t want to be the only one that won’t put up with it. The team has to not put up with it. We’ll see where we are at an injury standpoint. We don’t have a lot of depth at certain positions, and we need young guys to step up and some guys to come along.
‘In a lot of cases, if there was someone else to play we would’ve already had them on the field in some kind of role. You talk to them after week one, week two, week three about the mistakes we’re making. We played well enough to win game one, game two and game three but not when you make those mistakes. You’re not going to win."
4. Wash, rinse, repeat: Special teams were awful again
Blame poor scheme, a lack of execution, or even both. But whatever the reason, Nebraska continues to be absolutely putrid on special teams this season.
Saturday was just the latest example of the Huskers’ ineptitude in the third element.
While they were only credited with one special teams penalty, they committed two on one play that erased a big Spielman return and had another unsportsmanlike conduct flag offset.
Nebraska tried a switch at kickoff returner by replacing Spielman with Jaron Woodyard to start the game. After Woodyard fielded one kick in the end zone, bobbled it, brought it out anyway and got tripped up at the 15-yard line, Spielman took back the job.
Then there were the new rugby style punts from Caleb Lightbourn, which amounted to a 40.2-yard average that was boosted by a 52-yard touchback and included a 29-yarder where Lightbourn slipped as he tried to punt the ball.
Spielman replaced Tyjon Lindsey at punt returner but only returned one of seven Purdue punts for zero yards.
Freshman kicker Barret Pickering missed his only field goal attempt, a 54-yard attempt at the end of the first half that never stood a chance.
5. Even in loss, Martinez gives some reason for hope
Aside from a few freshman moments, which included a crucial fourth-quarter interception as Nebraska was trying to mount a comeback, Martinez actually had one of his best games as a Husker.
The true freshman completed 25-of-42 passes for a career-high 323 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 18 times for 91 yards, finishing the day with a career-high 414 yards of total offense.
Martinez seemed to get better and better as the day went along, and the way he helped turn the offense around in the second half was one of the few reasons for optimism coming out of an otherwise forgettable afternoon.
“I think Adrian grew up a bunch today,” Frost said. “I saw a guy today that looks like he kind of figured out he can win a game. Some of the throws he made, some of the decisions he made to take it down and run it. Now he still made a few freshman mistakes, and in a couple cases we have to put him in a little better situation. But we knew those were going to happen…
“That’s my guy and we’re going to ride with him, and this is my team and I’m going to ride with them. But I’m tired of putting up with undisciplined people.”
6. Ozigbo makes most of opportunity with career day
Maybe the biggest bright spot at all for Nebraska was the breakout performance of running back Devine Ozigbo.
Frost said the senior got the opportunity for an increased workload with freshman Maurice Washington out all week with an illness, and Ozigbo took full advantage with a strong week of practices.
That carried over into what ended up as Ozigbo’s best individual performance as a Husker, rushed 17 times for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
“I expect nothing less from Devine,” Martinez said. “He’s a great player and a guy that’s always been a grinder in the weight room, on the field, and I’m glad he had an opportunity today to show that a little bit.”
7. Offensive line changes could be here to stay
One of the noteworthy changes to the starting lineup came with sophomore Boe Wilson getting the start at right guard over senior Tanner Farmer.
Now, part of that had to do with Farmer dealing with the same stomach bug as Washington and missing much of the week’s practices. But Wilson seemed to more than hold his own, helping NU score its first opening-drive touchdown of the season.
Farmer ended up coming back in and playing extensive snaps at center after senior Cole Conrad went down for the game with an injury.
Conrad’s injury status will obviously be something to watch next week, but regardless Wilson looked to have earned a place in the starting lineup going forward.
“We are frustrated,” senior offensive lineman Jerald Foster said. “We have penalties that we need to get corrected. Either you don’t do them or you don’t play. I had one … and we have guys that can play my position. They can come in. That’s what we have to do and that’s what we’re going to do. We can’t have the penalties and the mistakes we’re having.”
8. Spielman returns to form
It had been a relatively quiet start to the season for Spielman, but he looked like last season’s breakout player once again on Saturday.
The redshirt sophomore caught 10 passes for 135 yards with a pair of 21-yard touchdown catches in the third quarter. In the process, Spielman eclipsed 1,000 career receiving yards in just 15 games, passing Johnny Rodgers (16 games) as the fastest to do so in NU history.
That growing chemistry between Spielman and Martinez could be a building block for Nebraska’s offense going forward.
9. Walk-on Warner earns major role
Nebraska’s wide receiver depth chart beyond Morgan and Spielman has been up for grabs all year, which allowed for one of the most unlikely of players to vault into some major playing time vs. Purdue.
Walk-on Kade Warner, son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, not only saw his first playing time as a Husker on Saturday, he started the game and finished with two catches for 16 yards.
While Warner proved capable as a receiver, one of the main reasons for his massive leap up the receiver pecking order was his ability as a perimeter blocker, something that has been desperately lacking in NU’s offense.
10. Huskers now on the brink of worst start ever
As has been well documented, Nebraska is now 0-4 to start the season for the first time since 1945.
But with a trip to Wisconsin looming next week, there’s a realistic chance things could get much worse before all is said and done.
That 1945 team started with five straight losses but rebounded by winning its final four games. No Nebraska team has ever started a season with six losses.
The Huskers will be heavy underdogs in Madison, and then have a following road trip to Northwestern – which nearly just upset the same Michigan team that drubbed NU by 46 last week.
Nebraska has already set a program record with eight consecutive losses dating back to last season. If things don’t improve in a hurry, even more of those unthinkable records could become reality.
“I’ve got a sense of why but I don’t really want to say why because this is my team, this isn’t somebody else’s team,” Frost said of NU’s 0-4 start. “In order to have a disciplined team, you have to have guys that really care, and guys that are accountable and you have to have an environment where they’re held accountable. It’s all of the little things that they do, on and off the field.
“We’re doing that, I don’t know if it’s taken root with people. I don’t know how many habits people have. We’re trying to break a lot of habits. We’re trying to teach them how we want things done, because I know when things are done that way you win championships. As hard as this team has played, and a lot of guys on this team have played well enough to win, we’re not going to win as long as those things are happening.”