Nebraska Huskers football: 10 things we learned from NU's 31-27 loss at Purdue
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10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Nebraska fell to 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Big Ten play following Saturday's 31-27 road loss at Purdue.

Here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned from the game...

1. Huskers say their season isn’t over, but Saturday may have been it

Saturday’s road game at Purdue was about as much of a “must-win” situation as it could get for Nebraska. Outside of maybe – maybe – their road game at Maryland, it was likely the last time the Huskers will be favored the rest of the season.

It was a game against an injury-riddled Boilermaker squad that was coming off its worst performance of the season a week earlier. It was a game NU had to win in order to take a big step toward clinching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016.

What did Nebraska do? It shot itself in the foot time and again and let Purdue hang around, build some confidence, and then win the game.

The list of all the should-have’s and could-have’s is endless, and the costly mistakes came from all three phases. The Huskers have been one play away far too often this season, and on Saturday, one more properly executed play likely would have been the difference between a win and a third consecutive loss.

Instead, head coach Scott Frost was left giving the same answers to the same questions about what all went wrong in a maddening defeat.

“We gave too many chances away, and that's on all of us to try and figure out how not to do that..." Frost said. "Sooner or later, that stuff has to stop."

Nebraska has three games remaining on its 2019 schedule: the trip to Maryland sandwiched between home games vs. Wisconsin and Iowa. It’s hard to even imagine two more victories coming out of that stretch.

Barring at least one unexpected upset, the Huskers will more than likely be home for Christmas once again, and this winter will feel longer than ever for Frost and his team.

2. Martinez put the blame squarely on his shoulders

Nebraska got its starting quarterback back against Purdue, as Adrian Martinez after missing the past two games with an injury he suffered against Northwestern.

The day started pretty well for the sophomore, as he completed seven of his first 10 passes for 107 yards but missed a couple throws that could have led to touchdowns.

Then the second quarter hit. From the start of the second through the end of the third quarter, Martinez and the passing game were downright bad.

He only completed 7-of-14 passes for 28 yards and an interception over that stretch, and that helped Purdue turn a 10-0 deficit into a 17-13 lead going into the fourth.

To his credit, Martinez bounced back with a strong final quarter, going 3-of-4 for 43 yards and rushing twice for 19 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on the first drive of the period.

But that wasn’t enough to make up for all of the yards and points he and the offense left on the table the rest of the game, and Martinez didn’t hesitate to put the blame squarely on his shoulders.

“There’s no excuse to missing some throws and reads early in the game,” Martinez said. “I was ready from the start… There’s no excuses. I think the game could’ve started out a lot differently if I would’ve done my job better. That’s on me.”

3. The defense was good, but not when it mattered the most

For all intents and purposes, Nebraska’s defense played well enough to win the game.

A group that has struggled mightily in recent weeks, the Blackshirts more than did their part. They shut Purdue out in the first quarter, intercepted two passes, had three sacks and seven tackles for loss, and forced a fumble.

But with just 4:21 left in the game, Purdue had the ball at its own 18-yard line and NU needed just one more stop. Instead, the Boilermakers – led by walk-on backup quarterback Aidan McConnell – marched 82 yards on 12 plays and scored the winning touchdown with just 1:08 on the clock.

In all, the Huskers gave up nearly 450 total yards, gave up 8-of-16 third-down conversions, and allowed Purdue to score on all five of its trips inside the red zone. Even with all that, the defense still had a chance to seal the victory and let it slip through its fingers.

“We gave this game away. We know we did,” cornerback Braxton Clark said. “We didn’t execute with the details that we talked about. We just didn’t come to play the way we should’ve come to play.”

4. Taylor-Britt’s absence left a big void in NU’s secondary

Nebraska had a surprise absence from its 74-man travel roster for Purdue, as sophomore starting safety Cam Taylor-Britt did not make the trip.

Frost said Taylor-Britt was one of several Huskers who had been dealing with an illness all week, and he was the only player who was too ill to travel with the team to West Lafayette.

While that news seemed to come out of nowhere, Nebraska had apparently known since Monday that Taylor-Britt would not be available. Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said he spent all week taking reps at both corner and safety.

Without Taylor-Britt, NU had to move around a few more pieces along with Bootle pulling double duty. Freshman Braxton Clark made his first career start at cornerback, and senior Eric Lee Jr. played extensive reps at safety.

The makeshift secondary did manage to force two takeaways, but Purdue had plenty of success through the air. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer, who was benched twice in last week’s loss to Purdue, was 25-of-34 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns.

When Plummer got hurt in the fourth quarter, O’Connell took over and went 6-of-7 for 62 yards on the Boilermakers’ game-winning drive.

5. Third downs killed Nebraska once again

Third down was a major issue for Nebraska in last week’s loss to Indiana, and those problems continued at Purdue.

The Huskers were just 6-of-16 (37.5 percent) on third downs on Saturday, including failing to convert nine of its first 10 tries of the game. Three of those conversions came on NU’s final touchdown drive.

On the other side, Purdue picked up eight of its third downs and was a perfect 8-of-8 on the down in the second and fourth quarters.

Nebraska has now allowed opponents to convert 41.9 percent of their third downs this season, an average that ranks only ahead of Rutgers (43.6) in the Big Ten.

6. Nebraska wasted a massive advantage in field position

Saturday was a rare case of Nebraska actually owning a significant edge in starting field position. Yet the Huskers could do nothing with it more often than not.

There were four drives were NU got the ball in Purdue territory. The Huskers gained 25 yards on 17 plays and had two interceptions, a turnover on downs, a punt, and one made field goal on those possessions.

Nebraska’s average starting field position on its 13 total drives was its 41-yard line. Purdue’s was its own 23.

In fact, the Boilermakers began six drives inside their own 20. Those ended in three touchdowns, two punts, and an interception. All three of their touchdown drives were 78 yards or longer, including one from 89 and another from 96.

7. Special teams had their best game of the year

Considering how bad Nebraska’s special teams have been most of this season, saying those units had their best performance yet isn’t saying much.

Still, the third element was the least of the Huskers’ problems on Saturday.

Barret Pickering made both of his chip-shot field goals and all three of his extra points, while Isaac Armstrong pinned three of his four punts inside Purdue’s 20-yard line, with one down at the four.

The only negative were the kickoffs, as William Przystup struggled with the length and hangtime on his kicks so much that he was eventually replaced by Armstrong.

The highlights of the day were the two blocked punts, one coming from Eli Sullivan in the first quarter and the other from Lee in the third.

8. Robinson wasn’t available for the final drive

Many noticed that do-it-all true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson was not on the field for Nebraska’s last-chance drive of the game.

According to Frost, Robinson wanted to be in the game and the Huskers wanted him out there, but the team’s training staff shut him down.

Robinson seemed to be dinged up at times during the game and apparently suffered an injury that ended his day earlier than anyone wanted.

HuskerOnline saw the former four-star walk from NU’s locker room to the bus without crutches, a protective boot, or even a noticeable limp.

The good news is that Nebraska now has its second bye of the season this week, so Robinson should have ample time to heal up whatever injury he has.

9. Hickman, Snodgrass make their debuts

A couple new faces saw the field for Nebraska on Saturday, as true freshmen Chris Hickman and Garrett Snodgrass made the travel roster and saw the field at Purdue.

Hickman checked in on NU’s second offensive series of the game and lined up in the backfield on the first play, which was a run by Dedrick Mills.

On the next play, Martinez threw a pass to the tight end on a swing pass to the left side that bounced short and out of bounds and was ruled a lateral for a seven-yard loss.

Snodgrass replaced redshirt freshman Chris Cassidy on the travel roster and played on special teams.

10. A critical bye week awaits

Next week’s bye doesn’t feel like it means much with Nebraska’s bowl hopes now dimmer than ever. But in terms of the culture and continuity of the locker room, this might be the most important week yet.

Now nine games into this season and 21 into Frost’s tenure, comments are still being made about not everyone being completely bought into what the staff is trying to build on and off the field.

The frustration couldn’t be much higher than it was from Frost and the players who spoke after the Purdue loss. Now the Huskers have two weeks for the game to fester.

Frost didn’t hold back in drawing a line in the sand for guys who either want to be a part of building the program or don’t. We’ll see what ripple effect, if any, happens before NU’s home game vs. Wisconsin in a couple of weeks.

"The core of our team and the vast majority of our team plays for each other and they play for their brothers, and I don't think we'll have any trouble keeping the team together," Frost said.

"If we have one or two, then we have one or two. I came back to Nebraska to get this fixed, and I'm going to do it, regardless of what has to happen. 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. But we're going to get it there. I won't let anything else happen."