Nebraska Football: 10 things we learned from NU's loss to Purdue
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10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Purdue

Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 28-23 loss to Purdue on Saturday afternoon...

Nebraska's hopes for its first bowl berth since 2016 likely went up in smoke after its 28-23 loss to Purdue on Saturday.
Nebraska's hopes for its first bowl berth since 2016 likely went up in smoke after its 28-23 loss to Purdue on Saturday. (Associated Press)

1. Nebraska’s already thin bowl hopes are now gone

Yes, Nebraska was facing an extremely uphill battle going into Saturday to try and salvage its chances of making its first bowl appearance since 2016.

But a win over Purdue would have at least kept some semblance of hope alive going into a brutal final three-game stretch.

After another one-score loss that was much uglier than the final score indicated, though, those hopes were crushed.

The Huskers’ aren’t going to beat Ohio State, which is playing as well as any team in the country right now, next week. The next two games at Wisconsin and home vs. Iowa will only matter for the final season record books.

Head coach Scott Frost has praised his team all season for its ability to bounce back from gut-punch losses and prepare the same well every week. How much longer will NU be able to continue that now with its season essentially over?

Apathy will be greater than ever, and it makes an already uncomfortable situation for new athletic director Trev Alberts that much harder to ignore.

2. Frost seems out of answers

Frost has had to try to explain what went wrong in 25 previous losses over the past four years, but following Saturday’s defeat, he truly seemed like a coach who was out of answers.

Frost said it wasn’t a lack of energy, focus, or preparation that doomed Nebraska against Purdue. In his mind, it was just that NU didn’t play or execute well enough to win.

“There’s no new answers,” Frost said. “We’ll look for them. We’re always looking for them, always looking for ways to get better… We’ve just got to be a little bit better.”

Frost said he didn’t give his players a long, motivational speech in the locker room after the game. Instead, he turned the floor over to his team captains.

“Magic speeches aren’t going to change this,” Frost said.

“We’ve just got to play better,” he added. “We’re a good team, not a great team, talent-wise. We’ve got to play better. A team shouldn’t need me to motivate them all the time. That’s my job. That’s what I do. But a great team doesn’t need a coach to motivate them all the time.”

3. Fan frustration was more evident than ever

Despite another disappointing year and a team on the cusp of yet another losing season, 85,902 fans still filed into Memorial Stadium to cheer on Nebraska on Saturday.

As the Huskers struggled to stay above water and let Purdue pull away in the second half, fan frustration with the season and the overall state of the program became more evident than ever.

Fans began heading for the exits after the Boilermakers took a 28-17 lead and NU's offense failed to do anything of substance. After Martinez's fourth interception, boos rang out from those sticking it out until the end.

Frost was asked if he noticed the change in the stadium's vibe as the game went on and he said he didn't fault the fans at all for showing their displeasure.

"I'm grateful for the fans. I'm grateful for the opportunity to coach at my alma mater," Frost said. "I'm impatient to have these games turn out a different way. I'm grateful to the fan base. I was just as frustrated as them in the second half."

The players certainly noticed the fan frustration during the game.

"I mean, I noticed that people were leaving, but that had no effect on the game," senior linebacker JoJo Domann said. "And honestly, I don't really care. So, it is what it is. Husker faithful stands by us. Fairweather, we don't need you. That's how it's always been, and always will be."

4. Martinez was back to his old self, for better or worse

Lingering injuries limited Adrian Martinez’s dual-threat ability in Nebraska’s loss at Minnesota two weeks ago. The question throughout the bye was whether the quarterback would be healthy enough to run the offense to its full potential.

The junior quickly put those concerns to bed on the Huskers’ opening offensive series. Martinez ran a designed draw to convert a third down and then did it again later in the drive on a sneak. Martinez ended up with 10 rushes for 18 yards.

While that was positive, the same head-scratching mistakes he’d made all season came roaring back.

After dodging a bullet on the first drive with a dropped pick-six by Jalen Graham, the Purdue defensive back got Martinez the second time around with an interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Graham then nabbed Martinez again on a baffling flip throw into traffic in the third quarter. Martinez was intercepted two more times in the loss, one on a tipped ball and another on an awful overthrow. In all, Martinez had eight completions and three interceptions in the second half.

Healthy or not, the quarterback play wasn’t nearly good enough on Saturday, especially when the Huskers needed it the most.

“It is a team game,” Martinez said. “I am one cog in the wheel of success or failure. That is why (NU quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco) always says and that we as a unit feel that way. Today, I felt like I was not a good enough cog.”

5. No quarterback change is coming

Martinez’s performance against Purdue was undoubtedly a low point of his season, and it had many fans watching the game left wondering when Nebraska would give another quarterback a shot?

Asked if he ever thought about making a quarterback change in the second half, Frost said: “Not really. In my mind, I did, but we never talked about it.”

No. 2 quarterback Logan Smothers has appeared in four games this year and completed 7-of-11 passes for 119 yards on the season. In other words, the drop-off in experience between Martinez and the rest of the quarterback depth chart is massive.

That’s why Frost stuck by Martinez when asked if the Huskers might open the quarterback job up for competition next week.

“No, that’s not a story,” Frost said. “We’re going to play the guy that we think gives us the best chance to win, period. Right now, that’s Adrian.”

6. The running game disappeared after halftime

For two quarters, Nebraska’s running game was setting the tone and keeping the offense on schedule.

When the third quarter rolled around, though, the Huskers became almost entirely one-dimensional.

NU ran it 19 times for 115 yards and a touchdown in the first half. In the second, it rushed for only 15 yards on 10 carries.

Part of that had to do with Nebraska running just 27 plays after halftime and trailing for the entire fourth quarter. But with a quarterback who had already thrown two interceptions and nearly two pick-sixes, running the ball more than one time in the fourth quarter might have been a good idea.

In the first half, Jaquez Yant had four carries for 60 yards, including runs of 33 and 18 yards on NU’s final touchdown drive in the second quarter. He carried the ball two more times for two yards the rest of the game.

Rahmir Johnson ended up with 13 carries for 52 yards (4.0 ypc), but he ran it only four times for seven yards after halftime.

Nebraska’s offense has strived to establish a balanced identity over the last four years, but predictable play-calling like Saturday’s second half gave it the exact opposite.

7. Nebraska added some bye week wrinkles, but not enough

With two weeks to try and create some sparks on offense, Nebraska added a few new wrinkles to its playbook in preparation for Purdue.

They finally lined up with Martinez under center after hearing plenty of criticism for not doing so last time out at Minnesota. The first resulted in Martinez converting a third down with a sneak, but the second was a fumbled snap at the Purdue one-yard line that ended as a three-yard loss.

The Huskers also threw in a direct snap run with running back Jaquez Yant and drew up some new downfield passes that helped NU average 19.2 yards per catch as a team.

However, that’s about where the play-calling innovation came to an end.

When the offense started to sputter in the third quarter, Nebraska couldn’t seem to come up with anything to provide a spark. The running game was non-existent, and the pass plays were long and drawn-out with limited options.

Rather than try something new to catch Purdue’s defense off-guard, the Huskers continued to bang their heads against the wall with the same drive script again and again.

8. Bell vs. Taylor-Britt was a high-level battle

When NFL scouts watch film of Purdue wide receiver David Bell and Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt from this season, Saturday will most certainly be a game they look at closely.

While Taylor-Britt didn’t shadow Bell the entire game, they matched up on most of the Boilermakers’ offensive snaps. Bell ended up with a game-high nine catches for 74 yards, but that came on a whopping 14 targets.

Taylor-Britt was credited with two pass breakups, and only one of Bell’s grabs went for longer than 20 yards (21).

Given that only two weeks earlier, Bell torched Iowa’s vaunted secondary for 11 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown, Taylor-Britt and Nebraska’s second did a solid job of letting him get his catches without taking over the game.

9. Huskers finally made a change at kicker

Over the past two weeks, one of the biggest questions was whether Nebraska would stick with kicker Connor Culp after another disastrous outing at Minnesota.

Frost mentioned earlier in the week that the Huskers held a "kick-off" competition with four placekickers and that he and his staff had "a decision to make" as to who would be their guy vs. Purdue.

It turned out that Chase Contreraz, a sophomore transfer from Iowa Western C.C. who had never played in a game for NU, won the starting job on Saturday.

There wasn't much of a workload for the Missouri Valley, Iowa, native, but he did make both of his extra-point attempts and drilled a 33-yard field goal at the end of the first half.

Brendan Franke continued to handle the kickoff specialist duties, and Culp even got into the game for NU's final onside kick.

We'll see if the Huskers stick with Contreraz for next week's game against Ohio State, but he did everything asked of him without incident in his first opportunity.

10. Players insist they’ll continue to fight 

Nebraska is now 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten, and its chances of a bowl game pretty much just went up in smoke.

But the Huskers’ team captains and veteran leaders said after Saturday’s loss that they had no choice but to keep fighting.

“Right now, there are three games ahead of us,” senior tight end Austin Allen said. “There is still ‘Nebraska’ across our chest. We are still competing for the state. There is a lot to play for still. We’ve got everything in front of us. Push the reset button. What happened, happened today. We are moving forward tomorrow and on to Ohio State.”

Few players were more under the spotlight of criticism than Martinez, and he too said the only path NU could take was to try and make the most of every opportunity it had left.

"I was frustrated as well. so I can understand that frustration,” Martinez said of the fans. “And simply put, I was not good enough. It is not like we deserve to be applauded as we came off the field. We need to be better, and we will be. We have no other choice."

Domann may not have liked the boo birds or some of the fans leaving early, but he also hoped Nebraska’s fan base could see that the team’s stuggles on the field was not for a lack of effort from the players.

“You dream about how the season's going to go, and it hasn't gone that way,” Domann said. “I mean, it rarely goes how we think life's going to go. But I'm just disappointed for this program, for the state, and for the guys in our locker room…

“We just can't be defined by these moments. And even though, you know, like we have this emotion attached to the win or loss, we play for Nebraska. I take pride in that, and I demand respect for that. That's how I play the game, is I want to want to earn respect out there.

“Wins and losses are beyond me, you know? So, we appreciate you (fans) sticking with us and not digging in. It'd be really easy to dig in from out there. So hang with us, man. We're doing our best, and it'll turn around eventually, and when it does, it’ll be that much sweeter.”