Final take: 'Just OK' once again not good enough for the Huskers vs. Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Saturday was one of those days at Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium where you really had to want to be there.
It was a cold and windy blustery day. Of the announced 50,606 in attendance, there were at least 10,000 to 15,000 empty seats. It was 4-4 Nebraska vs. 2-6 Purdue. It was a Boilermaker team down several key players and a Husker team missing some notable names as well.
Who wanted it more? Which program's culture was stronger on an ugly 11 am Big Ten Saturday? The answer to the question is Purdue. The Boilermakers gift-wrapped the game early for Nebraska to possibly jump up 17 to 21 points, and all NU could get out of it was 10. Scott Frost's squad kept the door open when they could've closed it in the first quarter.
Should we be surprised through nine games? At this point no. Saturday is the same Nebraska team we've seen all season. It's a team that everybody from Hebron to Las Vegas is trying to still figure out (NU is 1-8 on the year vs. the point spread).
The final result was another disappointing Saturday in West Lafayette, as Purdue's third-string walk-on quarterback Aidan O'Connell drove the Boilermakers down 82 yards to pull out a 31-27 victory.
"We had a long talk," Frost said following the game. "We all need to get better. Coaches, players, we all need to get better. The thing that I know how to do as a coach to keep moving it forward is to work harder, keep practicing harder, keep trying to get guys better. I told them that I think the last two games are games that we easily could've won and we didn't for a lot of reasons. There's stuff we all can do better. The guys are hurting right now."
In some ways, it felt a lot like last week's loss to Indiana, but the Boilermakers are nowhere near as talented right now than the Hoosiers with the different injuries they're battling.
This week the defense and the special teams came to play early, forcing turnovers, blocking punts and controlling field position. The only problem was the offense wasn't right. Adrian Martinez was rusty and the Huskers had some questionable play-calling and execution upfront in the red zone.
Last week it was the offense that came out on fire and the defense couldn't win on third down. There hasn't been one Saturday where it's all fired together, and that might be the hardest thing to figure out of all.
"We've got to get to a point where all three phases are playing well, and that's on the coaches, that's on me, that's on the players, that's on everybody," Frost said. "These are games we should win."
So what's left now? The Huskers go into their second bye week winless since Oct. 5.
They are out of contention for the division and to make a bowl game they will have to win two out of three against Wisconsin, Maryland and Iowa. When Nebraska got to four wins after their victory over Northwestern, I don't think anybody thought getting to six wins would be a question.
As we sit here on Nov. 2 getting to six wins seems like a dream.
"There's not a whole lot to be said right now at this moment," Martinez said. "Obviously that was a really tough loss and a game we should've won. It's really just about heart, and having faith in the rest of the year, and having faith in each other. We are playing for each other at the end of the day. If the guys in the locker room truly believe that, there's still a lot to play for this year."
Now on to the breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***Adrian Martinez was crushed following Saturday's game. It was about as down as I've ever seen him.
"It was me," Martinez said. "I'll take the blame."
***I thought tight end Austin Allen said it best. This team continues to play pressed and scared.
"I just want to see more guys unleash and let go and just play football," Allen said. "We are feeling kind of timid I guess.
***Chew on this stat, Nebraska has allowed 31 or more points every road game under Frost. They also are winless when giving up 450 or more yards on defense. Before the final knee down on Saturday, the Boilermakers were at exactly 450 yards.
***Safety Cam Taylor-Britt did not travel on Saturday because of illness. Nebraska shifted around their secondary and DiCaprio Bootle played safety and Braxton Clark started at cornerback. Quarterback Luke McCaffrey and running back Wyatt Mazour were two other notable players that did not travel because of injuries.
***We saw multiple freshmen use one of their four games of action. Linebacker Garrett Snodgrass played special teams, tight end Chris Hickman was involved in a package of plays and running back Rahmir Johnson saw some action. It was Hickman's second game he's played in this year and Johnson's third.
***Nebraska went to wide receiver JD Spielman on the first two plays of the game. One went for a 40-yard catch. It was clear Scott Frost wanted to get Spielman involved early on Saturday. He finished with six catches for 123 yards. He also had three carries on the ground for 23 yards.
***The 34-yard fourth-down catch by Kanawai Noa was a big play early in the game. He also wisely went down vs. trying to force the issue and extend the ball for more yardage. Noa was also better as a blocker and played one of his best games as a Husker.
***We didn't know this at the time, but Darrion Daniels not scoring a touchdown on his interception was a big early moment. NU had very questionable play-calling around the goal line and had to settle for 3. A 10-0 vs. a 14-0 was a small victory for Purdue and kept them in the game.
***Purdue had two turnovers in the first half forced by Nebraska and the Huskers were only able to get 3 points off them. That changed the game right there. Good teams slam the door.
***We saw two different Husker players fall down with injuries to stop play, similar to what Indiana did to the Huskers a week ago.
***Eli Sullivan was credited with a partially blocked punt that went 20 yards. He also knocked down a punt from Isaac Armstrong inside the 5-yard line. Eric Lee Jr. blocked the other punt for the Big Red.
***The two missed tackles by Sullivan and Marquel Dismuke allowed Purdue to go up 14-10 at halftime. This capped off 89 and 96-yard scoring drives by Purdue to close the half. NU gave a struggling offense life at this point. In the second half, they had scoring drives of 82 and 78 yards.
***It's going to be a long two weeks on sports talk radio, message boards and Twitter in the state of Nebraska. It's setting up to be a long winter as well.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: D
Nebraska managed just 128 yards rushing and had one run longer than 20 yards. This needed to be a bigger day from Dedrick Mills, and he finished with six carries for 18 yards. Wan'Dale Robinson also averaged just 2.1 yards per carry on 14 attempts. Nebraska's best runs were scrambles and designed plays for Adrian Martinez. They needed to go to that more in the first half on the missed red zone opportunities.
Passing offense: D
Martinez missed at least three wide-open receivers on Saturday that would've been big touchdowns. He made a few big plays but over the second and the third quarter he was just 7-of-14 for 28 yards passing with one interception.
Rushing defense: D
Nebraska let the worst rushing team in the Big Ten run for 167 sack adjusted yards on the ground for 5.1 yards per carry (sack adjusted). With a third-string walk-on QB in the game late, they still drove it down the field knowing they were going to run the football.
Passing defense: D
Nebraska got two interceptions on Saturday, but Jack Plummer and Aidan O'Connell finished a combined 31-of-41 for 304 yards. They picked apart the Huskers in the flats, with crossing route and plays to tight end Brycen Hopkins. They had a sound game plan and they executed it with the players they had available.
Special teams: B+
Two blocked punts, three punts inside the 20-yard line and two made field goals. It's hard to ask for much more from NU's special teams. The only thing you could be critical about is the decision to run out two kickoffs vs. fair catching the ball and taking it at the 25. Special teams was NU's best unit of the day.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:45 am and 5:05 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap-Tuesday's at 7 pm.