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Final take: Huskers need to figure out how to win again

Nebraska has forgotten what it's like to win a football game.

After Saturday's 24-19 loss to Troy, the Huskers are 1-8 over their last nine games, they've lost six games in a row and have not won a home game since Sept. 23 of 2017.

Scott Frost knew he took on a tough task leaving a 13-0 situation at UCF to inherit a 4-8 team in Lincoln, but I don't think anyone thought things would be this tough out of the gates.

Let's recap the last few weeks. Frost's No. 2 quarterback transferred days before the opener, NU's season opener with Akron was canceled, starting quarterback Adrian Martinez was injured against Colorado and the Huskers were forced to start their first non-scholarship player at quarterback since 1998 on Saturday. And oh yeah, did I mention NU got down 14-0 last week to Colorado and 17-0 on Saturday to Troy.

The welcoming party is over. This season has gotten real in a hurry. Nebraska is 0-2 for the first time since 1957, and they travel to Michigan next week to face one of the nation's top defense's.

“We still have a lot of work to do," Frost said on Saturday. "I think we’re a better team than what the results say we are, but that doesn’t matter. I just got done telling the team that when things get tough like this, you’ve got two choices; you fight back and you work even harder or you give up.

"I also told them that if anyone doesn’t want to stay on board this ride with us, let me know now and we can get off. I know where this is going, we just haven’t had the results early that we need.”

Frost said Saturday the game needed to be a "Pipeline and "Blackshirt" type of day.

The Huskers needed their offensive and defensive lines to show up and control things in a 1993 Matt Turman at Kansas State type of way.

That didn't happen, as Troy had control most of the day, and made the plays when it mattered most.

“I think the guys need to remember how to win," senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. "When you get those opportunities, good teams have to shut it down. And that’s what’s so frustrating, you can see how good this team can be. There are so many good things that we’ve done. And things that you see throughout the week and the way we go about our work, but it needs to all fall into place. And I think once we do that, we can get this thing rolling.

"I hate to stand up here and talk about how we can and do this and do that because we’re not. We haven’t yet. It’s not lip service; I don’t want it to be that. But you can see it in this team that we have something.”

With a trip to Michigan looming next week, the road is not going to get any easier, but this football team has to rediscover how to win.

It's been so long since the Huskers last won a game, a lot of the younger players on the roster don't know what it's like.

That has to change and change fast.

“That is something we have to do," senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said of finding a way to get a win. "We have to do that. The No. 1 way to do that is to show up on Monday and make sure we’re doing our preparation. If there is a hangover from a game like this, where it is kind of a big letdown, then it is kind of going to just pile on.

"So, the number one thing that I have to do is make sure that the guys in my position group, guys on the defense, more holistically the whole team, is just together. No one is getting upset or frustrated to the point that they’re not willing to work or do their job, that’s the number one thing we have to do in order to get that feeling back. It is killing me and it should, it should be killing everyone. And it should be just that much more motivation.”

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Freshman running back Maurice Washington was one of the few bright spots for Nebraska on Saturday.
Associated Press

What I saw on Saturday 

***Two weeks in a row Nebraska has gotten in a big hole out of the gate. This week NU got down 17-0. Last week it was 14-0. You aren't going to win a lot of games with starts like that, especially playing your No. 2 quarterback.

***I thought the play of running back Maurice Washington was one of the lone bright spots on Saturday. He's got an "it" factor with the ball in his hands that could make him very special in the years to come.

***The offensive line took a step back today. Troy was slanting and doing a lot of movement before the snap. NU did not handle this very well. For Nebraska to win this game, they need their offensive line to take control.

***This is a moot point now, but Frost's in-game awareness to recognize things is very impressive. Early on in the game on Troy's first possession, the officials gave them a first down. The ball carrier was over a yard short on the replay, and Frost got the officials attention to stop the game and challenge the spot. This forced Troy to punt.

***Captain Stanley Morgan Jr. has not spoken to the media since before the Akron game. He's the only captain that hasn't faced the cameras either of the last two weeks. Frost said Morgan did address the locker room behind the scenes though following Saturday's loss with a very passionate speech.

***Will Honas walked into a tough situation replacing Mohamed Barry after he was ejected for targetting. Two plays later Troy ran right at his side for a touchdown. Honas played better as the game went on. Luckily for the Huskers, the ejection happened in the second quarter, so Barry won't have to sit out next week's game at Michigan.

***During the radio broadcast Matt Davison referred to safety Tre Neal as the "highest IQ Blackshirt." He also called Barry "their best linebacker" right now, after he was ejected.

***Frost said he knew all along that Adrian Martinez was not going to play in this game, but he did look pretty good in warm-ups on Saturday. I have to think we'll see him next week at Michigan.


Final grade out 

Rushing offense: D

Nebraska got pushed around up front when it mattered by a Troy defensive front that they had a significant size advantage on. There were also way too many penalties. NU finished with 181 yards on 37 carries from their three running backs. The home run play was missing by NU on Saturday. However, freshman Maurice Washington was one of the lone bright spots, as he finished with 92 yards on 14 carries.

Passing offense: D

Nebraska was already limited coming into the game with Andrew Bunch under center. Bunch threw two interceptions, but he also delivered two good touchdown passes to Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman. There were too many other things though besides turnovers, including penalties downfield that hurt NU's passing game on Saturday, along with protection breakdowns.

Rushing defense: C

Troy didn't get a lot out of their rushing offense, but they were able to shorten the game and pick up some key third-down runs when it mattered. Trojan running back B.J. Smith and No. 2 quarterback Sawyer Smith had 130 yards on 15 carries.

Passing defense: B

Other than 39-yard play Lamar Jackson gave up in the first quarter, Troy had just 71 yards on their other 20 pass attempts. Jackson also came up with the first cornerback interception at NU since the Indiana game in 2016. Nebraska also got a pretty good pass rush at times on Saturday finishing with three sacks.

Special teams: F

A punt return for a touchdown, losing the field position game, inconsistent punting and zero to no impact in the return game. Did I leave anything out? Nebraska's special teams did recover a muffed punt in the third quarter that could've changed the game, but instead, it led to a field goal. This is a phase of the game the Huskers have performed poorly in now two weeks in a row.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com 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.