Final take: Running out of things to say
EVANSTON, Ill. - Someday I’m sure we are going to look back at this 2018 Nebraska football season and laugh, but right now nothing is funny about 0-6.
Nothing is funny about 20,000 Husker fans traveling to support a 0-6 football team on the road and delivering another gut-wrenching defeat.
Nebraska hasn’t won a football game in so long, it’s safe to say this team has forgotten how to win. It’s been so long since NU has been in a position to finish off a team in the fourth quarter they’ve forgotten how it’s done.
Northwestern did everything possible on Saturday to let the Huskers win. All NU had to do was one out of 15 things right down the stretch, and they win One thing. That to me was maybe the most frustrating thing for head coach Scott Frost.
You could play that game 100 times with Nebraska up 31-21 with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter and 99 out of 100 times NU wins it. 2018 has been that type of season. It was the first time a game has ever been canceled for weather conditions at Memorial Stadium. It the first 0-6 start in program history. It’s a first for a lot of things, and none of them good.
“I’m kind of running out of words to tell them,” Frost said. “Just stick together. There’s no doubt they’re better. We deserved to win that game today. I think they know how much we’ve improved. That’s a team that lost to Michigan by 3 points, and we are playing on their field. There were so many ways we could’ve won that game. I just feel bad for them. This wearing on me. Mostly, I just feel bad for the seniors – the Luke Gifford’s, the Jerald Foster’s, the Stanley Morgan’s and those type of guys. They deserve more, and they deserve better than this. We’ll keep scraping.”
It’s also beyond the point where you can sugarcoat things. Yes, the Huskers played their best football of the season on Saturday, but it still resulted in another loss.
“It’s frustrating, that’s for sure,” Gifford said. “At this point, the rah-rah stuff has got to go, and I think it’s passed that point. Like Coach Frost said, we have made a turning point, and I think we’re on the way up, but these are the types of games we have to finish. We’re close, we’re really close, but that can’t happen for us to take those next steps.”
Frost even referred on Saturday to the ESPN win probability statistic that they show on TV. Late in the fourth quarter, the Huskers were over a 98 percent chance to win, but as we’ve learned, 2018 has been the outlier season in Nebraska football history.
“I always watch the ESPN deal when I’m not coaching a game,” Frost said. “I always watch the ‘percent chance of winning.’ It makes me sick sometimes when I watch teams that have a 98 percent chance of winning. It’s hard to tell where ours as for this game, but that’s just heartbreaking for those guys.”
Now on to the breakdown…
What I saw on Saturday
***Hat tip to the 20,000 Nebraska fans that came out to support the Huskers in Evanston. I can't think of another team in the world that would show up in numbers like that to support a 0-6 football team.
***The Nebraska vs. Northwestern series continues to deliver drama. We've seen two overtimes games in Evanston and a Hail Mary finish in eight meetings. This one was as strange as any of the games, as the Huskers seemingly had complete control of things and found a way to hand the Wildcats a victory.
***Nebraska had an offensive, defensive and special teams penalty in the game's first 2 minutes on Saturday. That set the tone for another bad day, as the Huskers had nine penalties for 89 yards, compared to just one for 5 yards for Northwestern. The ended up being quite an x-factor in the final score.
***Running back Devine Ozigbo ran with purpose on Saturday. I was a little surprised they took him out in the fourth quarter when the Huskers were grinding the Wildcats. He was the hot hand, and they probably should've stuck with him.
***I feel like three different in-state players have played a role in sparking Nebraska's special teams the last few weeks. Punter Isaac Armstrong has given the Huskers a huge boost while running back Wyatt Mazour also finds ways to make things happen when people choose not to kick to Maurice Washington. Cornerback Jeremiah Stovall has also been a good story, after not even making the 110-man fall camp roster. Stovall has turned into one of the better kick and punt coverage guys on the team.
***Wide receiver JD Spielman is one of the more unassuming stars I've seen at Nebraska. He shows very little emotion, and never wants to be in the spotlight. He just puts his head down and goes to work.
***Saturday was not the best day for safety Aaron Williams. He was targetted 10 times in coverage and gave up 10 catches.
***Nebraska got word late Friday from the NCAA that quarterback Noah Vedral has been ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA. NU had landed when they got word of this and put Vedral on a commercial flight that left Lincoln at 6 pm on Friday night. They also had to send walk-on freshman quarterback Matt Masker home to comply with Big Ten travel roster rules.
NU Compliance Director Jamie Vaughn said after the game he couldn't get into the exact specifics of Vedral's waiver but said it was a very "complicated" one for the NCAA to get through. There was a lot of paperwork and it took this long for the NCAA to get through the process. As Frost said, they sure could've used this a few weeks ago.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: B
Nebraska's offensive line came to play with their run blocking. The Huskers had 231 rushing yards on 47 carries. This is usually good enough for you to win a conference game. However, NU wasn't able to get that one big run in the fourth quarter they needed to finish off Northwestern.
Passing offense: C
Adrian Martinez finished 25-of-35 for 255 yards, but had two costly interceptions and a sack that led to a fumble and a touchdown. These were costly plays from the passing game.
Rushing defense: A
Northwestern had just 32 rushing yards on 23 carries. Their long run of the day was 8 yards. The Huskers showed up big time in this phase of the game, but couldn't get off the field when it mattered on third down. It's tough to see such a great day stopping the run get wasted.
Passing defense: F
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson attempted 64 passes, the second most by an opponent in NU school history. Thorson finished 41-of-64 for 455 yards and three touchdowns. He was the Wildcats offense. Yes, the Huskers forced two interceptions, but they were picked apart by Thorson when it mattered most.
Special teams: B
A missed field goal and a missed PAT by Barrett Pickering is the only thing you can be critical about. The Huskers won the field position battle on Saturday. They got a great game out of punter Isaac Armstrong, as he put two inside the 20-yard line and pinned one punt on the 1-yard line. The return game was also solid for NU on Saturday.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.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.