LINCOLN — Scott Frost comes armed with a steel-trap memory for details decades old and just a moment ago. In the wake of Nebraska’s 38-31 loss to Indiana — a kick-yourself, it-didn’t-have-to-be-that-way kind of loss — Frost visited some of the haunts he says are new to him, while so familiar to the Husker fans he wants to serve.
Two fumbles in Indiana territory that directly led to Hoosier touchdowns. A fourth-down conversion nullified because a receiver wasn’t on the line of scrimmage. A missed field goal. A shanked punt. Another kickoff out of bounds. A pass rush that doesn’t harass the quarterback enough — for years now, it might as well be E.T. trying to phone home — and “bad eyes” from a Blackshirt defense that let a passing quarterback walk in untouched for a rushing touchdown.
“We seem to find new and innovative ways to give a game away,” Frost said after Nebraska’s third loss in four games.
Two of those losses — 48-7 to Ohio State and 34-7 to Minnesota — came against still-undefeated teams far superior to the Huskers (4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten). IU (6-2, 3-2) was in NU’s wheelhouse. The Huskers’ sleepy offense revved hot to start, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives to build a 14-3 lead. Indiana’s defenders were mysteriously falling to the ground in injury.
It was about then NU’s sloppier side showed up for its mid-afternoon shift. And Frost had words after the game to describe the film of mediocrity that seems to descend on the team, words he and his players will use for weeks as a rallying point as they try to scrape out a bowl berth.
“We’re just OK right now, because a lot of the things that are done are just OK,” Frost said. “I’m not going to be happy with ‘just OK.’ I want a bunch of team players who aren’t going to be happy with ‘just OK.’”
“We’ve got to find a way to win and finish,” said freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who dazzled in the middle of the game with 147 total yards and two touchdowns.
“We’re just OK because we fail to do the little things right,” offensive tackle Matt Farniok added.
» Little things like missing a block on a third-down run by quarterback Noah Vedral, who started in place of a still-injured Adrian Martinez and fumbled when hit in the backfield. IU lineman Allen Stallings scooped up the fumble and ran 68 yards, setting up an Indiana touchdown. The Huskers led 14-9 and were driving at the time.
“If I had to do it again, I’d hold on to the ball,” said Vedral, who completed 14-of-16 passes for 201 yards and ran for two touchdowns. When he reinjured his ankle, McCaffrey entered the game.
» Little things like giving up a key fourth-and-7 in the fourth quarter to Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who found his favorite receiver Whop Philyor, for the 14th and final time in the game for a first down. Philyor had 178 yards receiving, often on crossing or corner routes that took a long time to develop. Ramsey, who threw for 351 yards, had that time because Nebraska rarely pressured him.
“We’ve got to be able to generate a pass rush,” Frost said.
Nebraska has written a novel’s worth of sloppiness in recent years, and it often overshadows strong individual performances. Vedral had one, and so did two true freshmen, Wan’Dale Robinson and McCaffrey, the latter drew deep, abiding “Luuuuuke” roars from the crowd.
The duo made for a hard-to-stop option game — Frost had planned on playing McCaffrey Saturday regardless of who started — and helped keep NU’s offense going at the end of the first half when Vedral got hurt.
McCaffrey first bolted 12 yards on a zone read, crashing for a first down. On the next play, he baited Indiana’s defense toward him and, like a point guard, slipped the ball over the heads of the defensive line to Robinson for a 22-yard screen pass play. But the hardest throw was his touchdown, which featured a hard roll to his right and a toss to Kanawai Noa in the corner of the end zone. The Huskers led 21-16 at halftime.
The 21 first-half points were Nebraska’s most since mid-September, but Frost was still peeved, telling NU’s own radio network that his team made too many “dumbass stupid” mistakes in the first 30 minutes.
In front of 89,317 fans at Memorial Stadium, things didn’t exactly improve in the second half.
Indiana conversions on third-and-8 and third-and-12 — both were Ramsey passes to Philyor — helped Indiana reset the field position and pin Nebraska at the 8 for its first drive of the second half. NU went three-and-out. Senior Isaac Armstrong hit a 19-yard punt. Indiana started at the Husker 35. The Hoosiers scored five plays later, then hit a 2-point conversion.
It was the first of three straight Indiana touchdown drives. The last of them — which included the fourth-down conversion — gave the Hoosiers a 38-24 lead.
Aided by 30 yards on IU personal foul penalty yardage, McCaffrey and NU cut the lead to 38-31 with just more than 10 minutes left. At some point on the drive, McCaffrey got hurt, too, which left Frost, when Nebraska got the ball back, with a choice of putting Vedral back in or Martinez in for the first time. He even asked: Which one of them is less hurt?
Vedral got his ankle taped and re-entered the game. From NU’s 7, Vedral drove the Huskers to Indiana’s 34, where Nebraska faced a fourth-and-5.
Here came another little thing: NU screwed up a pressure protection — which drew a holding penalty — and Vedral was flushed immediately to his right. He threw incomplete to Jack Stoll. Indiana then picked up two first downs. Game over. Nebraska fans shuffled out under an open sky darkening near sunset.
Frost took longer than usual with players after the game, then shared his “just OK” analysis with the press. He said a morning walkthrough at the team hotel was flat and needed a captain to wake it up. The “flow” session should look like a “Marine drill,” Frost said — coordinated and crisp — and Husker players were too casual with it, said inside linebacker Mohamed Barry.
“The leaders got to lead better,” said Barry, a captain.
Several Huskers were eager to share this gospel after the game.
“Everybody should look deep down inside and let each other know you don’t want to keep losing,” safety Cam Taylor-Britt said.
“Everybody thinks about the destination, thinks about the destination, but really it’s about the journey and the process,” nickel JoJo Domann said.
But there’s an argument to be made that one’s record is one’s culture. NU stands at 4-4, two games from a bowl berth, and just OK hasn’t been good enough to clinch the thing most expected Nebraska to have by now.
The kid who got his first significant action appeared to have the strongest grasp of that.
“The next step as a program is not to talk about it but just go out there and do it,” McCaffrey said.
|Yards per carry||3.4||4.4|
Nebraska is 8-10 all-time against Indiana.
|South Alabama||Aug. 31|
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 14|
|Ohio State||Sept. 28|
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