It’s been said that a handful of plays were the difference between a Nebraska win and loss this season: the Illinois scoop-n-score, Michigan State’s punt return or failing to score from the one yard line at Minnesota.
That wasn’t the case against Purdue. But eight plays turned the tide from a game that Nebraska could have won into a game into the Huskers sixth loss of the season.
Go back just before halftime, when the Blackshirts stopped Purdue’s Zander Horvath on fourth and one with 20 seconds left.
Play #1: Adrian Martinez finds Samori Toure wide open, but the ball bounces off of Toure’s finger tips. If Toure makes that catch, he likely scores easily, giving Nebraska a 24-14 halftime lead.
Play #2 and #3: Martinez’s throws in the general direction of Levi Falck and Zavier Betts fall uncatchably incomplete. Halftime.
Play #4: Rahmir Johnson opens the second half with a strong nine-yard gain. Great start.
Play #5: 2nd down and one usually is a “free play” where you can take a shot at a big play. Instead, Adrian Martinez takes a three yard sack.
Play #6: Now 3rd and four, Martinez scrambles, but runs out of bounds a yard shy of the first down marker to avoid contact. Nebraska punts.
Play #7: Nebraska gets the ball back... but George Karlaftis blows up Rahmir Johnson in the backfield for a four yard loss.
Play #8: Karlaftis pressures Martinez, who tries to flip the ball to Travis Vokalek, only to have the pass intercepted by Purdue’s Jalen Graham.
From that point on, Nebraska only had one first down until after Purdue had taken a two-score lead on the Huskers. Many frustrated fans decided they’d had enough, and headed for home.
I get that frustration. In fact, I think that’s why Jon posted his call for Scott Frost to be fired last night. I disagree with the call for Frost to be fired, because unlike the last three Nebraska coaches, Nebraska isn’t getting blown out. We’re all frustrated about coming kind-of close and coming up short yet again, but I’m not ready to blow the whole thing up yet either.
That being said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen is insane. So there will need to be changes of some sort. There’s an awful lot of room between “change nothing” and “blow it all up and change everything,” and that’s where I stand right now.
So with that, it’s on with this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Whatever was ailing Adrian Martinez two weeks ago was apparently still ailing him this week. Martinez was better this season taking care of the ball, until this week. Three interceptions in the first eight games...and four against Purdue. He’s netted only one yard rushing the last two games after averaging nearly 62 yards a game the first seven. Running out of bounds a yard shy of the first down marker? Something’s just not right there. Yes, he had a nice drive against Purdue’s prevent defense, but Martinez’s poor play was a key reason why Purdue was able to be in a prevent defense late. Grade: F
I-Back: In the second quarter, it seemed like Nebraska could run at-will on Purdue, Jaquez Yant had two nifty runs in the second quarter, and Rahmir Johnson ran effectively until that first play of the third quarter. But that was that. Grade: C-
WR: Omar Manning made a couple of big plays...but on his 25 yard catch in the third quarter, I would have loved to have seen him make a cut and head upfield instead of going out of bounds. He could have run a long, long way. Could Samori Toure have pulled in that pass before halftime? As for Austin Allen’s tipped interception, that’s what happens when you are not doing all of the little things. Grade: C-
Offensive Line: Nebraska ran the ball effectively in the first half, and frankly, did a decent job of containing future NFL draft pick George Karlaftis most of the day. I thought Martinez had more time than he’d had most of the season, which lead me to me even more frustrated than I’ve been. But plays like the one below emphasize that Nebraska is far away from where they need to be up front. Rushing four, and even with Purdue reacting slow, and in maximum protection, the line gets blown up. Grade: D
Defensive Line: Nebraska has been trying to play just two defensive linemen along with two outside linebackers as of late, and both Minnesota and Purdue have had great success running the ball as a result. This scheme allowed Purdue to be two-dimensional, as the Boilermakers were able to keep drives going all afternoon. In Purdue’s first four conference games, they had rushed for just 188 yards; against Nebraska, they rushed for 116. Grade: F
Linebackers: Big tackle numbers, to be sure, for Luke Reimer (19) and Nick Henrich (14). But most of these tackles came downfield as Purdue was able to keep drives moving methodically downfield. Grade: D+
Secondary: I thought Cam Taylor-Britt did a decent job trying to cover David Bell. But all afternoon, Purdue receivers were wide open underneath. Purdue completed 34 passes for 233 yards with 80 yards gained after the catch. That means the average completion was under five yards downfield, and with only 11 incompletions, Purdue was incredibly efficient with their passing game. Nebraska didn’t get beat deep; they got beat underneath. Grade: D-
Special Teams: William Przystup’s first punt of the game was great...the other three? Not so much. Junior college transfer Chase Contreraz did fine with his placekicking, while Brendan Franke boomed every kickoff deep in the end zone. Connor Culp’s onside kick was almost perfectly executed on his part...too bad nobody from Nebraska could come up with it. I’ll give it a B-.
Overall: F Scott Frost took a lot of heat after the game for saying there are no “magic speeches” to offer after this game. He’s right... there’s only so many times you can offer up a speech to keep a team motivated after a game like this. And Nebraska’s lost six games like this in 2021.
Here’s my take: Nebraska has been losing games like this so long that there is nobody in Lincoln who knows what it takes to win. It’s more effort blocking, it’s more effort to get open and make a catch. It’s wrapping up a tackle at the line of scrimmage instead of getting drug for a four yard gain.
It’s not running out of bounds a yard short of the first down marker on a third down play.
I don’t know what Nebraska does from here this season. The players could say “ENOUGH” and break through this mental barrier that’s holding them back. They could simply waive the white flag and mail it in. Or more likely, they’ll just tease us in each of the three remaining games, but find another way to slip on the banana peel in the end.
It’s agonizing; I know it. This team is much better than 3-6. But they are 3-6 for a reason, and at this point, there’s little chance it’ll get figured out in 2021. 2022 on the other hand? I think there’s an almost guaranteed probability of some changes; the question is more how much of a change than if. I still believe this isn’t a “burn it down to the ground” situation, even if some believe there’s no risk in doing so.
So what kind of changes? Well, every assistant is going to get scrutinized...especially the ones that continue to underperform (quarterback, offensive line). And certainly the transfer portal needs to be pursued to fill in the gaps on the roster, especially to find leaders from winning programs. Back in the “good ‘ol days”, Nebraska players knew intimately what it took to win. But now with non-winning seasons assured six out of the last seven years, that institutional knowledge is gone. It has to be reinjected back into the system, and that’s going to require new pieces on the roster and on the coaching staff.
How would you grade Nebraska for their 28-23 loss to Purdue?
This poll is closed
A - I love this Nebraska team! More!
B - Boilermaker fan here. Thanks for the W!
C - Could have won if they would have played a full 60 minutes.
D - Disappointed by the offense
F - Failed to win
0 - Burn it down.