One-score losses. As much as anything - with the possible exception of poor special teams play - these games came to define the failures of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Scott Frost era. And the case could very much be made the two are inexorably linked, however there’s only so many hours in the day, so a deep dive on how many of those 22 losses fall on special teams is an exercise for another time.
I kept this relatively simple - 1) what was each season’s one-loss record vs. the overall record; 2) to whom did we lose these games; and 3) which loss caused the most pain/sting/emotional fan damage? The first two are hard names and numbers the last is my simple opinion after some time and space to look back. After the season reviews, I just threw a out a few more numbers and struggled for a bright spot or two.
Simple, yes? Let’s have a look:
One Score Losses: 5 - Colorado, Troy State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Iowa
One Score Wins: 1 - Michigan State
Most Painful: Iowa - The Riley years were highlighted by embarrassing blowouts to our neighbors in 2016 and 2017. However, in Frost’s first season, the Huskers came back from a 28-13 deficit entering the 4th quarter to tie the game with 3:22 left. However, the Birds drove to the Husker 24 and kicked the game-winner as time expired. The next three games in the series would be one-score L’s as well.
One Score Losses: 5 - Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa
One Score Wins: 2 - Illinois, Northwestern
Most Painful: Colorado - Nebraska was actually preseason ranked #24. A win over Colorado whom they entered the 4th quarter seemingly in control 17-7 and they likely would have started 4-0 and still been ranked with no sense of doom. Instead, the defense checked out and kicked the quarter off by giving up a 96-yard TD pass. The Buffaloes rolled the Blackshirts for 24 4th quarter points to tie the game at 31. The defense recovered to stiffen in OT holding the Buffs to a field goal, but the offense went backwards 6 yards and Frost opted to have first-time kicker Isaac Armstrong try a 48-yard FG to tie. Not even close.
Record: 3-5 (Covid shortened)
One Score Losses: 3 - Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota
One Score Wins: 2 - Penn State, Rutgers
Most Painful: It was probably best these three losses were played in empty stadiums as all brutal. The Huskers went to sleep on both sides of the ball for the second half against Northwestern after Adrian was benched for future Rice 3rd-string QB Luke McCaffrey. An Adrian fumble ended a potential game-winning drive against Iowa. But the jaw-dropper had to be getting pushed around by a Minnesota Goofers squad missing 33 players and multiple starters due to Covid.
Record: 3-9 (Point differential +63. Just thought I’d throw that in there)
One Score Losses: 8 - Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan St., Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa
One Score Wins: 0
Most Painful: So much from which to choose as 2021 became the season which defined one-core losses! But for me, it’s Michigan State. Adrian got his jaw broken on a blatant crown of the helmet to the chin targeting offense. The legendarily incompetent B1G refs whose love of targeting borders on fetish-creepy were suddenly not interested. The Blackshirts shut down Sparty’s offense to the tune of 254 yards for the game and zero first downs allowed in the 2nd half. However, with Michigan State’s best receiver and returner Jayden Reed on the left side of the field and ten charging Huskers heading for the other returner to the right, the Husker punter opted to go left. TD Michigan State. And the Huskers had their signature special teams gaffe in a season defined by them.
One Score Losses: 2 - Northwestern, Georgia Southern
One Score Wins: 0
Most Painful: This one is tough. Do I pick the final 20-25 minute horror in Dublin where Nebraska lost to a team whom they beat 56-7 in 2021 with the Wildcats driving right through the defense for about eight minutes in the fourth quarter? Or the 45-42 loss to a Georgia Southern Sun Belt team who finished 3-9 last season and ended up being the final nail in Frost’s coffin? Let’s go with Northwestern since it’s tough to describe how a few hours that afternoon destroyed all the good feels of the 2021 close calls and a summer of recruiting, transfer portal and assistant coach hiring success.
FINAL FROST ERA ONE-SCORE TALLY
Record: 5-22 (Overall record 16-31. 57% of all games decided by one score or less.)
Big 10 Record: 5-17 (Overall 10-26)
Overall Record If NU Had a .500 Record in These One-score Games: 25-22.
Bowl Games Played Under Above Scenario: 4 (Allows for flipping one loss to a win in 2020, otherwise 3. Maybe should stick with 3 since they likely still vote not to play of offered.)
One Score Losses By Team: Iowa-4, Northwestern-3, Colorado-2, Wisconsin-2, Purdue-2, Minnesota-2, Troy State-1, Ohio State-1, Indiana-1, Illinois-1, Oklahoma-1, Michigan-1, Michigan State-1, Georgia Southern-1
Slivers of Sunshine: They kept all the Iowa games close! (2016 and 2017 losses were by a combined 96-24.) All five one-score wins came in Big 10 play!
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.
Current One-Score Record Under Mickey Joseph: 2-1
There you have it. Finish on a high note because it’s all turning around.
Go Big Red