It happened again.
For the third straight week, Nebraska’s final offensive possession of the game ended with an interception. For the fourth straight week, Nebraska lost a one-score game. The Huskers needed just one victory in November to extend the season into December (or maybe even January); they went zero for four.
For the second straight home game, the opponent walked off the Huskers with a game-winning field goal. Minnesota opened the 2023 season with a walkoff field goal for a 13-10 victory. Maryland did the same thing two weeks ago...and then Iowa converted the 13-10 hat trick.
And for the seventh (!!!) straight year (and eight of the last nine years), Nebraska has a losing record in one-score games. Matt Rhule’s team went 1-5 in one score games this season. Mickey Joseph went 2-3 last season in one score games. Scott Frost went 5-22 in one score games, and Mike Riley went 7-10. That’s 15-40 in one score games from 2015 to now.
It’s Bill Murray’s football version of “Groundhog Day”; no matter what Nebraska tries, the Huskers find a way to slip up on the banana peel. And in 2023, the banana peel is turnovers. A soul-crushing interception in the closing minute of the game set up the game winning field goal by Iowa’s BACKUP kicker.
You’ve got to be (bleeping) me.
What’s the difference between a ten win Iowa team and a seven loss Nebraska team? It’s a razor-thin difference. In 2023, it was turnovers, and while Rhule won’t throw anybody under the bus, he knows that he’ll need to find some short-term solutions on offense in the transfer portal. Everyone will point to quarterback, but there are plenty of other issues on this roster that needs addressing. And this is in no way a call to blow up the roster either; have you paid attention to how Colorado’s season circled the drain after their 3-0 start.
In 2021, the talk was that Nebraska was “close”. Truth is they still are close, but so far all of the adjustments have either failed to close the gap or resulted in another step backwards.
With that, it’s onto this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Chubba Purdy made the best play of the game...and three of the worst. But before going too hard on Purdy, let’s remember that (a) Iowa’s defense might be the best Nebraska faced this season and (b) Purdy wasn’t anywhere near 100%. (How many times did he have to stretch out his groin on Friday?) I’m curious to see what a healthy Purdy could do in 2023, though in this age of the transfer portal, there’s no assurance he’ll be back as he graduates in December. He’s Nebraska’s best passing quarterback, and more than mobile enough. But in 2024, Nebraska’s leading rusher in each game can’t be the quarterback. Grade: C-
I-Back: Not a lot of running room for the running backs. I have to admit that I thought Emmitt Johnson had more yards after the game than he did, as he seemed to be getting 3 to 4 yards consistently. But that takes me to what I think is the biggest offensive issue... Grade: C
OL: Nebraska’s run blocking was kind-of-adequate at times, but the pass protection was mostly was borderline non-existent. Nebraska had to have Purdy roll out to buy him enough time to make a throw. There were multiple instances where a receiver was open deep, but Purdy never had the chance to go through his progressions. The offensive line did get better as the season went on, but it needs to be much better in 2024. Grade: D-
WR: Nebraska’s young receivers show us their potential on deep throws...but it’s wasted when the quarterback doesn’t have a chance to get them the ball. Problem is that, other than Billy Kemp, Nebraska really didn’t have a lot of success getting open underneath for easier throws. I am hoping Nebraska’s offensive staff takes some time to see how Iowa gets the ball to their tight ends...but please don’t look at any of their receivers. Hopefully Rhule and his staff can bring in a couple more veteran receivers to tutor this group. Grade: D
DL: Iowa wore down Nebraska’s line a bit as the game went on, but aside from just two broken plays (including the back-breaker in the closing seconds), it was a solid performance. It’s good to see Ty Robinson is planning to return, and hopefully Nash Hutmacher will as well. I think the d-line will be a strength in 2024. Grade: B
LB: Luke Reimer went out with a fairly solid performance. But with Nick Henrich hanging it up after yet another major injury, there’s going to need to be more playmakers emerging along side Javin Wright. Grade: B
Secondary: This game might have turned out to be a blowout if Iowa’s Nico Ragaini actually could catch a football. He was open way too much. Isaac Gifford hopefully will be returning in 2024; he might be the most important part of this defense in the next season. Grade: B
Special Teams: I really wanted to give a better grade than this when blocking two field goal attempts, but fumbling a punt and missing a field goal attempt really hurts. And what the hell was Matt Rhule thinking when he tried to call a fake 60 yard field goal INTO THE WIND? Iowa had to know something was up. Honestly, I would have just taken the five yard penalty, save the timeout and hope that Brian Buschini could pin the Hawkeyes deep. It’s hard to explain Iowa’s special teams snafus; they also kicked off out of bounds twice...so it’s no surprise that Kirk Ferentz rolled the dice with the backup kicker to be the hero. It’s just sickening to have Iowa kick walk-off field goals three out of the last six years. Grade: C
Overall: C- Woulda, coulda, shoulda... didn’t. A wasted November with an opportunity that a strong October gave this program. We can go into the reasons why the offense struggled (injuries and turnovers), or we can point to signs that the defense could possibly become elite as reasons to be optimistic about the future.
I admit I was really disappointed and disgusted by how the season would up. I’m going to be like Wile E. Coyote (trying once again to get that Road Runner) or Charlie Brown (going to make that field goal because Lucy Van Pelt eventually isn’t going to pull that ball away again) and be optimistic about the future.
If only because I still want to believe in Nebraska football, if only because the prospect of not caring is just something I don’t want to accept. I have to believe, I have to have hope, because I refuse to accept this is hopeless.
How would you grade the Huskers for yet another 13-10 loss in 2023?
This poll is closed
A - Go Hawkeyez.
B - But for a handful of mistakes, not bad.
C - Championship caliber defense. Couldn’t be much worse on offense though.
D - Didn’t become bowl eligible yet again.
F - Eff everything. Go Big Red. How long until pitchers and catchers start practicing?
Footnote on the discussion of one-score games: I’m not going to mention the guy from Youngstown, and I certainly wasn’t going to mention it in the open, but it’s worth noting that Nebraska went 12-5 in one score games in their first four Big Ten seasons. (Yes, Shawn Eichorst and Harvey Perlman made a critical mistake in 2014 that Nebraska has never been able to recover from.) Also worth noting that Nebraska went 4-8 in one score games from 2008 through 2010, so it’s important to give this new coaching staff a chance to build the roster the way they see fit.