Nebraska Hits New Low with Big Miss at Purdue. And Frustration Grows.

Herb Gould

People of Nebraska! You are now officially entitled to start fretting in a major way about your Cornhuskers program.

The Huskers have had some low moments since Scott Frost, now in his second ponderous season, returned to restore Nebraska football to its glory days. But this is awfully subterranean.

The 56-10 disaster at Michigan in Frost’s Big Ten debut a year ago was pretty bad, an indicator of how low Nebraska had sunk. Year Two was supposed to be better, but the 34-31 meltdown in overtime at Colorado on Sept. 7 after leading 17-0 at the half was a really low blow.

The first two games of the current losing streak were textbook examples of the depths of Nebraska’s flaws: A 34-7 no-show performance at Minnesota. A mistake-prone 38-31 loss to Indiana that left Frost angrily questioning how committed some of his players were.

But the 31-27 humiliation at Purdue on Saturday struck a new bedrock. Against the injury-ravaged Boilermakers, the Huskers trailed 14-10 after a first half in which they easily might have led 21-0.

Quarterback Adrian Martinez, back after missing two games with a knee injury, looked rusty. The poor throws were one thing. The questionable decisions were especially troubling from a player who had gone into the season hyped as a Big Ten offensive player-of-the-year candidate. On one red-zone play, he could have scooted into the end zone but chose to pass.

At the end of the Purdue mess, what is supposed to be a proud defense was carved up like butter by the proverbial hot knife. Except that the hot knife was a third-string QB operating without Purdue’s stud receiver.

If anyone can come up with a scenario in which Nebraska sinks lower than this, they are advised to keep it under their corn-cob foam headgear. Especially with an open date this week and all that extra time to stew.

The worst part? If Nebraska had beaten Purdue, it could have ``improved’’ to 5-4 and slipped into a 6-6 record with a win at struggling Maryland. Now it will need to beat the Terps and either Wisconsin or Iowa to salvage a minor bowl trip.

Good luck with that.

But wait. There’s more.

The unraveling of players is one thing. The frustration Frost is showing is something else.

Cornhusker Nation is right to think Nebraska is running out of coaching options. Since legendary Tom Osborne retired in 1997, Nebraska has tried everything. Trusted assistants. Complete outsiders. Tough guys. Mellow fellows.

Nothing has worked.

If Scott Frost, a championship quarterback for Osborne who built Central Florida into a powerhouse overnight, can’t revive Nebraska, then who?

I’m sure that’s the question on many Big Red minds.

But here’s the silver lining: I wouldn’t give up on Frost yet. Not at all.

He is still the perfect guy. The thing is, he’s young and impatient. He probably thought, like everybody else, that he would start showing results sooner. He did at UCF, right?

The fact that Frost is losing his cool as well as games might be a good thing—if he harnesses that energy.

Now, he and everyone else knows this is going to be a bigger project. Way bigger.

This is a complicated deal. Not only does Nebraska, for all its history, need a major revival. It needs to do it in a new conference. The move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten has changed Nebraska’s recruiting turf away from Texas to the Midwest, where it is a less familiar brand.

On top of that, there’s this: We don’t know what Nebraska’s upside is at this point.

The Cornhuskers need to look at how Iowa and Wisconsin do things. Heck, Barry Alvarez, who played at Nebraska, borrowed a lot from the Cornhuskers model in building Wisconsin into a perennially competitive program.

Pound the ball. Play tough defense. Do things that rely on physical Midwestern kids who can thrive in lousy Big Ten weather.

And know this: It’s unrealistic to assume Nebraska, for all its history, is going to enter the national-championship discussion any time soon.

For now, it needs to just focus on how to beat Purdue.


Herb Gould