In the national spotlight for a day, Nebraska chokes the opportunity away
Imagine, for a second, that you gathered a group of Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma fans in one room and gave them an assignment: Write the most outrageous Nebraska fan fiction you can dream up.
It would’ve looked something like Saturday, but someone in the room probably would’ve spoken up and said, “Come on guys, let’s not go too overboard. Let’s at least try to be reasonable.”
Nebraska was a parody of itself during the Scott Frost era in the season opener on Saturday. The mistake-filled 30-22 loss at Big Ten bottom feeder Illinois would’ve been an embarrassment on a normal college football Saturday. With this being Week 0 and the Huskers and Illini serving as the marquee game on national TV, the damage to Nebraska’s brand is immeasurable.
After an offseason full of hype about this being a different Nebraska entering Frost’s 4th season, this is what the Huskers do? Lose to a head coach in his first game with a program that hasn’t had a winning season in 10 years? Lose to a team that lost its starting QB on the third series of the game? Lose to a team that was 2-6 last season and is predicted to finish last in the Big Ten West?
If you wrote a script for the worst possible start to a season, it would’ve looked something like Saturday. The entire country of college football fans were watching this game. There was literally nothing else on. UCLA/Hawaii and UConn/Fresno State were the only other FBS games on Saturday. There was nothing else to distract college football fans. They watched, and they laughed.
It’s not that Nebraska lost, because that happens. It’s how Nebraska lost. It’s Cam Taylor-Britt catching a punt at his own 1, then trying to throw the ball forward out of bounds to avoid a safety (it didn’t work). It’s Adrian Martinez fumbling with less than a minute left in the half and it being returned for a touchdown. It’s wiping out a game-changing interception with not 1, but 2 15-yard penalties (roughing the passer and taunting). It’s missing not 1, but 2 extra points.
And on and on.
It’s a new year, but it was the same old Nebraska, which is now 12-21 under Frost. As usual, it was the little things that held the Huskers back: Sloppy special teams play (they averaged 34.4 yards on 5 punts), an inaccurate QB (Martinez missed numerous open throws for big gains) and a lack of discipline. Taylor-Britt running back 8 yards to catch the ball at his own 1 is another example of the lack of discipline of Frost’s teams. Those are the details that have held the Huskers back. Letting that punt go for a touchback and starting the drive at the 20 is an easy decision that would be disappointing to see a high school player screw up, much less the team captain of a program that aspires to be nationally relevant again.
There can’t be any more excuses for Martinez, who completed only 16 of 32 passes for 232 yards and a TD. He has weapons. Oliver Martin can go up and make contested catches. Samori Toure can get open. The wide receiver group has an average height of 6-foot-3. The tight ends have an average height of 6-7. Martinez may have cut his carbs, but he hasn’t cut his fumbles.
Martinez’s performance in the first half was befitting of a freshman or sophomore getting his feet wet, not a 4th-year starter. But Nebraska is all-in on Martinez after not bringing in a transfer to compete with him or at least be serviceable in a pinch.
I wrote about this in the preseason, and Nebraska fans thought I was crazy. But did you see how Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski came in off the bench for the injured Brandon Peters and completed 12 of 15 passes for 2 TDs? Frost could’ve easily benched Martinez at halftime if he had someone who could step in. Martinez was missing open receivers. Even though he had a nice second half, including a 75-yard TD run, Martinez’s inconsistency is why he has never built on the potential he showed as a freshman.
Maybe Frost just doesn’t care. That’s what his actions told me. For some strange reason, he let Marinez take a snap with 1 second left in the first half at Nebraska’s own 23, just 2 plays after he fumbled. Illinois coach Bret Bielema had already handed over his head set and was about to head into the locker room. Instead, Martinez ran a play and was sacked for an 11-yard loss. It was completely unnecessary and irresponsible by Frost to expose him to another hit. What’s he going to do, throw a 77-yard TD pass?
As always, this is on Frost. It may have been close to 100 degrees on the field, but that’s nothing compared to the heat Frost is going to feel from Nebraska fans and, most importantly, new athletic director Trev Alberts, who had to be beside himself watching this debacle.
This is just one week, and the Huskers could go on a nice little run here, as their early-season schedule is fairly easy. But all anyone is going to remember for a while is the comedy of errors we all witnessed on Saturday afternoon.