Lou Holtz had one thing to say about being a college football coach, and he repeated it often when he was an ESPN analyst: “These are kids. You have a different team every week.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost has to hope so.
Dating to last season the Cornhuskers have lost six straight, their longest skid since 1957, and are 0-2 after dropping home games to Colorado and Troy.
To avoid an 0-3 start, Nebraska will have to pull off an upset on the road on Saturday against No. 19 Michigan in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Nebraska has some mistakes to correct if it wants to snap its losing streak:
Against a defense as good as the Wolverines (allowing 255 yards a game, ranked No. 14 in FBS) the Cornhuskers need to mix things up more. This is true whether Andrew Bunch starts again at quarterback or if Adrian Martinez returns from injury. Martinez would give the offense more variety simply because of his running ability. Saturday against Troy, when Bunch rolled he always rolled right, making it easier for the Trojans to cover the Cornhuskers’ receivers.
Special teams errors
Last week I wrote that perhaps Nebraska could help its inexperienced QB with a big punt return. Well, the game swung on a punt return, but not by Nebraska. Troy’s Cedarius Rookard took a punt back 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Trojans a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. And that was not the only special teams concern for the Cornhuskers — Barret Pickering missed a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter. His try would have been from 28 yards if not for a delay of game penalty, which leads us to…
The Cornhuskers were whistled 10 times for 77 yards in penalties against Troy. The week before in a close loss to Colorado, Nebraska committed 11 penalties for 95 yards. The Colorado game hinged on a third-down penalty which helped set up the Buffaloes’ winning touchdown. Against Troy, linebacker Mohamed Barry was ejected for a personal foul.
Failing to take advantage of breaks
In the third quarter, Rookard fumbled a punt return and Nebraska took over at Troy’s 8-yard line. The Cornhuskers trailed 17-7 and had a perfect opportunity to get within three points. Instead they settled for a field goal. Nebraska again took only three points away from an 11-play, 47-yard drive in the third quarter after Troy turned it over on downs.
Troy only converted 4 of 12 third-down tries, which sounds like a good effort by the Nebraska defense. But Troy’s offense looked like world-beaters when it counted most. The Trojans converted three third-and-9 plays on a fourth-quarter drive to set up B.J. Smith’s 26-yard touchdown run. That TD provided the winning margin. A week earlier, Colorado scored the winning touchdown at Memorial Stadium with 1:06 left. For all the talk of what Nebraska must do on offense, the defense needs to tighten up when games are on the line.