It was all sitting right there.

On Saturday, Nebraska had a halftime lead against 2-0 Northwestern. That was with a remaining schedule that didn’t include Wisconsin, but did include 4 of 5 games against B1G teams who started off 0-2. The one who didn’t was Purdue, who is still playing without Rondale Moore.

Beat Northwestern and suddenly that “closer than the final score indicated” performance against Ohio State looks more legitimate. More importantly, the B1G West was suddenly wide open with Wisconsin in jeopardy of not being eligible for a division title with 1 more game cancelation.

And what did Nebraska do with that opportunity? Zip. Zilch. Nada.

In Year 3 of the Scott Frost era, Saturday’s performance was more of the same. It’s not just a simple as “another 1-score loss.” The Huskers had 9 of those in the Frost era, and 10 by day’s end.

The problem was that Nebraska has nobody to blame but itself for wasting another opportunity. It was almost as if the Huskers said, “what’s that? Relevance? It’s all yours, Northwestern.”

I mean, perhaps we should’ve known that Saturday would end with another mistake costing the Huskers a chance at overtime. How many teams can claim that their offensive line committed 4 penalties in the first 10 minutes? That’s quite the feat. It was 9 penalties in all for Nebraska.

But while penalties stalled multiple Husker drives, the real microcosm was the incomplete pass to end the game. Or rather, where it happened — the red zone.

Here’s how every Nebraska drive into the red zone ended on Saturday:

  • Punt
  • Field goal
  • Field goal
  • Missed field goal
  • TD
  • Interception
  • Downs

That also didn’t include the interception that Adrian Martinez threw into the end zone when Nebraska trailed 14-13 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

Awful. Just awful.

Whether it was bad decisions — Martinez was late throwing to an open Austin Allen — or just failed execution, the Huskers just couldn’t get out of their own way. Again. Scoring 13 points in 7 red zone trips isn’t what winning football teams do.

You know what else winning football teams don’t do? Get shut out in the second half.

You could argue that part of that was on Frost’s blind faith in Martinez, who somehow didn’t give way to Luke McCaffrey until well into the 3rd quarter. Martinez clearly didn’t have it on Saturday. He had 2 nice long runs on that end zone-interception drive, but he was off the mark all day. Still, McCaffrey put it all on the inconsistent veteran quarterback for the first 40 minutes of action.

A solid defensive performance was wasted. Lost in the shuffle of a game like that was that Nebraska got All-B1G performances out of Luke Reimer and Myles Farmer, both of whom got their first career starts. On a day in which the Blackshirts held the B1G’s top rushing attack to 3.9 yards per carry and Peyton Ramsey was picked off twice (both by Farmer), Nebraska went home without anything to show for it.

Speaking of going home, the Huskers will play their home debut having already all but eliminated themselves from West contention. Even worse is the fact that a Northwestern team who went 1-8 vs. the B1G last year is now the team to beat in the division. Yes, the Wildcats returned much more production than the Huskers. No, that’s not an excuse.

Nebraska is running out of excuses to justify this continued squandering of opportunities. There was no mid-game injury of make-or-break call that cost the Huskers a win in Evanston. And if you want to claim a no-call block in the back on a long Northwestern punt return was the difference, well, keep telling yourself that.

The lack of urgency continues to hang over this team like a mid-summer storm cloud. Wasn’t this the same program who tried to everything in its power to play football in 2020? Wasn’t this the team who tried to go rogue and schedule Chattanooga after Wisconsin couldn’t play?

I ask those questions because while I know the answer, one wouldn’t have been able to tell from watching the Huskers on Saturday after a 2-week layoff.

That’s a problem. It’s a problem for a team who isn’t getting a “figure it all out” break for a non-conference cupcake. This schedule isn’t forgiving to the faint of heart. Go figure that a 35-point loss to Ohio State was more promising than (another) 1-possession loss to Northwestern.

At this point, “promise” or “potential” isn’t getting Frost’s team anywhere. It still doesn’t have an offensive identity in Year 3. A 15 points per game average to start 2020 doesn’t suggest Frost used the extra time to his advantage. Adjustments are needed. Adjustments have been hard to come by for an offense who has yet to score a second-half touchdown. That’s on Frost.

This start comes back to the head coach, who is now 6-14 vs. the B1G. Yikes. Even Mike Riley started off 11-9 in conference play. Lord knows the public patience with Riley was different than it’s been with Frost.

Nebraska fans should be running out of patience. Saturday’s performance wasn’t progress; it was more of the same. A “turn the corner” opportunity was there in Evanston. Once again, Nebraska let it slip away.

Stop me if you’ve heard that before.