We’re going to need a bigger measuring stick.
Scott Frost and Nebraska spoke all week about getting the chance to measure themselves against one of the top teams in the nation. That’s exactly what they did on Saturday night, and the results were not pretty.
Ohio State came to Lincoln hungry to prove a point, and Nebraska was helpless as it did so. The result was an all-too familiar scene: an all-aspects breakdown of epic proportions leaving Nebraska’s fragile yet prideful fanbase humiliated.
When Nebraska started running a completely different offense on its third drive of the game, it was clear that this team knew from the start that it was badly outmatched. Frost’s offense rarely ran any plays out of the I or Wishbone formations, and it proved to be effective as the Huskers picked up 49 yards and forced a flustered Buckeye defense to call a timeout.
The moment was one of the lone bright spots in a dismal end to an enthusiastic week, and it didn’t last long. Adrian Martinez had Wan’Dale Robinson open for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-7, but the ball was tipped by Robinson and fell haplessly into a defender’s hands.
Once that ploy failed and Ohio State’s lead ballooned to 17-0, there was nothing left for Nebraska to do but take its beating and hope to quickly put it behind them.
After the game, Frost said he thought his team had “a puncher’s chance” to win. As it turns out, they had exactly one punch in them and it didn’t land. The result was a quarterback that clearly is not ready to compete with the best of his kind getting significantly out-played by breakout star Justin Fields on a national stage.
By the end of the game, Nebraska was once again a national laughingstock. The fans, many of which also drove over eight hours west to Colorado three weeks ago and were mocked out of Folsom Field, could only try not to look sad enough for the ABC cameras to catch them in a montage.
Most people at Memorial Stadium didn’t expect Nebraska to win, but many of them expected a closer fight than 48-7. Instead, they shared the short end of the stick along with the football team on what was still a monumental weekend for the program.
A lot of this weekend’s events felt rushed. The new facilities upgrades that were announced had very few details and have yet to be completely funded. ESPN’s College GameDay and the ABC prime time coverage returned to Lincoln to shine a spotlight on a football team that wasn’t close to being prepared for it.
This was a chance for Nebraska to show that it embraces the spotlight and can put the recent past back in the past, but instead it was Ohio State seizing the moment. The Buckeyes were the ones making the statement that they were still just as good, if not better, under the direction of a new coach and new quarterback.
Yet still, it was a positive experience for the program to be showcased on a national level again despite the embarrassing result.
Following the game, Frost and his captain’s reactions showed they are capable of keeping this moment in perspective. They had plenty of time to collect themselves given that the outcome of the game was not in doubt for a long time.
Frost, who one year ago this week had one of his angriest and most emotional press conferences following Nebraska’s 42-28 loss to Purdue, was calm and collected following this loss. It’s likely what this team needs to see and hear, given the hype surrounding this weekend.
“We’re getting better at things and tonight exposed a few things that we need to get better at,” Frost said. “But you can’t run from who you are, and you can’t run from where you are.”
Martinez echoed his coach’s mentality, keeping the focus on the big picture despite his dismal performance that featured just eight completed passes.
“This game is not going to define this team,” he said. “It won’t. We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to have 24 hours just like always to mourn or rejoice about it. Whatever the case may be, and we’re going to get back to work. It’s going to be a lesson for us.”
Junior offensive lineman Matt Farniok and senior linebacker Mohamed Barry were more transparent with their emotions after the loss.
“We’re ready to fight,” Farniok said. “We know where we want to be, we know where we’re going to be. So week by week, whatever our opponents are, we’re ready to attack and we’re going to fight until the very end.”
“You don’t blame no one but yourself,” Barry said. “You watch the film, you criticize yourself. You allow your coaches to help you, you allow your teammates to help you, and you correct what you need to correct, and the team is going to be better and we are going to stay together and that’s all that matters.”
Through the first month of the season, Nebraska’s growth has not been what was expected. The Huskers still appear to be much closer to Illinois than Ohio State in the conference hierarchy. In terms of competing against Big Ten East juggernauts, Nebraska improved from trailing 39-0 at the half at Michigan last season to trailing 38-0 against Ohio State Saturday night. That seems about right.
The crossroads of the season are coming quickly. Nebraska is going to be tested in ways like never before under Frost. It’s up to him and his sophomore captain to push momentum forward again after both seemed to wilt in the spotlight tonight.
There are several more weigh-ins coming up this season, starting next week with defending division champion Northwestern. If this program is truly capable of still coming close to meeting preseason expectations, Nebraska will have to show few lingering effects from this debacle both physically and mentally.
As recent history has shown, that’s been easier said than done.