A lot has changed for the better over the past two years of Nebraska football.
Scott Frost has returned a lot of the tenets that made Nebraska football a powerhouse in its heyday. Players are engaged and playing for each other, a proven strength and conditioning program has been running for over a year and the coaching staff uses schemes that have been successful at multiple programs over the past decade.
So when you look for something or someone to blame for Nebraska’s 31-27 loss at Purdue on Saturday, none of those reasons are the answers. Instead, Saturday’s loss was yet another example of coaches and players alike allowing their own hubris lead to another embarrassing result.
Humility is a complicated matter when it comes to sports. In college football, it’s more about what people don’t do or say than what they do. Throughout the past 20 years, two things have been constant in Nebraska football: turnovers and an abundance of arrogance.
A lot has changed over the past two years of Nebraska football, but unearned arrogance never left.
The Scott Frost era of Nebraska football is a lot like the third generation of wealth in an American family. The first generation had to work incredibly hard to earn success from nothing and the second generation had to work just as hard to grow it. The old saying goes that it’s always the third generation that loses a family’s fortune, and that certainly has happened over the past 20 years.
But even after 20 years of embarrassing failure, Husker football still has many of the privileges that come with being a wealthy power. That’s why they get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to preseason predictions, or how they get undeserved national attention and exposure early on season after season.
With those unearned accolades comes unearned confidence, which is how we end up with senior captains making bold declarations like, “This loss won’t matter once we’re in the Big Ten Championship,” only widening the already-large target on the program’s back.
Hubris and arrogance is how Nebraska’s defense allowed Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins to have 103 receiving yards one year ago and still overlooked the 6’5 senior this year. The people that are shocked that Purdue’s third-string quarterback led a game-winning drive today are the same ones loudly calling for Nebraska’s own third-stringer to take over the starting role.
Hopkins once again took advantage of mismatches against Nebraska linebackers, like so many other teams have, and made Aidan O’Connell’s game-winning drive a walk in the park. The same defensive haughtiness that cost Nebraska with Hopkins also was how Purdue’s anemic rushing offense managed to send freshman King Doerue untouched up the middle for the Boilermakers’ other fourth quarter score.
Even with the ball seven yards out from the end zone with a third-string quarterback, Nebraska still looked shocked that Purdue ran the ball in that situation. For a group that talks as much trash as Nebraska’s defense does, it once again has done very little to back the talk up.
As for Nebraska’s offensive struggles on Saturday, rust is likely the biggest culprit for the blunders at the goal line. Receivers and running backs struggled to get in sync with quarterback Adrian Martinez in his first half of playing time in nearly a month, but they did their part in the fourth quarter until freshman Wan’Dale Robinson was held out of the final drive by the trainers.
Martinez is going to get a lot of criticism over the next two weeks because of his mistakes today, but he had flashes that reminded everyone why he is the clear-cut starter. How he handles himself and responds against Wisconsin may say a lot about the 19-year-old’s character.
In many ways, this disaster of a game, and a season, may turn out to be a blessing. There are no more excuses for Nebraska. If this team isn’t humbled now, it may never be.
Frost understands humility, even if he doesn’t always show it. He may talk big in press conferences about his team’s progress, but he’s not your stereotypical trust fund CEO. Most of his achievements throughout his life were earned the hard way.
Frost rarely talks about his personal life, but he’s occasionally mentioned his family’s frequent moving throughout his childhood. He wasn’t an immediate fan or player favorite as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, either. His professional career also wasn’t quite the charmed life, gutting out six years on special teams and defense. Even as an assistant, he was often overlooked for head coaching jobs.
If anyone is up to the task of doing whatever it takes to find success at Nebraska, it’s going to be Frost. And games like Saturday’s showed that this may be his toughest challenge yet.