As the Minnesota-resident pop icon Lizzo likes to say, truth hurts.
And on Saturday night, pain was the only feeling Nebraska had as the truth unfolded at TCF Bank Stadium as the Huskers were dominated 34-7.
The truth is that the Huskers are not yet close to competing with the top of their own division. Minnesota bullied them from the start and never let up. They made a 14-0 halftime lead feel like 40-0, and sent Nebraska into a mental dystopia that looked all too familiar.
The truth is that Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck may not be as crazy as he usually sounds. It’s unclear if this level of success his program is having is sustainable, but the Gophers seemed to have a much stronger unity of purpose in every aspect of Saturday’s game.
One year ago, I recall listening to Fleck talk to the media following a 53-28 loss at Nebraska. The mantra that he drove into the ground repeatedly throughout last season that the previous season, his debut, was “year 0” instead of year one.
At the time, it felt like another crafty excuse for a potential failure of the season, but over halfway through year two of the Scott Frost era, Nebraska sure looks and feels a lot more like a “year one” team than a “year two” group.
The truth is that it can be possible for a team to have a great week of practice like the coaches said Nebraska did and still get steamrolled in the game.
The truth is that this could be another watershed moment for Nebraska football. In which direction remains to be seen, but a loss that lopsided to a team like Minnesota usually leads to a lot of changes within a team.
Losses like this don’t usually come down to one specific factor, and that certainly was the case in this one. Nebraska’s won games despite getting dominated physically in the past (see: one week prior).
Injuries certainly played a role. Noah Vedral is a more than serviceable backup quarterback. He managed to hold onto the football and commit no turnovers, and ran the offense with comfort. But at the end of the day, his ceiling isn’t close to Adrian Martinez’s.
Wan’Dale Robinson tried to carry the offense early on, albeit with not much success. With him in the game, Nebraska picked up 137 yards and crossed midfield on the first three drives of the game. Once Robinson was carted off with an ankle injury, Nebraska’s next four drives resulted in 31 yards and one first down.
Play calling had a significant role in the loss as well. Frost said after the loss that his offense is struggling to find plays that consistently pick up positive yardage, especially in the run game. Part of that issue may be not putting players in the best positions to succeed.
Maurice Washington had his first four carries go directly up the middle, despite his ability to make defenders miss in open space. Dedrick Mills prides himself on a physical running style that was needed in the first half, but at the break he had one carry for no gain.
A more concerning factor in this game and this season as a whole seems to be the lack of purpose and motivation. Teams are at their best when they are all motivated to play for a common cause. This happened in 2016 and again last year, when the team played for its senior class that worked hard to lay the foundation for the program.
This year, there doesn’t appear to be that same level motivation at this point. How Nebraska’s four captains and the rest of the team address that following a bye week will be a significant moment in this rebuild.
The truth is, Nebraska is three games better than it was a year ago at this point. That is certainly progress, but it will take a lot more toughness and focus to avoid a fate similar to 2018’s.
And right now, those truths hurt for Nebraska fans.