A breaking point of sorts was reached last Saturday.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was answering questions following a maddeningly frustrating loss to Wisconsin in which the Huskers played some of their best football in over a month.
What started as a simple question about an outstanding performance by junior running back Dedrick Mills turned into a peak into the psyche of Frost and Nebraska as they inch closer to the ledge of this season completely falling into the familiar abyss of failure.
“I’m tired of looking for silver linings,” Frost responded. “This team has to decide it’s going to do whatever it takes to change it and we had opportunities today.”
Now at 4-6, just one more loss in its final two games will likely end Nebraska’s season on Black Friday. Two more wins will grant the Huskers an extra 15 practices and an appearance in a bowl game for the first time in three years.
For a team that has not won a game since Oct. 5, and is struggling with injuries on both sides of the ball, winning two games in less than two weeks is a daunting task.
Nebraska’s last stand will start this Saturday in what will likely be a cold, rainy and empty Maryland Stadium against the 3-7 Terrapins.
New Maryland head coach Mike Locksley can relate to plenty of Frost’s struggles over the past two years. Locksley also returned to his alma mater, landed a prized quarterback and expectations skyrocketed early after a pair of dominant wins to start the season.
Since then, the Big Ten has humbled the Terrapins repeatedly. Maryland has faced four of the Big Ten’s five teams that have spent time in the AP Top 10, and lost all four by a combined score of 222-31.
With an abysmal APR score, Maryland’s bowl chances are slim, but after an idle week last week, the Terrapins are hoping to build momentum for next season with wins over Nebraska and Michigan State.
For Nebraska, the situation is slightly more complicated and the stakes are much higher. Nebraska has gone 1-10 in its last 11 road games. The Huskers were a last-second field goal away from potentially ending last season with a quality road win to build on. The issue is that this year, Nebraska will send out a team on the road that is far more inexperienced.
True freshman playmaker Wan’Dale Robinson missed last Saturday’s game and did not practice in pads this week. Frost did not rule out him returning to play during this season, but he is questionable for Saturday. Senior defensive lineman Darrion Daniels also missed last week’s game, and his status is unknown for Saturday. Frost even alluded to Mills, who ran for 188 yards on 17 carries last week, still being sore on Thursday morning.
Nebraska will likely use some younger players who still have eligibility left before redshirting, including true freshman running back Rahmir Johnson.
Nebraska’s defense will be tasked with leading the team on the road. Senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said he felt he and his teammates played with more freedom than they ever had before last week against Wisconsin, but still surrendered 30 points and 482 total yards.
Against Maryland, they will have to likely handle two mobile quarterbacks, Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome. The duo has combined for 1,784 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
“They're athletic, they're talented," Frost said about the Terrapins on Thursday. "I think both teams are desperate for a win. They're well-coached, so just like any other Big Ten team, we're going to have to go play well if we expect to have a chance."
The Blackshirts will also have to contain the dangerous duo at running back of sophomore Anthony McFarland Jr. and junior Javon Leake. The two have combined for 1,081 rushing yards and seven touchdowns apiece.
With a win, Nebraska’s bowl hopes would stay alive for another six days, eventually coming down to its annual season finale against No. 19 Iowa (7-3).
“This team needs to win one of these close games and get over the hump,” Frost said. “They're doing everything right. I just think winning breeds more confidence, and confidence breeds more winning."
Saturday’s game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. and can be seen on BTN.