Nebraska had a chance to turn things around this week.
Sitting at 4-3 and coming off of a bye week which helped get key players healthy and allowed the team to refocus, the Huskers had a chance to finish the year strong, just as they did in 2018.
Instead, they couldn’t take advantage of opportunity after opportunity, falling to Indiana 38-31.
This time around, the problem wasn’t that Nebraska (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) was outmatched from start to finish, as was the case against Ohio State and Minnesota. The Huskers had 514 total yards, including 154 yards on 28 touches from freshman standout Wan’Dale Robinson.
“Wan’Dale is a weapon. Kind of like a pass rusher, we need more weapons,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “...He earned the right, even though he’s not on defense, to wear a Blackshirt today. He’s that kind of kid.”
Nebraska had every chance to win the game. As Frost and the players noted in the postgame press conference, it just didn’t get the small details right.
“It comes down to the little things,” sophomore quarterback Noah Vedral said. “I think you can watch in our losses there’s just a few little things that come back and there’s that really fine line between winning and losing games.”
To start the game, the Huskers came out with a renewed energy. After scoring just one touchdown in each of its last three games, Nebraska scored touchdowns on its first two drives against the Hoosiers (6-2, 3-2). On top of that, both touchdown drives took five plays and went 75 yards in under two minutes. Even with Vedral starting at quarterback for the second straight game, the Husker offense was rolling.
Nebraska also used a wider variety of plays to get things going. On Nebraska’s second drive, Vedral handed the ball off to Robinson, who then flipped it to junior wideout JD Spielman on a reverse. Spielman then threw the ball to Vedral for a 22-yard gain, and the Huskers earned an extra 15 yards on a late hit penalty on the play.
Then, on a fourth-and-one in Indiana territory on Nebraska’s third drive, Vedral took a step back and turned to the sideline. While this went on, Nebraska snapped the ball directly to junior running back Dedrick Mills, who picked up the first down.
The first quarter was everything Husker fans could ask for offensively, even as the defense gave up a field goal and a touchdown. Despite only leading 14-9 after a missed Indiana PAT, it looked like Nebraska was in control.
For the most part, the second quarter didn’t go as well. To finish off Nebraska’s third drive, Vedral lost a fumble, which Indiana recovered and returned all the way to Nebraska’s eight-yard line. The Hoosiers scored in one play following the turnover to take a 16-14 lead. On the next drive, the Huskers had a fourth-down conversion negated by an illegal formation penalty, which was followed by a missed field goal from sophomore kicker Barret Pickering.
Vedral went down with an injury later in the quarter, which put true freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey in the game. However, the Huskers ended the half strong, picking off an Indiana pass in Nebraska territory and scoring on a 24-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-16 lead heading into the break.
Nebraska continued to give Indiana opportunities in the second half. Indiana scored a touchdown in the third quarter, and went for two to try and extend the lead to 24-21. The Hoosiers couldn’t get it on the first attempt, but a pass interference penalty gave them another chance, which they took advantage of.
After a Pickering field goal and another Indiana touchdown, Nebraska faced a 31-24 deficit to start the fourth quarter. McCaffrey completed a pass to senior receiver Kanawai Noa, but Noa had the ball knocked out for a fumble and it was recovered by the Hoosiers.
From there, the Blackshirts, couldn’t get the stops necessary to win. After the fumble, Indiana decided to go for it on fourth-and-seven from Nebraska’s 26. Not only did junior receiver Whop Philyor get the first down, but a roughing the passer penalty put Indiana at the Nebraska nine-yard line. The Hoosiers scored on the next play to take a 14-point lead.
McCaffrey led an impressive touchdown drive to put the Huskers within one score, and Nebraska had a chance to tie the game on its final drive. Vedral, who re-entered the game with McCaffrey banged up, faced a fourth-and-five in Indiana territory. The Huskers couldn’t convert, and holding was called on the Huskers anyway.
On the final drive of the game, Nebraska faced a situation similar to the one it faced to end the Northwestern game. The Blackshirts needed to make a big stop, and this time the situation was more dire because the Huskers were down a score, instead of tied.
Keeping consistent with the theme of the game, Nebraska failed, giving up an 11-yard first down run from junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey on third-and-seven, allowing Indiana to run out the clock.
In a crucial game, the Huskers came up short in the big moments and dropped to 4-4 overall, and 2-3 in conference play. After the game Frost admitted that this Husker team wasn’t anything more than “just OK.”
“This is going to keep getting better,” he said. “I know nobody is more disappointed than me, but Nebraska fans are disappointed and everybody wants it to happen faster. It’s going to happen. But one of the ways it’s going to happen, is just OK can’t exist around here, and there’s a little too much just OK.”
Nebraska needs to win two of its last four games to be bowl eligible this year. The Huskers will look to move a step closer to that goal next week on the road against Purdue.