With the opportunity to turn its season back in the right direction and become one win away from bowl eligibility, Nebraska squandered a fast start against Indiana on Saturday. Instead, Nebraska dropped to 4-4 on the year, losing 38-31 to the Hoosiers.
Here are three takeaways from today’s game:
Blackshirts don’t live up to billing
The Nebraska defense certainly looked good in their black alternate jerseys. However, the play on the field was nothing like the Blackshirt defenses of the past. In a game where Nebraska was down to its third-string quarterback, a true freshman, defensive success could’ve helped the game remain competitive.
Instead, Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey shredded the Husker secondary all game long, finishing with 351 yards through the air. For most of the game, the Hoosiers neglected to run the ball and for good reason. With a lackluster pass rush, Ramsey had time to pick apart the Husker linebackers and secondary.
Indiana’s leading receiver, junior wideout Whop Philyor, had a field day against the Huskers as he caught 14 passes for 178 yards. With the Hoosiers displaying three-wide and four-wide sets, Philyor matched up against NU’s linebackers in the slot, a matchup which he exploited time and time again.
Meanwhile, the secondary didn’t fare much better as both senior cornerback Lamar Jackson and junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle struggled. Their failures helped Indiana convert 7-14 third-down attempts and both of its fourth downs, as the Husker defense couldn’t get crucial stops.
Down seven points late in the fourth quarter, Nebraska had an opportunity to give its offense a chance to tie the game. Instead, Indiana converted a third-and-seven for a first down, marking the final failure of the night for the Husker defense.
Huskers have QB depth—but it doesn’t matter
One of the only bright spots on Saturday was the success of Nebraska’s quarterbacks. Sophomore Adrian Martinez suited up and worked with the first-team offense in pregame warmups but didn’t appear in the game as he continued to deal with a knee injury suffered three weeks ago.
Instead, sophomore Noah Vedral had his best game of the season before he went down with an injury. He threw for over 200 yards, completing 14-16 passes, including a pair of precise deep throws. While he did lose a fumble, he scored two Husker touchdowns on the ground.
Even after Vedral left the game in the second quarter, true freshman Luke McCaffrey kept the Huskers in the game. He completed 5-6 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, adding another 76 yards on the ground. The injury bug struck him as well, forcing a less-than-100 percent Vedral to lead the team’s final offensive possession.
It may be easy to say that Nebraska lost the game because they missed its starting quarterback, but that wasn’t the case. The Huskers have three talented options to play under center, but despite their success, it wasn’t enough for a win.
It will be interesting to see whether Martinez is ready for a road test at Purdue next week, but the decision about who will start is the least of Nebraska’s worries right now.
Huskers lack elite mentality
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was highly critical of his team’s attitude after the game, repeatedly saying the team is “just OK” right now. He mentioned the team wasn’t adequately focused this morning, prompting senior nose tackle Darrion Daniels to try and get the team locked in.
Perhaps three years of different coaching philosophies under Mike Riley have contributed to the cultural issues which have dogged Frost’s teams thus far at Nebraska, but the head man is lacking effective solutions at the moment.
Instead, Frost spoke about the need to bring in new players who aren’t happy with “just OK.” Specifically, he referred to the team’s beatdown at Minnesota two weeks ago where players wore hoodies and warm clothing in pregame warmups.
“That just says to me just OK is enough, I’m a little cold so I’m going to come out here in that,” Frost said. “You got ridiculed and beat up when I was playing if you did that.”
On a night where Nebraska’s black jerseys were supposed to represent the toughness of previous teams, that strength was absent. For a man tasked with fixing some of these exact issues, Frost seems to lack specifics about how to change the team’s culture at this point in time. Unless something changes, Husker fans can expect the same issues to pop up again in the team’s final four games.