Nebraska Football vs Minnesota Photo No. 26

Nebraska's head coach Scott Frost argues with a referee over a call during the game against Minnesota at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There’s a pattern increasingly apparent and prevalent in each of Nebraska football’s five regular-season losses, Saturday afternoon’s 30-23 defeat to Minnesota included.

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost has frequently commented this season about close defeats feeling like “the same movie again,” and players have spoken at length about finding a way to overcome fatal mistakes that ultimately lead to the Huskers’ demise.

It’s hard to find many positive takeaways from yet another backbreaking Husker collapse, save for a solid defensive effort in the third quarter, but Saturday’s game offered yet another silver lining, at least from a neutral perspective.

If Nebraska’s losses all feel similar, it’s because they are. 

Certain mistakes have, without fail, in nearly the same exact order, happened to Frost’s squad when it falls short. Racking through the Huskers’ losses this season can be a painstaking excursion to some, but it’s an extremely necessary one in order to examine why the Huskers are what they are — a 3-5 team in danger of a fifth consecutive losing season. 

In each of the Huskers’ five losses this season, their opponents have scored first, usually on the heels of a poor first quarter from Nebraska either offensively or defensively, or occasionally both as was the case against the Golden Gophers.

Nebraska has managed just six first quarter points in its five losses, three of which came on Saturday in a miraculous 50-yard boot from senior kicker Connor Culp on a drive that immediately followed a Minnesota touchdown. 

“[The team’s pregame mentality] felt businesslike instead of a lot of hype,” Frost said postgame, explaining his team’s sluggish start. “And I didn’t know whether to be concerned about that or not because the guys have shown up ready to play all year, probably other than the first game.”

Each Nebraska loss, sans last weekend’s 32-29 defeat to Michigan, has featured one (or multiple) devastating special teams errors. 

Against Illinois, junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt attempted to pass a returned punt out of the end zone, which resulted in a safety. Senior kicker Connor Culp missed two extra points in the Huskers’ 30-22 defeat. Culp missed two field goals in Nebraska’s 23-16 loss to Oklahoma, plus the Sooners returned a blocked extra point for a rare defensive two-point conversion.

Punting proved paramount in Nebraska’s 23-20 loss to Michigan State, with a mis-hit boot from freshman punter Daniel Cerni resulting in a game-tying 62-yard punt return that sent the game to overtime.

Culp again struggled on Saturday against Minnesota, missing an extra point and a 27-yard field goal, with the latter coming on the first play of the fourth quarter with the Huskers trailing 21-16.

“I let my problems I’ve been trying to fix and deal with get the best of me,” the 2020 Big Ten Kicker of the Year said postgame. “Which I’m doing my very absolute best. I need to do better. But again it’s a day at a time. I will get through it eventually.”

Nebraska’s defense, as it has in previous defeats, dominated a stretch of play. On Saturday, it was holding Minnesota to just 37 total third quarter yards and intercepting Golden Gopher senior quarterback Tanner Morgan twice. The Blackshirts dominated the third quarter in similar fashion against Michigan and the entire second half against Michigan State, for example. 

What’s more, each Husker defeat has featured periods of offensive ineptitude, offensive line follies and a backbreaking turnover or offensive mistake. Reaching back to find examples of this in each loss makes this exercise repetitive, but all were present on Saturday.

After a rushing touchdown from freshman running back Rahmir Johnson cut Minnesota’s lead to 21-16, the Huskers had four drives to try and take the lead. The first made it all the way to the Golden Gophers’ goal line, before a rush from freshman running back Jaquez Yant was stuffed inches from paydirt.

Nebraska’s second such drive resulted in Culp’s aforementioned 27-yard field goal, and the third in a turnover on downs at Minnesota’s 34-yard line, a fourth-and-ten attempt doubled in difficulty after a third-down false start penalty by sophomore offensive lineman Nouredin Nouili.

As in losses past, the Husker defense gave the offense one more opportunity. Trailing 21-16 with 4:53 remaining, Nebraska had the ball on its own 11-yard line. On the first play of the drive, junior quarterback Adrian Martinez was wrapped up in the backfield, and fired a ball from his own end zone to a completely vacant part of the field, resulting in a safety.

Minnesota scored a touchdown on its ensuing drive, extending its lead to 30-16 and all-but ending the Huskers’ chances.

No matter what order Nebraska’s special teams, offensive line, offensive play calling or defensive periods of famine and dominance happen, Martinez and Nebraska’s offense have had at least one opportunity to either tie the game or take the lead within the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. These opportunities have come with the Huskers either tied with their opponent or trailing by at least one score.

The situations and circumstances haven’t been equal, and some have been much more difficult to overcome than others. It’s hard to argue with the results, though.

“Little details got us beat,” Frost said. “I know the guys are kind of tired of hearing that, I’m tired of saying that. But it is what it is.”

Nebraska is now 5-17 in one-score games under Frost, and 0-4 on the road in 2021. Each of the Huskers’ defeats have been by one score, too, games Nebraska laid more-than-valid claims to win.

For the Huskers to not only salvage this season but also turn their close-game luck around under Frost, this pattern of repeated weekly mistakes has to be taken into account. These trends can no longer be ignored.

Nebraska’s losses have taken different routes yet end with  \the same result, and the exact same errors made along the way.

If the Huskers can’t flip the script, though, expect the same old movie.

sports@dailynebraskan.com