Football vs. Purdue Photo No. 12

Nebraska coach Scott Frost reacts to an interception during the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska football, as currently constructed, is broken. Through nine regular-season games that much is apparent.

Nothing has ever worked quite right, even when they seem to be. 

Certain units, whether it be offense, defense or special teams, seem to fail weekly. Questionable coaching decisions are made almost weekly. The Huskers are, now, after a dumbfounding 28-23 defeat to Purdue on Saturday afternoon, 5-18 in one-score games under head coach Scott Frost.

Everybody knows this. Everybody also knows that whether the 2021 season will be a winning one or a losing one now has zero margin for error — a potential losing season would be the fourth such under Frost.

Everybody knows exactly what the Huskers are right now, and the most damning strike to the current state of Nebraska football is that nobody knows how to fix it.

If the number of empty seats in Memorial Stadium as Saturday’s game wound down, and the stadiums’ overall lack of energy in the second half, is any indication, everybody knows that too.

This same principle makes an in-depth analysis of what exactly went wrong from Nebraska’s perspective a pointless exercise. The Huskers had their moments, and even dominated for stretches of play, but ultimately lost because they made too many self-inflicted errors and failed to execute when the situation called for it.

Saturday was no different. Following a good-but-not-great first half that concluded with junior quarterback Adrian Martinez and senior wide receiver Samori Toure being unable to link on a potential game-changing touchdown that would’ve put the Huskers up two scores, Nebraska collapsed.

It, like every other in-game Husker collapse this season, was a complete trainwreck one couldn’t help but watch. Nebraska did next-to-nothing offensively until the result of the game was decided, Martinez tossed three second-half interceptions and the Blackshirts ultimately failed to hold after giving Nebraska’s offense chance after chance to succeed.

That might be the most frustrating part of all of this. Time after time, specifically over the duration of Frost’s tenure, Nebraska football dangles a lifeline over a starved fanbase, then follows it with repeated unexplainable performances.

Pick a year, any year. The similarities are uncanny. Time after time, Nebraska football’s greatest enemy seems to be itself.

Purdue, to be clear, is a fine team. However, it also is a team that Nebraska should beat routinely at this point. The Boilermakers’ previously inept running offense mustered 100 yards, senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell looked like a world-beater and the Husker defense had no answers for junior wide receiver David Bell. 

That’s not quite the moral of this story, though. Whether Nebraska can find a way to salvage any bits of positivity from the 2021 campaign, and avoid recording three wins in a full season for the first time since 1961 is, now.

The coach that led that Nebraska season, Bill Jennings, was fired following that campaign.

A clearly exasperated Frost revealed postgame he didn’t address the team following the loss and that “magic speeches” won’t change a thing about where Nebraska currently stands. Senior linebacker JoJo Domann proclaimed postgame that “fairweather fans” that left Saturday’s contest “aren’t needed.”

If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s becoming increasingly more apparent especially after the defeat. Nebraska football is not only unraveling, its hypothetical train is in the process of derailment. The Huskers will no-doubt be underdogs in their three remaining games, and a 3-9 record featuring just one Big Ten win is certainly feasible.

The coach of the last Nebraska team to earn just one conference win was also Jennings, who did so in 1957 and 1958. 

Domann, in a different tune, also spoke postgame about a message that will undoubtedly be echoed in the coming days: Nebraska will not quit on its season. It’s hard to expect different outcomes with the same efforts, though. There’s enough of a sample size to make that known.

So yes, embrace the truly historic level of ineptitude that Nebraska is on the cusp of achieving, the potential of becoming the worst Husker football season in over 60 years. A season that featured so much potential and hope after close affairs with Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma is now slowly dying with each passing week.

The Huskers might need magic in order to salvage their season from the brink of ineptitude, but it’s not an impossible feat either. Frost said postgame that the quarterback position is “not a story,” and that the team will be sticking with Martinez under center, but it’s fair to wonder if a change is warranted following another sub-par performance.

Aside from Martinez’s fourth and final interception that was more the fault of junior tight end Austin Allen, the quarterback’s three other interceptions were woeful and frankly unbecoming of a fourth-year starting quarterback.

Nebraska’s offensive line was poor, being called for holding penalties thrice, each in crucial situations. Husker sophomore punter William Przystup had an impressive 62-yard boot in the third quarter that pinned Purdue deep in its own territory, but his remaining three punts failed to travel more than 40 yards. At least the kicking situation appears to be sorted out?

There’s the catch, however. The little things, the things that always seem to keep Nebraska from winning week-in and week-out? Those same things, or variations of them, are happening weekly. There is little reason for optimism that those issues will suddenly vanish.

It’s perhaps fitting then on this Halloween weekend that Nebraska football’s season outlook has flipped from frustrating to genuinely horrifying. With three regular-season games left Nebraska is running out of time to save its season, fans are fed up and Husker players and coaches alike don’t appear to have an answer to fix any of it.

Other than that, things are going just fine.

sports@dailynebraskan.com