Scott Frost Press Conference 10.11

Scott Frost speaks during a press conference at Memorial Stadium on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Nebraska football’s peculiar deficiencies under head coach Scott Frost have been well-documented. 

The Huskers are 0-10 against AP Top-25 teams in Frost’s tenure, for example. Nebraska boasts a sub-optimal record in road contests since 2018, going 4-15. And, of course, there’s the Huskers’ poor record in one-score games, going 5-14 in games decided by seven points or less under Frost.

One of the most glaring records is the most pertinent at this juncture of the regular season, with Nebraska sitting at 3-5 (1-4 in Big Ten play) with four conference games remaining.

Under Frost, the Huskers are winless in games immediately before and immediately after a bye week. In order for Nebraska to salvage its season — and potentially reach the six-win threshold to meet bowl game eligibility — that statistic has to reverse itself, starting with this weekend’s contest with Purdue.

“We can’t afford to have our attention on anything other than Purdue,” junior quarterback Adrian Martinez said at Monday’s press conference. “Ultimately if we want to go to a bowl game, we have to beat Purdue.”

Last weekend’s break gave Frost’s staff and Nebraska’s players plenty of time not only to recharge physically and mentally, but also focus on the Boilermakers. Frost said on Monday that the coaching staff watched Purdue’s 30-13 loss to Wisconsin over the weekend “several times,” insinuating that the Huskers are very much on-track when it comes to preparing for Saturday’s contest.

What exactly Nebraska has to prepare for is apparent, too.

On the spectrum of Big Ten offenses, Purdue operates more like an Ohio State and less like a Michigan. In the buildup to the Huskers’ Oct. 9 showdown with the Wolverines, much was made about Michigan running the ball on nearly three-fourths of its offensive plays. Purdue is nearly the opposite, passing the ball close to 60% of the time it has the ball.

“They’re not your typical Big Ten team,” senior defensive lineman Ben Stille said of the Boilermakers at Monday’s press conference.

Senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell leads Purdue’s passing attack, recently emerging from a competitive Boilermaker quarterback room to unseat junior quarterback Jack Plummer for the starting spot. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm reassured his confidence in O’Connell on Monday after a three-interception performance against Wisconsin last week, naming him the starting quarterback for this weekend’s game.

However, Nebraska’s defense is also prepared for a potential Purdue quarterback rotation between O’Connell, Plummer and senior quarterback Austin Burton. 

“I know 13, Jack Plummer, was benched halfway through the season and [O’Connell] came up. It seems like the starting guy is more of a pro-style quarterback,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Ty Robinson said at Monday’s press conference. “Jack’s more of a run the ball type and [Burton] I think is more of a Wildcat type of quarterback to run the ball back there.”

Further distancing Purdue from a standard Big Ten outfit is the fact that the Boilermakers have largely struggled to run the ball this season. The Boilermakers average just 74.9 rushing yards per game, the second worst mark in the country, and have just one scholarship running back available on Saturday, according to Brohm. 

As a team, Purdue has cracked the 100-yard rushing barrier just once, in the second game of its regular season against UConn. The Boilermakers were held to -13 rushing yards against Wisconsin last weekend and were also held to negative rushing yardage by Nebraska when the two teams met in 2020.

“Purdue is a big pass-heavy team, I don’t think they have a big identity in the run game,” Robinson said. “I think we held them to -2 rushing yards last year which is a big positive for us… I know we can handle the run game, we just have to do our job.”

On the other side of the ball, the health of Martinez was a crucial bye week storyline in the days following Nebraska’s 30-23 loss. Nebraska’s quarterback said on Monday that he “definitely wasn’t 100%” against the Golden Gophers, but both he and Frost stressed that there won’t be any injury concerns when Saturday rolls around.

“Adrian is good, he’s going to be 100% on Saturday,” Frost said at Monday’s press conference.

While Purdue may not match the offensive profile of a Big Ten team, it certainly does fit the bill defensively, which will require Martinez to be on his toes. Junior defensive end George Karlaftis leads that charge, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound edge rusher projected to be a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The 2020 Second-Team All-Big Ten selection and 2019 First-Team Associated Press Freshman All-American has continued to produce while receiving significant attention from opposing offensive lines in 2021. Through seven games, Karlaftis has 24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. 

“When you come to the Big Ten, you come to play the cream of the crop, and that’s why I wanted to come here,” freshman offensive lineman Turner Corcoran said at Monday’s press conference. “These guys that I’ve been facing all year are the cream of the crop, the Aidan Hutchinson’s, all of those guys… It’s just another opportunity to become better.”

The Huskers’ margin for error when it comes to their postseason aspirations are growing slimmer with each passing week, especially with ranked matchups against Iowa and Ohio State looming and a formidable road clash with Wisconsin still on the schedule.

Reaching never-before-seen heights under Frost is certainly a main goal as Nebraska begins the final third of its regular-season schedule, but not the most important one on the Huskers’ mind.

“[Bowl eligibility] is definitely our main goal, but right now we’re focused on Purdue,” Corcoran said.

If Nebraska’s focus slips on Saturday, however, all of its postseason dreams could fade away before the calendar turns to November.