It’s no secret Nebraska has struggled in close games the past season-plus.
Since Scott Frost was hired after the 2017 season, the Huskers are 1-6 in games decided by six points or less. The lone win came against Michigan State at Memorial Stadium last fall and NU has lost to, chronologically, Colorado by five, Troy by five, Northwestern by three in overtime, Ohio State by five, Iowa by three and, most recently, Colorado by three in overtime on Saturday.
In fact, the last time the Huskers lost a game by more than five points was at Wisconsin on Oct. 6 last year, by a 41-24 count.
The most recent loss to the Buffs stung the Huskers perhaps worse than any besides Northwestern last fall because of the way NU dominated over the first two-plus quarters.
“We can’t let any team stay in a game that long,” head coach Scott Frost said Monday. “We played three really solid quarters on offense — good enough to win at least, (but) the third quarter was poor. Defensively, we played close to three quarters of as good of football as I’ve had a defense play.
“And then it fell apart.”
So how do you learn how to win close games? Frost and several players talked about execution, about staying aggressive, about cleaning up details both after the game Saturday and on Monday. Frost, though, also outlined a reality that still exists early in his second season here but one he hopes isn’t the case much longer.
“Our margin of error’s pretty small right now,” he said.
Frost acknowledged that NU had a sizable margin to work with on Saturday against the Buffaloes at halftime, but overall, NU doesn’t have the kind of depth of talent that will allow it to regularly avoid close games.
“We’re not so good that we can have penalties and setbacks on offense and overcome second-and-16. And we’re not so good that we can make mistakes and give people big plays and expect to win,” Frost said. “If everything else in that game stays the same and we win the turnover margin, like we’ve talked about a hundred times in meetings, we probably win the game.”
You have free articles remaining.
Frost’s focus, naturally, skews toward the offense and he pointed out that Nebraska didn’t have nearly enough clean possessions in its 14 chances against Colorado.
“We only had four (drives) without a sack, a penalty, or a tackle for loss and we scored on all four,” he said. “So we’re just not efficient enough to be as consistent as we want to be.”
That can get better with the group the Huskers have currently. Frost on Monday said he thought the offensive line is making steady progress, that more receivers will get involved and that sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez will continue to play better.
Even that, though, might not be enough to think Nebraska is just going to waltz past teams.
“It will be nice in the days around here when we’ve got so much talent that (if) we go out and play like we’re supposed to, then hopefully people won’t have a chance,” Frost said. “Right now, no matter who you’re playing, you have to play well.”
That will likely be true again this weekend against Northern Illinois (1-1), a team that pushed Utah for a half last weekend and, as most NU fans remember, beat the Huskers at Memorial Stadium in 2017 to drop Mike Riley’s final NU team to 1-2 just five days before then-athletic director Shawn Eichorst was fired.
“When I look back on that loss, I think about how we didn’t give them the respect that they deserved,” senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said Monday. “I feel like practice was very loose that week and that people were like, 'Oh, it’s the Sun Belt Conference or whatever, we’re going to beat them, we’re going to dust them, we can play relaxed football, we should beat them by 40.'
“Every team we’re facing this year, we’re going to give them the respect that they deserve like they’re the best team. That’s how we’re preparing for NIU.”
Watch video highlights from Monday's news conference