Look at the raw numbers, and it would be almost beyond comprehension to imagine a play-caller as disgusted as Scott Frost was Saturday afternoon when he stepped to the podium at Memorial Stadium after Nebraska’s most-recent loss.
The Huskers piled up 582 yards on 81 snaps. Their freshman quarterback showed why he is so highly thought of. Their senior running back looked like a vintage, power Nebraska back. Their offensive line didn’t play perfectly, but did enough to help power to a season-best 31 first downs.
And yet here was Frost after a 42-28 loss to Purdue, as bitter as Nebraska fans have seen him in his nearly 10 months on the job.
For good reason, too. All of that good matters very little when it’s hindered over and over and over again by the volume of self-inflicted wounds seen more acutely in very few college football programs.
“We honestly look, in my opinion, like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country,” Frost said. “It kills me, because it isn’t like we’re not giving them the message. It’s not like we’re not trying to hold them accountable.
“At times the offense looked like I want it to look. We were shredding them at times and this is the second time we’ve lost with almost 600 yards of offense. That’s not supposed to happen, but it happens when you make all the mistakes. It happens when you beat yourself, it doesn’t matter how many yards you have when you beat yourself.”
That sentiment must have been shared by the vast majority of the 88,911 fans on hand on a dreary afternoon to witness Nebraska’s fourth straight loss to open Frost’s tenure at his alma mater and the program’s eighth straight overall, the second-longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It stood as the driving force behind the school’s 10th loss in its last 11 games and, perhaps even more unfathomably, its seventh consecutive loss at Memorial Stadium.
It simply doesn’t matter who or where a team plays if it makes the kind of mistakes the Huskers made.
“We played well enough to win Game 1, Game 2 and Game 4,” Frost said, referring to losses to Colorado, Troy and the Boilermakers. “But not when you make those mistakes.”
Seemingly every time NU made a play, some sort of mental miscue wiped it away. Cornerback Lamar Jackson was called for defensive holding as safety Marquel Dismuke intercepted a second-quarter pass. Jackson celebrated on the field, and Frost benched him the rest of the game.
“We can’t get holding calls on interceptions and then talk trash to their sideline and start dancing on the field,” Frost said. “I didn’t know what was happening, but when we’re down 13 points and we’ve got backups and reserves dancing on our sideline before kickoffs, they look like they love losing and they look undisciplined.”
Dismuke himself had a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds — the Huskers had five personal fouls in the game and 11 penalties for a whopping 136 yards. Nebraska’s now been flagged 42 times for 401 yards through four games.
“I’ve got a sense of why, but I don’t really want to say why,” Frost said of the continual mistakes. “Because this is my team and not somebody else’s team. But in order to have a disciplined team you’ve got to have guys that really care. You’ve got to have guys that are accountable and you have to have an environment where they’re held accountable. It’s all the little things they do on and off the field. We’re doing that. I don’t know if it’s taken root with everybody.”
It proved too much to overcome in the second half. The Huskers jumped to a 7-0 lead on their opening drive, solving at least one of their early-season ills. But Purdue’s offense, directed by the talented head coach Jeff Brohm, responded with 27 straight points over the next two-plus quarters as Frost’s attack foundered.
But then quarterback Adrian Martinez hit his stride and the NU attack flourished. He tallied 301 of his 414 yards of offense (career-best 323 passing) in the final 30 minutes. He threw two touchdown passes to JD Spielman (10 receptions for 135 yards) and handed another to Devine Ozigbo (17 carries, career-best 170 yards, two TDs). Martinez also threw his lone interception of the afternoon, a tough one while trailing 42-28 that he said afterward he “obviously” wants back.
"I saw a guy today that looks like he kind of figured out he can win a game,” Frost said of his freshman.
But by that time, Purdue already had a sizable head start in the track meet. The Boilermakers surrendered nearly 600 yards of offense (they put up 516) but still led by multiple scores for the final 42 minutes, 51 seconds.
Purdue quarterback David Blough and an effective run game provided too much balance and did not turn the ball over. The Boilermakers scored on all six trips to the red zone and converted 7 of 16 third-down tries. They did what they needed to in order to have consistent success.
Nebraska also showed the visitors far too much hospitality by committing six penalties that turned into first downs. The Huskers opened far too many doors with a late hit out of bounds, a block in the back, holding penalties, roughing-the-passer penalties and more.
So what happens now? This is not a new problem. Frost alluded to needing more player-directed leadership in the locker room and on the practice field and to players needing to be willing to rebuke a teammate who’s not showing the proper level of discipline either on the field or off it.
“That’s the missing part here for as long as I’ve been here,” said Ben Stille, a sophomore and one of the players Frost said he’d go to battle with any time. “That’s definitely something that’s being worked on and needs to be addressed.”
“Now. Right now. We’re four games in and we’ve lost four games,” added captain and senior left guard Jerald Foster, noting that everybody’s job should be up for grabs, including his own. “That’s it. We can’t go any further. We’re going to do what we need to do, and if we need to take people out, that’s what it’s going to be.”
So now, Frost and his staff go back to work trying to push the right buttons and the players set about trying to raise the standard among themselves.
“There’s really no difference in coaching between ‘I can’t do it,’ and ‘I won’t do it,'” Frost said. “The people that won’t make good decisions, the people that are hitting people 3 yards out of bounds, if that keeps up, I’m just going to ride with the guys that do it the right way. We’ve got a lot of warriors on this team that battled today and a lot of guys played well enough to win.
"But I’m tired of coaching an undisciplined team.”