Nebraska players and coaches are keenly aware of the program’s ongoing drought away from Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers (2-1), who travel to Illinois (2-1) this weekend and opened the week as approximately a touchdown favorite, have not won a road game since Oct. 28, 2017, when Tanner Lee threw a last-second touchdown to Stanley Morgan against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium for the final victory of the Mike Riley era.
Fast forward 693 days and the Scott Frost-led Huskers will take the field in Champaign, Illinois looking to stop an eight-game road skid and notch the first win away from home since Frost took over.
“That’s in the back of our heads this week,” junior inside linebacker Collin Miller said. “Since Frost has been here we haven’t won a road game. We want to come into Illinois and knock that off. I think it gives you a little motivation. Illinois is a real good team, (it’s a) night game, so I think we want to go in there and prove we’re here, we’re here to play ball now and that we can go anywhere and play and come out victorious.”
Those eight losses have come in all shapes and sizes. Since Frost took over here, the losses include one clunker — that 56-10 blowout at Michigan — but mostly tight games.
In fact, the past four look like this: A last-second collapse and overtime loss against Northwestern, a five-point loss at Ohio State that NU led in the third quarter, a three-point loss at Iowa that the Huskers had tied in the fourth quarter and a second-half collapse and overtime loss at Colorado earlier this month.
“Two games in particular, we had every chance to win and we didn’t,” Frost said, referring Northwestern and CU. “We had a lot of talk amongst the team last week and the guys found a way to finish the game (against Northern Illinois) when they needed to. So we just need to do the same thing on the road.”
That’s part of the learning process. Yes, Frost is winless on the road so far as the head coach at NU. On the other hand, Nebraska’s won six of the past nine games it's played and put itself in position in the other three.
“You guys talk about the struggles to win on the road, but there were struggles to win period, no matter where we were, in the past,” junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle pointed out. “Those are things we have to overcome. I see this thing turning in the right direction. Going in on the road, we're very mindful. We're mindful of our previous experiences.
“We've got to make that change.”
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Senior graduate transfer nose tackle Darrion Daniels missed Oklahoma State’s final nine games last year with an injury, but coach Mike Gundy and the staff still brought him on road trips because of his leadership value to the team. OSU beat Kansas in Lawrence in late September but dropped four in a row away from home before a 38-33 win over Missouri in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.
“Preparation, being able to do everything full speed with our eyes closed, that's the best way to go into a hostile territory,” the NU captain said Monday. “And really just bring the same energy that we bring to practice and bring the same energy we bring to home games. That's the only way I feel like is the approach to playing in hostile territory. We have to have tunnel vision when we're on the road. …
“It’s really just us getting out of our own way and just playing the ball that we know how to play.”
Nebraska’s eight-game road losing streak is really made up of several different elements. Certainly talent has been part of the equation over the past nearly two years. So, too, is the oft-talked about program “culture.” There are dashes of statistical anomaly and just plain old bad luck, too, considering the narrow margin and unlikely nature of several of the outcomes.
When a road win happens again, though, it will be a sweet feeling for the Huskers, not only for the monkey off their collective backs but because, as Daniels said Monday, winning on the road can be even more satisfying than winning at home.
“It’s a fun feeling. It’s good being a villain,” Daniels said. “Going into somebody else’s territory and ruining their day is actually kind of fun because it’s like, your back is against the wall. When your back’s against the wall, the only thing you can do is swing forward.
“It makes me personally, I’m not sure how the rest of the team feels, but it makes me feel like I did myself an honor, with my back against the wall, coming out victorious.”