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Red-zone woes crop up again as Nebraska fails to seize moment in second-half rally

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Nebraska vs. Minnesota, 10.16

Nebraska running back Rahmir Johnson carries the ball on Oct. 16, 2021, in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — The closer Nebraska's offense gets to pay dirt this season, the more it sputters and spins its wheels in the mud outside of it.

On Saturday, it slipped and fell in it.

The Huskers were mere inches away from scoring a touchdown to complete a furious third-quarter rally that saw the visitors valiantly bite into a 21-9 halftime deficit. 

After Adrian Martinez's run on third down was ruled (just) short of breaking the end zone — the Nebraska QB said afterward he felt, in the moment, like he crossed the goal line — even if the ensuing official review didn't support him.

Anyway, trailing 21-16 with four minutes left in the third quarter, Martinez was joined by 232-pound bruiser Jaquez Yant in the backfield in the shotgun formation.

Unsurprisingly, Martinez put the ball in the gut of Yant, who slipped and fell short of the goal line on what many perceived to be a sure touchdown had he stayed on his feet.

Turnover on downs. 

"It's football, man. … You can’t really explain that," Martinez succinctly concluded after the game. "What are you going to do about that?"

Scott Frost talks about Nebraska's flat start and the little details after the loss to Minnesota.

The stumble highlighted a troubling trait this season for the Huskers, who continue to push down the field just to come up with three points (or none at all).

Nebraska coach Scott Frost's decision, in regards to going for it or kicking a field goal, was relatively easy on that play. Sure, the Huskers didn't convert, but they still forced Minnesota's offense to operate handcuffed by its own end zone before going three-and-out.

That's when the game (and the decisions that come with it) heated up tenfold.

Martinez fired a dart to a wide-open Austin on the first play of the ensuing drive, and the 6-foot-9 Aurora native barreled down the field for 40 yards to give the Huskers yet another chance to snatch the dangling carrot. 

With Minnesota still clinging to a 21-16 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Huskers opted to run the ball to Yant on third-and-12, and the play gained 8 yards. Running in third-and-long situations often indicates a coach's intention to go for it on fourth down, and Yant's run only sweetened that temptation.

Grades: Minnesota 30, Nebraska 23

Frost had a lengthy break in the action between the third and fourth quarters to make his decision. Eventually, Connor Culp came trotting out. 

He made a 50-yard field goal earlier in the game but also missed an extra point. This time, he was lined up in the middle of the hash marks for a 27-yard attempt. It sailed wide right.

Again, Nebraska bobbed and weaved its way down to the red zone, just to come up empty-handed and return the ball to Minnesota on a maroon and gold platter. 

Allen said there was no hesitation among players on the offense. They wanted to go for it, rather than leave it to a kicked ball flying into the south wind at Huntington Bank Stadium.

When Martinez was asked if he attempted to persuade Frost to leave the offense on the field, he replied, "It's not my choice."

"Obviously, the players always feel like they can make plays, no matter the circumstance," he added. "Either way, we had confidence in Culp to make the kick, confidence in ourselves to get that fourth down if called on."

Allen, who enjoyed a fruitful afternoon to the tune of 121 receiving yards and a touchdown, was dejected after the game. 

"It’s frustrating, not finishing those drives," he said. "All we can do now is learn from it."

 

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