During the 1995 movie "Leaving Las Vegas," Ben Sanderson arrives at a junky motel with his life in shambles.
As he stands at the check-in desk, he gazes at a sign reading, "The Whole Year Inn," but he subconsciously reads it as "The Hole You're In." Sanderson cracks a wry smile. It was a clever twist.
Nebraska football coach Scott Frost wasn't smiling Saturday afternoon, a day that took a cruel turn for the Huskers. Frost wore a look of pain. His program is in a hole. He didn't put it there. He's only coached two games at NU. But he's in the hole nonetheless. Here's hoping he retains a sense of humor, even in the wake of a dispiriting 24-19 loss to Troy, the Huskers' sixth straight loss at Memorial Stadium and sixth straight overall.
Nebraska, 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 1957, fell for the eighth time in its last nine games dating to last season and is staring down the barrel of a trip to Michigan next week.
Bill Jennings was in his first year as the Huskers' coach in 1957. That team finished 1-9. This year's team still has the potential to win a half-dozen games, although the loss to Troy (2-1) obviously dampens optimism on NU's chances to reach a bowl game. It's clearly going to be difficult.
If you're a Husker fan, you don't even want to consider the possibility of missing out on a bowl in back-to-back seasons. That's way too much lost practice time. But that's the cruel reality.
"I think we're a better team than what the results say we are," Frost said. "But that doesn't matter. I just got done telling the team that when things get tough like this, you've got two choices: You fight back and you work even harder, or you give up. I also told them that if anyone doesn't want to stay on board this ride with us, let me know now and we can get off.
"I know where this is going. We just haven't had the results early that we need."
Frost's jaw was set. He showed pluck as a player at Nebraska. What's more, he showed as head coach at Central Florida that he can steer a ship through rough waters. He's certainly no Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage). Sanderson cashed in his chips in life. But Frost, of course, is in this for the long haul. He came to Nebraska, in part, because he has a long runway. It's just that the takeoff has been much rougher than most people expected.
(I never dreamed I would be writing about Nicolas Cage and Scott Frost in the same column, but I also never dreamed I'd be covering a Nebraska football team in danger of losing for the ninth time in 10 games).
Adrian Martinez's return to action could help matters next week at the Big House. The true freshman quarterback, who injured his knee last week against Colorado, was sharp in warmups Saturday morning, Frost said. But Frost also said using Martinez against Troy "wasn't an option" as the coach considers the young QB's "long-term health more than anything." That can't be easy for the coach. This program needs a win.
So, Martinez's status will remain day to day. The guess here is he'll play against Michigan and its ultra-rugged defense. Here's hoping Nebraska's offensive line takes a big step forward in Ann Arbor, because it took a sizable step backward against Troy.
Granted, the Trojans often loaded the box. But you know things are bleak for Nebraska when it musters only 3.9 yards per rush against a Sun Belt team. The Huskers' so-so play up front basically scuttled Frost's plan to "ugly the game up." Andrew Bunch, the sophomore walk-on who started in place of Martinez, said the plan was to dominate up front. That would ease pressure on the backup QB. But it didn't work out, especially when Troy went up 17-0 with 5:12 left in the first half.
Frost said Nebraska needed a big day from the Pipeline, Blackshirts and special teams. The Huskers were 0-for-3 in that regard.
"You could say there were some positives (on defense)," NU senior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg said. "But at the end of the day, we had plenty of chances to take that game over defensively. We let them have explosive plays, and that killed us."
Nebraska also had 10 penalties for 77 yards. The two-game tally is 22 for 172 yards. Nobody saw that coming.
Meanwhile, the Huskers for the second straight week looked sloppy on special teams, especially on Cedarius Rookard's 58-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave Troy a 10-0 lead.
Yeah, it was another hole. Colorado shot out to a 14-0 lead last week in Memorial Stadium. Nobody seems particularly intimidated by the stadium anymore.
Same ol', same ol'.
"It sucks to keep telling everybody, 'We're almost there, we're almost there,' and then have it not happen," Nebraska linebacker Luke Gifford said. "But it's where we're at right now. We have to find whatever it is to take that step."
Getting Martinez back would guarantee nothing, particularly against Michigan. Nebraska has myriad issues. In other words, don't hang this loss on Bunch. Granted, he forced a few throws. Unlike Martinez, he isn't a supreme runner. But he wasn't why Nebraska lost.
"We had to lean on him, and when we asked him to make throws, I thought he made some good ones and did some good things," Frost said.
Nebraska player after player promised they would fight back, but that should be a given. After all, this isn't suicidal Ben Sanderson in "Leaving Las Vegas." The Huskers have plenty of reasons for hope.
But that hole from which they're climbing is perhaps deeper than many of us thought.