CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — On paper the Huskers were a touchdown favorite when they invaded Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon.
And rightfully so, considering Scott Frost was entering his fourth season as Nebraska’s coach, while Bret Bielema was in his first with Illinois. However, the results on the field proved to be the opposite, with the Fighting Illini handing the Huskers a humbling 30-22 loss.
Nebraska dropped its’ third season opener under the 46-year old coach. In hindsight it appears the wheels are starting to come off on a lackluster tenure thus far. It didn’t even matter that the Huskers picked up more first downs, ran an additional play and had more passing yards.
The telling stats were the fact that Nebraska finished with more penalties and got killed in time of possession. Not to mention the offense committed two costly turnovers, including a fumble that resulted in six points for the opposition. Frost had to take that familiar walk of shame back to the locker room and now the Huskers have lost four of their last six games overall.
“These kids I feel bad for them because they put in so much hard work,” Frost said. “We put a lot on this game, and they’ll bounce back, but I know how much better our team is right now than what we’ve been, and it didn’t always look like that today.”
The light at the end of the tunnel seems very dim at this point for the embattled coach, who has already come under fire for an ongoing NCAA investigation tied directly to Frost. The embarrassing loss only added more fuel to the fire for Frost’s critics. The Huskers are still making the same mistakes that have plagued the team for the previous three seasons.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez is still running with the ball like he’s holding an old antique vase. He also overthrew receivers that were wide open. Nebraska’s special teams played horrible, giving up a safety on a punt return and two missed extra points by Connor Culp, who’s the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year.
“Missing a couple of extra points certainly didn’t help, Frost said. “Connor, I got all the faith in him in the world, he’s been the only all-conference player we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The Huskers’ offensive line couldn’t get a consistent push off the line of scrimmage. In return that allowed the Fighting Illini’s defense to make several plays in the trenches, including five sacks. Center Cameron Jurgens even had a jaw-dropping, high snap that was reminiscent of last year’s fundamental mistakes.
The start of the third quarter was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Frost’s eyes. He wanted Nebraska’s defense to make a statement, but instead Illinois orchestrated a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that drained the clock for over eight minutes. The Huskers showed they were still fragile in the mental toughness department and didn’t start battling back until it was too late.
“Second half I felt every time we got something started on offense we got a hold, offensive pass interference or bad snap,” the Nebraska native said. “I haven’t seen any of these all fall camp, so it looked like the same movie today and we can’t let it be that way.”
Nebraska will have a glorified scrimmage against FCS foe Fordham at home next Saturday. Regardless, a lot of Big Red Nation appears to be jumping off the sinking ship, leaving several fans wondering if Frost days as Nebraska’s coach are numbered.
Frost’s excuses are sounding the same at press conferences following each loss. Quite frankly fans are growing sick of the moral victories. Nothing gets any easier from this point on for the team, especially with the Huskers still having one of the toughest schedules in the FBS to navigate through.