Nebraska vs. Purdue, 11.02.2019

Nebraska football coach Scott Frost looks on during second-half action against Purdue on Nov. 2 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. 

TownNews.com Content Exchange

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Things I know, and things I think I know:

As Purdue's offense made play after play against Nebraska during the late stages of Saturday's game, I scribbled something in my notebook that I thought was meaningful.

Ben Stille and Barrett Ruud's comments suggest it wasn't particularly meaningful after all.

At any rate, the scribbles said it looked like Nebraska's defenders were punching a time clock at work, basically waiting for the day to end. I was looking closely to see if a few Blackshirts might visibly exhort teammates -- a la Ray Lewis or Jason Peter -- to dig in and make a play. To show raw emotion.

Stille, a Nebraska junior defensive lineman from Ashland, told reporters after the game that emotion isn't all that important in that situation. He said it's about "making plays and doing your job." Purdue's 93rd-ranked offense was sharper in that regard in the final minutes, and the Boilermakers prevailed 31-27 at home.

Stille's comments made me think of something Nebraska inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud told me last week in the wake of the Huskers' 38-31 home loss to Indiana, in which the Hoosiers' offense closed out the win with critical plays.

I asked Ruud if Nebraska's defense plays with enough hunger. I brought up the "hunger" angle in an effort to make sense of the Blackshirts' significant struggles in the last five games, a stretch that includes four losses.

"You know, to me, it all comes down to execution," said Ruud, Nebraska's all-time leading tackler as a linebacker from 2001-04. "If your keys are good, if you have no doubt where you're supposed to be at, and you make the tackle -- all of the sudden you look like a hungry player.

"You can be frothing at the mouth, but if you whiff your key and you're two steps off and you miss a tackle, now you're not a hungry player."

So, Ruud emphasizes the clinical part of playing defense. I understand the importance of that. I also think there's something to be said for defenders being hungry to execute, and frothing at the mouth to do so.

I believe Nebraska (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) too often looks like a team merely punching a time clock. Granted, there's insufficient talent and depth on both sides of the ball. There's not a surefire 2019 first-team All-Big Ten choice on the roster. That has to change in coming years.

Husker second-year head coach Scott Frost has to put an especially strong emphasis on bolstering the trenches on both sides of the ball.

But something beside talent is missing. Chemistry is off. Adrian Martinez isn't quite right. On and on. Bottom line, Nebraska should have been able to close out a win against Purdue. Same goes for Colorado and Indiana. What's more, NU's performance at Minnesota was uninspiring to say the least. 

"Say what you want about emotion," Ruud said. "All that stuff is great maybe for the first kickoff of the year, or the first kick of the game. You go to hit the wedge. That's emotion. But as soon as you make one tackle in a game, now I might as well be playing at a Tuesday practice. In my mind, that's what it is."

I'll keep scribbling, and searching for answers.

* Frost obviously will keep searching for answers, as well. In that regard, a scene last week from Nebraska's camp will be burned in my brain maybe forever.

The Huskers practiced outdoors in frigid conditions -- temperature was in the teens with wind chill factored. Afterward, as players and coaches made their way into Hawks Championship Center, their discomfort was glaringly evident. Cornerback Lamar Jackson stopped in his tracks to gather himself. Secondary coach Travis Fisher unleashed a primal yell, a product of pain coupled with relief to be indoors.

Frost walked fast and alone, his face bright red from the chill.

It's a brutally tough sport. The fun -- most of it, anyway -- is in the achievements. Conquering tough teams. Conquering elements. Conquering pain and fatigue. When a team isn't winning, well, the fun subsides to a large degree. Sometimes struggling teams begin playing out the string, so to speak.

Frost has to be mindful of that mentality settling in.

His job seems to get harder and harder.

* An example of why Frost's job is getting harder: He has to convince prospects the program is headed in the right direction even as losses mount. He's now 8-13 at Nebraska.

* Willie Taggart was 9-12 at Florida State. If you're the Seminoles' A.D., you go hard after Bob Stoops. Very hard. He won 10 Big 12 titles at Oklahoma. Think about that for a second.

* How about something positive to ponder? Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco says he isn't finding that his well-stocked QB depth chart is an impediment to attracting the attention of QB prospects.

"We haven't experienced that as of yet," the coach said. "It's been really good. Number one, I think the attraction of playing for coach Frost is off the chains, to use a modern phrase. Then there's the notion of playing here at Nebraska, especially when they get a chance to visit and see what it's like here. There's really nothing like it in the country, truly."

* That said, the $65 million Purdue Football Performance Complex makes a big impression. The three-level, 112,000-square-foot building -- situated right next to Ross-Ade Stadium -- is sleek and modern, something that would definitely get a prospect's attention.

Highlights play around the clock on a huge video screen inside the complex, visible to the public. Very cool.

Have I mentioned how difficult Frost's job is getting?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

Locations

TownNews.com Content Exchange
Load comments