LINCOLN — Scott Frost rattled off the four towns in the state where he lived, and the one where he was born. Midway through his press conference, during another season in which Nebraska football will have a losing record, the coach made a case for his program and his leadership of it.
“I bleed for this,” Frost said after Nebraska’s 26-17 loss to No. 6 Ohio State. “We’re giving everything we have and pouring everything we have into this and nobody’s more disappointed than me that it hasn’t happened yet.”
The fourth close-not-quite performance against a top-10 team this season represented another data point on the Frost résumé in which the same strengths — a smart, sound defense that prevented OSU’s nation-leading offense from exploding — blended with the usual two missed field goals on special teams and an offense that Frost can’t trust to pick up a fourth-and-4 from OSU’s 13.
In that moment — as NU trailed 23-17 in the fourth quarter — Frost chose to put his offense on the bench and trot out a kicker in his second career start.
No second-guessing NU’s defense, which held the Buckeyes 21 points below their season scoring average despite facing 84 plays. The Blackshirts also became the first defense to hold the Buckeyes under 100 yards rushing this season and picked off C.J. Stroud twice. Only once — on a 75-yard Jaxon Smith-Njigba catch-and-run for a touchdown — did Ohio State have a play longer than 25 yards. Stroud threw for 405 yards, but needed 54 attempts to do it.
“We played at our highest level today, and it might have been because of the team we were playing,” said safety Myles Farmer, who had one of the two picks.
Said Frost: “For the caliber of player they have on offense, I was really impressed with the D.”
Frost also hasn’t questioned his decision to stick with quarterback Adrian Martinez — who, Frost disclosed weeks after the fact, has been playing with a broken jaw and high ankle sprain — to such a degree that backup Logan Smothers hasn’t been used for even a package of run plays because it would be taking Martinez off the field.
“You’re crazy if you don’t think I’m playing the guy who gives us the best chance to win,” Frost said.
Martinez, slowed by the ankle, was sacked five times and had 50% of his 248 passing yards on 72- and 53-yard throws to Samori Touré. Martinez averaged 2.8 yards per carry, with many of the 84,426 in Memorial Stadium imploring Martinez to run as defenders bore down on him in the pocket.
“People get on Adrian pretty hard,” Frost said. “Sometimes he deserves it, sometimes we’ve got to do a better job around him and protection is one of those things.”
Nebraska (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) has been calling more “max protection” pass plays to keep Martinez upright. And one of them — the 72-yarder to Touré — went for a touchdown when NU had fallen behind 17-3 in the second quarter. Touré beat his defender to the middle of the field, which was empty in part because the play design had drawn OSU’s safety away from it.
“The biggest thing was being able to respond and being able to answer, and that was the time for a big play,” said Touré, who had four catches for 150 yards. Touré's second long grab set up NU’s second touchdown that cut the deficit to 23-17 with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
To the start the fourth, Farmer intercepted Stroud. Beginning from its own 14, NU marched 73 yards to the OSU 13, where on third-and-4, Martinez overthrew receiver Levi Falck on a crossing route. On fourth down, Frost opted for the field goal.
It was the same decision he made at Minnesota, inside the Gopher 10 trailing by five. Connor Culp missed the field goal then. Contreraz missed the big one Saturday, too, a low-lining knuckleball that looked as if it had been punctured midair.
“To try to make it a three-point game, that’s the right football decision,” Frost said. “Whether or not it was the right situational decision, knowing what I know now, I would have done something different.”
Said Martinez: “We’re going to do what our coach wants us to do, and I had faith in that plan.”
Nebraska never made it back into Ohio State territory.
The Buckeyes (8-1, 6-0) finished the game with a fourth field goal from Noah Ruggles, who has not missed this season and seems a lock for Big Ten kicker of the year. Frost had that guy — Culp — last season. Now, Culp is on the bench and Contreraz is on a slide, as well.
“You’ll never get me to run down any one kid — these are my guys, I love them — but it isn’t special teams right now, it’s specialists, and that’s been kind of the issue for us,” Frost said.
Even against this schedule — and it’s been a doozy in the Big Ten — seven-loss teams rarely have tidy explanations. There are plays Nebraska doesn’t make — like recovering a Stroud fourth-quarter fumble after Garrett Nelson sacked him — and the mistakes it too often does, like the missed Quinton Newsome tackle that sprung Smith-Njigba’s long catch and run.
There are injuries, especially on offense, that NU points out without noting OSU’s top receiver, Garrett Wilson, didn’t play Saturday. And there is the matter of — though not this week — Nebraska playing up or down to its opponent, as Frost noted in his press conference when he said the Huskers’ “spirit” on Saturday might have won a few more games this season.
As NU enters its second bye week, and administrators like Trev Alberts, Ronnie Green and Ted Carter have a moment to reflect on what’s transpired so far, Frost made a bit of a stump speech.
“I’m disappointed,” Frost said. “I hate losing more than anybody in that locker room. But man I love being the coach here. I love these kids. They’ve battled through a lot. This is going to pop here at Nebraska. It just is.
"We’re doing too many things right, we’ve got too many good young players. We’re putting ourselves in position to win too many games and just not making a play or catching a break.”
Whether those words create hope or discouragement, Frost’s bosses will decide.