LINCOLN — The line is a Scott Frost favorite. Instead of needing to rise to the occasion, players fall back on the training that got them to that moment.
If the ability to play well in clutch spots is earned behind the scenes, then Nebraska has more time to do so with no game Saturday. The Huskers practiced Tuesday and Wednesday — NCAA rules call for extra days off between bye weeks because they played a Week Zero game.
They’re fixing their gaze on flipping the handful of sequences that have them carrying five one-score losses.
“I’m tired of saying, ‘We’re one play away, we’re two plays away,’ ” Frost said Wednesday. “The kids are tired of that, too. But what we talked about the last two days was making the play when it counts. Being a guy you can depend on when it matters.
“We’ve made plenty enough good plays in several games to have the outcome be different. A lot of guys have had opportunities to make a play. One more play somewhere to get it done. And we haven’t done it yet.”
The offense had at least one drive late in all five losses to tie or take the lead and didn’t come through in any of them. Defensive stops or takeaways haven’t come at pivotal moments. Erratic placekicking and punting have taken points off the board and given them to opponents — like the blocked extra point returned by Oklahoma and the punt return at Michigan State.
Players have often held their index finger and thumb barely apart to show the margin between a 3-5 record and 6-2 or 7-1. On a fourth-down play at the Minnesota 1-yard line that would have given the Huskers a lead in the third quarter, running back Jaquez Yant instead slipped. NU got nothing and lost by seven points.
“We always come close, and close isn’t enough for the record book,” cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt said Saturday.
Frost said fast starts need to be a priority. They got one against Northwestern and cruised to a blowout win. Meanwhile, every Nebraska loss has begun with the opponent scoring first.
NU set the tone especially poorly against Minnesota.
The offense went three-and-out — a wrong read, missed protection and missed throw to an open man after the defender fell all contributed to the 45-second possession. Then the Gophers held the ball for nearly eight minutes, eventually scoring on a fourth-down play-action pass from the Nebraska 5.
“It’s little details here and there,” Frost said. “We’re executing on a lot of stuff, making a lot of plays, getting a lot of yards. When it really matters, we haven’t gotten it done enough.”
Some of the onus is on the coaches, Frost said, to “be a touch more aggressive and let the guys go.” Nebraska needs to “completely let it rip” in the first quarter as much as in the fourth.
The downtime will help physically after playing eight straight Saturdays.
Frost said someday he’ll go into detail about the ailments Adrian Martinez has navigated, but said they were enough to take some of the usual quarterback run plays off the game sheet. Extra rest will have the fourth-year starter “as healthy as he’s been in several weeks” when Purdue comes to Lincoln on Oct. 30.
Safety Deontai Williams (knee) and running back Rahmir Johnson (concussion) — who were injured against the Gophers — are among other Huskers working back. Johnson has to clear concussion protocols before he returns to action, Frost said.
Frost plans to spend Saturday with his wife and kids, but said time will be afforded to do a “deep dive” on preparations for Purdue. Minnesota had that advantage against the Huskers, who will have it on the Boilermakers as Purdue hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.
NU still has a third of its regular season ahead, rounded out by Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. Frost said the focus isn’t about intangibles or the big picture. He likes the culture, effort and intensity. Players are dialed in and maxing out.
More time means more reps. More reps mean a greater chance the Huskers do what they need to do in games.
Especially at those critical junctures.
“We’ve been a play short, an inch short,” Frost said. “We’ve got to find a way to get those plays done. We’ll keep putting kids in the best situation we know how to. It’s going to happen. They’ve just got to get it over the hump and we’ve got to find a way to get an inch better.”