Six weeks ago, Nebraska tailback Terrell Newby sat in front of reporters following a last-second loss to Brigham Young, trying to make sense of the Huskers’ heartbreak.
“We have to learn from this,” he said. “We have to make this the lowest point of the season.”
Instead, Nebraska (2-4 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) heads to Minnesota (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday having suffered similar gut-wrenching fates three more times, giving the Huskers four losses by a combined 11 points and prompting first-year head coach Mike Riley to call Nebraska’s worst start since 1959 a “broken record.”
It’s hard to argue. The Huskers led with 10 seconds to play in all but one of the losses — and that one was a flop in overtime — which has led to criticism of their situational defense, running game, special teams, play calling, communication, clock management and just about every other aspect of Big Red’s game as the jaw-dropping defeats pile up.
Can the Huskers learn how to win? Riley hopes so, telling reporters he wakes up every day thinking about the improvements necessary to turn their late-game fate around. He called it “a mental game” with his players, who also need to harness better versatility, balance and judgment, he told media this week.
And if all that fails, there’s always petitioning the NCAA to change the rule book. Riley smiled when asked what improvements he seeks. “Well, we’ve worked at getting a shorter, 59-minute game,” he said.
A closer look at four last-second losses:
Wicked close to opener
The game: Sept. 5, BYU 33, Nebraska 28
The setup: After Nebraska scored two third-quarter touchdowns to take a 28-24 lead, Trevor Samson drilled a 35-yard field goal with 7:57 left to pull BYU within one. The Huskers had two more tries to pad their lead, but their drives ended in a punt and a missed field goal with 48 seconds left.
The big play: Facing fourth-and-3 with no time on the clock, BYU freshman Tanner Mangum flung a 42-yard Hail Mary into the end zone and receiver Mitch Mathews made the grab. Game over.
Postgame talk: “It [stinks] to have that happen to you, where you work your tail off the whole entire game and then you get it taken away from you.” — Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Big comeback, big mistake
The game: Sept. 19, Miami 36, Nebraska 33 (OT)
The setup: The Huskers forced overtime by scoring 23 points in the final 8 minutes, 36 seconds on three touchdown passes from Armstrong, who threw for 309 yards and ran for 49. But it was the quarterback’s last throw of the day that was most remembered.
The big play: Miami defensive back Corn Elder intercepted Armstrong’s pass on the first play of the extra session and returned it 47 yards. The Hurricanes went on to kick the winning 28-yard field goal.
Postgame talk: “We’re literally a minute away from being 3-0.” — Riley
Passing off the victory
The game: Oct. 3, Illinois 14, Nebraska 13
The setup: Nebraska was up 13-0 in the fourth before QB Wes Lunt led a drive to make it 13-7. The Huskers still had control with a minute left and facing a 3rd-and-7 at the 27-yard line. Illinois was out of timeouts.
The big play: Pressured and on a bootleg, Armstrong rushed a third-down pass instead of running to keep the clock ticking. Armstrong missed his target on fourth-and-7 as well, and with 55 seconds on the clock, Lunt drove the Illini 72 yards in 41 seconds. At the 1-yard line, Lunt hit Geronimo Allison for the score with 10 seconds to spare.
Postgame talk: “The whole intention of it was a quarterback run … my first reaction was surprise.” — Riley, on Armstrong’s decision to pass on third-and-7. Asked if Armstrong had a pass option, Riley replied “No.”
Second chance hurts most
The game: Oct. 10, Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 21
The setup: Leading 21-20 after a 55-yard touchdown run by Andy Janovich with 3:38 left, Nebraska was given a gift when Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone’s 39-yard field-goal attempt careened off the upright. The Huskers got the ball with 1:26 to go, but were forced to punt after three failed runs, handing the ball back with 63 seconds remaining.
The big play: Badgers quarterback Joel Stave completed three consecutive passes to set up the dagger with four seconds left — a 46-yard redemption field goal by Gaglianone.
Postgame talk: “You guys can start with questions. I’d led off with a broken record I think, here.” — Riley in the postgame news conference.