In past games when Nebraska blew leads, coach Scott Frost turned into Han Solo from "Star Wars," suddenly getting a "bad feeling" something would go wrong before it actually did.
After last week's agonizing 32-29 home loss to No. 9 Michigan, Frost claimed there was no such ominous feeling. But the Huskers squandered another golden opportunity when a late fumble led to a game-deciding field goal for the Wolverines.
"We'll get there," Frost said. "I'm hurting for [the players] more than anything."
Frost enters Saturday's game at Minnesota coming off his ninth consecutive loss against ranked opponents and 16th loss in his Nebraska coaching career by single digits, including all four losses this season.
Once billed as the program savior, Nebraska's embattled coach — now in his fourth year in Lincoln — is still waiting to prove the Cornhuskers can finally turn the corner.
"I'm not worried about [Saturday's] game from an energy and enthusiasm standpoint," Frost said in a Monday news conference. "Minnesota has a good team, they're well-coached, it's on the road. It will be tough. But I don't think our guys will fail to be prepared or ready."
Bouncing back after an emotional defeat is critical for the Huskers (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) to stay on track for a bowl bid this season, but the question still lingers if Frost's teams can ever get out of their own way to win big games.
A disturbing trend started under the previous regime, but Nebraska has dropped 14 consecutive games against ranked opponents, including an 0-9 record since Frost took over in 2018. By comparison, Minnesota has a 2-8 record against ranked opponents in P.J. Fleck's tenure, with both victories coming during its 11-win season in 2019.
Imagine how the narrative would shift if Frost had three victories against top-20 opponents this season. Instead, Nebraska's résumé includes three more blown games, including a 23-16 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma and 23-20 overtime loss at No. 20 Michigan State this year.
"There are a lot of ways we can get better," Frost said. "We can get better up front. We can block downfield better. There are a couple more details we need to get better. The defense is playing well, but we had a miscommunication on one of [Michigan's] touchdowns. When you're not playing well, you don't even notice those things."
In the past two years, the Gophers have struggled to replicate the success of the 2019 season, but they've still beaten Nebraska twice. Fleck's record vs. Nebraska improved to 3-1 overall after a memorable 24-17 road win last year. Minnesota was missing 33 players because of injuries and COVID-19.
Fleck said the Huskers are "playing at an incredibly high level right now" even after they dropped to 1-3 in conference play.
"They're one of the best offenses in the country, let alone the Big Ten," Fleck said. "We got a huge challenge in front of us. … From the Michigan game, they showed that they're really a good football team."
The biggest key to the Huskers' turnaround is arguably their high-risk, high-reward quarterback Adrian Martinez, who has been at the forefront of several of Frost's notable close losses.
The first game Martinez played at Nebraska was a 33-28 loss at Colorado his freshman year in 2018. But he also was a part of nail-biting road losses at Northwestern (34-31 in OT), at Ohio State (36-31), and at Iowa (31-28) that season. Another defeat against Colorado on the road in overtime in 2019, and a third consecutive one-score loss to the Hawkeyes last season were hard to swallow as well.
As brilliant as Martinez played last Saturday, leading Frost's team to take the lead on a fourth-quarter TD drive, his late fumble gave the Wolverines a chance to be the latest opponent to escape from the Cornhuskers' grasp.
"We still despite our record know how good of a team we are and what we're capable of," Martinez said Monday. "We still have some big games on the schedule. The biggest one is Minnesota."