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Steven M. Sipple: It all feels far too predictable as Nebraska falters late in season finale

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Iowa vs. Nebraska, 11.26

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost (right) watches the Huskers in the fourth quarter against Iowa on Nov. 26 at Memorial Stadium.

Following Iowa's 28-21 win against Nebraska on Friday, Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel went live on Facebook to discuss the game and take your questions.

Scott Frost turned around and looked several of his players in their eyes. They looked OK, he says. 

How could he know for sure, though? 

Bottom line, he didn't know for sure. 

After all, the fourth-year Nebraska football coach had watched his team falter numerous times this season in critical moments when it should've been slamming the door on an opponent. 

"It's human nature to have it in the back of your head: What's going to go wrong?" Frost said Friday. "And when one thing goes wrong, what else is going to go wrong?" 

A lot had to go wrong for Nebraska to lose to Iowa. A lot did go wrong, most of it during the fourth quarter, and the Hawkeyes escaped with a 28-21 win before 86,541 at Memorial Stadium. 

Nebraska, which finished the season 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten, outplayed 16th-ranked Iowa much of the afternoon. But in the final analysis, well, this all felt far too predictable. It's easy to imagine Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz telling his players to keep pressing the Huskers because they'll make a mistake or a series of mistakes and perhaps even suffer a major, game-changing breakdown. 

In this case, the breakdown was easy to identify. 

Nebraska led 21-9 early in the fourth quarter and still appeared to be in control. To be sure, Frost's crew seemed poised to snap a six-game skid against its border rival even with backup quarterback Logan Smothers leading the charge. This would be a wonderful story for Frost's program, and perhaps the impetus to the Huskers finally ending the narrative that they can come close to beating excellent teams, but can never close the deal.  

So much for ending the narrative. 

Three plays into the fourth quarter, Iowa senior defensive back Henry Marchese blocked William Przystup's punt, and sophomore defensive back Kyler Fisher snatched the airborne ball and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. 

Iowa suddenly pulled to 21-16 behind. The heat was stifling the home team. 

"Somebody missed an assignment," Frost said afterward. "I didn't see it. I'll watch it in about 10 minutes." 

He'll notice that Marchese stormed into the backfield untouched. Yeah, to this layman, it looked like a breakdown. 

Pretty soon, Nebraska broke down.  

Pretty soon, Nebraska had its eighth one-score loss of the season, five coming against ranked teams.

Frost, now 15-29 and 10-25 at Nebraska, called the offensive plays in this game, and that part went fairly well. The Huskers recorded 327 yards of total offense against a Hawkeye defense that was ranked 12th nationally in average yards allowed per game (314.6). Smothers, a 2020 freshman making his collegiate debut as a starter, performed admirably save for a couple of critical errors late in the game. 

For a long while, this game appeared to have the makings of one hell of a nice story for the home team. 

Turns out, it all felt incredibly predictable, right down to the "Let's go Hawks!" chant as Iowa players left the field. 

Frost's plan going forward is to eschew play-calling duties and take on more of a CEO role. He can get a better feel for the sideline vibe as a CEO. If you're a Nebraska fan, you also hope he gets more serious about the special teams issues that plagued his program throughout most of this season and, in fact, during most of his tenure in Lincoln. 

With the 2021 season in the books, Frost now sets about the task of reconfiguring his full-time coaching staff. Four positions are open at the moment. It seems only logical at this point that he hire a dedicated special teams coach — you know, someone who coaches nothing else. 

This special teams stuff is getting sort of ridiculous. 

"The blocked punt was the game," Frost said. 

As one might expect, Iowa (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) kept pressing Nebraska. On the Huskers' next possession, Smothers made his first major mistake of the game, losing a fumble while trying to make a handoff. 

Nebraska, though, forced Iowa to punt and return man Oliver Martin made a fair catch at the Huskers' 7-yard line. Two plays later, Smothers was called for intentional grounding as he was being sacked in the end zone. 

Uh-oh. Iowa was down only 21-18, and the outcome was beginning to feel excessively predictable.  

You wonder if Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts was thinking the same thing. You have to wonder. 

Nebraska's defense, leaky against the run last week at Wisconsin, allowed Tyler Goodson to dash 55 yards to Nebraska's 14. A short time later, Iowa went up 28-21 with 2:58 left in the game, forcing Smothers to guide a comeback. 

Iowa sealed the win with an interception in the final minute. 

Yes, predictable.

Frost said once his players learn how to win close games, it'll become habitual. He's been saying that for weeks.  

By the way, Frost wouldn't commit to hiring an assistant who handles only special teams. It should be noted former Nebraska head coach Mike Riley put Bruce Reed solely in charge of special teams, and it wasn't exactly a flawless enterprise. 

Meanwhile, Frost lauded his team for continuing to fight. Nobody can say Nebraska shut it down, he said. 

The coach felt frustration mixed with hope for the future. 

Ah, but there's a difficult bottom line for Frost and his staff to swallow: Nebraska is much better than its final record. 

More than anything, that's a coaching issue.

"It's unfortunate that a team so great can do so many good things, and it turns out bad," NU cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt said. 

"We're doing our thing, and then just one play or one hiccup knocks the whole tower down," he added. "I know for sure these guys will fix it in the near future."

It's not difficult to find Nebraska fans who think otherwise. 

You wonder what the AD is thinking. You have to wonder. 

Especially after another predictable loss. 


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