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Huskers plagued by same issues in game 2

September 18, 2018

LINCOLN — For a moment — for the second straight week — Nebraska looked like it finally caught a break.

This time it was third-and-9 early in the fourth quarter, the second straight third-and-9 on the drive for Troy, which led 17-13. Quarterback Kaleb Barker dropped back, slung a pass to Deondre Douglas that bounced off the turf. Memorial Stadium let out a wail and collective sigh. Maybe Nebraska would escape this nightmare.

But like last week against Colorado on a third-and-24 personal foul, yellow flags ruined the moment.

Pass interference on safety Aaron Williams. First down, and a new life for Troy. And the Trojans took advantage.

They converted on another third-and-9 three plays later, then scored on a 26-yard run right up the gut to put the dagger in.

It was against a different team from Week 2 to Week 3. But it was the same mistakes that buried Nebraska in a 24-19 loss at home.

“Same sh--, stuff from last week,” defensive end Ben Stille said Saturday, catching himself. “Can’t make mistakes.”

Nebraska shooting itself in the foot was the cliche of the past week after the 33-28 season opening loss to Colorado. On Saturday, Nebraska reloaded the gun and pointed it right back at its foot.

A fumble by Jack Stoll in the first quarter on second-and-10 after snagging a pass from Andrew Bunch.

Bunch forcing a pass near the sideline on third-and-5 on the next possession for his first pick of the day.

Caleb Lightbourn outkicking his coverage and Husker defenders diving at the ankles of Cedarius Rookyard on Troy’s 58-yard punt return touchdown.

The delay of game penalty that pushed Nebraska back 5 yards as true freshman Barett Pickering pushed a 33-yard field goal wide right.

A holding penalty by Mike Williams which erased an 8-yard touchdown pass from Bunch to JD Spileman which would’ve tied the game 17-17.

The 24-yard punt by Lightbourn, setting Troy up with a short field.

The three straight third-and-9 conversions by Troy leading to the touchdown and the final interception on second-and-10 which closed the second chapter of Scott Frost’s first season with a second home loss.

“We just gotta keep building on the little things,” safety Tre Neal said. “The little things are coming back to get us.”

Through two games, Nebraska ranks near the top of the Big Ten in sacks per game (first), total offense (fifth), rushing offense (third) and in run defense (fourth). But the Huskers are 13th in turnover margin and last in penalties (86 yards per game).

“We have to make sure that guys are intense and guys are going hard but it is within the guise of the rules within the whistles,” captain Mick Stoltenberg said.

The mistakes come down to two things, the players said. Details and trying to do too much.

Details — even the smallest — that aren’t cleaned up during the week bleed into Saturday. And throw everything off.

“If we’re in practice and a guy says go 5 yards and we’re going 41/2 yards, that’s not good enough,” Neal said. “If we’re coming up short in practice, we’re going to come up short in a game just like today and last week.”

If meetings are at 6 a.m., guys need to be there at 5:55, linebacker Luke Gifford said.

“Those are the things where we’ve come a long ways but there’s still a little bit left to go,” the captain said. “And it shows up on the field on Saturdays when it’s third-and-whatever and you get a penalty for whatever it is. It’s just shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Accountability was a talking point in fall camp. The lack of it in 2017, and the resurgence of it with Frost’s new regime. But it needs improvement, Neal said.

On defense, Nebraska seems to be too eager to make a big play, Stoltenberg said. The idea of a huge hit or a big stop on third down blinds guys and leads to mistakes, and penalties, and losses like Saturday.

“Guys can be aggressive all they want but your aggression has to be taken out in the right way,” Stoltenberg said. “You cannot be going after opponents or getting personal fouls because those are killers: 15 yards, automatic first down. No matter what the situation is.”

Nebraska outgained Troy and Colorado. The Huskers held the ball for longer and had the ball with a chance to win in the final minutes and failed both times.

Nebraska is close to putting it together, Gifford said. He sees that. So does Frost. But there’s still a ways to go.

“It sucks to keep telling everyone we’re almost there,” Gifford said. “And then have it not happen. It’s where we’re at right now.”

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