Nebraska’s haunting reality of the past three seasons in the Big Ten West

You Husker fans are in the middle of football hell. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Certainly no fanbase has seen more misery in the past six seasons. Of the 65 Power Five programs, only Vanderbilt, Rutgers and Kansas have more losses than Nebraska’s 45 since 2017. Yet during those six seasons, Nebraska is the only one NOT to qualify for a bowl game.

The Huskers have experienced separate losing streaks of 10 games, four, seven and (currently) five. They lost 21 straight to ranked opponents. And on and on…

But of all the stunning, heartbreaking facts illustrating Husker’s recent futility, I doubt anything captures it quite like Nebraska’s record against arguably the worst league in big conference football — the Big Ten West.

Nebraska is 2-18 in their last 20 games against division rivals.

The time span goes back to October 2019 – after a game-winning field goal over Northwestern. Since then, the Huskers have twice beaten Maryland, Penn State, Indiana and Rutgers. But they only defeated two divisional opponents: Purdue 2020 and Northwestern 2021. Two-for-20.

That’s bad, isn’t it? It gets worse.

A whopping 14 of those 20 games ended in possession. Eight points or less.

And what is Nebraska’s record in these one-possession games?

Impossible right? you would think! It gets worse.

In those 14 games, the first three quarters were almost a dead heat. The opponents collectively surpassed Nebraska 272-257. Basically one point per game.

What happened in the last quarter? The 14 opponents collectively surpassed Nebraska 117-53. Nebraska missed six times in the fourth quarter.

It gets worse. Because 12 times in those 14 games, Nebraska’s offense took the field with less than 5 minutes left and needed a successful drive to equalize or take the lead. How many times has NU scored?

It gets worse. The Husker offense recorded a safety on one of those 12 possessions (in Minnesota 2021), so it actually scored more points for the opponent than it did for itself.

0-for-12. Minus 2 points.

How did these possessions end? Five fourth-down errors, two interceptions, two punts, a fumble, a safety and a clock expiration.

It gets worse. Much worse.

In the same 14 games, the Nebraska defense also had multiple chances to perform in the clutch. Seven times in the last 5 minutes the opponent had possession of the ball or within a point.

How many times has Nebraska’s defense given up the go-ahead points? Five times out of seven. That’s four go-ahead touchdowns and a summer beating field goal.

Nebraska’s defense produced only two stops. Both happened in the game in Iowa 2019 with a 24-point tie. But Nebraska’s offensive kept failing, and the Blackshirts eventually relented.

It’s a nightmare formula: an offense that can’t score under pressure combined with a defense that can’t keep up in the embrace.

Full disclosure here, there is no perfect way to measure clutch performance. Is it the last 2 minutes? Final 5? Last 15? And how do you define a tight game? As previously mentioned, the Huskers have also had some good moments in recent years, particularly against Big Ten East foes.

But it’s hard to turn this miserable stretch against the Big Ten West. 2-18? 0-14 in possession games? Nebraska’s clutch failures against rivals and neighbors are at the heart of a very big problem.

It’s not just statistically unlikely. It’s emotionally devastating.

The 14 one-possession losses studied:

The 12 offensive drives in the last 5 minutes draw/run behind:

Purdue 2019 – Sales on Downs

NW 2020 – Sales on Downs

Illinois 2021 sales down

Minnesota 2021 – Security

Wisconsin 2021 – Sales down

Iowa 2021 – Interception

Minnesota 2022 – Sales down

Wisconsin 2022 – clock expired

The 7 defensive drives tied/leading in the last 5 minutes:

Purdue 2019 – Landing

Wisconsin 2021 – Landing

Wisconsin 2022 – Landing

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