Illinois leads by seven points just before the half-time break after Adrian Martinez's fumble. Calvin Hart Jr. takes it up for the 41-yard touchdown. (0:51).
CHAMPAIGN (Ill.) -- The most disappointing thing about Nebraska's 30-22 season-opening loss to Illinois was that all the previous mistakes that have plagued the Huskers in recent decades seemed to be showing up.
It is frightening that Scott Frost, coach, and his players do not know why they keep getting the same results.
Adrian Martinez, quarterback, said that if he had the answer, it would not have happened today. It's a matter of getting better, learning from those mistakes and realizing that they are hurting the football team. We must improve."
The offseason was spent by coaches and players focusing on the mistakes that led to Nebraska finishing at 12-20. There were three fifth-place finishes for the Big Ten West Division in Nebraska since Frost's return to the program he quarterbacked in 1997 to win a national championship. Frost believed he had the best team in the season. One with the maturity and experience to play cleaner games at a conference that penalizes those who make mistakes.
However, Huskers errors contributed to nearly every Illinois score on Saturday. Cam Taylor-Britt caught a punt at his 2-yard line and was dropped for safety after trying to throw the ball out of the goal zone. Nebraska was leading 9-2 after Taylor-Britt intercepted an Illinois backup quarterback's pass. Caleb Tannor, a linebacker, was flagged for roughing Sitkowski and also received an unsportsmanlike misconduct foul. The Illini drove for the game-tying touchdown.
In the final minute, disaster struck when Martinez lost his ball. Illinois' Calvin Hart Jr. recovered the ball and ran 41 yards to the goal. The program suffered its first loss in August with Nebraska's lone turnover, five penalties, and two missed extra point attempts by Connor Culp (the 2020 Big Ten Kicker-of-the-Year), all contributing to the program's first ever loss.
Frost stated that it looked exactly the same movie. Frost said, "I just finished telling the guys, "We can't make this season look like the movie," because today's game was exactly the same. I don't know how we are doing it trying to field the punt at the 1 yard line and then throwing it out of the goal zone. Missing a few extra points sure didn't help.
"I felt that every time we started something offensively, we got a holding, offensive pass interference, or bad snap. I haven't seen any of these all camp. It looked almost the same movie today. It can't be this way."
Frost's tenure has been marked by special-teams errors. Although Mike Dawson, outside linebackers coach, oversees special-teams, the Huskers do not have a designated special-teams coordinator. Frost observed that although Nebraska had a few penalties on Saturday, flags appeared to arrive at the worst times.
Two 15-yarders by Tannor were the most damaging. Frost claimed he did not receive an explanation for the fouls and that Tannor didn't hit Sitkowski late.
Frost stated that the men believe they are better than they ever have been. They're more talented than ever. We have more talent and more depth. That's what I've been saying for a while. They need to believe in themselves, but they also need to see good things happen. Sometimes I feel like we are snooping on the timing of these events.
Martinez said that Saturday's loss was just the beginning of a long season, and Nebraska still has plenty of time for improvement. Martinez, a fourth-year quarterback, ran for 75 yards and passed for 232 yard. However, he failed to complete half of his passes and made several mistakes opening targets.
Nebraska beat Illinois 392-326, but Nebraska allowed a touchdown drive of 75 yards to start the second half. The team fell behind by 30-9.
Ben Stille, a defensive lineman, said that if he had all the answers, he would be a wealthy man in Nebraska. We're working on it. The solution is to not allow these catastrophic sequences to happen. It's time to be smarter.
Stille and his team didn't believe preparation was the problem despite being faced with an Illinois team that had a new coach. Nebraska will face Fordham and Buffalo in Nebraska before heading to No. 2 Oklahoma on Sept. 18.
Frost will feel more pressure from the loss. Frost is currently signed through 2026 season, and makes $5 million annually.
Frost stated, "This league, man. A lot of games are going on a play here or a play there. And we didn't make enough today." Frost said, "So I have to do a better job making sure that we avoid the mistakes and keeping them in situations where it is possible for them to rise up and make those plays."
"I believe that this team can still have an exceptional season."