NORMAN, Okla. — Adrian Martinez didn't mind saying it. Didn't mind at all.
He absolutely had fun Saturday at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. Yeah, the loss sucks. Of course it does. He's a competitor.
However, when asked to evaluate the "fun level" of his afternoon, Martinez told reporters, "It's hard to compare (to other games), but it was awesome. It was. The atmosphere. Just how close you are on the sideline to the crowd. I mean, we maybe had a foot of room over there, and I loved it. I had the student section chirping at me, and I was like, 'Let's go, bring it on.'"
Nebraska brought it on, all right. Even in the game's final minute, NU still had a chance to topple third-ranked Oklahoma. Martinez, though, twice was sacked on the final possession, which was fitting because the Huskers' offensive line continues to rival special teams as the program's foremost concern.
So, in the end, an incredibly loyal and hungry Nebraska fan base was left with conflicting emotions in the wake of Oklahoma's 23-16 victory. On one hand, fourth-year Husker coach Scott Frost deserves credit for rebuilding the program to a point where it can push the Sooners to the limit on their home turf. Keep in mind, OU is now 126-11 at home since 1999, the best mark in the nation.
Wunderkind Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley improved to 48-8 at the school, including 25-2 at home.
Ah, but Nebraska didn't look overmatched at all.
In fact, Husker linebacker JoJo Domann was spot-on: NU essentially spotted OU nine points and lost by seven. The visitors missed two field goals and surrendered two points on a return of a blocked extra point. Amazing. Frost's crew had a 50-pound catfish on the line, and it got away.
Martinez, though, was superb, finishing 19-for-25 for 289 yards and a touchdown, with one interception — his first of the season. Meanwhile, the Blackshirts mostly held up well against Spencer Rattler. The projected NFL first-rounder was 24-for-34 for 214 yards and a touchdown. I saw Husker defensive coordinator Erik Chinander about 30 minutes after the game. He was upbeat. He should be upbeat. After all, OU hadn't scored fewer than 24 points in a game since the 2016 opener.
To reiterate: Nebraska did not look overmatched. That's important to note because it helps us drill down to the core issues. That is, Frost's program continues to be held back by maddening mistakes, particularly on special teams and along the offensive line. If you're a Husker fan, you still wonder about attention to detail in the program, and even a lack of discipline.
But the quarterback expressed confidence in the program's direction.
"We know the type of team we are," Martinez said. "We can beat anyone on any given Saturday. We just have to execute."
He made mention of the self-inflicted errors, especially the ones on offense and special teams.
"If we can clean those things up, we're coming out of here as the winning team," he said.
Can Nebraska (2-2) clean up its sloppiness? We keep asking the question over and over and often keep getting the same answer. It's got to be wickedly frustrating for Husker fans. They long for NU to close out wins like this. But the same mistakes (along with sluggish offensive line play) keep dragging back the program.
Nebraska was in position to take a colossal step forward, but shot itself in the foot too many times.
The biggest "what-ifs" of the day? Martinez mentioned Nebraska's opening possession, which — get this — included four penalties on four different linemen. Yep, three false starts and an unnecessary roughness. The Huskers overcame the mistakes to a certain extent, as Connor Culp made a 51-yard field goal to pull his team to 7-3.
By the game's end, all five starting offensive linemen had at least one false-start penalty. So, at least there's some consistency.
"Man, if I had a nickel for everything we're doing to try to avoid those mistakes, I'd have a lot of nickels," Frost said. "We've got to lock in. I know crowd noise can be a factor; it's a factor in our home stadium, too. But the penalties don't seem to go our way. We'll just double-down again and keep trying to make sure those things don't happen."
Nebraska's running backs gained 61 yards on 21 carries. That sort of production won't result in many big-game wins. Martinez was sacked five times. Next up for the O-line is a road game against a surging Michigan State team with an ornery defensive front. If the Huskers manage to cool Sparty's hot start, they'll likely have to win a close game, maybe by a field goal. Oops. Sorry I mentioned it.
"I told the guys after the game that everything they want to accomplish this year is right in front of them," Frost said. "We're going to get more opportunities to win a big game. If they play like that all year, and fight that hard all year, we're going to have a chance in a lot of games. As disappointed as I am, I'm happy for the way they competed."
He then was asked about a broken play late in the game, the one on which Martinez kept the ball for a 1-yard loss. Bottom line, there was an alignment problem. A lack of attention to detail at a critical moment.
Ah, but nobody can question Nebraska's fight. And, yes, you've seen tangible progress since an awful season-opening performance at Illinois.
But can NU stop getting in its own way? We'll keep asking. Perhaps again next week.