Any signs of progress, no matter how small, for Nebraska's special teams unit were all but erased after a dismal day at Ohio State.
There's no need to recount them in detail, other than to remind — Caleb Lightbourn's failed onside kick that quickly spread across social media; Isaac Armstrong's first punt blocked for a safety after NU didn't communicate a protection check; several short punts that hurt field position.
For all the struggles Nebraska has had in its 2-7 season, myriad special teams gaffes have stood out as much as any. That's the life of being a specialist, NU special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said earlier this week. Every mistake is magnified, even more so than a blown coverage on defense or an incorrect route run on offense.
"When we do it on special teams," Dewitt said, "it’s going to be an exchange of 50-plus yards, probably, or points immediately."
There are clearly no easy answers to Nebraska's special teams shortcomings. Through spring ball and fall camp, and now through nine games, things probably are what they are. Any moments of success have been overshadowed by spectacular failure. All NU can do, for now, is keep plowing ahead.
"We know what happened and what went wrong. Some things can be fixed now, some things are going to need other help to get fixed," Husker coach Scott Frost said Monday. "The blocked punt on Saturday was a miscommunication. That can’t happen. Those guys have done that 200 times in practice and they changed protection on one side and one guy changed and didn’t tell the other two. Those things can’t happen in a big game. Some of the other things that happened we’re probably going to have to wait and address in the offseason."
For a team already with small margins for error when it comes to winning games, Nebraska's glaring mistakes are magnified even more by the maddening inconsistency from game to game and even play to play.
"You go from really, really good to god-awful. So those are the things you can’t have. You can’t be that way, and have a chance to win games. The fact that we were able to even be in the game and lead the game with those miscues happening speaks a lot to the character of those kids," Dewitt said. "It’s a matter of just being disciplined all the time. That’s what it comes down to. Doing what you’re asked to do and understand that everybody else is relying on you to do your job."
The Huskers made several solid special teams plays in the Horseshoe: Jacob Weinmaster and Jeramiah Stovall were kickoff coverage fiends, both coming up with big hits to stunt Ohio State kickoff returns. The coverage on the free kick after the safety was strong.
But, it's a lot like so many other things that happen during a football game: the good stuff often goes unnoticed while the mistakes are remembered long after the final whistle.
"It becomes one of those deals where you have to understand, special teams is a microcosm of what happens in a game — field position changes, scoring changes every single play," Dewitt said. "Those are not plays where you can forget to make a communication call or not get in the right fit. Because if you do, she’s over. Someone’s going to score. And that’s what happens sometimes."