A few weeks ago, I noticed that tickets for the Nebraska vs. South Dakota State were surprisingly in high demand; didn't make sense that Husker fans would find a game against a 1-AA team compelling. A little investigation turned out that it wasn't Husker fans buying the tickets, but our neighbors to the north. And as I got to the top of the tunnel prior to the start of the game, I realized just how many Jackrabbit fans had made it to Lincoln...even taking over a section of the end zone as well as seats throughout the stadium. What's the point?
South Dakota State was fired up for today's game. Nebraska simply wasn't. And at times today, the Huskers were about as effective as Elmer Fudd in hunting those wascally wabbits.
One week after playing the best game of his young career, Taylor Martinez had his worst. Bad decisions, bad ball security, bad throws...you name it. Even got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. After three turnovers, Martinez found his way on the bench. But he's a freshman; he's going to make mistakes. And after a week where people showered him with praise (complete with absolutely ludicrous speculation that his play was somehow Heisman worthy), he may have listened to too much of it. That shouldn't be interpreted as a knock on Martinez, but rather on the people who overreacted to Martinez's production early in the season.
Today's game wasn't solely the fault of Martinez, but rather the entire team. The offensive line struggled to get any sort of push. Jeremiah Siriles and Jermarcus Hardrick both had very noticeable failures. Niles Paul and Tim Marlowe bobbled punts. Kyler Reed made a nice catch of an underthrown ball, but also struggled with blocks on the outside. I think the running backs ran hard, but there wasn't much room there.
Defensively, Nebraska once again found themselves exposed to the running game. This week was especially disappointing because in two losses to 1-AA foes, South Dakota State had only rushed for 154 yards...tonight, 141 yards. My initial read was that the defensive line was getting pushed around by the Jackrabbits, but on his postgame radio interview, Bo Pelini indicated that it wasn't the defensive line as much as the linebackers.
That's a bit of a puzzle to me, as Lavonte David racked up 19 tackles to lead the team. But it's becoming increasingly clear to me that Pelini is not terribly confident in his linebackers, as he frequently goes to a dime defense, leaving David as the only linebacker on the field. In passing situations, that has seemed to work out fine. But that dime defense has also been exposed time and time again as being unable to stop running backs. Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey started it, and Washington's Chris Polk continued it briefly last week before the score got out of hand. Tonight, it was Kyle Minett who found big gains. I keep asking myself why Pelini continues to take Eric Martin out of the game in situations where teams could audible to a run, and I've never come up with an specific answer. But Pelini's post game comments make it clear that he doesn't have confidence that the linebackers to play with the precision he demands. With Pelini, it isn't so much having the best physical skills as much as understanding your roles and responsibilities. That's why guys like Matt O'Hanlon play in a Pelini defense, much to the chagrin of recruitniks who think that more talented players are stuck on the bench for some reason.
If that's the case, we'll need to keep an eye on the recovery of Will Compton, who I think has been a bigger loss than we realized a few weeks ago.
Today's game could be explained as simply the "perfect storm" of motivation. The smaller school that sits in the shadow of Nebraska finally gets to debut in the big arena; most of these players originate from Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota and have likely dreamed about this game for a long time. Meanwhile, Nebraska had a letdown from the big victory the week before. And on a day when the rest of the Big XII had their issues (Texas getting blown out at home by Skippy and UCLA, Oklahoma hanging on to beat Cincinnati, and Kansas State needing a last second touchdown to beat Central Florida), Nebraska can be pleased by surviving and heading into October undefeated.
This morning, Tom Shatel suggested that a UNO vs. Nebraska matchup would be ideal when UNO makes the jump to division 1 in a few years. Makes sense at first; Nebraska needs home games, and 1-AA teams will come to Lincoln unlike a lot of 1-A teams. Problem is the motivation level. Husker players will view a matchup with UNO as a quasi-bye week; it's only natural. UNO players (especially the ones who grew up dreaming of playing in Memorial Stadium) will be even more motivated than South Dakota State was tonight. And that's something that simply doesn't make sense for Nebraska. Let UNO play Kansas or Kansas State. Let UNO upset Minnesota. But don't open the door for David to knock off the Goliath they wanted to be part of all along.