That gasp you heard around 7:45 pm this evening was every Husker fan holding his breath when Taylor Martinez limped and fell to the ground after reinjuring his ankle. At that point, the Husker offense wasn't looking so bad, but from that point forward, the odds were stacked against the Huskers.
And no, I'm not referring to the officiating. Yet.
Cody Green came in at quarterback, but like against Iowa State, was ineffective for the most part, especially with a couple of misfired passes. Without much of a rushing or passing threat at quarterback, the Aggies defense locked down on the I-backs, and running room was pretty tough to find all night. And it didn't help when Nebraska kept getting flagged for stupid penalties. Say what you will about the refs, but most of those penalties were self-inflicted and issues that were Nebraska's fault.
Meanwhile, the defense played pretty darn well against an offense that had been putting up big number in recent weeks with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. I say pretty darn well, because the Huskers let the Aggies escape out of some key situations where Nebraska should have had the advantage, such as letting Jeff Fuller get free for a 36 yard gain on 3rd and long at the A&M 9. Allowing Cyrus Gray to run for 139 yards. So while Nebraska held the Aggies to 9 (or six, if you prefer) points, I'd suggest that Nebraska could have played a little better on defense.
That's not to say that Nebraska couldn't have played better offensively. It wasn't a good performance by the Big Red, thanks in part to a resurgent Wrecking Crew defense, led by Von Miller who was a beast limiting Nebraska's offense most of the night. Taylor Martinez returned in the second half, and looked okay at times throwing the ball. But with a bum ankle, he was a one-dimensional quarterback, with the dimension not his strength. With Zac Lee's apparent arm injury and Cody Green's ineffectiveness, a one-dimensional Martinez apparently is Nebraska's best option at quarterback at this time.
Over an hour after the game, "Pelini" is still a trending topic on Twitter, where it's been for the last two hours. Fans of the other eleven Big XII schools thoroughly enjoyed watching Bo Pelini scream and yell on the sideline, and especially get flagged for it. And we all know why they enjoyed it.
The statistic of the night: 16 Husker penalties for 145 yards versus two Aggie penalties for 10 yards. And before I hear about it, the majority of those penalties were Nebraska's fault. Jumping offsides, false starts, holding... yep, Nebraska played undisciplined tonight, and the Huskers paid the price for it.
But 16-2? Last week, ESPN.com's David Ubben noted that Nebraska was tied for 116th nationally in terms of penalties called on the opponent. After tonight, Nebraska probably should be tied for 120th. Last week, Ubben said that this was one that would be "not a conspiracy, but still...." This week, it'll be tougher for people to completely dismiss this line. Last week, Texas A&M was (coincedentally) tied for 116th nationally in penalties per game (8.7). This week, only two. Did Texas A&M play clean football this week?
Well, that's just one play...but the old adage comes out here. The instigator never gets flagged, and the retaliator gets nailed. And in this case, gets nailed twice. Not to excuse Cotton's actions, but rather to make you wonder what else the refs missed tonight. (Question: Was Tony Jerod-Eddie auditioning for a career with the TSA to work airport security tonight?)
The defensive pass interference penalty on the third down pass to Brandon Kinnie? I was hot about it initially, but after seeing three replays, I think it was a good no-call in the end. The pass interference penalty on Dennard? After looking at the initial replays, that looks like a bad call to me.
And of course the one that took the cake was the "roughing the passer" penalty on Courtney Osborne that kept the Aggies game-winning field goal drive alive. It's been suggested time and time again that Pelini's continual abuse of the referees could be counterproductive; this is probably one of those cases. If so, that's something that Dan Beebe is going to have to address eventually, because while it's funny as hell to fans of the other eleven teams to watch Pelini get nailed, deep down they know that starting next season, the Huskers may be gone, but these referees will remain and still calling their games.
Let's put tonight's game in perspective. Nebraska went -14 in penalties and -2 in turnovers against a ranked opponent on the road, and only lost 9-6 ... with their biggest playmaker hobbled. In the grand scheme of things, the Huskers are still in decent shape.