In tonight's Holiday Bowl, Nebraska had it's worst offensive performance since the Oklahoma State game in 2007. It reminded me of some of those painful Orange Bowl losses against Miami back in the 80's and 90's...except for one thing. Nebraska wasn't facing Miami in their prime, but rather, a .500 Washington team that the Huskers beat by 35 three months earlier.
It was a night and day performance offensively. Defensively, the Blackshirts played fairly well in the first half, but not so well in the second half. Even so, the game was essentially over at that point without a sign of life offensively.
Thanks to ESPN's coverage of the Music City Bowl as well as the Stanford/UConn women's basketball team, I missed much of the first half, so I'm not quite sure what to think about where it all started to go wrong. Listening to Bo Pelini's post game press conference, I'm not quite sure he knows either at this point. It was all the same problems that we've seen over the last month of the season, except that this wasn't against ranked opponents. This was a 6-6 team that ranked 103rd against the run this season.
Credit goes to Washington; they were ready to play and were the aggressors on defense. And for whatever reason, Nebraska really didn't try to take advantage of that aggression, instead trying to be patient and see whether the offense could work their way out of trouble. Something they never really did.
My initial take is that the problem started right up front. The offensive line couldn't deal with nine men in the box in the run game, and lost confidence. And it all steamrolled downhill from there, especially when the Huskies sacked Taylor Martinez on a three man rush that rolled over the entire line (and Roy Helu as well).
Martinez had another sketchy performance at quarterback tonight. It looked like he was physically fairly healthy and had much of his speed and elusiveness back. But November and December took their toll on him mentally, and he struggled with his decision making throughout the night. He took unnecessary sacks, and threw some ugly passes.
That had to give Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson a huge case of heartburn. The running game was almost non-existant, and Martinez wasn't handling the passing game all that well either. In hindsight, you could make a good case to pull Martinez, but at that point, Martinez was probably playing better than anybody else offensively. What do you do? Nebraska had run the Wildcat formation with Burkhead further than it ever should have gone, as evidenced by Burkhead's fumble that set up Washington's first score.
Would I have like to have seen Zac Lee come into the game instead of Cody Green? Yes, mostly because I think Lee is a better passer and makes better decisions. Green came in, and struggled to get the ball to wide-open receivers. Granted, the Huskies had eased up on their pressure at that point, but I think Lee was more likely to be able to make some connections in the passing game. That in turn could have opened up some runs, especially if it was done earlier in the game.
Defensively, the secondary was locked down on Jermaine Kearse and the rest of the Husky receivers, especially in the first half. Jake Locker couldn't complete a pass until the second half, and even then, he only completed 6 of 18 passes for the game. The big problem was the inability to stop Chris Polk. He went for nearly 300 against Washington State earlier this month, and he was the dagger in the heart of the Blackshirts. If Nebraska's offense could have managed something .... ANYTHING .... Nebraska could have survived that outburst from Polk. But not with the offense stuck in neutral, or reverse like it seemed to be at times in the second half.
Which brings me back to where the offense goes from here. We'll see where the staff goes from here. I get the feeling that Shawn Watson is very likely headed to Miami of Ohio. If so, I wish him well. Obviously, Nebraska needs to find a new linebackers coach as well.
Offensively, I'm curious to see where the offense goes. Taylor Martinez has a lot of physical talents to take advantage of, but if it's going to be at quarterback, he needs someone to help teach him the way. Is that Joe Ganz? Don't know. I would have thought Scott Frost would be another great candidate, but I don't get a good vibe on that anymore. If it's not going to be Martinez, could it be Brion Carnes? You never know. The offensive line also needs to rebound quickly from this night. It starts in the weight room ASAP, as these guys need to pull themselves out of the Jack Murphy Stadium turf after getting steamrolled by Washington.
Nebraska also needs to find playmakers at receiver to replace Niles Paul and Mike McNeill. I know guys were open tonight, but we need to find someone to become more consistent.
Bottom line as we move into the wee hours of the night. Tonight might have been the worst offensive performance by a Husker team in a bowl game ever, considering the level of competition. (I hope Washington fans don't take too much offense at that; most of the previous turds were against national championship contenders.) But let's also remember that Nebraska won 10 games this season and has a Big XII North title. 10-4 is still an improvement over the previous regime, and the worst thing that can be done is to lose the faith. I still believe in Bo Pelini and his staff, and want to see how they react and move forward.