It was what I had hoped wouldn't happen, but feared it might. Nebraska matched up with Wisconsin for the first 20 minutes, but then self-destructed in the next 20 minutes. The final 20 minutes was pure mop-up time, as the game was no longer in doubt. On second thought, "self-destructed" is only part of the problem. Those three Taylor Martinez interceptions were the killer, but credit has to go to Wisconsin, who played about as flawlessly as they could. Russell Wilson was absolutely magnificent, if not Heisman-esque. He found open receivers, and when no receivers were open, he danced around and made plays with his feet. An absolutely magnificent performance on his part.
As the scoreboard tilted into blowout territory, the inevitable comparisons to 2007 and the Southern Cal game emerged. On the surface, it's easy to make the connection. ABC primetime broadcast. ESPN Gameday in town. The game was close for a little while, but then blew up just before halftime and the loss was embarrassingly large.
holes that you literally could parallel park an SUV in. This wasn't that kind of physical domination.
No, tonight, there were breakdowns in the secondary and aided by Wilson's scrambling to buy him time. But it wasn't a physical breakdown as much as mental errors. In my mind, tonight was more like the 2008 Missouri game when a bad defensive performance led to a blowout loss.
So what has caused this secondary to implode as badly as it has? Was it simply the loss of Prince Amukamara, Eric Hagg, and Dejon Gomes? Or does the change in coaches from Marvin Sanders to Corey Raymond bear some responsibility as well? Is this a talent problem or a coaching problem ... or a little of both? Right now, listening to Bo Pelini, I get the idea that it's a little more of the latter.
It's easy to throw the blame at Taylor Martinez's three interceptions, but even without those turnovers, Nebraska would have lost tonight...and probably by more than the spread. Were they bad decisions? Absolutely. Was it a mistake to abandon the run late in the second quarter? ABC noted at one point that in 12 plays, Nebraska had thrown 6 incompletions and three interceptions. That's not the balance that Nebraska needs. KLIN radio's John Bishop noted that Rex Burkhead only had six carries in the first half. That's a clear warning sign that something wasn't right in the offensive play-calling.
Martinez actually started off the game playing pretty well. His passing was on-target, and I really liked how Jamal Turner was part of the game plan with five catches for 84 yards. Not sure that unveling the quasi-option/screen pass late in the game was such a good idea in a lost-cause game. But where was Kyler Reed again this week?
This game is going to hurt for a while, and it's going to be tough to shake the national image of Nebraska getting blown out in big games. One sign of optimism in my mind is that Bo Pelini recognizes the problem and isn't sugar coating it. His postgame apology to the state doesn't make it better... but it's better than trying to snow the people of this state and pretend that there really isn't a problem here. If that sounds like trying to blame still Bill Callahan for Nebraska's problems, I might remind folks that people love to bring out the pre-Pelini results in criticizing Pelini. Yes, Nebraska is 2-16 versus top ten teams this century...but most of those losses aren't the fault of Pelini. I'll blame Pelini and his staff for tonight, but not anything prior to his arrival.