Monday, January 02, 2012

Second Half Meltdown Dooms Huskers Against South Carolina

Throughout the first half and even for a little while into the second half, I was fairly confident about Nebraska's chances against South Carolina.  The Huskers seemed to be winning most of the plays, though South Carolina was making just enough big plays to foil the Huskers.  Blocking an extra point.  Popping the ball out of Ameer Abdullah's hands inside the ten yard line.  And of course, a "Hail Mary" to Alshon Jeffrey just before halftime.

Nebraska looked like they were going to buckle down and take the game over at halftime.  A nice run by Burkhead, and two passes to Tyler Legate and Kenny Bell.  Then, Martinez fakes out the Gamecocks on the zone read, and the Huskers have the ball at the South Carolina eight yard line barely one minute into the second half.

Game over.

Nobody knew it at that point, but from that point on, South Carolina dominated.  Taylor Martinez makes an ill-advised decision to chuck the ball towards Kyler Reed who caught the ball for an eight yard loss, setting up a field goal...that Brett Maher missed.  The Blackshirts held, but then the penalty flags began to fly.  Four penalties on Nebraska's next drive.  Three more on the next.  And with the resulting short field, South Carolina punched in the deciding touchdown to essentially put the game away.  After that Martinez run, Nebraska only gained one yard of total offense in the final 29 minutes of the game.

One Total Yard.

Those penalties got downright ridiculous as the game slipped away.  I couldn't help but mutter expletives at Yoshi Hardrick, though the matchup against Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney is a tough one. I wish ESPN would have shown more replays to get a better feel for how the Gamecocks defensive line took over the game.  I knew once South Carolina went up two scores in the fourth quarter, the game was going to be incredibly difficult for the Huskers to come back on.  South Carolina's pass defense is ranked second in the nation for a reason, and passing is not Nebraska's strong suit.  (Insert "no duh" comment here...)

So Nebraska lost another bowl game, and this time to an SEC foe.  But I don't think this loss was due to SEC speed.  I think the Huskers matched up OK, and at times looked like the faster team. Jeffery beat Dennard once, but other wise, I don't think South Carolina out athleted Nebraska today.

They out-executed Nebraska, especially down the stretch.  Minus-two in turnovers.  Eleven penalties.  Imagine if Abdullah doesn't fumble in the first half, or if Martinez doesn't throw that interception just before halftime?  Nebraska easily could have led 23-9 at halftime.  Could South Carolina have come back from that deficit?  I don't see it.

Twenty-one years ago, I remember shaking my head after Nebraska lost a bowl game in Orlando; it was then called the Florida Citrus Bowl.  Many people at that time openly criticized Tom Osborne at that time, and I started to question him myself.  It seemed at that time that Nebraska was in a downward spiral, getting further and further way from the upper echelon of college football.

Or so it seemed.  We all know what happened next. Nebraska got better...a lot better.  And Nebraska's 60-3 record from 1993 to 1997 set the standard for excellence in the modern college football era. Not Southern Cal, not Miami, not Florida or Alabama.  Failure to meet that level of excellence led to the firing of Frank Solich after losing three games in 2003.  Since then, Nebraska has lost no fewer than four games each and every year.  So does this mean that it's time to pull the plug on Bo Pelini?

That idea is laughable. It's so absurd that it shouldn't even require a response.  But looking over the comments around the internets, a response is necessary.  No Husker fan should be happy about losing the Capital One Bowl today.  No Husker fan should be happy with the second half of today's game.  But I feel better about the performance of the Huskers today than I did after the 1991 Citrus Bowl ... not to mention last year's Holiday Bowl.

Doesn't mean I'm happy. A lot of tough questions need to be asked, starting with the offensive line.  This group needs to get bigger, stronger, and more dependable.  Barney Cotton is going to face a lot of scrutiny, and deservedly so.  The scrutiny that fans place towards the line doesn't matter, though.  Bo Pelini needs to scrutinize the lines play - and the coaching.  That's not only Cotton, but also John Garrison and James Dobson as well.  Scrutinizing doesn't mean firing, it means asking questions and having a plan to address the deficiencies that exist.

I look over the roster and I see evidence that there's a foundation of young talent available.  Andrew Rodriquez missed the game with a foot injury. Tyler Moore got eaten alive by Clowney late in the game, but he's a true freshman who can only get better. Givens Price is redshirting...and really should have been a senior in high school this season. A touted group of freshmen are redshirting.  Maybe they are ready to make an impact next season.  Or maybe they'll sit on the bench like Brent Qvale (who didn't look like he was even suited up today) or Jeremiah Sirles did this season.  I try to be patient, but I have to admit that patience is starting to run short.

Nebraska addressed the turnover problem this year; the backs and Taylor Martinez have improved dramatically in holding onto the ball.  But penalties continue to be an issue, and that was the start of today's meltdown  It's not acceptable, and it's something that has to be addressed going into next season.

There was a lot to like in the ball game early on.  The secondary was locked onto South Carolina's receivers, while Nebraska had open receivers all day long.  Even saw Jamal Turner in the game, drawing a pass interference penalty. Rex Burkhead ran well, and we saw some creative play calling with Burkhead under center.  It all came to a crashing end once the offensive line melted down, of course.  But before that, there was something to like.

The ending of the game left a bad taste in everybody's mouth, and it's something that needs to be addressed by everybody associated in the program once the plane returns the team to Lincoln.  Nine-win seasons used to be the standard at Nebraska, now it seems to be a sign of mediocrity.  Nebraska fans have high expectations of their football program, and while the Huskers have improved under Bo Pelini, they have fallen short of those expectations the last two years.


James Leroy Wilson said...

A team that could lose to Northwestern was a team I didn't have confidence in beating South Carolina. Pelini should by no means be fired, but he can't possibly be satisfied by the lack of progress in the program four years in. His biggest accomplishment was a loss, the Suh game against Texas in the Big Twelve Championship game two years ago. Not much to boast about to new recruits. Nebraska isn't close to being a Top Ten program, and while Pelini shouldn't be on the hot seat, his seat should be getting warmer.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment toward Pelini here. There's a lot for Husker fans to celebrate about the last four years: they've been in the conference hunt every season, with none of the legal or ethical troubles currently hounding Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State or a myriad of other conference foes. GPA is above 3.0, a VERY commendable achievement that proves there are a number of student-athletes at Nebraska, not athletes looking for a free ride. The story of how the team became "Team Jack" this season shows that these are good kids who care a lot about each other and the community who supports them.

All the same, the continuing self-inflicted wounds, exhibited mainly in lack of poise and maturity within the game itself, are troubling at best and damning at worst. Bo Pelini obviously cares about his kids and they care about each other. We are disciplined in how we approach practice, studies, community involvement. So why is it we can't be disciplined DURING the game?

This one does start at the top, in my opinion. I hope TO and Bo have a "come to Jesus" meeting in the offseason in which Tom makes very clear the barrier to greater achievement starts with the continuing meltdowns on the sideline and on the field. Passion and the desire to back your players are wonderful traits - but like anything, you can have too much of it.

Coach Bo, we love you. We love your intensity, your desire to win, your determination to improve the world by molding young men of high character. But you've got to control your temper. You've got to be the poised leader your team needs you to be - because until that happens, you will be the ceiling above which your team can't rise. We're pulling for you, Coach.

rueschmike said...

The game truly turned when Dennard was lost. Obviously Nebraska missed him more than South Carolina missed Jeffrey. Both of the Gamecocks touchdowns came after the Dennard ejection. As we have shown in past years, if you can not score on offense you are not going to win the game.

David Burn said...

South Carolina's countless first half mistakes made this game appear to be much closer than it ever was. Nebraska simply can't compete with top teams. And we had a tough time this year competing with non-top teams. The D this year was weaker than it's been since Bo took the helm, the new offense is no better than the old offense and the blown calls and poor judgement by the coaches continue to haunt us. The idea that we might replace Bo with a better head coach is not laughable at all. He makes a ton of money, yet he fails to represent his team, the university or the state well. That's not a recipe for long-term success.