What a frustrating night for Husker fans. The first half WAC track meet gave way to a second half defensive struggle that discombobulated down the stretch. Where to begin, where to begin?
I'm going to start with tackling. It's easy to call it Cosgrovian...too easy, and too flippant. But the fact remains that the Huskers couldn't tackle worth a darn tonight. There were issues last week, but tonight, it was an epidemic. Credit Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin for breaking those tackles, but still...so many times Nebraska's defense could have gotten off the field. And didn't. Can tackling be fixed? Absolutely; it's fundamentals.
The bigger problem was up front. Nebraska's offensive line was OK in run blocking...but in pass blocking, Nebraska tackles were getting beat regularly on the edge. And by the end of the game, even the guards were getting beaten. Take away those passing lanes, and rush Taylor Martinez to make throws quicker than he'd like, and boom, you have a 17 for 32 passing performance.
But the flip side was even worse; UCLA only needed to send four to penetrate our backfield while Nebraska needed to send five or six to get pressure. And when you send five or six, that leaves seams to be exploited...and exploit is exactly what UCLA did. KOZN's Mike'l Severe has been sounding the alarm about the lack of playmakers up front, and tonight that message was driven home like a nail through the skull. What's the solution? Is it time to get Aaron Curry and Avery Moss more playing time and get them developed under fire? The redshirts are burned, and so you might as well play them. Occasionally Jason Ankrah made a play, as did Eric Martin...but that was about it.
I'm not quite as down on Taylor Martinez as some fans probably are. Did Martinez make some mistakes tonight? Absolutely. But he didn't have a lot of help at times; we saw a few more drops this week. Martinez ran the ball well at times, though he was hung out to dry on that zone read out of the end zone.
I saw a few things to be optimistic (or maybe less pessimistic) about in the secondary. Josh Mitchell plays bigger than his 155 pounds, and Daimion Stafford did an admirable job trying to cover Joseph Fauria. Stanley Jean-Baptiste seemed to make a few play late in the game.
Ameer Abdullah had a great time running the ball for the most part, but that turnover to open the second half put the defense in tough spot. Tim Beck is going to get ripped for his game plan and play calling, but some of that is a little excessive. If anything, Beck seemed to go to the well a few too many times. On that drive at the start of the fourth quarter, I was waiting to throw a play-action pass into the end zone, but instead, it was all on the ground.
Nebraska had plenty of opportunities to win this game, and failed. Bottom line. They failed.
In the fog of disgust, there will be a lot of wailing and moaning. But let's make it clear that Nebraska wasn't alone in sucking today. Michigan may have had the best victory in the Big Ten today, and that was an unimpressive 31-25 victory over Air Force. Northwestern's victory over Vanderbilt isn't far off. Iowa only managed two field goals at home. Penn State lost a winnable game at Virginia. Illinois and Wisconsin were exposed badly. Nebraska won't see an offense like UCLA's again this season, in all likelihood.
Was this Pelini's "hairball" game for the season? We can only hope. Nebraska fans should be disappointed with what they saw tonight...but that's true of most B1G teams tonight.