Taylor Martinez is going to get a lot of criticism over his game, but he wasn't the reason Nebraska lost. This one goes once again on the defense. Isn't this why Bo Pelini was hired at Nebraska? Why is his defense getting scorched again and again?
Bo Pelini knows where the problems are. But these problems aren't fixable this season, I'm afraid. It all starts on the line, and once again, Nebraska's defensive line was not a factor tonight. In the first quarter, Pelini brought the blitz to squash the Ohio State offense...and it looked promising. But Ohio State made the necessary adjustments and that was all she wrote.
Three Martinez interceptions really hurt tonight. The first one looked less like a Martinez mistake and more like a great play by Bradley Roby. Pick-6 and the Huskers were down 7-0. The second was thrown into traffic; miscommunication with Kenny Bell, perhaps? Either way, probably not a ball that should have been thrown.
Third one? Martinez slips back into bad habits, throws off his back foot. Yikes. And the fumble? That goes on the offensive line...for letting John Simon come pretty much unblocked. Once again all night, we saw missed block after missed block up front.
It wasn't all bad tonight. Martinez made a few plays, especially in the second half. Even with three picks, his efficiency rating was a rather respectable 121.1. Kenny Bell made a bunch of plays, even though his head was getting ripped off on that long catch. (No, that was not a facemask penalty on Bell; it was a stiff-arm to the facemask, but Bell never grasped the mask.) Rex Burkhead ran really well until he reinjured his knee.
But the final score was bad. Really bad. And Bo Pelini is the man responsible for it. I don't know if the problems in Lincoln can be fixed in Lincoln this year. The problems with Nebraska football aren't going to be solved with tweaking the situation; Pelini tweaked the situation in recent weeks, and we got a pretty good defensive performance in the second half against Wisconsin.
That, of course, led to Pelini's quote that will get thrown back in his face in the next few days:
"Contrary to what you guys think, I haven't forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run."
But the problem that Nebraska football is facing isn't that Pelini has forgotten how to coach, it's that Pelini doesn't have the players he needs to compete at the level Nebraska fans want the program to be. And let's make this distinction here; a bad year at Nebraska is typically better than a good year most places. But this does raise the question about whether Bo Pelini should be fired after this season.
I thought the question would have been absurd after last season. But during the offseason, I recognized that the heat was growing. It'll definitely grow after the Ohio State beatdown. Am I signing onto the hot seat bandwagon?
That doesn't excuse what's happening with Husker football at all. Pelini must - and I think will - make changes in the program in this offseason. It starts up front with the lines. Does the coaching staff need to be changed? In some places, I think it's time. Does recruiting need to be upgraded? Yes. But those are changes that won't be made quickly - especially with a coach like Bo Pelini who's loyal to his staff. He gently jettisoned Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore two years ago, and Corey Raymond last year. With Tom Osborne's retirement, could the door reopen for Marvin Sanders to come back to Lincoln?
Should Pelini go out and find more veteran coaches to round out his staff? One major criticism of Pelini is that he hires "buddies". While those buddy hires aren't as horrific as Bill Callahan's buddy hire of Kevin Cosgrove, Nebraska isn't performing at the level that is necessary.
Husker fans shouldn't hit the panic button yet, though. Hitting the panic button in 2003 gave us four years of Bill Callahan. Taylor Martinez shouldn't be benched, and coaches aren't going to be fired tonight. And in no way should redshirts be burned. When you look around the dumpster fire that is the Big Ten, Ohio State is arguably the best team in the conference. Everybody else has flaws. Penn State beat Northwestern today, and Michigan State struggled with Indiana. Pelini led off his postgame presser by saying that he told the team they have to win out.
Will they? Probably not. But chances are, nobody else is going to win out either in this train wreck of a conference.
Except maybe Ohio State.