Final take: A tale of two weeks
PASADENA, Calif. - The rollercoaster of ups and downs that has defined Nebraska the last few seasons found its way to the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.
After playing their best offensive game ever under Bo Pelini last week against Southern Miss, the Huskers played their worst defensive game in modern day history on Saturday night.
NU gave up 653 yards of offense to UCLA in their 36-30 loss, which ranks as the second most yards ever a Nebraska defense has surrendered in school history. The record goes all the way back to 1956, when national champion Oklahoma went off for 656 yards. The Bruins actually had 658 yards of offense on Saturday until the final two plays when they took a loss of 5 yards to run out the clock.
To put Saturday's defensive performance in perspective, under Kevin Cosgrove and Bill Callahan the Huskers only gave up 600 yards twice during their 2007 season.
When you break down the numbers it's almost hard to believe the Huskers only lost this game by 6 points and they actually had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
What I saw on Saturday defensively was a lack of pressure up front and what really stood out was how UCLA head coach Jim Mora attacked Nebraska on the edges.
He made NU's young corners tackle in space and he cleared out the field and forced Nebraska's linebackers to cover linebackers in space.
Offensively the Huskers had early success, but it almost felt like the defenses inability to slow down UCLA took them out of their rhythm.
Early on the rhythm we saw last week was there. But as the game spiraled the offense took on a different personality.
The challenge for Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck is going to be not letting this affect quarterback Taylor Martinez mentally going forward the rest of this season.
"I know, it's tough," Beck said. "(Martinez) tries hard. I know he's a very fierce competitor and I know he wants to win in the very worst way and was trying to do a lot for our football team. We've got to move on. One game doesn't make or break your season. I still think we've got a good football team. I love our guys, our coaches and we just have to keep working hard.
"We've got to be consistent. We can't fumble and throw interceptions and have penalties. All the things that were uncharacteristic in the first game showed their ugly head this game - all of them. Everything that I was proud about. You guys remember after last game. It wasn't the yards and it wasn't the points. It was no penalties and no turnovers and what did we do? We had penalties and turnovers and that cost us the ball game because we could never get into any kind of rhythm."
Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell is confident that Martinez and the offense will bounce back from Saturday's loss.
"Taylor (Martinez) is used to being ridden by everyone," Bell said. "It's no surprise. The sky is obviously going to be falling in Lincoln and it's obviously going to be a rough week, but we'll be fine and we'll bounce back this upcoming week.
"All of our goals are still ahead of us. The Big Ten championship and playing back here in the Rose Bowl are still right there. We've got to just lick our wounds and bounce back next week and prepare for Arkansas State."
What I saw on Saturday
***Nebraska's inability to recruit quality defensive linemen in their 2009 and 2010 classes is really showing up on the field. Nebraska just doesn't have the dominant horses up front defensively we saw under Pelini in his first few seasons. It's pretty obvious Nebraska will have to take at least two junior college defensive linemen in this year's recruiting class.
***Beck said at times he felt like Martinez tried to do too much on Saturday, which in all reality is what you saw from him a lot at the end of his freshman year and at times last season.
"I just think at times maybe he forced some things," Beck said. "Trying to do too much. Doing more than the offense needed to be done at times. I put a lot of on him. I didn't feel like we ran the ball real well tonight."
***Beck said the play of the offensive line was "up and down" on Saturday night.
"It's hard to tell," Beck said. "I think at times good and other times not good. There was constant pressure at times and then there were times that we had all the time in the word back there. It was very inconsistent. Offensively we were very consistent."
***Two plays Beck wishes he could have back are the third-and-1 handoff to fullback Mike Marrow that came up short and then led to a missed Brett Maher field goal and he'd like to have back the zone read call in the end zone that led to a safety, which gave UCLA the lead for good.
"I just felt 1 yard with a 260 yard fullback with a guy raging off the ball I thought we'd be able to get it," Beck said. "We just didn't get any movement. It was just a big pile-up."
***Nebraska's defensive tackles were only credited with seven total tackles on Saturday. There were only a seven total tackles for loss by Nebraska in the game.
***Through two games the Husker defense has yet to record an interception.
The final grades
Rushing offense: B
It was a tale of two halves for Nebraska. After racking up 184 yards on the ground at halftime, NU had just 84 yards rushing the second half. The Huskers ran the ball very well when they had tempo going, but once that went away they failed to gain consistent yardage on the ground.
Passing offense: C-
Nebraska was just 4-of-14 passing in the second half for 30 yards. There were a couple of key third down drops made by Kyler Reed and Jamal Turner. Its little plays like this that can take away any momentum you might have. I thought Martinez also really struggled when the pressure of the game got to him. He did not look comfortable in the obvious passing down situations, which showed in his final second half numbers.
Rushing defense: F
56 carries for 344 yards…maybe the most surprising stat was UCLA didn't have a single rushing touchdown on the day. Bruin running back Johnathan Franklin finished with 217 yards on 26 carries. Any time you let a back go for that many yards you aren't going to win very many football games.
Passing defense: F
Nebraska's lack of pressure upfront allowed Brett Hundley to keep his feet set and make perfect throws for most of the night. Hundley finished 21-of-33 for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Hundley made a lot of short throws in space and forced the Huskers to tackle, and that's something they failed to do well the entire game.
Special teams: D+
Kicker/punter Brett Maher shanked his first two punts and missed a fourth quarter field goal that would've given Nebraska the lead. Most importantly UCLA's play on special teams helped the Bruins control field position. UCLA placed four of their six punts inside the 20 yard line. Nebraska also had a personal foul penalty on a kickoff when the ball went through the end zone for a touchback.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.