Leading up to this game, I wrote in great length about Nebraska’s need for consistency for both short and long-term success in all facets of the game. It’s not about stats or poll votes, but for the bottom line – the victory. I also touched on the aspect of reality. Last week against Southern Miss was not a true measuring stick. Honestly, the first game of the season really never is unless you schedule teams like Alabama, or in this case, UCLA as the opening matchup.
Reality bit the Cornhuskers tonight. It bit and it left a mark.
Under further examination, that mark reveals many things about the team after 2 weeks of play. First off, improving mechanics will do a lot for Taylor Martinez’s future. His passes still had plenty of zip, and nobody saw much of his passes thrown off his back foot. However, mechanics will do nothing for a quarterback under pressure when he doesn’t know how to handle it. That aspect is almost completely mental, and Taylor’s mental mechanics still need some tuning up. Sloppy errant passes when about to be tackled. He still needs to know when to take the sack. Throwing passes into tight or double coverage when the pressure is on. Again, sacks will be less costly than turnovers.
I’m not picking on Taylor. In many ways, he played a decent game, and by no means did he lose this game on his own. I bring back the aforementioned pressure he was under. He had absolutely no time to throw in the second half. Credit needs to be given to UCLA’s defense for the amount tenacity they put on display, but the Pipeline for the Huskers did little to nothing to slow it down. Nebraska also saw another familiar sight tonight from last year, the ball hitting the ground. Not so much as turnovers, although Abdullah did have one, but dropped passes. Nothing can sink an offense’s ship like dropped passes. Unfortunately, the drops usually came at the worst time, on 3rd down. Speaking of which, that’s a stat that will hang over the team’s head in practice this upcoming week.
As far as the Blackshirts are concerned, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a complete step backwards, but it was definitely a stumble. There were more missed tackles on UCLA’s Franklin on one run play than a defense should have through an entire 60 minutes. The group did buckle down better in the second half, indeed, and it helped the Huskers stay in the game until the end but that will not cut it against a respectable offense like the Bruins have. 30 minutes of strong offense and 30 minutes of strong defense will not create a winning package against a good opponent, especially on the road.
Let me be clear, in the full summary of things, this was a complete team loss both on the field and on the sidelines. The coaching has just as much of a part in it, and that was very clear under the lights tonight. The defensive staff made some corrections, yes, but the fundamentals were terrible. Husker fans saw a return of Tim Beck’s stubborn side. One need not watch a replay of the game to know pretty clearly that he had lost faith in the offensive line as the run game was completely abandoned. Understandable perhaps with less than 2 minutes left in the game, but 8 and a half? Last I saw, UCLA didn’t have a complete handle on the work horses in the backfield, even when the Bruin defense had gained considerable momentum. No, I’m also not bringing Rex Burkhead into the conversation in context of, “Well, if he had played tonight…,” just no. Rex is a fantastic playmaker, but the Huskers had more woes than even Superman could have repaired on his own. Maher also had his struggles again this evening, but looking at some of the replays, it wasn’t all him. Fundamentals on the snap and hold were off as well. Definitely something the special teams coaches can afford to look into.
As of tonight, and the season, this loss is in the books and over with. It stings to be 1-1. Reality has a way of hurting like that, and it has a way of making things ugly. Let’s face it, tonight was 50 shades of ugly. Although, the team nor the fans should ignore the silver linings on this one. The biggest positive is that this is non-conference. Obviously, a national championship is probably out the window, but c’mon, did we really think we had that coming into this year? Most importantly, since this was non-conference and it is still so early in the season, this is a grand LEARNING EXPERIENCE. That being said, Nebraska must take hold of that and squeeze every drop of knowledge from that experience as possible. Poor tackling can be fixed. Better blocking can be taught. Improved play calling can certainly be done. The season is nowhere close to being over. Based off of tonight, that’s almost more scary than reassuring, but that’s why we are here as fans. To make sure we help push the Huskers to the goals we know they are capable of achieving.
1-1 doesn’t look good, but 11-1 is nothing to shake a head at.
By Tyler Wanek
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