Four-Down Territory: Northwestern Week


October 6, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Rex Burkhead (22) evades Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier (10) at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

Well Husker fans, I emptied out my puke bucket and finally got built up the strength to watch the Ohio State game all over again. I foretold that if Martinez threw the ball up for grabs the Buckeyes were talented enough to make Nebraska pay. What I didn’t foresee was Nebraska’s total defensive domination of OSU in the first quarter, holding all-star quarterback Braxton Miller to -2 total yards with no first downs. That reason is why I took the loss so hard. I mean, if you told me that an Ohio State running back would have a career day and Miller would run all over exploiting weaknesses I would have totally agreed that would probably happen. But the first quarter gave me a glimmer of hope.

This week I plan on breaking down four major reasons – in order of importance – why Nebraska lost this game.

First Down: Braxton Miller is better than everyone on Nebraska’s roster.

There. I said it. The guy is a freak of nature. He’s like a running back and wide receiver rolled into one playing quarterback. He gave Nebraska trouble, eluding tackles, extending pass plays with his feet and making big plays with his arm and feet. Not to mention he seems impervious to injury.

Many a Husker fan has blamed Bo Pelini for not recruiting better athletes who can tackle him. You’re arrogant for thinking that, and here’s why. First, if he could recruit someone as good as Miller he would be playing quarterback. Second, everyone else OSU has played has the same problem. Thinking that Nebraska has better athletes than everyone else in the nation, or that Pelini’s defensive scheme is bad is delusional.

And that doesn’t just go for Miller. Ohio State has recruited better over the years. I mean they’re on probation with tales of selling your swag for cash, stars getting fancy cars and they spend Texas-like cash on the program. Not to mention that the Buckeyes have an experienced head coach who picked apart Nebraska’s weaknesses because Pelini didn’t adjust in-game. But I’ll get back to that two downs from now.

Second Down: The trenches.

I had to ask one question when reviewing the game: Why did Nebraska dominate the first quarter and not the entire game?

Round up the usual suspects.

The defensive line lived in the Buckeye backfield in the first quarter. This allowed cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers to come free and blitz Miller or to rove that second level, tackling anyone trying to escape the backfield. Will Compton was en route to a huge game.

Then it happened. The defensive line lost steam. They started getting handled up front. Then not only were they not getting into the backfield, but offensive linemen started getting into that second level of defense, sealing off the defenders who were making all the tackles and blitzes. (Even on passing plays, which I thought was a penalty in college football but I’m not going to use refs as an excuse.)

On the other side of the coin, the only people blocking for Nebraska were the skill positions. The offensive line was awful. Kick and punt returns were even worse. Any time there was a big play it was because someone seemed to be able to pick through the utter chaos that was Big Red blocking.  I’m not sure why it’s so hard to coach blocking assignments and holding a block. Watch the game film of the UCLA and Ohio State games and do what they did.

Taylor Martinez took a lot of heat for throwing the ball up for grabs. I want to address this. I was watching a recent NFL game where the Broncos were playing the Chargers. Then something happened. The San Diego offensive line stopped blocking, the Broncos started getting in QB Philip Rivers’ face and he started fumbling and throwing interceptions. This is an experienced NFL quarterback having the same breakdowns as Martinez. Give the kid some credit. He’s not perfect, but it’s hard for anyone to play under those circumstances.

Third Down: The safeties weren’t safe at all.

Two glaring things happened again and again as I watched Nebraska’s defense start to get picked apart. They involved the two safeties doing two totally opposite things.

First, Daimion Stafford was getting torched on a particular play-action pass. So badly so that Urban Meyer kept calling the play. The tight end was open every time as Stafford frantically cheated to the line of scrimmage expecting a run. One time he actually pushed another defender out of his way as he ran himself out of the play.

Second, P.J. Smith seemed afraid to tackle. There were several times during the game where Smith froze in his tracks instead of running through his man, making the tackle.

I think both of these problems – among other things – could have been solved by the Nebraska coaching staff in-game. Yet no adjustment was made. Myth confirmed: Urban Meyer is a better coach and has hired better coaches than Bo Pelini. I mean, if I notice it a college defensive coordinator or defensive backs coach should, too, right?

Fourth Down: The loss of Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead was having a season-defining game against the Buckeyes until he aggravated his knee injury. My heart goes out to the guy. He was clearly in a lot of pain while trying to get treated and back out on the field.

The game may have been pulling away from Nebraska, but the Huskers missed his big plays, patient running and blocking. I hope the bye week helped him get healthy.

Extra Points: Nebraska’s offense has been impressive this year. They run multiple sets. I-formation, shotgun, diamond, single-back, no-QB-Maryland-I, etc. Big plays are coming from the backfield and receivers are actually catching the ball without losing any edge in the blocking game. It’s refreshing to see. Just clean up the turnovers. … And defense, generate some turnovers.

By Steve Siedlik