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  • Wisconsin beatdown of Huskers stunningly inconceivable

    The story of Nebraska's 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game will possibly never be fully understood, nor will the catastrophic way the Blackshirts fell apart Saturday night in Indianapolis.

    How could a battle-tested, senior-dominated defense – one that had been improving each game throughout the second half of the season – make so many fundamental breakdowns so often against a mediocre one-dimensional football team?

    The first half was far beyond embarrassing. It was easily the worst half of football during the Pelini era, and it brought back painful memories of the Callahan years, including the infamous homecoming loss to Oklahoma State in 2007. How many Nebraska teams ever allowed two opponents to run for 200 yards in the same game? None until now, as both Heisman candidate Montee Ball and redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon surpassed the 200-yard mark. What's more, a third Badger, junior James White, eclipsed the 100-yard mark.

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    Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
    Gordon averaged almost 40 yards a carry on his first five rushing attempts, all of them jet sweeps that should have worked only once, or maybe twice at most.

    It's a shame that a bunch of Husker seniors, who had made great gains in leadership and mental toughness this year, allowed a five-loss Wisconsin team with only nine seniors on its roster to turn them into a laughingstock. I never thought I'd see a Nebraska team collapse like that with Rex Burkhead in the game. Unfortunately, this pretty much wipes out the nation's memory of four great double-digit comebacks by the Huskers this fall.

    The players' collapse on the field simply mirrored the one one shown by Bo Pelini, John Papuchis and Tim Beck, who got hammered by the Badger coaching staff. In fact, it was so one-sided that you've got to wonder if Wisconsin played deliberately plain vanilla in overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State while spending a good chunk of its preparation time for the Ohio State and Penn State games working on schemes and trick plays to use against Nebraska. Or did Pelini and his staff just turn in their worst coaching job of the past five years?

    It was inconceivable that the Blackshirts, who improved steadily throughout the season and got into the Top 20 on total defense, were completely sliced up by Wisconsin, allowing nearly 400 yards in the first half alone and 550 after three quarters. The final totals were beyond pathetic; NU surrendered 10.8 yards per running play.

    A team with the opportunity to win its first conference title in 13 years and go to the Rose Bowl with a realistic shot at beating Stanford, instead gets to face an SEC team in either the Capital One or Outback Bowl. A season that was on the verge of falling apart in mid-October turned into one that was on the verge of being great. Now Pelini and the Huskers settle for "pretty good."

    When the emotion dies down a week or so from now, hopefully Husker fans will appreciate some small gains the program made this year, including winning all seven home games and getting back to the 10-win mark. But if Nebraska loses to whatever SEC team it faces Jan. 1 in Florida, a 10-4 mark would be a very small step forward.

    Nebraska had everything go wrong that possibly could have gone wrong early in the game, and then the Huskers came apart in every way they could possibly have come apart. The one thing Nebraska did the best in 2012 – getting back up off the deck and punching the other guy in the mouth – totally disappeared, at least on the defensive side of the ball.

    Possibly the biggest disappointment to me is that Burkhead was absolutely no factor in the game. That's partly due to Beck's reprise of his 2011 panic job in Madison. Beck once again abandoned the running game in the first half before things got out of hand. Burkhead carried the ball only four times and Ameer Abdullah once in the first half. The Huskers did not line up in their effective diamond formation until they trailed 49-10.

    The Husker offensive linemen were sometimes serviceable, but often lousy, especially when pass blocking. They allowed six sacks. Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles took turns being equally ineffective at left tackle.

    Taylor Martinez, without pass protection, started to revert to his old habits, losing a fumble and throwing two interceptions. The first – the pick-six on the Huskers' first snap from scrimmage – was Kenny Bell's fault, not Martinez's, but the Husker quarterback made more than his share of mistakes. However he made one of the best runs under the worst of circumstances in the history of the Cornhusker football program, scrambling 76 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to pump life into a silent Nebraska sideline and cut Wisconsin's early lead to 14-7.

    The Huskers came as close as 14-10, but the Blackshirts were not equal to the moment. They made every kind of mistake you can make against the running game, taking poor angles, losing containment on reverses and cutback runs, and were flat-out beaten man-to-man at the line of scrimmage. Frankly, at times they looked like they gave up, especially on Ball's 16-yard touchdown sweep midway through the second quarter to make it 35-10.

    When I thought about a worst possible early scenario for the Huskers, it was Ball shredding the Big Red between the tackles, not getting torched on the same jet sweep time and time again. It was a flashback to the lack of speed on defense, the same thing that bothered Nebraska in the UCLA game. But it was the poor fundamentals that really raise questions. Defensive ends failed to stay home, linebackers were badly outrun on the edge and defensive backs took poor angles. Over and over and over again.

    Pelini was obviously angry and befuddled in his postage press conference, calling his team's defensive effort "unacceptable."

    "It was like a leaking boat. We'd get one thing corrected, and then it would show up again," Pelini said. "I've never been part of a game like that. It falls on me. I obviously didn't coach us well enough. I apologize to the team, I apologize to the coaching staff and the fans. It falls on me."

    There were no explanations. It was hard to understand less than an hour after the game ended. It will not get much easier in the coming weeks.

    Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com
    Comments 74 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Maybe it is time for Bo to hire a real DC and give up the reigns and step back and just be a head coach
    1. Huskermedic's Avatar
      Huskermedic -
      Good breakdown of the game.
    1. Dave in Denver's Avatar
      Dave in Denver -
      Reading all the excuses in all the articles -- it seems we are willing to give Bo and his crew more leeway than Callahan and his buddies got. How sad and senseless - this guy is not an offense minded coach and it looks like he is not the defensive guru we all thought he was. In fact, let's face it he is only a C level assistant coach. Let's hope he gets a good offer somewhere else and he takes it. The new AD won't do it quick enough. Come on Huskers, let's face it we need a change in order to keep us relevant in the football world.
    1. tualadan's Avatar
      tualadan -
      It seems out linebackers are just too slow. And a little more nastiness in the D-line might help.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Embarrassing. That's the only thing I can come up with. I quit watching in the second quarter.
    1. Husker Mort's Avatar
      Husker Mort -
      Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
      Maybe it is time for Bo to hire a real DC and give up the reigns and step back and just be a head coach
      ...or hire a head coach and reassign himself to DC.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Bo being the head coach is the entire problem!
    1. 1audiofile's Avatar
      1audiofile -
      Looking for any sunshine is difficult, but the offense did score more points than the first time the played. It looked like the Wisky coaches had come up with some innovative offensive formations that confused the blackhirts. They would line up and then change formation after the defense got into their stance. As indicated in the article I continue to be amazed that the defensive ends never stay home and contain the end runs. I know Bo said that they would fix a problem and then it would come back again. I never saw the defense adjust at all. In retrospect, Bo could have hired Stoops as D coordinator but promoted from within. Good experiment, but it is over now. Lets see what we can do in the next bowl game.
      I would not expect the fans to travel so well unless the location has other things going for it.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      So why did we go away from what got us to this point, mainly a physical running game with a pitch toss? I thought even at 14-0 we should have just ran that over and over until it was stopped. Appeared that the offensive play calls were the opposite of our strenghts. Isn't that how we wore down defences in the 2nd half all year by dominating in the power run game?
    1. Greatest Fan of All's Avatar
      Very kind, it was much worse than that. Bo has been in over his head for 5 years now...it isn't getting any better, in fact, it's worse.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      The Huskers were suffering from some type of food poisoning or drugging
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      ha ha ha told you so o-line d-line d-backs
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      any one want to call marvin or milt .... for d backs and
      o -line just saying and bo's good for anger management classes right nothing to see here ....so media stop giving bo a pass and whats up with beck....5 carries in first half 4 for burkhead 1 for abdulla what give looks like high school
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      I'm not sure what to say or where to start. I do think that the defense was totally undisipline which is a shame being that they are SLOW and they need to be discipline to have a chance at stopping anyone. I also feel that maybe they should have played some of the younger guys once the game was totally out of hand. I'm sure the coaches know what they have but it would have been nice for me to see it with my own eyes lol
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Gene chizak. Defensive coordinator at nebraska
    1. Nebraskamare's Avatar
      Nebraskamare -
      Sorry Stryker just no excuse - NU has proved it is not ready to be Champions - Bo will not be landing a big coaching job - gotta look at the sunnyside of life!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Time to clean house bo.Start with the Dc, then the o line coach and then the oc. Never saw a team so confused in all the years of watching Husker football
    1. No longer a Fan ..'s Avatar
      No longer a Fan .. -
      My GOD this a national embarrassment and BO and company have made NU football the laughing stock of the land. How much more do the Kool Aide drinkers need to see. This was our last good shot at a winning a conference title for years to come. Time to send the great experiment packing...
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      I need to get the Trademark rights for BO MUST GO

      This is the most unprepared, least disciplined Nebraska team ever fielded. It is up to the coach to have the tam prepared. It is up to the coach to get them to play ALL 4 quarters. It is up to them to teach them discipline and to stop committing one stupid penalty after the other. It is up to them to teach them to hold unto the ball. If you look at the BO years, Nebraska is #1. #1 in penalty yards and #1 in turnovers. Bo must go and get rid of the HS coaches like Beck and Papuchis and others too. Nebraska had a proud tradition but since Callahan and Pelini, we are a joke. After watching the game last night, what great HS player would want to come to a program that embarrassed itself. BO MUST GO.
    1. Objectivity's Avatar
      Objectivity -
      The Huskers good luck finally ran out, as did the Badgers bad luck. I don't have a clue how to fix things in Lincoln.... maybe it's beyond fixing. With TO on the way out, perhaps this would be a good time to assess, objectively, where this program is, bite the financial bullet, and start over again. I've had quite enough of of Pelini's sideline antics, and head coaching ineptness. He is out of explanations, and out of time. Bye Bye Bo.
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