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  • Will Huskers learn from bowl loss to more talented Southern opponent?

    For those of us who say we long for old-time Cornhusker football, at least this game had some familiar themes.

    You had an academically high-achieving Nebraska team giving a good effort against a Southern team with more speed and athletic ability, but talent carried the day in Georgia's 45-31 victory Tuesday in the Capital One Bowl. It reminded me of contests against Florida State and Miami during the 1980s and early 90s, during Nebraska's seven-game bowl losing streak under Tom Osborne, where the good-citizen Huskers came up short because they were outmaneuvered on jailbreak screens and slant routes, beaten to the edge on running plays or just plain missed open-field tackles.

    At the end of the 2012 season, we saw a lot of those themes repeat themselves against Georgia, although NU actually put in a better showing than some of those late 1980s Husker teams. Nebraska had more first downs, outrushed the Dawgs 239-162 and had eight more snaps from scrimmage and 32 minutes of possession, all of which should have kept down Georgia's scoring. Rex Burkhead rushed for 140 yards and scored two touchdowns in his final game as a Husker, but three long-range scoring passes by Aaron Murray were the difference.

    Chris Conley (31) scores a touchdown as Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Josh Mitchell (5) gives chase during the second half
    Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
    In 2012, the Huskers made a lot of memories by overcoming their own sloppy play with fourth-quarter comebacks against Big Ten competition, but that type of thing just won't fly against good teams from the SEC. Nebraska's three turnovers, eight penalties and two major special-teams errors were very costly. Wouldn't it have been great for Nebraska to send Tom Osborne out with a victory in his last game as athletic director, or to win a big bowl game for Burkhead? Unfortunately, good intentions usually come in a poor second to execution and talent on the field.

    Taylor Martinez, who engineered double-digit comeback wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State this fall, couldn't get the job done against Georgia despite completing 16 of 27 passes for two touchdowns. The Huskers simply couldn't afford his two interceptions. Martinez, who became only the fourth Husker quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, has not yet produced a conference championship or bowl win. His high-risk, high-reward style is entertaining, but after 39 starts, he is a good – not great – quarterback. That's partly because he is surrounded by good – not great – players on offense.

    How will three consecutive bowl defeats affect Bo Pelini and his coaching staff? Will they learn as much as Osborne and his staff did from their experiences? That remains to be seen. But here's how Osborne responded: he recruited more speed on defense, and it paid off in a big way.

    One of my best friends, Mr. Glass-Is-Two-Thirds-Empty Husker Fan, quickly opined after the game that the Huskers were outcoached. I disagree. Nebraska had a decent plan; it just didn't have enough good athletes to execute the plan.

    Case in point: ineffective blitzes by the Huskers this season. More often than not, Nebraska was burned badly because the blitzes didn't make it home. Dial back to the mid-1990s – which is the old-time Husker football most of us want to remember – and you'll recall that about half the time the Huskers blitzed, the result was mayhem – sacks, fumbles, interceptions and bruises for the quarterback. Not so during the Bo Pelini years. Pelini's blitzes worked when he was defensive coordinator at LSU and he had a wealth of speed on his roster, but generally not in Lincoln, even with an occasional Lavonte David or Prince Amukamara on the field.

    Pelini is a fine defensive coach when he has the athletes to carry out his scheme. Right now, he doesn't. For sure, he needs more speedy linebackers and defensive backs, but the most glaring problem is in the defensive line. He needs to recruit at least one, and probably two, space-eating, run-stuffing, quarterback-sacking linemen because he's struck out on too many players like Joe Carter, Todd Peat Jr., Jay Guy and Donovan Vestal – players who have not become difference-makers.

    In 2013, Pelini and Rick Kaczenski need to get about twice as much production out of Chase Rome and develop either Vincent Valentine, Kevin Williams or Aaron Curry into a solid defensive tackle.

    Speaking of the mid-90s, Nebraska sure misses gutsy players like little Barron Miles, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound cornerback who knew how to make a play on the football. Several times against Georgia, Nebraska defensive backs (who have a lot more height than Miles did) were in position to knock down passes, but couldn't get the job done. The result was a school-record five touchdown passes by Murray, who likely will see the field in the NFL within the next few years.

    So it's another four-loss season for the Huskers – the fifth consecutive time under Pelini. Did the 10-4 Huskers show improvement this year? You can make a good argument either way. I'll give my take on that question later this month.

    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 21 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      What a joke...comparison to 80's and 90's teams. Did you watch the game? Where is the analysis on player mistakes, coaching decisions, and bad officiating?? WOW!!!
    1. 1audiofile's Avatar
      1audiofile -
      It certainly was a fun game to watch, though there was some shouting at the TV. The offense once again showed that they could score over 30 points in just 3 quarters. The two interceptions were crucial but could have been overcome. The receivers sometimes did not seem to fight for the ball with the defender. A more aggressive approach is called for when playing the SEC. A similar pattern emerged on the defense. Defenders did not seem to go up and fight for the ball or intentionally interfere to prevent a touchdown. This is not the NFL. If there is a 75 yard pass about to be completed an interference penalty only costs 15 yards. Letting them catch the ball is a 75 yd touchdown pass and 7 points ultimately. I do not think it was Martinez fault the game was lost. If you score 31 the defense needs to do their part. Low scoring games do not seem to be part of the Nebraska defense. That needs to change soon.
    1. renohusker's Avatar
      renohusker -
      Poor Taylor never really had a chance to throw because the Huskers couldn't figure out a way to block Mr. Jones. He was on Taylor all night like a coat of paint. I would hope that someone could come up with a blocking scheme or a TE or RB to help a tackle that obviously didn't have the foot speed to keep Jones out by himself.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      The blitzes would work much better with a stronger and deeper defensive line. We are almost there. Bo needs to keep recruiting good classes. Frankly, given the red shirts that will be strapping on helmets on game day and the 2013 recruiting class and our returning veterans, I can't wait until next year. This team is going to be good.
    1. skjohn's Avatar
      skjohn -
      The defense was so terrible I almost couldn't watch. Guys running wide open. No pressure on the QB. Receivers getting behind DBs time and time again. The TE from GA is still running along with the RB...both untouched. And can any DB knock down a pass? The mistakes didn't stop either. 3 turnovers. Big penalties. That leads to another big loss and Murray having a career day (we are making a habit of that).
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      and who's fault is it that Pelini doesn't have the aforementioned speed on D? How about another record-setting performance by a Pelini-led team? This game tied the mark for the most points allowed in a bowl game by the Huskers. Another record one wouldn't want to have one's name associated....
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      In my opinion we need to go to American Somoa, or Guam or Hawaii and recruit some of the old Nebraska DLs. Those guys can play lights out defense. We also need to take more Nebraska HS players who can play OL as in the old days. We need a qualified and experience Defensive coach and a better OL coach. Quavale and Rodriquez need to stary at guards on the OL.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Excellent read Tad. May I disagree a little bit though? Burkhead and Abdullah are GREAT players. The line is terrible and the offensive line coach is terrible. When you say T-Mart is surrounded by "good" not great players maybe you were averaging the bunch?
      Also, finally! Someone else finally talked (ABC) about NU's football manufactured in 1990. Why does NU play with that ball? Because T-Mart picks out the ball. What? No wonder the turnovers were plenty this year..... Is anyone listening? Old footballs lose their grip. Duh.
    1. skjohn's Avatar
      skjohn -
      A few questions....really comments to end the season...
      1) Why all the penalties? Holding. Illegal procedure. Clipping. Interference.
      2) Why can't we put any pressure on ANY QB? 'Sackless' Huskers
      3) Why are WRs getting behind our DBs? And why do they always look lost or out of position?
      4) How do guys end up 10 yards wide open and run for 87 yards untouched?
      5) One word for one of the greats we have seen....REX!
    1. 1audiofile's Avatar
      1audiofile -
      It certainly was a fun game to watch, though there was some shouting at the TV. The offense once again showed that they could score over 30 points in just 3 quarters. The two interceptions were crucial but could have been overcome. The receivers sometimes did not seem to fight for the ball with the defender. A more aggressive approach is called for when playing the SEC. A similar pattern emerged on the defense. Defenders did not seem to go up and fight for the ball or intentionally interfere to prevent a touchdown. This is not the NFL. If there is a 75 yard pass about to be completed an interference penalty only costs 15 yards. Letting them catch the ball is a 75 yd touchdown pass and 7 points ultimately. I do not think it was Martinez fault the game was lost. If you score 31 the defense needs to do their part. Low scoring games do not seem to be part of the Nebraska defense. That needs to change soon.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Bull. It came down to a few key plays, like Abdullah's fumble and the 84 yard slant. The Huskers hung with Georgia most of the game. You can't state a lack of talent with any validity. They had a couple more big plays, but our db's were right there in position. They have a legit pro QB who had an awesome day. Does Georgia lack "southern talent"? Because we did hang 31 on them.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Good take, Tad! I agree completely, but also wonder if our own "bonehead" mistakes that seem to show up at inopportune times (Rodriquez's gaffes) display a lack of discipline we seem to have. What did you think of our offense getting away from the run and relying on Taylor's split second "eat the ball" plays? Just wondering, as an "old-time" Husker fan!
    1. ManWithNoName's Avatar
      ManWithNoName -
      Please stop bashing Taylor Martinez, without him no bowl game at all this year. Out coached all year, staying with a defense that does not have personnel to run, either stupid or stubborn. Offensive play calling at end of first half versus Georgia just another example of stupid or stubborn, lucky it didn't cost the Huskers points. The wildcat toss ISO? Just hand the ball off to Burkhead. The lost fumble was the turning point!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      No improvement!!!!!
    1. ROB JANK's Avatar
      ROB JANK -
      1. he just move to a new conference that plays smash mouth ,

      2. he just lost his defencive coordinator to a head coachibg job ( brother to Fla Atl)

      3. he won 10 games, and has won 9 every year he has been there, same as Oz

      4. he has a 2nd Year Offencive coordinator cuz he got rid of the last of ******** NUT CALLI's gang (Watson)

      5. due to things out of his control, he is in a new league, with different styles of offence,

      and now has to recruit to the likes of the big ten and not the spread, as in line backers, where in

      in the big 12 you for-go linebackers for bigger safeties

      FIVE REASONS BO NEEDS MORE TIME

      I WOULD GIVE HIM AT LEAST 3 TO 4 MORE YEARS, EASY 10 WIN SEASON, COME ON

      rating on the season 7 to 7.5 much better than before him, it takes time
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      On the offensive side, the line play in the 4th quarter showed a glaring lack of depth and talent. Rodriguez looked like he was stuck in the mud and completely outmatched at tackle. I like to give the coaches the benefit of doubt because they are the "experts". But the offensive line has been a liability for too long. I think some new coaching blood and some fat, nasty recruits (ala the Peter's, Graham, Dr. Rob, etc) would go a long way towards plugging the pipeline.
    1. Bill Whitney's Avatar
      Bill Whitney -
      Good analysis. It took Dr Tom a couple of years to get the depth of talent required to play with the top teams in the SEC.
    1. Husker Red's Avatar
      Husker Red -
      I agree that the talent level is not there. But that falls on the coaching staff and their lack of abilty to recruit. This staff is not getting it done there. Where I differ somewhat is the question on was our coaches outcoached. Don't now if they did or not because I don't think Richt is really that great of a coach to begin with. BUT I am positive that BO is in over his head. He is not a head coach, period. To me a sign of a coaching staff is how are their special teams. If you have really bad special teams than that is sign of a staff that is overwhelmed and doesn't have the time to make special teams thier asset and not their liabilty. Other than place kicking our special teams are a nightmare
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      I agree. We need speed, not a new head coach.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Nebraska defense really sucks and I am so tired year after year hearing the excuses...................Nebraska is an average team and the fans better get used to it.
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