So what did we learn?
Nebraska reinforced itself as some of the best fans in the nation. Nebraska, and the student section did a wonderful job of respectfully honoring UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale who died a few days before the game. The Huskers wore memorial decals on their helmet and the university held a moment of silence in his honor. But it was the student section who really did Nebraska proud. During the moment of silence, they released blue and gold balloons and held up banners staying "N - 36" and "Two Schools - One Team". It was a truly touching gesture, and one that hopefully provided some comfort to a UCLA community grieving one of their own.
The defense is not good enough to carry the offense. Six of Nebraska's 15 drives went three and out. Each of those drives only lasted around a minute each. Without making excuses for the defense (youth, inexperience, etc.) the simple fact is they are not good enough to carry the burden for an offense that should be able to hold their own. The offense doesn't need to score every time they get the ball, but they can't continually put the defense in a hole with short drives that don't make any yardage.
If you've ever wanted to go to a game at Memorial Stadium, this is your week. Let's pretend Nebraska had beaten UCLA. We'd still be looking at the fourth straight home game, against an no-name opponent from the lower division in a stadium that has 6,000 more seats than it did a year ago. Even with a win, there would be hundreds of tickets for sale.
Now, throw in an ugly loss and everything else that has happened since the game ended. I would not be surprised to see pockets of empty seats and tickets going for pennies on the dollar outside the stadium.
In short, if you've ever thought about taking your kids, wife, or neighbor who has never been before, this is the time.
So what don't we know?
What happened to the offense? I'd love to be able to explain why Nebraska's vaunted offense, with a deep arsenal of weapons managed 135 yards and zero points in the second half. Did UCLA's defense make big adjustments? Did Tim Beck out-smart himself? Did Nebraska's offense fail to execute? Were they trying too hard? All I know is while it's easy to pin this loss on a defense that once again could not stop the Bruin attack, you must also point the finger at an offense that left the artists formerly known as Blackshirts dangling in the wind.
What happens if Taylor Martinez sees Kenny Bell? In the opening drive of 3rd quarter, Nebraska had a 3rd and 6 from their46. Taylor Martinez went back to pass and scrambled around looking for a receiver. As he was looking, Kenny Bell got away from his man and was running down the left sideline, 15 yards from the nearest Bruin. Martinez apparently didn't see Bell, and threw to Jake Long for a gain of 8 yards. The drive stalled, and three plays later, Nebraska punted. UCLA drove the ball 89 yards for a touchdown.
I bring this up not to rip on Martinez for not finding an open receiver, but to wonder if the outcome of the game might have been different if Nebraska scores on that play. Many fans and pundits have pointed to Avery Moss's missed sack before halftime as the thing that flipped the momentum, but I think this play was a bigger turning point in the game. With a touchdown there, NU goes up 28-10 and a team (and crowd) in dire need of some life gets a big jolt of energy. Instead, three and a half minutes later, it is 21-17, and turning sour in a big hurry.
Are we done with blackouts? After much soul-searching, I wore black to the game. While I was impressed by the number of fans who heeded the calls to wear black, I wasn't blown away by the impact of the black in the crowd. Call me an old, stodgy, traditionalist, but I much prefer the Sea of Red to any gimmicky blackout.
How Full Is Your Glass?
Given the divide I’m seeing between the “Pelini Apologists” and the “Bo Bashers”, I’d like to provide a stat, quote, observation, or factoid that best illustrates the position of these two diverse groups.
Glass Half Full: Did you see the first quarter?
Glass Half Empty: Did you see the third quarter?
5 Players I Loved
- Quincy Enunwa. Two more touchdowns for Quincy, who is getting his senior year off to a great start (and hopefully boosting his draft stock). At the time, I thought his first half false start (which wiped out a big loss on a Taylor Martinez fumble) would be a play of the game. Regardless, I'm loving what I'm seeing out of one of my favorite Huskers.
- Ameer Abdullah. He didn't have exceptional numbers (23 rushes for 98 yards), but he earned every single yard. His fumble hurt, but it wasn't the difference in the game. Another Husker who is putting together a very strong season.
- Josh Banderas. Banderas has taken ownership of the middle linebacker position, and is playing at a high level - especially for a true freshman. On Saturday, he had 11 tackles, a sack, and another tackle for loss all while directing traffic within the defense. This kid has a bright future.
- Defensive Line. At least for a half, the D-line was playing at a very high level. They were getting penetration, shedding blocks, and shutting down UCLA's interior run game. Avery Moss, Thad Randle, Vincent Valentine, and company - bring that level of play the rest of the season and things will be just fine. In the Pelini scheme, it all starts up front.
- Randy Gregory. Even though he hasn't picked up a sack, Gregory deserves his own praise aside from his mates on the D Line. He is fun to watch as he unleashes a repertoire of moves (speed, power, spins) on unsuspected offensive tackles all in a never-ending quest to make a play. Eight tackles, with two for loss, and a forced fumble. I think once he gets a sack, he could really go into beast mode.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Bell, Sam Foltz getting his own tackle, the several politicians who heeded my call for free rosters.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Jamal Turner. Jamal Turner is clearly a talented athlete capable of making explosive plays. But he had a very rough game on Saturday. He badly misplayed a punt return, costing Nebraska tons of yards - as well as his job as a returner. After that, he was noticeably not himself. I'm confident that he can bounce back, but I wish that resiliency could come within the game.
- Tim Beck. Sitting in the stands, there were several drives where I found myself thinking "How are we going to get yards? Who will be the playmaker?" With an offense so potentially potent, that is a bad thing to question. A big chunk of the blame goes to Tim Beck, as I felt there was not a good rhythm or plan to what he wanted to do. At times it felt like he was trying things at random to see if something would work.
- Tackling. Just some ugly, ugly tackling at times. Poor angles and sloppy fundamentals which led to a lot of black jerseys laying on the turf as Bruins continued down the field.
- Brodrick Nickens. I loved the idea of Nebraska's fake punt, the timing of it, and the concept of the play. I don't have a problem with a lineman like Nickens running with the ball per se, but if the big boy is going to carry the rock, the coaches need to make sure he knows how to lower his shoulder/dive/stretch to get a first down.
- Alternate Uniforms. I get that an annual alternative uniform is something that is here to stay, but I continue to be underwhelmed by the designs adidas is providing.
Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog (www.feitcanwrite.com). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.