UCLA beat Nebraska, 36-30, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The questions that swirled around Nebraska’s defense after a shaky performance against Southern Miss became much more pointed after allowing a 300-yard passer and a 200-yard rusher for UCLA.
So let’s take a look, and see who the winners and losers were for Nebraska after the loss to UCLA.
In Tom Shatel’s column from the Omaha World-Herald, Bo Pelini said that a healthy Rex Burkhead would not have made a difference against UCLA. And that might be true. But it’s hard to think that the pass-heavy play-calling in the second half would have been quite the same had Burkhead been available.
It’s hard to think that the fullback dive on fourth down would have been the call if Burkhead were on the field. And it’s hard to think that the level of panic that set in on Nebraska’s offense at the end of the game would have been quite so palpable.
After the Southern Miss game, many Nebraska fans were quite confident that NU wouldn’t need Burkhead in Pasadena. It’s a safe bet that Burkhead’s necessity won’t be questioned anytime soon.
Yes, there were times where the old Taylor Martinez came to visit, and caused Nebraska fans more than a few gray hairs. But for most of the game, Martinez continued to show the kind of accuracy and decision-making that so electrified the college football world against Southern Miss. And his 92-yard, Eric-Crouch-vs-Missouri-like run added a new dimension to his game.
Sure, he struggled as UCLA was able to get pressure up the middle on him. Any quarterback would. But there were enough good things that Martinez did against UCLA for Nebraska fans to keep faith with him as the season goes forward.
At the start of the UCLA game, Brett Maher looked absolutely lost. His first punt, in a pressure situation where Nebraska desperately needed to flip field position, resulted in a 13-yard shank. Following off last week’s performance, the all-conference specialist looked like he might be in danger of losing his job.
But at the end of the first half, Maher survived the timeout shenanigans of UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr., and hit a 54-yard field goal to tie the score and give Nebraska some much-needed momentum going into the half. He also hit a 64-yard punt that gave Nebraska some field position relief it hadn’t had for much of the game.
Maher’s game as a whole wasn’t one to remember, and his missed field goal could have been a critical momentum swinger. But at least there was enough good performance from Maher to give hope that the all-conference performance we saw last year could return.
Ultimately, football is a game that is won on the offensive and defensive lines. As the game wore on, it became increasingly clear that Nebraska’s lines could not stand up to the intensity and athleticism from their UCLA counterparts.
Offensively, Nebraska’s running game was ground to a halt, and Taylor Martinez continued to feel pressure from the UCLA front four (and sometimes more than four), which ultimately affected his ability to perform.
Defensively, Nebraska was never able to generate any kind of pressure on redshirt freshman UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley with its front four, and found itself getting gashed time and again by running back Jonathan Franklin.
UCLA was 9-for-20 in third-down conversions, keeping Nebraska’s defense on the field and Nebraska’s offense on the sideline and out of rhythm.
It doesn’t take long to go from hero to goat. In the first half, Beck’s reinsertion of the quarterback run seemed inspired as a counter to UCLA’s pressure. But in the second half, it did not appear that Beck had any answers to dial up in response to the adjustments UCLA made to take Taylor Martinez’s draws and runs away from him.
The slow-developing zone read out of the end zone, called against a UCLA team that had been successfully generating a rush up the middle for much of the second half, was a disastrous call.
The failure to put Martinez into a bootleg or other type of rollout to help mitigate the ferocious rush up the middle was another inexplicable decision. The quick tempo that had been so successful in the first half simply disappeared.
Nebraska’s offense looked like a world-beater in its first three halves of 2012. But when the pressure was put on it in the second half against UCLA, it cracked.
UCLA piled up 653 yards of total offense against Nebraska. To put that in perspective, in 2007 Kansas beat Nebraska 76-39, in a game that is widely seen as the one that ultimately got Bill Callahan fired. Nebraska fans thought that defensive performance was the low-water mark they would see from their squad.
Kansas had 572 yards of total offense that afternoon in Lawrence.
It wasn’t just the numbers that were distressing. It was the missed tackles, the penalties, the turnovers—in short, it was the return of everything we did not see against Southern Miss and that made the prospects of the 2012 season so tantalizing.
Well, those prospects just took a significant hit after Nebraska’s performance in Pasadena. Pelini took responsibility for the performance himself, and for improving that performance in coming weeks. But UCLA provided a dramatic reality check for the Children of the Corn after Nebraska’s performance the week earlier.
If you would like to contact Patrick directly to schedule an interview, ask a question or to get his recipe for a killer peach cobbler, send an email to email@example.com. (DISCLAIMER: Peach cobbler recipe might not be all that killer.)