Bo Pelini is a man without answers.
That's not a knock on him or an otherwise deliberately unfair characterization of the coach who just saw his team get drilled in the Big Ten Championship Game, 70-31, by Wisconsin; it's something Pelini freely admitted in a news conference after the game.
"There was nothing taking us off guard," Pelini said when asked what went wrong. "We practiced 99 percent of what they showed us today. For whatever reason we didn't execute. We didn't make tackles. We didn't make plays, obviously. We didn't coach it well enough."
"Obviously we didn't play well enough," Pelini continued. "We came unglued. I wish I had the answer, but I don't."
The rest of the presser was basically along that same line—reporter asks some variation of "What the hell was that?" and Pelini answers, "I don't know, but it was terrible"—and that was that. Pelini and his coaches are now forced to reexamine, well, pretty much everything about their Wisconsin scouting, if not their entire approach to game preparation.
This was a whipping for the ages. This was 60 minutes of an unfair fight. This was 10.8 yards per carry for the entire game. Sure, Wisconsin had a trick play here and there, but when push came to shove, Wisconsin was doing all the shoving.
So, how? How does Nebraska come into the Big Ten Championship Game with the 15th-ranked defense in yards given up and a six-game winning streak and then just roll over and die?
How does Melvin Gordon get free for massive yardage on a fly sweep over and over, to the point where he broke 200 yards rushing on his sixth carry of the game? And how in the world does Wisconsin rush for nearly 10 times as many yards as it did against that same Nebraska defense earlier this season?
Like Pelini, Bret Bielema didn't chalk up the blowout to a vastly different game plan either. At his news conference appearance, Bielema said Wisconsin's offense on Saturday was "still the meat and potatoes that got us where we were," and that the team stays in its framework. And hey—50 rushes and 10 passes for the entire game is a pretty Wisconsin-esque approach to play-calling.
"We stuck to the success of what makes us good," Bielema said. "We don't deviate. We've got a plan that we stick to. We talked about working together as a group, offense, defense, special teams. Where we've been all year, we've been on the cusp of it. We played a four quarter game, just didn't have it. I knew we had a chance this week. We were healthy for the first time in a long time at all positions, and that was a big part of the game."
But if the coaches are right and not just being elusive as a reflex (as many coaches are wont to do), then this is a major problem for Nebraska. The Huskers were pretty clearly the second-best team in the Big Ten.
Ohio State proved it was the best, obviously, but Nebraska beat everybody else in its division and the second- and third-best teams in the Leaders Division. That was the hardest possible conference schedule a team in the Big Ten could have had, and Nebraska went 7-1 with it.
So that second-best team, the one that had earned its way to No. 12 in the BCS rankings coming into the week, can get absolutely trucked by a Wisconsin team that just needed to get healthy and put together a good week of practice? That is extremely problematic, because it means Nebraska is just as capable of being an utter disaster on the field as it is capable of beating just about anybody in the conference.
Pelini needs to figure out why Nebraska's execution was so poor. That didn't look like the 15th-best defense in the nation, it looked like the 15th-best defense in the state of Nebraska. Pelini put the blame on himself after the game, and that's a classy thing for the coach to do in the wake of such a blowout.
But taking blame is one thing; fixing the problem is another. We'll see come bowl season whether Nebraka's got it fixed.
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