Nebraska vs. UCLA: 10 Things We Learned in Cornhuskers' Loss
Nebraska was held scoreless in the second half as UCLA erased a 21-3 deficit to beat NU, 41-21, before a record crowd at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska was unable to respond to the adjustments made by the Bruins at halftime, with NU’s only real scoring chance erased by a fumble on the UCLA 6-yard line.
So what lessons can be learned from Nebraska’s 18-point collapse?
The Defensive Line Has Potential
Nebraska’s first-half success came in large measure because NU’s defensive line was able to get penetration and pressure on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. By doing so, Nebraska was able to neutralize UCLA’s inside running game and force Hundley to make plays. Early on in the game, he was not able to do so, and Nebraska was able to find success.
The Initial Game Plan Worked
Defensively, Nebraska was successful in containing UCLA’s attack. Offensively, Nebraska was able to get into a rhythm. The 92-yard touchdown drive for Nebraska’s second score was one of the best drives NU has logged in some time.
When Nebraska was confidence and in rhythm on offense, NU looked like a fearsome force on offense, and UCLA appeared to be struggling for answers.
The Running Back Rotation Was a Hit
While Ameer Abdullah is certainly the main back, even early in the game, Nebraska went to sophomore Imani Cross and freshman Terrell Newby. The change of pace, combined with the fresh legs, seemed very effective. Given Nebraska’s history of picking one guy and sticking with him, you have to like how NU is utilizing its young weapons.
An Opportunistic Nebraska Is a Successful Nebraska
UCLA helped Nebraska out quite a bit at the start of the game, with Nebraska scoring two touchdowns on short fields after an interception and a botched punt snap. Sure, that means Nebraska’s 21-3 lead was a bit of a mirage (as we all found out later in the game). But the fact remains, Nebraska was still able to create those opportunities and take advantage of them.
The Alternate Uniforms Were Flippin' Sweet
I know, I know, Nebraska lost in an ugly collapse, and many Husker faithful will blame the sacrilege of wearing black uniforms for the loss. But the fact remains, rolling out in alternates makes a difference in recruiting and (at least to one particularly smart and handsome analyst), they looked awesome as a one-off.
There's plenty of blame to pass around for Nebraska's defeat to UCLA. Lay off the threads.
Mike Tyson Syndrome
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
If there is one thing that has defined Nebraska over the last couple of years, it is that the team is unable to right the ship after something goes wrong—sometimes after even a single play. Against Ohio State, it was a Braxton Miller run. Against Wisconsin, it was an early interception. And against UCLA, it was a missed sack that led to a score.
Yes, Nebraska is young, but at this point, it’s hard to not see a pattern in Bo Pelini-coached teams. And until Nebraska can learn to take a punch and not fold, the trophy case is going to remain empty, and the "1999" on the West Stadium facade next to "Conference Championships" will remain lonely.
Not a Defensive Loss
I think we can put away the “when is offensive coordinator Tim Beck going to get a big head coaching job” questions for a while.
In the last year, Nebraska fans have almost reflexively pointed to a leaky defense as the reason for NU’s struggles. Not Saturday.
Nebraska’s offense was shut out after going up, 21-3. Early in the third quarter, Nebraska had the chance to put the Bruins away with a score pushing the tally to 28-3. Instead, Nebraska’s offense became conservative and ineffective, handing UCLA the momentum and taking away NU’s home-field advantage.
It’s Not How Many Times You Turn the Ball over
If, before the game, you would have said Nebraska would only turn the ball over once, many would have liked Nebraska’s chances going in.
But it was a crucial, backbreaking fumble by Ameer Abdullah, as Nebraska was driving for a score to get back into the game, that put the contest out of reach. Once again, Nebraska fans can’t turn to one of their standard hobgoblins to blame for an NU defeat.
Can’t Count on Comebacks
Last year, Nebraska made a living on miracle comebacks, which, perhaps, painted a false picture of the status of the team overall. This time, Nebraska was on the opposite end of a gigantic collapse.
And for all the good the comebacks of 2012 did for the team’s confidence, blowing an 18-point lead and turning it into a 20-point loss at home will be a huge challenge to the psyche of this squad.
The Red Tide Is Turning
With eight minutes to go in the game, Memorial Stadium started to empty. It was understandable, of course—Nebraska fans have seen beaten Cornhusker teams before, and they could see that this crew wasn’t coming back.
But this is the kind of loss that will turn a fanbase against a head coach. A winnable game before Nebraska with an opportunity to make a mark on the national stage and Nebraska ends up getting embarrassed—this time, even with a 21-3 lead.
I wrote earlier about whether the Wyoming game was the “canary in a coal mine” game, like the narrow win over Ball State in 2007 was prior to the team’s implosion. If Wyoming was Ball State 2007, then this game felt, in some ways, eerily like the 41-6 home loss to Missouri in 2007.
Nebraska fans will simply not tolerate a mediocre NU team. Ask Frank Solich about that. Maybe it is premature to say that Bo Pelini is on the hot seat after this collapse. Maybe.
But Nebraska will not have a “big game” until Northwestern comes to town in November, meaning NU will not have a chance to prove itself until then.
That’s plenty of time for a restless fanbase to start pushing for change.
The Rose Bowl Is Still out There
I know, sounds like sunshine-pumping, doesn’t it? But the truth is, UCLA is a non-conference loss. Nebraska is 0-0 in conference play, and the Big Ten as a whole doesn’t exactly look like world-beaters. Michigan, Nebraska’s presumed rival for the Legends Division, had to struggle mightily to beat Akron at home.
Nebraska’s schedule sets up where NU could still legitimately be seen as a team that could go 11-1 on the season and face (probably) Ohio State in the title game. Sure, you wouldn’t like Nebraska’s chances there, but anything can happen in a one-game situation. So there is still plenty on the table for Nebraska to achieve.
Nebraska fans had last year's squad dead and buried after the debacle in Columbus, and NU rallied to make a trip to Indianapolis. Whether this team—and this coach—can be strong enough mentally to achieve that goal remains to be seen.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge