It did not begin how Nebraska fans expected Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, but it was definitely what they had hoped for.
By the end of the first half, the Huskers were ahead 21-10 and the Blackshirts looked in control. Instead, though, visiting UCLA scored 28 unanswered points in the third quarter and added a field goal in the fourth to claim a 41-21 victory.
The questions surrounding the defense seemed to be silenced after Stanley Jean-Baptiste picked off UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley with 11:15 left in the first quarter. Jean-Baptiste’s pick set up the Huskers’ first touchdown of the game, when quarterback Taylor Martinez was able to find receiver Quincy Enunwa for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
From there, Martinez found Enunwa again later in the first quarter, giving Nebraska a 14-3 lead. Martinez would then find receiver Kenny Bell in the second quarter to make it 21-3.
It was not until late in the second quarter when the Huskers finally allowed the Bruins to score. Considering the impressive showing the Blackshirts had provided so far, fans were hardly concerned. Plus, halftime was close, which would provide ample resting time for the Blackshirts.
Blame the lack of concern on the several moments that eased any doubts in the Huskers’ minds. One of those moments was when UCLA punter Sean Covington bobbled the snap, failed to get the punt off and was tackled for a 12-yard loss in the second quarter. That’s what set up Bell’s touchdown.
There were many more times like that. The defense looked reminiscent of Blackshirts of the past. Memorial Stadium was overjoyed.
If only halftime had never come.
When the Blackshirts returned to the field for the final half of the game, it was like a light switch had been flipped. UCLA’s coaches had figured the Nebraska defense out. They were openly exposing the Blackshirts with every snap.
So what exactly happened? From the vibe of the post-game press conference, it appears Nebraska’s coaches are not exactly sure. The Nebraska media is not either.
The questions asked of head coach Bo Pelini were those of uncertainty—unsure of what to ask and unsure of how to put it all into words. Pelini was able to leave without saying much at all.
On the way out of Memorial Stadium, a few fans mustered as much optimism as they could. “Well, it’s on to the next.”
South Dakota State is next. They are not projected to be a difficult matchup for Nebraska. Regardless, fans are left wondering what defense they’ll see come next Saturday.
UCLA was supposed to be a benchmark for the Nebraska defense. It was intended to silence critics. Instead, it left many curious what exactly they saw.
Call them Jekyll and Hyde. The Blackshirts are a defense that have their shining moments. On the same accord, they are also a defense that continues to be plagued by their inability to stay consistent.
Looking at the 41-21 final score hardly tells the full story. One may assume Nebraska was struggling throughout the entire game. However, that is hardly the case when taking a look closer.
The first half of the football game was everything Pelini wanted his defense to be. The second half was everything that fans feared it really was.
Call them Jekyll or call them Hyde. The Nebraska defense was both, all within four quarters.
It began in a way Husker fans were not expecting. It ended in a very familiar way, though, leaving fans to question exactly who the real Nebraska defense is.