Bitterness in Blacksburg: Huskers Come Up Short

Jeff WaddingtonContributor ISeptember 20, 2009

Sunday morning dawned and most Husker fans had come to grips with the painful 1-point loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon.  They certainly aren't happy about it but they will put it behind them and get focused on the next opponent.

Some, however, are still in shock over what took place in Blacksburg, VA and are looking for explanations, for someone to point at and say, "It's him!  He's the reason we lost that game!"  Unfortunately for Matt O'Hanlon, the free safety for the Huskers, he will be the guy that most fingers will be pointing toward.

I say unfortunately because although O'Hanlon's mistake with under two minutes to play gave Virginia Tech an 81-yard completion setting up the winning score, this loss cannot be blamed on that single play.  In fact, the Huskers should have had the game well in hand by that point.

If you need someone or something to blame, point the finger at the other side of the ball.  Throughout the entire game, Nebraska's offense put the Blackshirts on an island and left them there.  And for 58 out of 60 minutes, the defense responded with a tremendous performance and was the reason Nebraska held a five-point lead.

But this game was lost by an offense that saw the red zone five separate times, and each time was unable to score a touchdown.  Penalties, poor execution and poor playing calling will not win games on the road against a top-15 team.  Nebraska's youth and inexperience was apparent, starting with quarterback Zac Lee.

Much to my surprise, Lee was rattled.  He was forcing throws and missing open receivers with too much zip on his passes.  He only threw one interception when it mattered, but it was clear that the environment and VT's speed on defense had him off his game.

The lone bright spot was the play of running back Roy Helu, Jr.  His 28 carries for 176 yards was a magnificent performance, proving that he is capable of putting together an All-Big 12 campaign this season.  However, no one else on the offensive side of the ball was close to stepping up when it was needed most.

The Blackshirt defense did everything it needed to do against a very average offensive football team.  Unfortunately, one of the few breakdowns occurred when they could least afford to have it happen.  Now, it will be interesting to see how they respond.

This was a big game for Nebraska's confidence but a one-point loss to a good team on the road will not define their season.  Given Missouri's struggles at home with Bowling Green last week and Kansas' giving up over 400 yards of total offense to Duke on Saturday, Nebraska still has a legitimate shot to win the Big 12 North and play for the conference championship.

That is, if they choose to learn from this experience and commit to getting better.  Losing to Virginia Tech could be used help Nebraska take another step forward.  We'll find out when they travel to Missouri on October 8 for another nationally televised game.  If the non-conference is designed to prepare your team for the conference season, this will be Nebraska's chance to prove it.

Oh, and Matt O'Hanlon, hang in there.  If the Huskers live up to their potential this season, the Virginia Tech game will be a distant memory.