There's no two ways about it. In a rematch with the .500 Huskies of Washington, in a bowl game that they had to settle on for the second season in a row, the Huskers couldn't find enough motivation to win.
Well, how's this for motivation? If you win, you are 11-3. If you lose, you are 10-4. And how about impressing recruits? This game certainly didn't.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but lack of motivation should never be an excuse for a loss.
In fact, I find it to be one of the lamest excuses one can possibly use.
My explanation for the loss?
Instead of making the most of their less-than-ideal situation, Husker coaches and players had thrown in the towel before the game even started.
I, for one, was embarrassed. I've seen Nebraska play some pretty terrible games, but none with such apathy as this. If you are going to lose, at least lose with dignity.
The thing is, if Nebraska came in like they had something to play for, they likely wouldn't have lost. Washington, all credit due, is a mediocre football team. But this game showed just how great an effect motivation has on college football.
Washington deserved to beat Nebraska. The Huskies came out on fire, displaying passion and excitement. The defense played lights-out, stuffing Nebraska to well under 200 total yards. The offense drew up a great game plan—Chris Polk run, Jake Locker run, Chris Polk run, Jake Locker run, Chris Polk run.
By contrast, the Blackshirts came out flat. They had a decent game by most standards, but what they put on the field was below par. The offense was nothing short of pathetic.
Taylor Martinez looked as confused and freshman-like as ever. The running backs made the most of what was given to them, which was nothing. The line looked like it had collectively gotten 30 minutes of sleep the previous night.
And poor old Alex Henery, his wicked right foot withering away on the sideline. What a shame his senior season was largely wasted.
The Blackshirts didn't look like themselves, either. They, too, looked apathetic, missing tackles and lacking discipline, explosiveness and hustle.
It's unfair to say everyone played this way. Thumbs way up to Alfonzo Dennard, Lavonte David and Rex Burkhead, who bucked the trend.
Dennard was especially good. He played fast, physical and relentless in blanketing his receiver play after play. David, too, was going 100 miles an hour most of the game and made some nice plays. Burkhead, aside from a costly fumble (on a play that shouldn't have been called anyway), played hard and got the most out of the brick wall he was given to run through.
Collectively, however, the whole team played an extremely disappointing game. The coaches were out-coached. The offense never got started. The defense quit at the end of the game, allowing Chris Polk to pop off big run after big run late in the fourth. It's hard to blame them, but it shouldn't have happened.
The worst part about the loss? It signifies, at least by the final record, that the Huskers have taken a step back. While both 2009 and 2010 featured the same record, expectations for 2009 were well below expectations for 2010.
This will be an important offseason for Bo Pelini.
Does he fire Shawn Watson? Bill Callahan refused to fire his incompetent defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, and it was a big part of what cost him his job (and for that we give Cosgrove thanks).
What about Ted Gilmore and Barney Cotton? Gilmore, a Callahan holdover, has coached a group of underwhelming receivers since the departure of Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. Cotton's line has looked good at times, but overall has been very inconsistent and doesn't have good technique.
I hate to jump to conclusions, but it seems all too evident that Shawn Watson, as good a coach as he may be, is not the man for the job. He has one foot stuck in the West Coast offense and one foot stuck in the zone read. Not a pretty marriage, and certainly not one that Taylor Martinez can execute.
If Bo decides to keep Watson, which is what sounds like will happen, I won't take any shots at him. Hey, he's the head coach, right? And he's won 29 games in just three seasons, which is pretty darn good.
But if Watson stays, Nebraska better have a darn good season in 2011.
As for Gilmore and Cotton, it's difficult to tell whether their groups' performances are a result of poor coaching or a lack of cohesiveness in the unnatural hybrid scheme. I'll let Bo sort that out.
This type of situation is why Pelini gets paid the big bucks. The question is, will he earn his pay?
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Nebraska football program right now, but at least two things are certain:
Bo will be tested greatly this offseason, and boy, does he have a lot of work to do.