At Michigan, Nebraska had a perfect spotlight to announce it was “back and here to stay,” as Bo Pelini told the world after the 2009 Holiday Bowl win. Instead, Nebraska was humbled before a national audience (and the BCS bowl representatives in attendance), losing 45-17 to the Wolverines.
So let’s put some grades on each of Nebraska’s units and find out what went wrong (quite a bit) and what went right (not much) in Ann Arbor for NU.
I know I’m in danger of being labeled a Taylor Martinez apologist, but hear me out. Yes, Martinez did not have a good game, particularly in the second half when Nebraska was trying to dig itself out of another massive hole. But Michigan’s dominance in time of possession, especially in the first half, gave Martinez very little opportunity to get the ball in his hands and do something. And we know (and if we didn’t, Urban Meyer very helpfully reminded us over, and over and over) that Nebraska’s current offense isn’t built to make a huge comeback. It’s just something they can’t do, Meyer kept telling us.
Well, except for the time when it did, against Ohio State. But never mind that.
If I was to give Martinez a grade, it wouldn’t be anything better than a C. But given the situations Martinez was put in, I think an incomplete is the fairest mark for him in this game.
Maybe the best performing unit in a bad game. Burkhead ran hard and effectively when he got space cleared by the offensive line (more on that later). The freshman running backs got significant playing time and made the most of it, including Abdullah’s reception of the double-option play that mystified the commentators and the Michigan defense.
Or, as the always-brilliant @FauxPelini said on Twitter, “[d]o you like how we broke out our undefendable play in the 3rd quarter of the 11th game of the season?”
Brandon Kinnie hauled in his first touchdown grab of the season in a play that looked like it might be of critical importance for Nebraska. Unfortunately, that was kind of the highlight for the unit. Once again, dropped passes at critical times proved fatal for Nebraska’s offense.
Sure, Taylor Martinez struggles throwing the ball, but he’s not getting a lot of help from his friends downfield.
Yet another poor performance from the offensive line, who didn’t give the running backs much to work with and struggled to keep Taylor Martinez upright and settled when he had to throw.
Nebraska has a lot of young talent on the offensive line wearing redshirts this year, and it’s hard not to think that there will be a lot of new (and inexperienced) faces filling up the pipeline in 2012.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A quarterback, particularly a mobile quarterback, struggling with consistency ends up having a breakout game against Nebraska.
It happened again when Denard Robinson found his inner Shoelace and torched the Blackshirts time and time again. The defensive line struggled to maintain any kind of consistent pressure or containment. Terrence Moore’s Suh-like deflection and interception was definitely the high point for the squad.
Any doubts about Lavonte David’s ability to play at the next level should have been erased by his performance in the Big House.
His side-to-side speed and sure tackling was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal performance for the Blackshirts. Will Compton, in fairness, did have a good game as well, giving the Children of the Corn some hope for what the Blackshirts will look like in a post-David 2012.
If Lavonte David helped his NFL draft stock against Michigan, then Alfonzo Dennard hurt himself. Disturbingly, it was Dennard who was beaten more than once by Michigan receivers. But it was Lance Thorell that the Michigan offensive coordinator clearly chose as a target to pick on, and unfortunately for Nebraska he showed the wisdom in that plan.
Special teams went from a clear strength at the start of the 2011 season to the area most responsible for a humiliating loss.
The two fumbled kickoffs, particularly on the opening kick of the second half, were absolutely devastating to morale and momentum, particularly when Michigan already had a huge advantage in time of possession. The blocked punt was another field position gift to the Wolverines, the roughing the kicker call (while questionable) was still an unnecessary risk, and failing to defend the fake field goal was another example of poor execution.
It’s very tempting to lay the blame for a loss like this squarely at the feet of the coaches, and clearly they have some responsibility. But much of this loss was a result of a collection of individual errors, rather than a systemic failure of play-calling (like Wisconsin and Northwestern).
Yes, it is the coaches’ job to get the players ready, and clearly they were not against Michigan. But given the mistakes that occurred, there wasn’t much that the coaches could have done on game day to put things right.
Nebraska followed up its demolition by Wisconsin with a terrible half against Ohio State, and was rescued by an injured quarterback opening the door for a huge comeback.
NU will have a ton left to play for against Iowa, even with the divisional title out of reach. The difference in Nebraska’s postseason is likely a New Year’s Day bowl berth versus an invitation to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. That reality, combined with a brand-spanking new trophy being handed out, should be enough to Nebraska to come out firing on senior day.
Whether it will or not, though, is an open question.
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