Sunday, November 20, 2011

Husker loss leaves questions, not answers

No way to pretty this one up, no matter how hard you try. No. 16 Nebraska had a chance to keep its BCS bowl game hopes alive with a win at No. 20 Michigan in a matchup of 8-2 teams Saturday.

Instead, the Huskers turned in a clunker and lost 45-17 to Michigan in Ann Arbor. When a team loses that badly, no one deserves a free pass. However, it was the Husker special teams that were their ultimate undoing. Nebraska trailed 17-10 at halftime and received the second half kickoff. Kenny Bell, however, fumbled and Michigan recovered at the Husker 33. That turnover was turned into a touchdown. One possession later, Nebraska punt Brett Maher drops the snap on an unforced error. Michigan blocked the punt and recovered a midfield. The Wolverines later converted a fake field goal into a first down and later a touchdown.

Nebraska had closed the gap to 31-17 early in the fourth quarter, got a three and out to force a punt. The Huskers then committed a roughing the punter infraction that Michigan turned into a touchdown.

If you eliminate those special teams gaffes, sure, the Huskers still lose 24-17 but they would have at minimum given themselves a chance to win.

However, special teams were not the only culprit.

Defensively, Nebraska gave up just 3.9 yards per carry but also allowed 414 yards of total offense and 8 of 18 third down conversions. The Wolverines also ran 79 plays to Nebraska’s 53.

On offense, Nebraska committed three turnovers and gained 254 yards of total offense but even that total is inflated because 54 came on one play, a 54-yard touchdown from Taylor Martinez to Brandon Kinnie.

Statistical battles aside, the loss was disturbing for other reasons. Yes, Michigan is a good ballclub but they are not great. Losing to the Wolverines is one thing. Looking like you don’t even belong on the same field is another, especially considering that Nebraska needed to win this game to keep alive to win the Legends Division.

Four years ago, Nebraska fans and media lauded the hiring of Bo Pelini as the choice to replace Bill Callahan. While Pelini is a significant upgrade over Callahan, it’s games like Saturday that leave more questions than answers. How can the team look so dialed in while beating Michigan State and Penn State but look so inexplicably ill-prepared against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan. The blame for that lies squarely at the feet of Pelini and staff.

When units come out flat and unfocused like the Huskers’ special teams did today, one has to question the coaches’ abilities to get players in the right mindset to execute.

Pelini has stated many times after the Cornhuskers lost that the team did not execute. I think the coaching staff is not executing as well. This coaching staff has a hard time getting the team ready for big games. Last year in the revenge game against Texas, Nebraska came out flat. The team came out flat against Washington in the Holiday Bowl last year, and twice this year in games against Northwestern and Michigan. I blame that on the coaches.

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