Is this the worst loss of Bo Pelini's tenure? If you're talking sheer stats, then no, not by a long shot. But if you think about all of the build-up to this game, the fast start and yet another epic defensive collapse on National TV, then I'd argue that this one is right up there with the Big Ten Championship beat down.
Where was the explosive veteran offense that was supposed to be the safety net for the young and inexperienced defense?
It takes a special kind of ineptitude to give up 28 points in a single quarter, but the Husker lack-of-Defense keeps looking for new lows to fall to. I've been on the fence about Pelini all summer, but now it's clear to me: he's lost his defensive genius card and he needs to do something drastic to get it back. If that means shaking up his staff, then that's what needs to be done. Quickly.
Of course the season isn't over, and of course all of our goals are still in front of us. There's 9 games left, most which are very winnable, but it's all starting to get a tiring. Nebraska took another step toward irrelevance yesterday and nothing less than a Big 10 championship can salvage this season now.
On with the review:
Offensive MVP: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. After shaking off some early rust, the sophomore put on a show, sticking in the pocket when he needed, scrambling when he had to, and picking the Husker defense apart for the last 37 minutes of the game.
Defensive MVP: Anthony Barr, LB UCLA. 11 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 3 forced fumbles for the senior. He was in Taylor Martinez's grill all day, and led the charge in shutting down the Husker's ground attack.
Special Teams MVP: Sam Foltz, P. It was a rough day for the freshman punter trying to kick into the wind, but he did a good job for the most part. Sadly, he was the Husker's most consistent weapon.
Freshman MVP: Myles Jack, LB UCLA. The young LB only made 5 tackles, but he was a beast in coverage, getting one breakup and effectively shutting down the middle of the field for the Bruins.
Assistant Coach MVP: Lou Spanos, UCLA Defensive Coordinator. After getting chewed up for much of the first half, Spanos pressed the right buttons and shut down the Nebraska offense, just as the Bruins offense started rolling. Not many coordinators have stonewalled Tim Beck like that.
Key Stat: 3-14 on third downs. If you're looking for a reason the game started to turn in the second quarter, then look no further than the Husker's abysmal third down percentage.
Play of the Game: Taylor Martinez's 28 yard TD pass to Kenny Bell was the most beautiful play of the day for the Huskers. Unfortunately, it was also the last beautiful moment for the Big Red.
Play We Want Back: Hundley's 3rd and 12 conversion before the half. Instead of a punt and almost 2 minutes for Taylor Martinez to extend the Husker's three score lead, Avery Moss' missed tackle allowed Hundley to get the first down and UCLA gets their first TD of the day and the momentum that carried them to the easy win.
Blown Call: Corey Cooper's roughing the passer penalty pretty much summarizes everything I hate about all these new "protecting the player" rules. Nothing about the tap that Cooper gave Hundley was flagrant or egregious, but nowadays, if it can be called it will be. Credit Hundley for the nice flop though.
Hit of the Game: Sam Foltz's touchdown saving tackle before the half only delayed the inevitable, but it was a nice play by the freshman punter.
I want to see more...
*Alternate uniforms. I like the once-a-year, alternate uniform rhythm. This year's version is far superior to the red pajamas from last year; my only issue was with the prison-style numbering. All in all, I think once a year is perfect and I'd like to see it continue.
*SJB. After the first quarter interception, I don't remember seeing Stanley Jean-Baptiste the rest of the game. That's not good.
*Running game. Probably the biggest worry about the Husker offense right now centers around the lack of run game we saw yesterday. 128 total yards is kinda pathetic and it really cost us.
*Quincy Enunwa. Coming into the year the senior had 3 career TD catches. Three games into 2013, the big-bodied WR has 5 already. The UCLA defenders got away with a lot of holding on Enunwa in the second half, basically taking him out of the game.
*Soul killing drives (by our offense). It's nice to get the ball with a short field, but there's something purely awesome about an offense taking the ball 90-plus yards in 6-plus minutes for a score, like the Huskers did in the first quarter. Unfortunately we couldn't duplicate that success the rest of the afternoon.
*Jordan Westerkamp's mustache. I've been disappointed by the freshman's lack of touches through three games, but there's nothing disappointing about that 'stache.
*Kenny Bell's moves. When you combine Bell's speed with his ability to make dudes miss in the open field and run guys over for an extra yard, that's a scary WR for the other team to match up with. Too bad the Bruins took him out of the game in the second half.
*T-Magic. Martinez's inability to do anything on the ground this year has been a big concern for me. Chris Spielman beat it to death, and he's right: Nebraska's offense isn't complete if Martinez can't make the big plays with his legs, and he just can't do it this year.
I want to see less...
*Dropped passes. Bell and Enunwa dropped catchable balls on the very first drive. Tyler Wullenwaber dropped a first down catch late in the third. With all of the other issues we had yesterday, why did this suddenly have to be one of them?
*Un-Fielded punts. It's not the biggest issue on this Husker team, but if you ask me, it's the most irritating. Seriously, high school teams do a better job fielding punts than these Huskers.
*Missed tackles. There were a few in the first half, but after the Bruins got going in the second half, it seemed like the Husker defense was missing at least one tackle on every play. Why are freshmen Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry the best tacklers on this team?
*Inconsistent pressure. Randy Gregory and Co. made life hard on Hundley in the first 25 minutes or so, but after that third down scramble, they tried too hard to keep him in the pocket, to the detriment of the defensive backs. It was sickening to see Hundley take 8 seconds to throw without needing to move his feet.
*Blown leads. Remember when Nebraska was ahead 21-3 in the second quarter? Inexcusable.
*3 and Outs. After Bell's TD, the Huskers had 10 possessions, five 3-and-outs, and zero points. Remember when Tim Beck's offense was going to be unstoppable this year?
*Open receivers. This goes back to the pressure issue. When Hundley had 8 seconds to find a receiver, we ended up with plays like the 28 yard bomb to Shaquelle Evans where the one step he had on Josh Mitchell was 2 steps too many.
*Rolling over. After UCLA took the lead, you could see the wind come completely out of the Husker team. That's on the coaches and that's unacceptable. I felt like I needed a shower after watching that third quarter.
*Balls on the ground. This one is getting pretty old. Nebraska is lucky that of their 600 fumbles yesterday, they only lost 1.
*Penalties. Too many personal fouls, and they all came as the game was slipping away.
Armchair coach: This one's pretty obvious. Calling a fake punt is fine, but why on Earth do you put the ball in the hands of a defensive lineman? Dumb call that really comes across as desperation.
Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"I hate watching games with your dad."
Everyone does. Nobody is harder on refs, players and coaches than my grumpy Old Man.
*Michigan clearly suffered an emotional let-down from the Notre Dame game last week and it nearly cost them against Akron, coming 3 yards from their most embarrassing defeat since the RichRod days.
*Michigan State's offense is finally out-scoring their defense, and it looks like Sparty has finally found a QB in Connor Cook who threw for 3 TDs in the first half. Then again, they were playing Youngstown State, so...
*Minnesota struggled early against Western Illinois, before pulling away for a 29-12 win. Gopher's coach Jerry Kill was sent to the hospital after suffering another seizure, and it make you wonder how much longer he's going to be around.
*How good is Southern Miss? Not good enough to score more than 3 points against Arkansas. The Golden Eagles now have 12 turnovers in 3 games. Ouch.
*Purdue led #21 Notre Dame 10-7 at the half, but a 4th quarter collapse prevented the Boilermakers from pulling off the upset. If Purdue gets 5 wins this season they should consider themselves lucky.
*#17 Northwestern struggled early against Western Michigan, but managed to pull away in the second quarter for a 38-17 win. That game looks tougher every week.
*Illinois put up a good fight at #19 Washington. The Illini are much improved over last year's 1-11 debacle, and they might not be the easy win that many predicted going into the season.
*Penn State lost a somewhat surprising shootout to Central Florida. This is one of those games where the Nittany Lions' lack of depth hurt them. Not going to be any better for a few years.
*Iowa eked out a win over a bad Iowa State team. There's a little hope in Iowa City.
*Next stop on the How-Good-Is-Wyoming tour: a 35-7 beatdown of FCS Northern Colorado. The Cowboys didn't run away with this game until the 4th quarter, but they were never in serious trouble either.
Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*Butch Jones is making an immediate impact at Tennessee. Even though his Vols didn't get the win at #2 Oregon, they weren't intimidated by the moment, stuffing the Duck's first two drives and taking an early 7-0 lead. How many teams in the last 5 years can say that? After a decade of decline, things are looking up for the Vols.
*Don't let the 34-20 final score fool you, #5 Stanford was in firm control for most of their game at Army. It's hard for those West Coast schools to come all the way across the country for an 12:00 kickoff (even UCLA took 20 minutes to get going). The Cardinal are a good looking team.
*#14 Oklahoma seems to have found a starting QB. The Belldozer threw for 413 yards and 4 TDs against Tulsa. That breeze you feel is a millions Sooner fans breathing a sigh of relief.
*Did you see the Boise State Broncos Friday night? For those vocal Husker fans with delusions of Chris Petersen wearing a Husker headset next season, there's plenty of ammunition just from that tilt with Air Force. When the Broncos have rough moments, like they did against the Falcons, they almost always fight back for the win. Let's reserve judgement until after they play the mighty Wyoming Cowboys though.
*Should #4 Ohio State worry about the 500 yards and 34 points they allowed to Cal last night? Cal's offense is such that they should be able to score on anyone, but the Buckeyes should worry more about the health of Braxton Miller who has now missed most of their last two games.
*Much was made of the fact that neither #20 Wisconsin or Arizona State had allowed a single point coming into their matchup last night, but it was the Sun Devils whose defense managed to win the war of attrition, holding the Badgers out of the endzone on a late two-point conversion to seal the win.
*I don't mean to toot my own horn (yes I do), but I totally called it with #6 Texas A&M. You don't give up almost 550 yards rushing to Sam Houston State and Rice, and then expect to beat Alabama. Until they get a defense that can stop a wet paper bag, all the Johnny Footballs in the world aren't going to make them much better than a 10-3 team. I expect LSU to do exactly the same thing Alabama did to the Aggies unless they have a midseason defensive renaissance.
I'm still not sure what to think about the loss yesterday. I hate the fact that Nebraska is only able to play one and a half good quarters of football in the third game of the year, but I'm still tempted to give the defense one last thread of slack on account of their youth.
One thing is painfully obvious though: something about Bo's defensive game plan needs to change. There's just too many wretched games to draw any other conclusion. The torch and pitchfork gang should hold off until the end of the year, but if Bo wants to live to see another spring camp, he needs to make moves now.
What moves? Heck, I don't know. I have opinions, but I'm not the one being paid $3 million per year to figure that out. I do believe that his defensive staff could use some fresh blood -someone from the Nick Saban coaching tree would be nice- perhaps someone in the box who can see what the current staff isn't seeing right now, and make the adjustments that nobody seems capable of making right now. Until that happens, it's going to be really tough to get back to 10 wins, and anything less than that plateau is going to make for some uncomfortable times in Lincoln.
Week 4 fan forecast: chemical dependency, and much needed rehab against South Dakota State.