Huskers lack killer instinct

LINCOLN – Adam Sandler and Burt Reynolds have nothing on Nebraska's first-half team.

In the 2005 comedy "The Longest Yard," a football team of prisoners — called the Mean Machine — squares off on the field against a team of prison guards. The prison team plays its butt off with everything on the line.

And yeah, Mean Machine players sport the black jerseys and a nasty attitude.

It's that killer instinct that's noticeably missing from Nebraska football.

I don't remember the part in the movie when Mean Machine plays not to win.

In Nebraska's version of that movie the credits start rolling at halftime against UCLA in Lincoln Saturday — the Cornhuskers figured they had things in hand at 21-3 midway through the second quarter of an embarrassing 41-21 loss.

"That's what you call a team loss right there," Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said.
In the first half, NU showed flashes of dominance — too bad a football game lasts four quarters.

"In the second half we got away from the fundamentals," Pelini said. "It wasn't magical. We had the opportunity to stop their momentum and we didn't do it."

It was a complete loss by Nebraska — marked by letdowns in all facets of the game.
In its biggest game of the year — complete with black uniforms — the Cornhuskers were fierce on both sides of the ball in the first half, operating a punishing running game when they wanted to and flying to the football on defense like the Blackshirts of old — when they were interested.

Then it all inexplicably came apart.

UCLA walked out of Memorial Stadium with its first win against a ranked opponent on the road since they knocked off Texas in 2010.

More importantly if you're Nebraska, the Bruins provided a reality check for a Cornhusker team that had expectations that far exceeded its performance so far in 2013.

Maybe never in the history of Nebraska football has there been a more disappointing performance. When Bill Callahan's team was getting ripped to shreds on homecoming in his last season, you kind of knew it was all over for him.

All indications have seemed to be that Pelini has righted this ship, but for some reason things aren't coming together.

Even the great Nebraska teams in the '90s had breakdowns, but Saturday's sorry exhibition was magnified by yet another national television audience to see.

For some reason NU seemed to lose interest. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez said in the postgame that NU was playing not to lose after building an early lead.

You have to credit UCLA for playing better in the second half, but by yielding 38 unanswered points Nebraska has set itself up for a long season ahead.

The Bruins came roaring back scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter – in an obvious sign of Nebraska's youth at play. You can't have this kind of lapse in any game let alone against a team of UCLA's caliber.

You expect a good program like UCLA to make a run when their backs are against the wall, but it was painful to watch Nebraska's defense look virtually helpless in the second half. You kind of expect that with this young group.

It may be far more alarming that Nebraska's highly touted offense hasn't got on track.
Nebraska's offense was in disarray, struggling to find and stick to an identity – NU built a first-half lead primarily on the ground, only to abandon ship midway across the ocean.

In the first half, Nebraska put together a 17-play, 92-yard scoring drive that included 11 running plays. Nebraska was dictating the line of scrimmage, but went entirely away from the ground after that drive.

It's another example of Nebraska offensive coaches outthinking themselves and a Husker defense that quit in what was a stunning loss.

NU continues to play with the same inconsistency that made for disappointing times in the biggest contests of 2012.

This was the game NU and its fans have been pointing to since last year's disappointments against Ohio State, Wisconsin and UCLA.

Pelini's program should have been clicking along at full speed in year six. Instead, NU finds itself with a ton of questions. No doubt youth has hurt this team, but Pelini really had no choice if he was going to rebuild his defense. Long-term this will pay dividends.

It would be acceptable if Nebraska hadn't been so tantalizingly close to breaking through for five seasons, yet never able to close the deal in big games.

NU can learn a thing or two by watching how UCLA went about its business – calmly coming back and then running away from the opponent.

It's what Nebraska football used to be.

To read more, see Monday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

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