LINCOLN — If Nebraska fans were looking for a little comfort on the field following a week spent in the Twilight Zone, it didn't come from one of those dominating defensive performances we've seen over the years at Memorial Stadium.
In fact, Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini was blunt about his displeasure in the Husker defense in a 59-20 win over South Dakota State in Lincoln Saturday – calling it the worst performance of the season.
"I just told our guys there has to be a mentality," he said. "You have to have a certain mentality when you take the field. You have to have a killer instinct. In football no one's going to give you anything.
"We're not playing with the type of attitude you need to take to the field defensively. I'm tired of seeing it and we need to get it fixed. I work in the business of getting it fixed."
Then again, if this Nebraska team's defensive play already is making you think about next year, then redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong is your tomorrow.
In a strange way all the distractions this week that had some Cornhusker fans questioning whether Pelini should keep his job, really were a good thing when you come right down to it.
Hard to complain about a win, but here comes conference play and Nebraska's defensive struggles Saturday were alarming.
Can you imagine what coaches may be saying behind closed doors about this defense?
Maybe you can.
The Blackshirts generated two turnovers – both interceptions including one for a touchdown by Randy Gregory — but South Dakota State's offensive line was able to push Nebraska enough to make you want more before leaving the stadium.
This week you kind of forgot about all the systematic problems with the Nebraska Blackshirts – regardless of F-bomb-Pelini-gate.
This columnist has been beating a dead horse all season – this Nebraska defense is long on talent and still short on results. NU did nothing on defense against SDSU that should make anyone comfortable heading into Big Ten play in two weeks.
We had the mixed bag for which we've grown accustomed: Busted assignments in pass coverage, gaping holes in the run defense, dumb penalties, you name it.
Give SDSU credit. This is a physical football team with a tough running back in Zach Zenner.
Yet Cornhusker defenders more often found themselves out of position and Zenner ran wild. He racked up 123 yards rushing, including a 40-yard touchdown run, in the first quarter alone. At halftime SDSU had 289 total yards. Zenner had 185, including a 21-yard reception at half. He finished with 202 yards on the ground.
Nebraska is giving up yards in bunches.
The Jackrabbit defense, on the other hand, was completely outmanned due in no small part to the play of Nebraska's two backup quarterbacks Armstrong and Ron Kellogg.
For those fans concerned about the future of the Nebraska offense once the now-injured Taylor Martinez graduates, we saw plenty from Armstrong to believe the young kid is for real.
Armstrong started against SDSU, opening up with two-consecutive scoring drives to start the game – during which he played flawless with his arms and legs.
Coaches decided to alternate between Armstrong and Kellogg every couple of series. The redshirt freshman returned in the middle of the second quarter to lead the offense again on an 80-yard scoring drive.
Kellogg led a couple of scoring drives as well, including moving the offense 79 yards in under two minutes to set up a field goal right before the half.
Armstrong was more impressive, making you scratch your head about why coaches decided to alternate QBs. You just wanted to see more Armstrong – no offense to Mr. Kellogg.
Martinez, by the way, was walking around gingerly in street clothes, not appearing ready to play for some time with a turf toe injury. Pelini said he hopes to have the senior back for the Illinois game in two weeks.
The plan to play both Armstrong and Kellogg on equal snaps may perhaps say more about the Martinez injury than anything else. Turf toe injuries have sidelined some of the most legendary Huskers, with Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier coming to mind.
If NU has to play Armstrong and Kellogg for a few more games this defense will have to plug the holes – and there are many.
No offense to SDSU, but hard to imagine this Nebraska defense stopping anyone in the Big Ten.
OK, I'll give you Minnesota and maybe Purdue – though the Boilermakers took Notre Dame to the wire in West Lafayette.
Still waiting for some semblance of a signature defensive performance from Nebraska.