Does Nebraska’s Coaching Staff Deserve Blame for Loss vs. Wisconsin?

| by Alex Groberman

While coaches can’t put on pads and actually play in the games on a given college football schedule, there are still certain expectations that they have to live up to.

After the Nebraska Cornhuskers fell to the Wisconsin Badgers in a 48-17 blowout this weekend, it’s pretty safe to say that the coaching staff didn’t do their part.

The majority of the blame for Nebraska’s loss lands on the shoulders of their unquestioned leader, head coach Bo Pelini. The buck always stops with him and he knows it. After the game on Saturday night, he alluded to the fact that his team should have done more.

“We didn’t make plays,” Pelini said during the postgame interview. “I’m embarrassed. I apologize to the fans of Nebraska.”

Pelini deserves the majority of the blame for two reasons. First and foremost, his team wasn’t mentally prepared to play against a squad of Wisconsin’s caliber. Yes, it’s hard to play on the road. Yes, it’s hard to beat top-10 teams in the nation. And, yes, he has all of the excuses in the world to lose given his team’s transition into a new conference this year – but you play to win the games. It’s on the head coach to instill a hardened mindset into players before a particularly huge outing and to adequately pump them up to deal with tough conditions. This time around, he didn’t.

Two, his defense didn’t do anything to stop Russell Wilson all night long. Clearly there’s a case to be made for it being Carl Pelini’s defense, but really, it’s not. Bo has always gotten all of the credit when it’s played extremely well in years past, and this time around he deserves the blame for its shortcomings.

For the entire evening, the Huskers’ lone impressive stands on defense were Jared Crick almost sacking Wilson early in the first quarter and Lavonte David actually connecting. That’s it. The secondary play was atrocious. There was very little pressure brought on the offensive line from the second quarter on forward. And, of course, the four touchdowns and 151 yards racked up by Wisconsin running back Montee Ball speaks volumes regarding the rush defense.

On the other side of things, Tim Beck had an equally awful showing. His offense looked consistent for all of one quarter before completely falling apart and abandoning what most considered the unit’s calling card. 

Instead of pressing the run against the No. 22 ranked rush defense in the country, Beck opted to have Martinez air it out to Jamal Turner for the entire first half. The idea worked – once. Then Martinez proceeded to throw an interception. And then another one. And then after halftime, another one. All the while, somehow, despite the fact that he’s widely accepted as a weak passer, Martinez accumulated more pass attempts going into halftime than his counterpart.

Worse yet, Rex Burkhead who punched the ball into the end zone in the second quarter when Martinez couldn’t, saw limited action. And the only time he did get the handoffs was after Martinez made it clear that he was no longer confident in his ability to not throw the ball away. By that point, the defense knew what was coming and sealed him off.

The offense was horrible from start to finish and a lot of that lands on Beck’s shoulders. One, he got bumped from running backs coach so he really should know how to utilize that aspect of the game. Two, he’s been with the team long enough to understand the personnel. Martinez isn’t a good passer. Mask the flaw, don’t exploit it.

Clearly everyone from the coaching staff on down deserves the blame for Saturday night’s shellacking, but it’s important that the coaching stuff does get some of it. Too often, the majority of the fault is found with the players and the guys who prepare them to go to battle get off scot free. Teams win together and lose together, and when they lose together, everyone -- coaches included -- should have to deal with the fallout.