The small, uncomfortable signs were there in week one. The Huskers handled the sub-par Chattanooga Mocs -- but they didn't annihilate them. In week two, a painfully average Fresno State team -- head coach Pat Hill has had good teams in reent years, but this isn't one of them -- came into Lincoln and caused all sorts of problems.
Then we had yesterday's surprising shootout against Washington.
The Huskers allowed a weak, injured Huskies team to stick around until the waning moments. If it wasn't for Washington's bone-headed blunder on a kickoff return, this game would have been decided in the final minute.
Nebraska is 3-0 against three less-than-stellar teams. There is no reason to rejoice. No reason to book BCS reservations.
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Here's the problem: The Huskers ooze talent. Offensive talent. Quarterback Taylor Martinez can be electrifying and Rex Burkhead is the real deal.
But, and it's an enormous but, the problem is the defense. The Huskers can't stop anybody -- and they proved it against Washington in a 51-38 game that was much closer than the final score indicates. After three games, this is more than a worry, more than a concern.
This is a full-blown trend that is about to define the 2011 Huskers.
The secondary is in shambles. There is no pass rush.
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In football speak, that's a lethal combination.
Huskers coach Bo Pelini, supposedly a defensive guru, still insists everything is on track.
"The sky isn't falling, defensively," he said on Saturday. "I think we're making progress ... at times I thought you saw that defensively. But to be great, you've got to have consistency."
If Pelini won't say the sky is falling defensively, I'll go ahead and say it for him.
If the Huskers play like this against Wisconsin, the Badgers will score 50.
And what about this progress Pelini is talking about? I'm not seeing much progress, are you? The way this team is playing, Wyoming will hang 55 on Nebraska next week.
I kid about that because Wyoming isn't a threat. You see, that's what should concern Nebraska personnel. They desperately need a wake-up call so they can stop kidding themselves. They'll easily win next week, go 4-0, and likely sit somewhere around No. 8 in the nation. They need something to shake them to the core.
That ranking won't be deserved. That record will be misleading.
Pelini says he saw some things that he liked. Was that Washington skipping down the field on its opening possession -- or was that when the defense couldn't stop Washington's hobbled quarterback Keith Price, who literally couldn't run at the end of the game but still managed to find wide (I'm talking wide) open receivers for easy scores.
Put it this way, the Huskers knew Price couldn't run, knew he wasn't a scrambling threat, yet still couldn't couldn't stop him from throwing four touchdown passes.
Listen, a win is always a win, but if I'm Pelini I come out and say this: "This game was absolutely unacceptable from a defensive standpoint. I'm not worried about the offense. Those guys played great. Did well. Thumbs up. But there's no way any team in the nation should come into Lincoln and put nearly 40 points on the board against us. No way. We have to fix this immediately or we'll never accomplish what we want -- and that's to be a great team. Did I see moments of excellent play? Absolutely, and that's what encourages me. That's what keeps me fighting to make this team great. I know we have the players. We just aren't where we have to be to compete for a Big 10 Title."