The Nebraska Cornhuskers had their most embarrassing showing in years at the worst possible time – their inaugural Big Ten game against the Wisconsin Badgers this past Saturday. It wasn’t just that the they got blown out by 31 points in a 48-17 romp, it was the way in which the Huskers went down.
Starting from the coaching staff’s poor strategizing and inability to make adjustments after the game started 14-13 Huskers -- and ending with the players’ awful execution, this weekend is one that the Huskers can’t forget soon enough.
In analyzing the good, bad and ugly from Saturday’s massacre, the latter two categories were much easier to identify than the first one.
The offense was horrid and turnover-prone, the defense was easily exploitable and had more holes than there were players on the field. Really, the only positive from the game was Ameer Abdullah’s continuous dedication to playing well despite the fact that his teammates could do nothing with the advantage he consistently gave them.
All of that being said, a tradition is only good so long as you do it in good and bad times so, with that in mind, here is the good, bad and ugly from the weekend that was:
The Good: Well, at least the Huskers don’t have to worry about expectations being high for the duration of the season. All year long fans, critics and pundits waged heavy philosophical debates regarding whether or not Nebraska deserved all the respect they were getting in their new conference, and the No. 10 and 11 rankings that they got from the Coaches and AP Polls in the preseason.
When the Huskers won their first four games in moderately unconvincing fashion, the debates turned into full-on arguments. One side maintained that Bo Pelini and Co. for were real, and the other strongly opposed. As it turned out, the latter group was correct.
Now, nobody is expecting anything from this group. Not a conference championship. Not a competitive finish to the year. Nothing.
The alleviation of expectations and scrutiny is officially the only good thing that will come from that catastrophe versus Wisconsin.
The Bad: The coaching was awful on Saturday, from start to finish. Everyone from Pelini on down deserves due blame for the way that Huskers weren’t prepared mentally or physically to compete on a big stage with the lights of primetime football on them. It’s mind boggling that a team with that coach -- who prides himself on his defensive wherewithal -- could allow themselves to get so carved up in the secondary knowing full well that their biggest weakness on defense is in the secondary.
Not that Tim Beck’s offense was any better. Yes, Wisconsin has holes in their secondary (although compared to Nebraska’s secondary they look like All-Americans), but you can’t exploit those holes when your quarterback is renowned for not being a great passer. The Huskers’ strength is the run attack – everyone knows this. Coming into the game, they had a top-10 rushing attack in the nation and were squaring off against a rushing defense that didn’t even crack the top-20.
And how does Nebraska respond to this obvious opening? They air it out, and let Martinez end up with more passes to end the first half than his Heisman candidate counterpart across the field in Russell Wilson.
The Ugly: There were so many penalties and turnovers that at some point you had to throw your hands up and laugh to keep from crying. The Huskers, traditionally, are a fairly disciplined team. Putting aside Martinez’s usual capacity for fumbling the ball, the squad came into the year averaging only 4.5 penalties per outing. Against the Badgers they had nine.
With 80 yards in penalties by the end of the game, the Huskers -- who were already fighting from behind from the second quarter on forward -- essentially had zero chance at erasing the deficit they were facing. In a way, the final numbers as they relate to penalties were a microcosm of the way nothing went right for Nebraska for 75 percent of the day.
And when they weren’t giving their opponents free yards, the Huskers were just straight up giving them the ball – gift wrapped and with a bow on top. Martinez had three interceptions for the game and two in the second quarter, with each faulty pass looking noticeably worse and more ill-advised than its predecessor.
When you can’t find a way to score (which Nebraska couldn’t) and you can’t find a way to defend (which Nebraska couldn’t), the only way to further humiliate yourself on the battlefield is by racking up penalties and turning the ball over (which Nebraska did).