Huskers’ Pelini tells his players to circle wagons
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The fallout from Nebraska’s latest collapse on the national stage is going to last a while, and coach Bo Pelini knows it.
With FCS South Dakota State coming to Lincoln this week and an open date the following, the Cornhuskers’ fervent fans will have a hard time getting past Saturday’s 41-21 loss to UCLA.
“We can’t worry about what people are saying,” Pelini said. “It’s going to be negative. It’s going to be negative by the fans, by the media, by everybody. In times like these, all we can do is stick together because the only people who can fix it is us.”
Pelini and his staff have quite a repair job waiting for them when they go back to practice Monday. The offense has underperformed in the first three games, and the defense looks no better than it did when it surrendered gargantuan numbers in end-of-the-season losses to Wisconsin and Georgia.
The Huskers (2-1) surrendered 38 points in a row after leading UCLA by 18 points late in the first half.
It was the biggest blown lead in a home game since 1920, the worst non-conference home loss since 1961 and the sixth double-digit loss in 15 games against BCS-level opponents.
Plenty of predictable vitriol was spewed via fan call-in shows and social media.
The most eye-catching reaction came from Tommie Frazier, who quarterbacked Nebraska to national championships in 1994-95. Frazier, who was honored at halftime for his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame, took to Twitter Saturday night and called for the firings of the defensive coaches.
“If this is what is going to happen for the remainder of the season, count me out,” Frazier wrote in an extended tweet.
Frazier did not respond to messages from The Associated Press.
Nebraska managed 135 yards in the second half against the Bruins. Taylor Martinez completed just 10 of 19 passes for 87 yards after halftime and never showed the kind of breakaway threat he can be. He was sacked twice and netted just 2 yards on eight other carries. His longest run was an inconsequential 12-yarder in the second quarter.
Martinez was wearing a walking boot on his left foot after the game. He said the boot was precautionary and that his injury — he said it was minor and occurred before the game — had no effect on him.
Asked about Martinez’s health and if the quarterback is limited, Pelini said, “Taylor’s fine.”
The Huskers’ turnover problem cropped up again, with Ameer Abdullah fumbling inside the UCLA 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Dropped passes were another issue.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said his play-calling was too conservative late in the first half, and the Bruins were able to get the ball back with enough time to score a touchdown to trim the Huskers’ lead to 21-10.
After the Huskers scored their final touchdown in the second quarter, they netted more than 19 yards on only two of their last 10 possessions.
“We let the avalanche continue,” Beck said. “We helped the avalanche. We might have started it.”
Nebraska’s defense mostly contained quarterback Brett Hundley in the first half, but he led the Bruins to touchdowns on their first four series of the second half.
UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said the Bruins did nothing different in the second half. The Huskers did, though. They started missing tackles and losing one-on-one battles with receivers. UCLA finished with 504 yards, 298 after half.
“They got momentum and we didn’t respond well,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “To give you a great answer on why we didn’t play better, it’s really hard at this point.”
What confounded Papuchis was how his charges became deflated as UCLA’s surge continued.
“We were up 21-3 and then 21-10 at half, and all of a sudden it’s within a couple minutes (left) in the third quarter and we’re down 10,” Papuchis said. “They were a little bit shell-shocked from that. No excuses for that to happen.”
All the Huskers can do, Papuchis said, is learn from their mistakes and move on — even if the fans won’t.
“The idea that one game, win or lose, is going to dictate your whole season, that’s ludicrous,” he said. “So you go get ready for the next one. That’s just the reality.”