Last week was supposed to be the end of it. Last week was supposed to be the first Nebraska team since 1999 that had no issues of self-confidence. While the Golden Eagles weren’t 2004 USC, the Huskers faced some adversity against Southern Miss and answered by being aggressive. Yes, the defense was weak, but Nebraska choose to be the pursuing lion rather than the tortoise who shrinks at the first sign of trouble.
The tortoise didn’t emerge until two UCLA defenders took out Martinez and his running back on the zone read late in the second quarter and was in full shell-shock when Kyler Reed dropped a catchable pass on third down on Nebraska’s first full drive in the third quarter. It showed again when, after Ameer Abdullah’s 36 yard run at the start of the fourth quarter put Nebraska in field goal range,
Over the past twenty hours, I’ve been trying to reconcile the Husker team I saw a week ago with the one that played last night. Two most obvious reasons for Nebraska’s performance are they underestimated a team who no one was quite sure how good they would be under their new no-college-experience coach, and there’s a huge dichotomy between Nebraska’s home and road confidence, a common factor in college football. Was I wrong in my assessment? I was rather eager, and granted, when I watched Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State lean on their lead backs while Nebraska won easily by sharing the load among skill players, I was really to be opportunistic, and certainly, in the Big 10, Nebraska’s going to have a shot spreading linebacker-rich Big 10 teams out and tempo-ing it up.
Just look at how Nebraska’s defense did yesterday against a high-tempo team.
Be grateful for one thing, Husker fans: yesterday could have been the worst your defense will play all year. The Big 10 doesn’t have a reputation of lighting up the scoreboard, and with the way teams like to ground and pound, it’s likely that a Big 10 team won’t get the number of possessions needed to embarrass Nebraska the way UCLA did.
That leaves the issue of mental toughness, and just how tough this team is. I tweeted at Dirk Chatelain after his story that Bo Pelini’s all out blitz on the 3rd and 3 that yielded UCLA’s go ahead touchdown was a sign of a low inner-scoreboard, that he had no confidence in his players to sit back and make plays. The ultimate sign of maturity should be overcoming the kind of adversity that Nebraska faced on Saturday, winning a game that you could have been down by two touchdowns or more in the second half. But maybe that was the price that Bo Pelini’s paying for getting more aggressive, is that, at some points, you run the risk of loosing your confidence and getting humbled even worse than you already were.