• Video Below: Postgame press conference, game highlights and post-game analysis
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PASADENA, Calif. — The temptation, especially after observing the Big Ten scoreboard, is to look for that silver lining above the San Gabriel Mountains and say Nebraska can find its way back to the Rose Bowl later this season.
Don't go there.
As bad as the Big Ten looks, what the Huskers offered up here Saturday night was nothing that inspired hope or a Monday call to the travel agent.
This head-shaking 36-30 loss to UCLA raised more concerns than it quelled.
Most concerning of all was that head coach Bo Pelini didn't have any answers.
Two turnovers. Seven penalties. Shoddy fundamentals. Taylor Martinez riding the roller coaster again. A weird play call that ended up a safety. Poor blocking. Worse tackling.
And Pelini saying, “I'm embarrassed.”
To quote an old Hollywood standard, “Play it again, Sam.”
We've seen this movie before. We know how it ends. The good news is, it's only the second week of the 2012 season. Or is that the bad news?
And the Huskers had looked so clean in the opener last weekend. You thought they were out and they pulled you back in.
Nebraska came here with a lot to win. Certainly, a pelt from an up-and-coming Pac-12 team, in a classic venue. And with the madness in the Big Ten all around them, the Huskers could have staked a psychological edge.
But now they have their own madness to contend with.
As Martinez galloped 92 yards to a touchdown, and Ameer Abdullah darted and dashed for big chunks, you wondered: Who in the Big Ten is going to outscore this team?
But who is the Nebraska defense going to stop?
The road to Pasadena looks amazingly clear. Michigan isn't overwhelming anyone. Michigan State looks like the biggest hurdle. The Leaders Division looks stunningly weak.
But can you win the Big Ten if get owned in the trenches by a middle-of-the-Pac 12 bunch?
This is not the time to play scenarios in the Big Ten race. This is the time to ask what progress was made in the offseason at north Memorial Stadium. And wonder what lies ahead.
Arkansas State. Idaho State. There's a likely 3-1 start. Then Wisconsin, which lost at Oregon State. Who knows now?
Don't ask Pelini.
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“I”m embarrassed by how we played,” Pelini said afterward. “I'm pointing the thumb first. We didn't play well in any phase. We were inconsistent. Our fundamentals were lousy. I'm disappointed.”
As bad as they were, the Huskers were still in position to steal this one, thanks to a series of breaks and a Bruin team that couldn't get out of its own way, either.
Ľ There was an offensive pass interference call (which was questionable) that took away a UCLA touchdown.
Ľ A Martinez interception before half that was nullified after replays showed his knee was down. Brett Maher then made a 54-yard field goal to tie the game at 24.
Ľ After UCLA recovered a Husker fumble to begin the second half, quarterback Brett Hundley left with an ankle injury. The Bruins ended up settling for a field goal on that drive. Hundley came back, but his mobility in the pocket was limited.
Ľ An inexplicable fake field goal (36 yards) try by Jim Mora Jr., a deep pass to the end zone that fell incomplete.
Ľ A missed 34-yard field goal by UCLA with 6:49 left after the Bruins had gotten inside the Huskers' 20.
Given all that, the Big Red still couldn't figure out how to take this one. In the process, there were some eye-opening developments that surely will make the rounds at chat rooms and barrooms alike this week.
The poor play of the front seven on defense, particularly the front four. There's no push, no hint of pressure without an extra man. The lack of tackling was stunning, with linemen, linebackers and defensive backs alike either in poor position or trying to tackle the shoulders.
The offensive line. Last weekend, the quick pace and Martinez's accuracy made things look sharp. But the big guys broke down Saturday night, and it cost NU in the second half. The play call of the zone read on the NU 5-yard line wasn't the best idea by Tim Beck, but it became really questionable when Martinez was tackled in the end zone after taking two steps.
Speaking of Martinez, he had flashbacks of his Brett Favre self, and that's not a compliment. After a week of well-deserved compliments, he was loose with the ball again and missed his receivers high and wide. He threw one pick, and there could have been three more.
If there was good news, it was the return of Brett Maher, who had been missing for about five quarters this season. And the emergence of Abdullah, who went 16 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns. And yet it seemed NU could have pounded the rock more to No. 8, especially when the UCLA pass rush was closing in.
But what if Rex Burkhead had played? Good question, and Rex would have made that line look better; maybe Beck pounds the rock more with a healthy Rex. Pelini was asked to speculate, but he said based on his team's performance, “I don't think it would have mattered.”
It was too bad for Superman to save the day? That says it all.
Burkhead will return soon. But there are obvious holes in this ship, including Pelini's reputation as a defensive master. On the second week of his fifth season, Pelini was saying he was embarrassed by his team's play, and he didn't offer up any ready answers on how to fix it.
Right now he should be thankful he's in the Big Ten.
“Everything's still out there,” Pelini said. “We want to play our last game here. But we've got a lot of work to do.”
Contact the writer:
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• Video: Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
• Video: Nebraska-UCLA game highlights:
• Video: Post-game analysis with Rich Kaipust