LINCOLN — There was an unforgettable element to the Nebraska-Ohio State game a year ago, when the Huskers fell behind 27-6 in the rain, rallied furiously into the October night and finished with Bo Pelini yelling “How 'bout the biggest comeback in school history!” in a jubilant locker room afterward.
It was stunning. It was special. And the 34-27 win helped NU right the ship after a blowout loss at Wisconsin and point the way to a 7-1 start. Ÿ Too many other second halves, however, have been less favorable. Nebraska can't seem to bottle and use again what it did against the Buckeyes — and the Huskers' slog back to the upper echelon of college football continues to drag on.
Take, for example:
>> How Nebraska could not manage anything remotely similar against Wisconsin and Michigan last season in games it trailed by 13 and seven at halftime, respectively. Instead the Huskers were outscored by a combined 49-10 in the third and fourth quarters by the Badgers and Wolverines.
>> How NU could not come up with a timely second-half defensive stop or two against Northwestern in a home loss to an unranked opponent that had lost five of its previous six games.
>> How the Huskers never regrouped after the South Carolina touchdown just before halftime in the Capital One Bowl and only let it get worse in Orlando.
>> And going back to the season before, how NU didn't finish the job in the 2010 Big 12 championship game when it had Oklahoma down and the first BCS bowl was in sight for Pelini and his crew.
So what happened last week at UCLA, when the Huskers had a chance to show that things have changed with the game tied at 24 at halftime?
The second half was mostly a disaster. The Huskers lost 36-30.
“The past two years we haven't came out in the second half as well as we should have when it was a close game,” NU receiver Quincy Enunwa said. “With UCLA, obviously we didn't show that we learned our lesson. But these next few games, if we have a close game, we're hoping we can pick it up and make sure that we don't let that happen again.”
Nebraska hopes to avoid a close game Saturday against Arkansas State. The Huskers and Red Wolves, both 1-1, kick off at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.
It was notable that Nebraska fizzled out offensively at UCLA after piling up 333 total yards and 24 points in the first half, although the defense was equally to blame. Shortcomings on the offensive end appear to be a common thread in the second-half letdowns.
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NU has scored seven points or fewer in the second half in seven of its past eight losses (the exception was against Northwestern). It has been shut out in three of those second halves, including that 2010 Big 12 championship game which the Huskers led the Sooners 20-17 — and 17-0 in the second quarter.
Overall in those past eight losses, Nebraska has been outscored 117-47 in the third and fourth quarters.
“I feel like at times we really succumb to pressure,” NU I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “I feel like we need to really just settle down when we get in those situations, where it's tied or it's a tight game. Calm down and keep executing our plays, like we have done (in the first half).”
Abdullah used the UCLA game as an example.
“You saw the first half. We executed very well,” he said. “But when we got some pressure, we let little things go out the window with our techniques and things.
“It's just when adversity hits us, how are we going to respond is the big question.”
Nebraska actually came from behind at halftime to beat both Ohio State and Fresno State last season. But it also had to fight off Penn State at the end in a game that it led 10-0 at halftime and 17-0 in the third quarter.
“I think we just got to play four quarters of football,” NU offensive tackle Brent Qvale said. “It's good to have a couple good quarters and everything, but football's a long game.”
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The timing of some mistakes has been particularly damaging.
Last week, Abdullah lost a fumble on the Huskers' first snap of the second half at UCLA.
In 2011, Taylor Martinez was intercepted on the first play after halftime at Wisconsin. Kenny Bell fumbled the second-half kickoff at Michigan, then NU had a punt blocked on its next possession. Nebraska got nothing out of a first-and-goal shortly after halftime in the Capital One Bowl.
In 2010, Martinez was sacked and fumbled inside his own 25 on the Huskers' first third-quarter series against OU. Washington then needed less than two minutes in the Holiday Bowl to turn a 10-7 halftime lead into a 17-7 margin.
“It's just the little things at times that get to us and end up being big things,” NU cornerback Andrew Green said.
There are sure to be more chances, and senior tight end Ben Cotton said it will still come down to the Huskers staying focused and keeping their composure.
“We knew that game (at UCLA) was winnable,” Cotton said. “We were still able to win that game even late in the fourth quarter. Once again, it was little mistakes that ended up beating us.
“I think we've always been aware that we need to take care of ourselves before we can beat another team. That's something we trained for all offseason, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this team responds.”
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