COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sad. On the worst night of his Nebraska career, Bo Pelini looked sad.
There have been embarrassing losses. There have been bad scores. But none of them were like what happened on an electric night at Ohio Stadium.
Pelini is the tough guy from Youngstown, the preacher of fundamentals, the defensive guru who was back at Ohio State for the first time since his playing days, showing off his program, his way of football.
As he shuffled to the locker room afterwards, the scoreboard high atop his old field flashed the score “Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38.”
The most points a Pelini-coached team has allowed at Nebraska — one more than Oklahoma and 11 more than Missouri, both in 2008, Pelini's first year at NU.
The last Buckeye touchdown was walked in, from 16 yards, on an off-tackle run with 48 seconds left.
Afterwards, Pelini spoke in quiet tones about the night, another meltdown, another blown opportunity on the big stage littered with mind-boggling miscues and poor execution.
These are coaching mistakes. And they keep happening. And Pelini knows it.
And yet, he wasn't mad, as thousands of Husker fans are today. He sounded as frustrated as you all are.
Moreover, he sounded helpless.
That reality hit home, hard, last night. After Pelini went through the litany of comments we've heard before — disappointed, didn't play well, lousy special teams, missed tackles, didn't execute — I asked Pelini why these things keep happening.
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“I don't know,” Pelini said. “I wish I knew.”
That comment should shake Husker fans to their core today. Here in the fifth year, with his guys, they said they would fix the holes in the offseason but they're still leaking oil all over the place.
Pelini added that these things never seem to happen at home. But they did last week, in the first half, against Wisconsin. The Huskers' offense was good enough to overcome a 27-10 deficit, overcome its own sloppiness, and edge an average Badger team by three.
After that one, Pelini said, “I know you guys think I forgot how to coach defense, and stop the run, but...”
Insert your own punch line.
It's not funny. It's sad. In year five, in week six, it's déjà vu all over again.
And so here we go again, another week of anger in the state, the tenor and volume growing sharper. And here we go again, more Taylor Martinez bashing, more wondering whether why there's nobody warming up in the bullpen.
Martinez isn't going anywhere. Ron Kellogg isn't coming in. If this keeps up, and it always comes back, then we can talk quarterback race in the spring. But not now. Martinez is still the best play-maker at the position.
Still, for both teams.
Martinez is representative of Nebraska's program under Pelini. There were good plays, big plays. But three interceptions, a fumble lost, another fumble he was lucky not to lose. These things can't happen. Yet they still do.
Why? Nobody can say. They don't know.
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You leave this game with serious doubts whether Pelini or Martinez will ever figure it out.
“You watched it,” Pelini said in response to a question about the poor play. “You've got to execute.”
This one boggles the mind more than others, though, because Nebraska was right in this track meet, with an offense loaded with more skill than the other team, although Ohio State's Braxton Miller is a heck of a one-man track team.
Nebraska's defense bottled up the slippery quarterback in the first quarter. Miller was in slow motion, and there were defensive backs and linebackers at every turn. Still, you figured they couldn't corral the racehorse forever. They couldn't.
But they couldn't answer with their own big plays, at least not enough of them, and the early mojo from Rex Burkhead and Kenny Bell melted under the heat of the “inferno” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer called for.
Nebraska's bad night included a misstep at halftime, when Husker kickers came out early to warm up — right in the middle of the Ohio State band's famous script Ohio routine, where the tuba guy dots the “i.” Observers here said that was a first. NU was roundly booed for that one.
What could go wrong did. Again. It's not the end of the season, but it's the last chance for this program to land something resembling a big fish this year. There are six games left, and a division title and Big Ten championship still on the table.
Pelini said he told his players that they had to win out, to get to the Big Ten title game. But when he said it, it didn't come off so much as a rallying cry but sort of a last-ditch effort to squeeze some significance out of this season.
This was probably the wrong time to be talking about winning out. Anyone out there think this group can do it?
You watched it. Again.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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>> Video: NU's Bo Pelini after the Nebraska-Ohio State game:
>> Video: Postgame analysis with Rich Kaipust:
>> Video: The Huskers arrive at Ohio Stadium: