LINCOLN — The successful plays by the UCLA offense weren't the most demoralizing sights as Nebraska assistant coach Terry Joseph watched from the Memorial Stadium press box Saturday as the game slipped away.
What hurt just as much as the Bruins' 31 points and 298 total yards in the second half was the Huskers' reaction at times.
“The toughest thing to see was when they made a play — which they're going to do because they're a great offense — is that our body language went down,” Joseph said. “And then it started getting contagious: Now it's two guys' body language, and pretty soon five, and all of a sudden it's play after play after play.”
That change in faith went right along with the Huskers' inability to curb the momentum that UCLA was building on its way to a 41-21 victory.
“We were just looking for something positive to happen,” NU defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said.
The Huskers have committed to youth at a number of defensive positions and Saturday brought the first real dose of adversity for a host of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen. It not only exposed some of the growing pains but also punctuated the need for the few available veterans to stitch up any wounds as fast as possible.
Senior cornerback Ciante Evans said the mood remained positive for his NU defensive mates, despite the turn of events, but that the Huskers may have lost a sense of urgency or focus.
“I didn't see 'em get down,” Evans said. “But you could just tell guys were like, 'What's going on?' And me, as a captain, I've got to step up, but I didn't make any plays, either.”
Nebraska has its largest share of upperclassmen in the secondary. But Joseph said the safety play probably wasn't as good as it could have been, and Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Josh Mitchell missed chances at some plays at the nickel and cornerback spots that could have made a difference — “so there was enough blame to go around.”
“One of the big things we've got to change, considering how young we are, is we've got to get somebody to take control and make a play when we need to make a play,” Joseph said.
There were times in the second half Saturday when Nebraska had just three seniors on the field. There were times a year ago when they had as many as seven or eight.
Kaczenski waved that off Saturday when talking about potential candidates to make a difference.
“We've got guys,” Kaczenski said. “Somebody's just got to step up. That's part of the game. Youth's not an excuse. We're going to prepare those freshmen just like we do fifth-year seniors. They've got to be ready to go. There's nothing wrong with a young guy stepping up and making a play.”
True freshman linebacker Josh Banderas, making his second career start against UCLA, said the youngsters aren't afraid to do it, and said the first half against the Bruins showed the capability of the defense.
He also said players didn't look at each other as rookies or veterans Saturday in determining who should take over.
“We were together as a family and we just looked to each other,” Banderas said. “It wasn't necessarily to one person. We just looked to our left and to our right and we just tried to keep each other up.”
Banderas said he didn't see confidence waning as the NU lead turned into a deficit and then into a hopeless situation.
“Obviously you don't like it when you lose, but everybody was still up,” he said. “We're still out there playing football. Everybody's having fun. That's why we're here, that's why we're putting in the work. We love this game. So I think everybody had a good attitude.”
As with Joseph, Kaczenski was hard on his own unit, saying the defensive line could have set up the linebackers and defensive backs to make plays by putting more pressure on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and hurrying some throws, as the Huskers had done early on.
As a result, UCLA started dictating how the game was going.
“Then we were on our heels and we stopped playing, and we were more surviving instead of playing,” Kaczenski said. “They took advantage of that and just played more physical than we did in the second half up front.”
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Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:
Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference: