A fourth-quarter sequence that included a quarterback draw on third down and long and a shanked punt deep in Nebraska territory sealed the Cornhuskers’ fate at Minnesota Saturday.
The meek way in which Nebraska went down for its first Big Ten loss turns up the heat on head coach Bo Pelini.
Pelini’s job security was one of the hot topics a month ago, after Nebraska yielded 38 consecutive points in a blowout home loss to UCLA.
A month can feel like a lifetime during the college football season, and the fallout of Nebraska’s UCLA loss—which included a secretly recorded, profane Pelini rant surfacing after two years—was far in the rearview mirror.
But now, the frustration of a Nebraska fan base longing for a return to national prominence is sure to resurface.
Nebraska’s inefficiencies against the rush were glaring. Minnesota gashed the Cornhuskers for 271 yards on the ground and five per carry. Dual-threat quarterback Phillip Nelson was good for nearly seven yards on each of his eight carries.
The Huskers’ defensive woes are recurring. Every season since Ndamukong Suh powered the nation’s ninth-ranked rush defense in 2009, Nebraska has been increasingly worse containing the run: 63rd in 2010, 64th in 2011, 90th last season.
This year’s Cornhusker defense has improved—it came into Saturday ranked a still-unimpressive 63rd, though much better than a year ago—but the Gophers’ output promises to drop Nebraska several notches.
The defensive-minded Pelini’s inability to restore Nebraska to its glory days is largely due to the inability to recapture its Blackshirt magic.
“You know it’s a good gameplan when everyone is excited about it,” Nelson said of Minnesota’s strategy in the postgame press conference, per GopherSports.com.
What powered Minnesota—fun and excitement—is something that has seemingly lacked at Nebraska.
The Big Ten title isn’t necessarily out of Nebraska’s reach. Saturday was just one loss in the league, and with Michigan State and Michigan still to come, the Huskers do still control their fate.
However, barring winning the Legends division and winning the conference championship game, Nebraska is out of any BCS discussion. A program that was once the benchmark for all of college football hasn’t been to one of the top tier of bowl games since the 2001 season’s Rose Bowl.
Double digit-win seasons have routinely come under Pelini, but conference championships and BCS appearances are the hurdles the program just can’t clear.