In a game like this where the score ends up what it did last night, coaches might tell you that it was a breakdown in all phases of the game. Defense, offense, special teams and coaching. Each found a way go into the tank all in the space of three hours.
You might be inclined to say that was just like Miami in the Rose Bowl, but let's put that into a little perspective. Miami was, well, Miami. They were clearly the best team in the country, were loaded with first round NFL draft choices and wherever they were strongest, that's where NU had the biggest questions. Penn State was no Miami. Just the previous week, Penn State barely managed to beat an average Central Florida team, but subsequently beat a top ten team by 33 points. How does that happen? Well, it's simple.
You have breakdowns in every phase of the game.
Ok, let's elaborate. On offense, Nebraska gained a total of 328 yards. Paltry by their standards. Of those 328 yards, 252 of them were on the ground. Again, not great if you are NU, but considering the year thus far, not overly shocking. One of the most shocking stats that would be the most telling, at least on offense though would be the ten total drives that resulted in 6 punts, 3 interceptions and a touchdown that was scored early in the game. There's your breakdown on offense.
On defense, Penn State amassed 476 yards in total offense. OUCH! 217 of those yards were on the ground, very unlike an NU defense to allow and the rest were in the air. Ok, NU's pass defense hasn't been all that good, even with DeJuan Groce being as incredible as he has been. Penn State wasn't throwing towards his side though, rather it was Pat Ricketts that bore the brunt of their offensive strategy and to Ricketts' shagrin, that little ploy worked and worked extremely well. Pat led the team in tackles, but that was because they were going at his side almost exclusively for much of the game.
And in a game where it's Nebraska that's supposed to be the team putting long, punishing drives together, it was Penn State that drove the ball right down the Blackshirts' throats. The lions had five drives of at least eight plays or more, three of which went into double-figures, one that was 16 plays long. There's your breakdown on defense.
In special teams, there really wasn't any glaring problem outside of the fact that they were being used too much. Kyle Larson punted the ball six times. And though he was as good as you would expect, the fact that he was getting more time on the field than some of NU's starting offensive players, that's probably going to go down as things you would just as soon not see.
For much of the first half, NU was in it, despite all the defensive woes. Even coach Solich admitted that players (on defense) probably weren't where they were supposed to be. With that being said, NU was still in the game, but the third quarter took the air right out of the sails. After the game, Solich again commented that even in the second half, players (on defense) were probably not where they were supposed to be. Two halves in a row? There's your breakdown in coaching.
About the only thing NU did right last night was what they said after the game. Players were professional in their comments, made sure not to single out units or players that could be to blame and just took it on the chin. As they should. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You just want to hear one player, one coach or anyone that has power at NU come out and yell just what in the hell went wrong. You want them to go on a tirade of where the blame is to be pointed. Well, the problem is, they didn't have that many fingers.
Again, this was a complete breakdown in all phases of the game.
You know what the worst thing is about all of this though? The loss (as bad as it was) is certainly enough to hang your head about, but think of the players and coaches that have done as much as they can to stop the talk of CU and Miami from a year ago. How they wanted to shut us all up so that they could make their own identity as a team. They wanted to make people forget about the miscues and mistakes from last season, so that we could get into this season with a whole new mindset. Well, after last night, the Nebraska team will not be escaping those demons any time soon. Not Miami, not CU and not the NOW , 1-8 record on the road against ranked teams.
Another problem. Iowa State. Zack Mills was dangerous. Heck, at times, he was flat out brilliant. Would you compare his athleticism to Seneca Wallace's though? Would you dare to compare arms? Wallace's Cyclones almost beat FSU, and just last night, came back in what seems to be their typical cardiac fashion and laid out the Iowa Hawkeyes. If people thought Mills was a problem for Nebraska, how much of a problem will Heisman contender, Seneca Wallace be? Oh, and just to make you feel a little better, don't be surprised if come Monday, Iowa State will be ranked in the coaches' poll and associated press poll as well.
Nebraska has two weeks to figure this problem out, but if you look back at the Miami game, it's a problem they've had for awhile now. How to turn a game of breakdowns into a breakout game. That's the question. Now, come Iowa State, will we even want to see the answers?