Huskers must repair defense to contend in Big Ten
Of course, even that will be a long shot for Nebraska (1-1) if coach Bo Pelini and his staff can't figure out how to shore up a defense that allowed 653 yards in a 36-30 loss at the Rose Bowl stadium on Saturday night.
In the 124 seasons of Nebraska football, only the 1956 Oklahoma Sooners totaled more offense against the Huskers.
Nebraska (1-1), out of The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in three years, starts over this Saturday at home against Arkansas State (1-1). The Huskers will play FCS-level Idaho State the following week in Lincoln before Wisconsin comes to town Sept. 29 for the Big Ten opener.
Shortly after his team got rolled in Pasadena, Calif., Pelini emphasized the Huskers' main goal - returning to the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion - remains intact.
''We want to play our last football game out here,'' he said. ''To do that, we have a lot of work to do. We've got to get better, obviously.''
UCLA redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, making his second start and playing behind a young offensive line, skewered the Huskers for 358 total yards and four touchdowns.
Johnathan Franklin rushed for another 217, the sixth-highest total ever by a back against Nebraska and most since Pelini took over in 2008. Franklin also caught three passes for 53 yards, including a 9-yarder for the Bruins' last touchdown.
''You've got to give them credit,'' linebacker Will Compton said. ''We didn't come to play tonight, and it showed. We definitely didn't plan on this happening, but I definitely feel we're going to come back strong. We've just got to get our rest, take care of ourselves and come out next week even stronger.''
Fortunately for the Huskers, no one in the Big Ten looks dominant. Most teams in the conference look quite beatable, in fact.
''We can still get everything we want,'' Compton said. ''The Big Ten championship, everything else, is still within our grasp. We've just got to go out and get it.''
There were red flags in the opener against Southern Mississippi. The Huskers allowed 260 yards but gave up yards in big chunks, especially on the ground.
UCLA gashed the Huskers six runs of 10 yards or longer, including 36- and 54-yarders, and seven pass plays of 23 yards or longer.
The secondary couldn't win jump balls, and the Huskers had no one who could match up with 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria.
Poor tackling hurt the Huskers, and their defensive line couldn't muster much penetration. Though the Huskers sacked Hundley three times, they got to him only once before his mobility was limited by an ankle injury that forced him to the sideline for a third-quarter series.
''We didn't do anything well on the defensive side of the ball,'' Pelini said. ''Many times we had opportunities for tackles for losses that ended up in long gains.''
Nebraska's offense also is re-examining itself after all but shutting down in the second half.
The Huskers had amassed 333 yards the first half, Taylor Martinez was clicking again as a runner and passer and Ameer Abdullah was more than capable as a replacement for the injured Rex Burkhead.
In the second half Nebraska gained just 106 yards, Martinez was 4 for 14 for 30 yards and an interception and the Huskers converted just 1 of 7 third downs.
Abdullah finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Martinez broke a 92-yard touchdown run and ended with 112 yards on 13 carries.
''You want to talk about a team loss. That's it,'' Pelini said. ''Defensively we didn't show up in the first half and offensively we didn't show up in the second half. You have to have each other's backs, and it didn't happen. UCLA earned the win and we didn't earn it. We didn't deserve to win with the way we played, and at the end of the day we have a lot of work to do.''