Pelini, offense spoil outstanding game from Suh, D
Bo Pelini didn’t do his part.
Ndamukong Suh could have left Nebraska following his junior season and turned pro, but the defensive tackle didn’t. His coach, Pelini, addressed that decision in July during the Big 12 Media Days.
“We’re fortunate that he elected to come back,” the second-year coach said. “He just felt like he had unfinished business.”
It’s clear, even in the aftermath of Saturday’s 13-12 disappointing loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship, that Suh took care of his. Tack on another 4.5 sacks, a championship record, onto the ledger for Suh, whose remarkable senior season should yet include a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and conclude by being a probable top-three selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
He’s been that good, probably even better. The lynchpin of a salty defense that sacked Colt McCoy nine times and is unquestionably championship quality.
But that offense? Brutal, and that falls on Pelini.
Oh, he was hopping mad afterwards, and he should have directed that anger at his offense instead of the officiating — although he had a point there.
Given a second chance, Texas took advantage. Trailing 12-10, time expired on the Longhorns as McCoy scrambled and threw the ball away, setting off a jubilant Cornhusker celebration. But officials huddled and declared one second should remain on the clock. With the second added, Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence drilled a 46-yard field goal, vaulting his team to victory and likely into the BCS Championship against Alabama.
It was rather remarkable, actually.
When your defense limits an offense that was averaging 462 yards per game to 206 yards, it has done its job. And when the same defense yields just 13 points to an offense that had been scoring 43 per game, yeah, it’s pretty good.
But, again, that offense? The one that ripped off a robust 106 yards against the Longhorns? The one that averaged 1.9 yards per play and recorded just five first downs? It’s almost fitting the officials managed to add another second to the game clock after time had apparently expired — the Big 12 probably would have been ashamed to have that rather primitive offense on display in prime time for all to see.
He, better than anyone else, should have understood junior quarterback Zac Lee’s limitations. And, as the head coach, he could have given more time, more scheduled snaps to highly regarded freshman Cody Green.
But he didn’t, so it’s his fault.
Really, it was the perfect start for Nebraska, but that was also the problem.
Two interceptions of McCoy, a couple of three-and-outs — and the Cornhuskers only had a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Lee, bless his heart, is a liability. It’s hard to fathom how green Green must be if he’s unable to pry the position away from Lee. At one point it looked like Pelini came to his senses, inserting the freshman.
But the situation was impossible — backed up at the Cornhuskers one-yard line about midway through the third quarter. He snuck twice, and then misfired on third down, and his day was done.
“We brought him in for a specific situation,” Pelini said. “We just wanted to settle Zac down for a second, and we were able to get that done.”
Did it work? Well, Nebraska did double its point total from that point on, so, sure, it worked. But it was more of a credit to the defense and some inspired special teams — Niles Paul’s 43-yard punt return in the fourth quarter led to a 28-yard field goal by Alex Henery, who was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals and also had a solid day punting.
How’s this for ineptitude? Nebraska’s Eric Martin swatted Justin Tucker’s punt to open the second quarter, giving the Cornhuskers prime field position inside the Longhorns 40. For some reason, testing UT’s secondary on the very next play seemed like a good idea, so there was Lee, who completed two of his seven passes in the first quarter for eight yards, throwing deep into the end zone.
You can guess how that ended.
It was an interception, and it was hardly a surprise.
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And neither was the fact that Texas won, although the margin of victory was a little slimmer than expected. Texas coach Mack Brown suggested his Longhorns hadn’t put together a complete game yet, not like their likely next foe did Saturday in vanquishing Florida.
But the undefeated season remains intact, leaving the Cornhuskers to wonder what might have been.
Wasted in the loss was a masterful performance by Suh, who flung McCoy, a presumed Heisman finalist who did little to bolster his candidacy Saturday, to the turf early in the third quarter as if the 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback were a tackling dummy.
“The guy’s a playmaker,” McCoy said.
The best player on the field — by far — ended up on the losing end, but only because the offense failed to do its job. But remember, it’s difficult to handle unfinished business when the boss is getting in the way.
“I think he’s the best football player in his position in the country,” Pelini said. “If that means the Heisman Trophy, so be it.”
Moments earlier, the volatile Nebraska coach was demanding answers for how the final sequence played itself out, when the Cornhuskers thought they’d upset the mighty Longhorns before having victory yanked away. He was fuming, but the game probably didn’t need to be that close.
Not if the offense was actually, you know, effective.
Jeffrey Martin is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com. He also writes for the Houston Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.