LINCOLN — The pieces were in place. The story would write itself. Ten days ago, the resurrection of a former powerhouse had seemingly been captured on the grand stage.
That remarkable, and rather triumphant, fourth-quarter comeback over Missouri on national television was supposed to be the final hurdle for the rebuilding Huskers — just enough, most believed, for this team to permanently reserve a seat at the table of relevance.
But what took place in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, a 31-10 drubbing at the hands of Texas Tech (5-2, 2-1 Big 12), served as an abrupt shot of humility for all 86,107 on hand.
The 15th-ranked Huskers (4-2, 1-1), positioned perfectly for an expectation-exceeding run through the conference season, failed to take care of their fundamental responsibilities when the spotlight was brightest.
Throw out the extracurriculars, coach Bo Pelini said. The game’s quite black and white to the second-year coach.
To win, he said, players have to execute. If not, especially when facing a capable opponent, things can unravel quickly. Pelini’s words couldn't have resonated more firmly Saturday evening.
“I knew what we had coming up in Texas Tech,” a fiery Pelini told reporters after the game. “I knew the challenge we had and we didn't meet the challenge. We got our butts kicked.”
The beatdown began from the get-go.
On the opening drive, quarterback Steven Sheffield, a poised, two-gloved gunslinger, delivered accurate passes and his receivers made athletic catches over well-positioned defenders. Ninety-three of Sheffield’s 234 passing yards came during that possession.
A few minutes later, when Nebraska looked poised for an answer, junior Niles Paul dropped a backward pass. Texas Tech’s Daniel Howard scooped up the loose football and ran 82 yards to the end zone while the Husker offensive players deliberated the legitimacy of the fumble.
Halfway through the first quarter, Texas Tech had a 14-0 lead and all of the momentum. Nebraska never recovered.
“After that fumble, that was a big letdown right there because nobody knew what was going on,” Paul said. “It kind of just threw us all off our game.”
Texas Tech, up 24-3 at halftime, didn't necessarily cruise from that point on, but any feeble attempt by Nebraska to stage a comeback was thwarted by the Huskers’ own ineptitude.
Curenski Gilleylen dropped an overthrow from backup quarterback Cody Green, who twice relieved a struggling Zac Lee. A wide-open field and a few disoriented defenders indicate that a catch there likely would have resulted in a touchdown.
Nebraska’s next drive began just 25 yards from the end zone but ended in a missed field goal.
The Huskers had a first and goal to begin the fourth quarter, but a personal foul penalty ruined that scoring chance.
And finally, when Nebraska scored its first touchdown of the day and looked primed to ignite a comeback, the normally stingy Husker defense couldn't get Texas Tech off the field. After a 40-yard kickoff return, the Red Raiders sealed the win with a nine-play, five-minute touchdown drive.
“You've got to step up and make plays. It’s as simple as that,” Pelini said. “You can sit there and ask all the questions in the world. It comes down to we got beat because we didn't make plays. We got out-played, and out-coached.”
But just one week ago, Nebraska made all of the right moves when it needed to. The Huskers seemed to be on the right track.
They scored 27 straight points at Missouri, forcing clutch turnovers on defense and getting timely offensive execution to pull out a win. That game was far from flawless, but Nebraska’s resilience was commendable.
This NU team, battling nasty elements, firmly grabbed a hold of the North Division race with that win at Missouri. The nation took notice. Nebraska jumped six spots in the polls.
Senior Ndamukong Suh was at the center of the hype as Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s “College GameDay,” and even the Wall Street Journal came calling. They all wanted to highlight the new Husker legend, one they deemed talented enough to help the program move away from mediocrity.
Even the Blackshirts — those fabled practice jerseys that had been so stubbornly hidden through five weeks — were handed out by Pelini on Friday.
But Texas Tech provided the reality check Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t think anybody was dazzled by the lights by any means,” NU center Jacob Hickman said. “We figured we should have been in that place, but we obviously didn't play like it today.”
Cancel that Sports Illustrated feature on Suh. That may have to wait.
The goals are all still there, according to Suh. But for now, Nebraska has to once again recover from devastation.
“Just because you take a little stumble doesn’t mean you can’t keep it moving forward,” Suh said. “Definitely, our first goal is to win the Big 12 North. ... We've got to learn how to brush things off, especially during the game.”
|Yards per carry||1.0||2.3|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Texas Tech.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
Nebraska has played 16 games on Oct. 17. See them all »
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