All season, former Husker and NFL linebacker Jay Foreman will be breaking down games for HuskersIllustrated.com on Monday mornings. This week, Foreman tackles Nebraska's loss to UCLA.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the UCLA game was a tale of two different halves and two different teams. The first half was filled with promise and excitement. Nebraska's defense came out inspired and ready. The pace and fury they played with seemed to catch UCLA off guard, especially the offensive line. Nebraska's defense looked quicker and more physical in the first quarter and a half. Against the run they swarmed to the ball and made plenty of one-on-one tackles to nullify any extra yardage that killed them last season out in Pasadena. UCLA tried to rely on the pass and that played right into the blackshirts hands. Stanley Jean-Baptiste again stepped up and made huge plays along with an interception. The defense as a whole held its own and did enough to go into the half with a 21-10 lead.
Now to the other team that showed up, or in reality didn't show up. The first UCLA drive in the second half seemed to destroy Nebraska both mentally and physically. The first play UCLA ran went 38 yards and was mainly because two defensive players were in the same gap. This became a theme in the second half along with missed tackles and opportunities. Once UCLA found its rhythm Nebraska didn't have an answer. Jim Mora Jr., said his team had a "mentality change." That tells me he was telling his team that they are mentally tougher than Nebraska. Their offense inflicted their will and swag on the blackshirts and never let up.
Fans and alumni alike need to understand one thing clearly: this is going to be a long season. I say this because this is a young defense without an identity yet so every game will be a dogfight and I mean every game. Yes, some things scheme-wise could be changed, but it was already dumbed down to allow the players to play up to their capabilities. With that being said, it's time for the players to play and for a few to step and be leaders. I'm not looking for a corner or safety to lead, I'm looking for a front-seven player to become a leader. Improved leadership will pay dividends in the second half of the season. The coaches and players have their work cut out for them because everyone is learning. The one thing that I would like to see is more confidence by the players. This confidence will come from a commitment at their respective positions. By now I think they know what they have and won't lose an edge competition wise.
Player trending upward
Stanley Jean-Baptiste: This is great, but to be honest, I'm tired of these guys playing the best. Someone else needs to play a full game.
Not sure where to go with this because the product hasn't matched the talent yet. I saw some 1-gap schemes that worked and let the players play fast. I would like to see more blitzes against mobile quarterbacks to get to them quicker. Maybe a "Nascar" pass rush group with Jason Ankrah at defensive tackle because his outside pass rush isn't getting to the quarterback enough.
– It will be interesting to see how the players bounce back after such a loss. I hope they focus on the idea they can still win the Big Ten and BCS bowl game. This will only happen if they all believe.
– When will the defensive tackle play improve to the point to where it's not such a glaring weakness? There has been a lack of a pass rush overall from the group and many of the runs have been right in their gaps. Vincent Valentine has played well against the run and pushed the pocket when in passing situations, but the only other people being active are the freshmen, in particular Kevin Maurice.
– When will Michael Rose get more reps? He's shown he can penetrate and play well enough to warrant more playing time.
– I think offensive coordinator Tim Beck should unleash Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa. These two along with offensive guard Spencer Long "get it." They play the right way and are accountable. I find it odd that two of Nebraska's most physical players are wideouts.
– The offense yesterday was no different than the first two games and no different than last season. Lots of potential and big gains, but not a grind-it-out-and-bleed-you-offense that is consistent. The passing game is limited regardless of how Taylor threw the ball in the first half. Bell made a great catch and Enunwa has been pretty much unstoppable this season. I think Beck and staff acquired all these weapons but didn't have clear plan on how to utilize them. That's why you see sporadic play calling and results. Granted, Nebraska has potential and weapons but that doesn't mean anything if the O-line doesn't win. People need to understand what separates the great spread teams and others. They usually have a dominant quarterback in the run game and pass game (Tebow, Newton, Mariota, Kapernick) and also have a dominant O-line (Florida, Auburn, etc.) that have at least three draftable players. Nebraska isn't there yet.
-- There wasn't a lot of adjustments needed in the second half. UCLA just outplayed Nebraska in the last 30 minutes and beat the Huskers mentally like a drum. UCLA, nor any other school, no longer fears Nebraska because the play isn't intimidating on defense.
– I'm tired of hearing that play count and a fast-paced offense will make the opponents tired and unable to adjust. I say this because if the offense runs 100 plays a game, the defense isn't the only ones getting tired. As any player will tell you, sooner or later if a chunk play isn't given up, that most offenses will shoot themselves in the foot.
– Along the lines of getting tired, over the first three games I see plenty of defensive players sucking wind. This shows up in the second half as Randy Gregory and Avery Moss are the only ones with any sort of pass rush moves besides bull rushes. Bull rushing or the dancing bear technique will eventually wear a defensive lineman out by the third quarter.
– This isn't the time to fire anyone, this is the time for players and coaches to step up even more. I think the players need an older 90's player perspective on what it means to play at Nebraska. Not to tell them they're struggling, but to tell them this team is bigger than them. But the question is: would they listen? Nebraska football is magical and needs to respected as such.
Jay Foreman spent eight years in the NFL with four different teams, and starred at Nebraska as a four-year letter winner who played on Nebraska's 1995 and 1997 National Championship teams. For more takes and opinions from Foreman, check out Jay's Blog or follow him on Twitter.