Nebraska Lacks Focus Required of a Championship Team

BY TODD NEELEY

It was a amusing to watch a local reporter tell readers Sunday to not make too much out of Nebraska’s lack of performance against South Dakota State in Lincoln Saturday.

Excuse me?

Well, maybe he’s right. Maybe this 17-3 win against a I-AA opponent doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. But it should.

SDSU showed the college football world how to beat Nebraska.

It doesn’t take great analysis to figure out that championship teams don’t play the way NU did on Saturday. From the opening kickoff Nebraska should have delivered a knockout blow against an opponent that should have been outmanned.

Still waiting for that one.

If Nebraska played like it did at Washington it would have been 70-3.

Every game matters when it comes to playing championship football. That’s why anyone with the reaction that Nebraska’s performance was shocking or “embarrassing” as Bo Pelini said afterwards, knows instinctively that there’s a bigger issue at play here.

To win championships you can’t have letdowns and you have to play at a consistently high level. So far in 2010 Nebraska hasn’t done that. NU should have hung 60 points on the Jackrabbits, but for whatever reason Nebraska didn’t come to play.

It would be hard to make the case that Nebraska was looking past SDSU to that first conference game at Kansas State because of a bye week before the trip to Manhattan. Sure, even great teams have close calls. But you expect that to come from opponents that match up with Nebraska athletically, not from an 0-2, I-AA team.

Texas’ 34-12 loss to UCLA in Austin Saturday is a prime example of a team looking ahead. UT plays Oklahoma Saturday.

Nebraska proved it can easily get off course and lose focus if it chooses to.

SDSU was flying around on defense and they stuffed the Nebraska running game for the most part. On offense SDSU was able to run the ball with way too much success, finishing with 141 yards including 112 from Kyle Minett.

Who? Did you say Walter Payton? Unfortunately not.

If ever there was a reason for Pelini to take back the Blackshirts he issued just before this week’s game, this performance is screaming for it.

Nebraska defensive back coach Marvin Sanders offered the only positive comment following the game. He said that if you look across college football there have been several big upsets. His point was that Nebraska found a way to grind it out and pull out a win. With all due respect to coach Sanders, Nebraska put itself in a position to lose that game.

In fact, if SDSU had even a couple more playmakers on offense it could have been a much different final score.

No one has been able to figure out Nebraska’s zone read all season — until Saturday. There should be reason for concern here.

Of all teams, SDSU showed the college football world how to defend the new Nebraska offense. It takes complete team defense and discipline. All 11 guys on that Jackrabbit defense knew their assignments and stuck with it for four quarters.

For the rest of the season Nebraska will have to find much better success in the passing game. That’s because SDSU showed that if you play eight or nine guys up at the line of scrimmage and every player stays in his lane and lets the Nebraska offense come to them, then you eliminate the overpursuit that has led to big running plays by Taylor Martinez, Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.

SDSU held Nebraska at bay with a group of average athletes who gave great effort — that’s why there’s reason for concern.

Pelini obviously misread his team in practice last week. In the postgame he had no answers as to why his team played so poorly, especially since he said it was a good week of practice.

So, has this team reached a point where it is believing all the hype about being a top 10 team?

Pelini has been good at pushing all the right buttons to get his teams to play hard. Did players just not listen this week?

Unfortunately this lack of focus could come back to haunt in the big games down the road.

Nebraska will either take this game as a loss and step up the intensity, or this is the beginning of a bad habit.

Does anyone know where to find a good sports psychologist?

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Posted on September 26, 2010, in Blackshirts, Bo Pelini, Bowl Championship Series. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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