As painful as it was to watch and to say now, the simple fact is that the better team won. Turnovers killed Nebraska, but that is a key element in being a good team. Oklahoma is far too good a team – and is certainly capable of taking advantage of – the terrible mistakes Nebraska made tonight.
When Taylor Martinez threw the ill-advised pass into the end zone in the second quarter, I turned to Laura and told her that play was sure to cost Nebraska the game. After taking a 17-0 lead I hoped Nebraska would never squander, the Sooners quick strike touchdown was deflating. Yet, Nebraska charged right back down the field and stood in perfect position to take the momentum right back. Then came the pass. Boom-er! Doom-er!
I feel for Martinez. The freshman quarterback had so much success early this season that expectations certainly got out of hand. His lightening-strike runs were a delight but came against weak opponents. His ankle injury certainly affected his play, but the reality is that he is far too inexperienced to handle the load for what I believe to be a most suspect offense. His running was never a threat after the Missouri game. His passing, or should I say his decisions while passing, are shaky at best.
The wonders Bo Pelini has done in three seasons to get Nebraska into two Big 12 Championship games are amazing. With his brother Carl, the duo has transformed the Nebraska defense into a joy to watch. Their focus on defense now must somehow be matched by an emphasis on a complete rebuild of the offense. The question that will trouble me is whether that rebuild shouldn’t start with a new offensive coordinator?
Martinez’ early success masked the fact the offense wasn’t that much better than last year’s when the magic of the quarterback’s early long runs is taken away. The ability to mount long drives and give the vaunted defense needed rest was never there again this season.
While the offensive statistics amassed by Oklahoma seemed huge, the Nebraska defense, once again, kept Nebraska in a game that still could have been won. It wasn’t. Credit has to go to Oklahoma for that.
What I will remember is just how good the Nebraska defense has become and will be for years to come. Amazingly good players will be gone next season, and a change in defensive philosophy is sure to come with the move to the Big 10. Still, I feel good about the defense. I certainly hope my defensive MVP – junior linebacker Lavonte David returns. Defensive tackle Jered Crick showed tonight that if he returns for his senior season – as did Ndamukong Suh – he might well be another top draft pick. The amazing Rex Burkhead will be back on offense. Martinez can, hopefully, heal his ankle and his psyche and grow as the quarterback.
What cannot be replaced might be the greatness of kicker Alex Henery. He has been unbelievable for three years and is without a doubt the best kicker in football today. Oh, for just an offensive play here and there. Henery WOULD have pulled off a miracle to force overtime. I would have liked NU’s chances in overtime.
Ah, but now I must wait on Laura for a few days and let her revel in her Sooners’ victory. She deserves it. It was another epic Husker – Sooner battle. Just one, that like the momentum in the second quarter, slipped away.