Kenny Bell has looked at the remainder of Nebraska’s football schedule, and for the Husker offense, he doesn’t see any opponent that’s tougher than the one in the mirror.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about. We’ve got to get past us,” said Bell, a sophomore receiver. “The team that we fear most on our schedule is ourselves. That’s the team that can really, really just pound us, and we proved it Saturday night.”
Bell was referring to Nebraska’s 36-30 loss at UCLA, a game in which the offense sputtered in the second half after matching the Bruins point for point and nearly yard for yard in a first-half shootout.
After having 333 yards and 24 points at halftime, the Huskers managed 106 yards, six points, two turnovers and three penalties.
That’s pretty consistent with Nebraska’s offensive numbers in the second half of their last four losses away from home — 106.7 yards, four points, 1.5 turnovers and 4.7 penalties in setbacks to Wisconsin, Michigan, South Carolina and, now, UCLA.
Combined in those games, Nebraska was 7-of-26 on third down (26.9 percent). Of those 26 attempts, only six were for 3 yards or fewer. The average distance to go on the other 20 was 11.1 yards.
“I just think late in the game, we pressed a little bit,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, referring to the UCLA loss. “We just didn’t execute well. I don’t know for what reason. We just didn’t.
“Things that we weren’t making mistakes on in the first six quarters (of the season) we were making mistakes — bad snaps, penalties, turnovers, poor decisions, missed blocks.”
Is Beck concerned about a second-half trend of offensive troubles?
“I don’t know. Could be,” he said. “It’s hard to look into a crystal ball and say, ‘We’re going to turn the ball over in the second half.’ We’ve also had some good games in the second half as well, so I don’t know. Just have to be more consistent; be patient and play our game and not try to overtake the game on our own. It will come to us; we just have to play.”
Nebraska did have big offensive performances last season after trailing at halftime to Fresno State (20-17) and Ohio State (20-6).
Those games were at home. On the road, the Huskers faced halftime deficits of 13 points at Wisconsin, three points at Michigan, three points against South Carolina, and were tied at UCLA. (Nebraska led at halftime in road victories at Wyoming, Minnesota and Penn State).
In three of their last four road losses, Nebraska turned the ball over immediately to start the second half — an interception by Martinez on the first play at Wisconsin, a fumbled kickoff by Kenny Bell at Michigan and Ameer Abdullah’s fumble on the first play Saturday at UCLA.
“You can feel the energy drain,” Bell said. “You don’t want to put it on one guy, but it can really be a momentum killer.”
Those turnovers led to touchdowns against Wisconsin and Michigan, and to a field goal at UCLA.
“I don’t think we came out very focused the second half,” NU receiver Quincy Enunwa said of Saturday’s loss. “We kind of let them being tied overwhelm us. It got to our head. We come out and immediately fumble the ball, and it all just went downhill from there.”
Enunwa, like Bell, blamed the self-infliction and said lack of halftime adjustments wasn’t a problem.
“We tried to make a few adjustments,” Enunwa said. “They were blitzing Taylor (Martinez) a lot, and we tried to do certain things to get around that blitz and make plays. They made their adjustments as well, and they happened to beat us in that area.
“They did exactly what we thought they were going to do. They came, blitzed us, storm blitzed us, came off the edge. They just executed a lot better than we thought they were going to do.”
Beginning Saturday against Arkansas State, Nebraska plays three straight games at home, where the second-half offensive woes haven’t been as much of an issue.
But by the time the Huskers play at Ohio State in less than four weeks — and even before then, for that matter — Bell wants a solution.
“We really got to get back and mature as a team to where when things start going negative, we’ve got to find a way to break through that barrier, break through that wall,” Bell said. "This week, honestly, can probably be one of the most important weeks of the season.
“When stuff like this happens, it’s really how you approach it and how you press forward from here. It’s going to be tough if we let this thing linger. We’ve got to take what we can from it, learn what we can and really just move on.”