PASADENA, Calif. — Nebraska players emerged from the locker room about the same time a postgame fireworks show was concluding at the Rose Bowl.
It’s not the kind of fireworks the Huskers had hoped for on offense Saturday night.
A week after a clean, crisp and impressive performance in its season opener, Nebraska suffered from the same problems that plagued it in losses last season.
The result this time was all too familiar.
“We just came out flat. We played flat the whole game,” Nebraska sophomore receiver Jamal Turner said after the Huskers' 36-30 loss to UCLA. “We just didn’t execute. That was more of a problem. False starts, interceptions.
“We just played really flat. We just didn’t execute. Missed reads, missed blocks. It cost us the game.”
Despite that, Nebraska had something of a rhythm in the first half, thanks to a solid start by quarterback Taylor Martinez, who showed the burst and speed of his freshman season on a 92-yard touchdown run off a zone-read play in the first quarter.
But a mistake on another zone-read play — on the same end of the field, around the same yard marker — spelled doom.
Martinez, with NU at its 5-yard line, made the wrong read, kept the ball and was tackled by Datone Jones in the end zone for a safety that gave UCLA a 29-27 lead.
That drive was one of four for Nebraska that started inside its 15.
“It wasn’t anything different or special they did to cause that play to go awry,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “It was just our inability to execute.”
Nebraska twice regained possession with just the two-point deficit, with both drives starting at its 20.
But Martinez threw three straight incompletions on the first series, then threw an interception on the second play of the next series that Andrew Abbott returned 24 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for UCLA.
Was Martinez, who looked brilliant last week in throwing for 354 yards and five touchdowns against Southern Miss, trying to do too much?
“He said he wasn’t. I hope he wasn’t,” Beck said. “I think at times, maybe he was a little bit. He was trying to do some things that maybe we had success early on, and they were taking away, and we were trying to force those issues at times, instead of letting the offense run itself.
“In a tight ball game sometimes, that’s where that confidence, resiliency needs to show up. Guys have to be able to trust in what we’re doing and not take it upon themselves when it’s close and it’s tough and every yard counts. You have to keep playing hard and play within the system. At times, we didn’t do that tonight.”
Martinez was 17-of-31 for 179 yards and was sacked twice. He ran for 112 yards and threw a couple of key blocks on both of Ameer Abdullah’s touchdown runs in the first half. Abdullah finished with 119 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Beck, though, said he felt Nebraska struggled to run the football. He was also discouraged by dropped passes, including a couple on third down. Nebraska finished 1-of-11 on third down.
“We struggled to run the ball today. We didn’t make catches we made in the first game, we didn’t make throws we made in the first game,” Beck said. “I didn’t make every call I made in the first game. I made some stupid calls. We all took our turns. When you do that, you don’t give yourself a very good chance of winning.”
Beck said he doesn’t feel like he has to adjust how he calls a game, or what he calls, based on Nebraska’s defensive struggles.
“I don’t worry about that. I just worry about our guys going out and executing,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. That’s my job. At times, I failed today. For whatever reason, we didn’t get our guys to execute better.”