Huskers' bugaboos resurface in loss to Iowa

2013-11-29T19:05:00Z 2013-12-02T19:00:17Z Huskers' bugaboos resurface in loss to IowaBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star

Black Friday indeed.

There again was a bunch of turnovers — three of them — and significant special-team blunders — three of those, too — and even an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Bo Pelini, who swiped his hat in the air in disgust near an official as the coach barked about a perceived bad call.

Ten long years ago, near the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Pelini received the same penalty and the fans loved him for it, praising his passion, chanting “We want Bo!” as he left the field.

But on this day, after a 38-17 loss to Iowa, he departed to polite claps and was greeted by a room full of reporters teeming with questions about his future.

“I don't coach to make a case,” the sixth-year head coach said. “You guys have chosen to make a story of it all year. It's impacted our football team. It's hurt our football team. Let's call a spade a spade.

“If they want to fire me, go ahead. I believe in what I've done. I don't apologize for what I've done. I don't apologize to you, I don’t apologize to anybody (for) myself or this staff. Our record since I've been here speaks for itself. And this program's heading in a good direction. If you choose not to think so, that's your prerogative. All I know is that myself, the staff, the people who have been associated with this program since I've been here can look at themselves in the mirror and feel good about what they've done."

The loss dropped Nebraska to 8-4 and gives Pelini a 57-24 record at NU.

There’s enough uncertainty that defensive coordinator John Papuchis admitted he thought it would be his last time walking off the field after the game.

“I’d be lying to say I never did think about that,” Papuchis said. “But, obviously, I’m 100 percent in support of Coach Bo. And whatever decision comes down the pike, which I haven’t been led to believe anything either way, that’s the decision that’s made.”

An attempt by the Journal Star after the game to reach UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman and athletic director Shawn Eichorst -- asking for a timetable on a decision -- did not get an immediate response.

When did Pelini expect to hear a resolution?

“I don’t concern myself with that,” Pelini said. “You guys can concern yourselves with that.”

Again asked about it, he said: “That’s not my decision, so why are you asking me the question? Talk to somebody else.”

Pelini did have a strong opinion, however, on the sequence of events that led to him being called for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third quarter.

With his team having chipped a two-touchdown deficit to 14-10, Pelini was furious when Zaire Anderson was called for pass interference on Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on a second-and-12 incompletion.

It was Pelini’s belief that the pass was not catchable.

His anger at the officials, and a swing of his hat through the air, prompted another flag. Pelini's disgust over that chain of events had not yet disappeared even after the game.

“He said I got too close to him,” Pelini said of the official. “I thought it was a chickensh-t call. Excuse my language on that, but I had never seen anything like that before. I’ve done a lot worse than that. I saw (Iowa coach) Kirk Ferentz on the other side acting a lot worse than I act. I didn’t see a flag come out on him.

“The bottom line is, they knew they blew the call. They blew it. … Everybody in the stadium knew it. They just didn’t man up enough to pick that flag up.”

Just like the 41-28 loss to Michigan State two weeks ago, Nebraska's problems were self-inflicted.

Ron Kellogg, getting his first career start on Senior Day, threw two interceptions in the first quarter.

“Turnovers, man. It’s the same story, different week,” said junior wide receiver Kenny Bell. “We have to get it fixed. And it’s players. Players have to figure it out. It’s gotten to the point where there’s not much more the coaches can do for us.”

If it wasn't turnovers, it was special-teams mishaps.

The Huskers watched one second-quarter punt bounce 20 yards until it was downed on their 1-yard line.

A couple minutes later, return man Jordan Westerkamp fair-caught another punt at the NU 3.

“Hard to score when you’re turning the ball over and you’re backed up,” said offensive coordinator Tim Beck. “We’ve got to be better at doing that. We’re just not. We just weren’t very good coming out of our own end.”

Then, in the third quarter, Nebraska took a severe gamble when it attempted a fake punt on a fourth-and-3 from its 32.

Punter Sam Foltz tried to run the ball, but was snowed under before he had a chance, losing 8 yards.

“We thought it was there. … We liked the look they were in and we whiffed on a block, the most important block,” Pelini said. "We took a chance and it didn't work out. It's my fault."

One play later, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock connected with Kevonte Martin-Manley for a touchdown to make it 24-10.

Still, the Huskers had a chance early in the fourth quarter, cutting it to a one-score game, then getting their best field position at their 40 with 10 minutes left.

But on the first play, running back Ameer Abdullah — who was held below 100 yards for just the second time this year and finished with 85 — fumbled.

Two plays later, Iowa was in the end zone again and the story of this game was written.

The Huskers finished with 288 yards of offense, and Iowa with 281, but the turnover bug and special-teams woes had decided it.

The players who appeared for the postgame news conference strongly backed Pelini.

“I hope he returns, because I hope that in 10 years I can bring my wife back here and I can say, ‘This is Coach Bo. This is who made me who I am,’” said  offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles.

But there's little certainty, and as the silence continues, the speculation only builds.

Whatever decision is made, Papuchis said he feels good about the work this staff has put in.

“Whether people outside of these walls think I’m a bad coach, or whatever the case may be … I’m sure there’s mixed opinions. Every day I showed up to the University of Nebraska for six years (and) I tried my absolute best to put our guys in position to be successful,” Papuchis said.

“There wasn’t a day I showed up to work that I didn’t give everything I had. Whether that was good enough, people are going to have to use their own judgment on that. But I can feel good about the fact I never cheated anyone out of a paycheck, I promise you.”




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