As far as Nebraska senior captain Ciante Evans could tell, the mood in the locker room seemed as you’d expect.
The Huskers led 21-10 at halftime and were going over corrections as usual.
He never could have foreseen the collapse that followed, with the Bruins scoring four third-quarter touchdowns en route to a 41-21 win Saturday.
“We just couldn’t make a play, especially on our side of the ball when we needed it,” Evans said. “Starting from me, I couldn’t make a play. I missed two key tackles and it cost us the game.”
Evans had a hard time putting a finger on exactly what changed momentum.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you. I guess we just lost our step and our sense of urgency. Guys were unfocused. I don’t know what happened.”
While Husker coach Bo Pelini said it looked as if some players on the sideline had seen a ghost during the second-half free-fall, Evans said there were some players asking, “What’s going on?”
“And me being a captain, I need to step up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make any plays, either.”
What’s the message he wants to convey to teammates going forward?
“Finish,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. You've got to look yourself in the mirror and finish.”
Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez had much the same message.
“You see how good our team could be, but we just have to be able to go out there and finish the games,” he said.
As much as anything, Pelini seemed most disappointed in his team’s inability to step on UCLA’s throat after building a 21-3 lead.
The Huskers seemed to have the game going their way after Ka'imi Fairbairn’s 46-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide-right — after an official’s review — and gave the Huskers the ball with an 18-point lead.
But Nebraska followed with a three-and-out, and UCLA then went on a six-play, 59-yard drive that was kept alive after Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley did a magician act to escape a sack by Avery Moss.
“We had an opportunity, in my opinion, to put this game away in the first half,” Pelini said. “Or at least make it to where it would have been very difficult on UCLA. We didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. We let them hang around, hang around, hang around, and eventually, they got momentum. We couldn’t get a play.”
Pick No. 3
Husker senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste continued his interception streak when he picked off a first-quarter pass by Hundley and returned it 34 yards to the UCLA 28-yard line.
He’s had a pick in each of NU’s three games this season, and five interceptions in the past 10 games dating to last year.
This one set up the game’s first touchdown four plays later.
“The team was real pumped,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Everything was going our way. We were up, (thinking) every time we touch the ball we’ll score. I guess things just got over our heads.”
What does Jean-Baptiste make of the second-half collapse on defense?
“I guess (it’s) thinking that we've got the game won, thinking that they’re going to lay down.”
Nebraska’s defense, struggling as it did, appeared to have made a crucial third-down stop in the third quarter with the score still 24-21.
But after an incompletion, officials called safety Corey Cooper for a personal foul for contact he made with Hundley. The crowd booed, but the call stood.
Instead of a field-goal attempt, UCLA put up a touchdown one play later on a 12-yard pass from Hundley to Phillip Ruhl.
The Huskers had a costly facemask penalty called against Kevin Maurice in the fourth quarter with UCLA facing a second-and-20. The flag gave the Bruins a first down.
NU had eight penalties for 70 yards. UCLA was called for just three for 21.
“Obviously, penalties hurt us in this football game,” Pelini said. “How many times defensively were we off the field on a drive? When you couple that with the missed sack toward the end of the first half, those are big plays in a football game.”
North stadium throws a challenge flag
There was a rather bizarre sequence in the second quarter when Fairbairn attempted the 46-yard field goal.
Officials originally ruled the kick good. That was of great shock to all the fans sitting behind the goal posts in North Stadium, who clearly saw it had missed to the right.
Pelini pointed at the HuskerVision screens after the crowd’s reaction, urging officials to review the play.
The person in the replay booth came to the same conclusion as all those sitting behind the end zone.
This and that
UCLA’s win was its first victory on the road against a ranked opponent since the Bruins upset seventh-ranked Texas in 2010. … Nebraska rushed for just 128 yards, marking the third time in the past 17 games that it had not rushed for at least 200 yards. … Nebraska had not given up a sack this season until Saturday. UCLA sacked Martinez twice. … Martinez had 190 yards of total offense. While not big numbers for him, it did push his school-record total to 10,078 yards. He is the ninth QB in Big Ten history to put up more than 10,000 career yards. … With his three touchdown passes, Martinez now has his hand in 86 TDs in his career. He is four behind Eric Crouch’s school record of 90. … Kenny Bell, who had six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, moved past Matt Davison into seventh place on NU’s career receptions list. He is two catches from becoming the seventh Husker to total 100 receptions. … Quincy Enunwa had three catches for 39 yards, but two of them were for touchdowns. It was his second straight game with two scores. He now has five TDs this season. … The crowd of 91,471 bettered the attendance record set in the opener against Wyoming.