After Husker home games, there are two postgame interview areas. One is an organized podium session and the other is a free-for-all in the hallway.
The first two Nebraska players to face the media horde in the hallway were true freshman linebackers Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry.
Read into that what you will, but know this: The Husker freshmen didn’t have any more answers about what happened in the second half of Saturday’s 41-21 loss to UCLA than the coaches did.
“They (the Bruins) didn’t do anything more than they did in the first half,” Banderas said. “We just didn’t come out and play like we should have, like we practiced all week and in the first half.”
Banderas, who was second on the team with 11 tackles, said the Husker defense gave a good effort in the second half, despite the results.
“Everybody was still up out there,” he said. “That’s why we’re putting in the work here. We love this game. Everyone had a good attitude. It was just all in our mentality. We showed what we can do in the first half. We just have to come out firing in the second half.”
Gerry, who recorded seven tackles, was already looking ahead to the next game.
“We’ll benefit from the experience,” Gerry said. “We’ll come out stronger next week.”
The chorus of unity among players and coaches seemed to be, “UCLA didn’t do anything different in the second half” or “UCLA didn’t do anything we hadn’t prepared for.”
So what happened?
“It’s a little hard to say,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “The second half started poorly. We missed some tackles on that first drive, they got some momentum and we didn’t respond well. UCLA didn’t change much schematically in the second half. To give you a great answer as to why we didn’t play better, it’s really hard at this point.”
One big momentum play came near the end of the first half with Nebraska leading 21-3. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley slipped out of what seemed like a sure sack by Nebraska’s Avery Moss on third-and-12. Hundley scrambled 13 yards for a first down and the Bruins eventually scored to close to 21-10.
“That was huge play,” Papuchis said. “The score was 21-3 at the time. We get him on the ground and they’re going to punt. The score should have been 21-3 going into half, no question about it. That was a momentum-shifter, right there.”
That play may have made a difference, but doesn’t explain how UCLA rolled up 236 yards and 28 points in the third quarter alone.
“We were kind of scratching our heads a little bit,” Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenksi said. “We had to stay gap-sound, but we had guys peeking into the backfield and that’s when they hit us with big plays. With the explosiveness they have with their skill positions, they make you pay.”
For the second straight year, Papuchis was left to come up with answers after a disastrous defensive performance against UCLA.
“There was a deflated look on the sideline,” he said. “What really ended up hurting us in the second half was our inability to tackle and stop the run on first down. At the beginning of the game we were holding them to 2 and 3 yards on first down. As the game went on, they had a lot of second-and-5s. That’s a tough down to play.”