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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Nebraska defensive lineman, in the din of Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, looked toward the Husker sideline, obviously flustered.

South Carolina faced fourth-and-1 late in the game. Nebraska desperately needed a stop. Nevertheless, the Husker lineman wasn't exactly dialed in. He looked dazed and confused. Maybe the Gamecocks noticed, because the play went right at him for a 5-yard gain.

Why the confusion? Well, why not? Truth be told, the play was a microcosm of Nebraska's lack of execution and overall frustration Monday during its 30-13 loss in the Capital One Bowl.

One can read far too much into bowl games, such is their unpredictable nature, and Husker fans will read plenty into this one. 

My read? I expect much more from Nebraska than what I saw in this outing.

Much more should be expected from NU in Husker coach Bo Pelini's fourth season.

You don't expect Nebraska's offense to self-destruct because of penalties, as was the case in the second half, including four during a six-play span of the third quarter. The Huskers seemed to have kicked that habit this season.

You don't expect Nebraska's defense to yield 230 passing yards to an average quarterback — even if 148 went to gifted wideout Alshon Jeffery. 

You don't expect one of Nebraska's best defenders and foremost leaders, senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, to lose his cool and get ejected from the game (along with Jeffery) in the third quarter. Both players were to blame. Dennard threw a couple punches. Jeffery was was shoving and woofing. They needed to be tossed. It was ugly.

Yes, it's an emotional game. Tempers flared. Still, I expect more from Nebraska players.

I expect more from Nebraska's offense than to drive into South Carolina territory four times and come up empty.

"That makes me want to throw up," Husker offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.

Nebraska fans could relate. This bowl represented an excellent opportunity for the Huskers to achieve a third straight 10-win season — which hasn't happened since 1999-2001 — and gain some needed momentum heading into the recruiting homestretch. A win would've shown that Pelini still had his bowl mojo working.

A win would've placed Nebraska in the top 15 nationally, or somewhere close.

South Carolina (11-2) isn't a great team. But it's an SEC team. It was a prime opportunity for Nebraska to puff out its chest by beating somebody from the nation's best conference.

It would've been a feel-good win, for sure.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Nebraska fans have heard plenty of such discourse for the past decade.

"We were right there," Pelini said. "You know, even at 23-13, you're right there. Especially at 16-13, you're right there to win the game. I'll say it straight out: Our football team, even after the game, feels we're a better team than them.

"But you have to go out and earn it. It's a humbling game. You give them credit. They made plays."

Jeffery made the play of the game by hauling in Shaw's 51-yard Hail Mary pass right before halftime.

"Our guys didn't do what they were coached to do," Pelini said of the play. "Period. End of story."

Actually, the bad news would keep coming for Nebraska. The Huskers managed just 64 yards in the second half. All-Big Ten running back Rex Burkhead was held to 18 yards on eight carries after halftime.

Mistakes piled up. South Carolina sacked Taylor Martinez five times in the half. What was a coach to do?

"Execute," Pelini said flatly. "You can't do it for them."

I'd prefer to hear Pelini take more responsibility after such a loss. He is usually good in that regard.

Pelini's detractors will note his record is 10-7 in the last 17 games as Nebraska's head coach after his 28-9 start. Is there stagnation?

It's interesting how much one game can impact the way a fan base feels about a program. Nebraska fans understand all too well. They felt it in 2009 when the Huskers lost in the final moments at Virginia Tech and again in a one-point loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game.

They felt it in 2010 when Nebraska lost at home to Texas. They felt it again last season when NU lost to Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Excuse me if I'm leaving out a couple such setbacks.

Pelini's right when he says Nebraska has plenty to feel proud about this season.

On this day, however, the Huskers took a significant step backward.

I expected much more.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.