MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It feels a bit like a hip-hop party on the field before University of Miami football games at Sun Life Stadium.

Music blares. Players gyrate. Fans gyrate. It's generally clean fun. I'm not sure what embattled Miami coach Al Golden would tell you, but there are much more intense places on Earth.

Maybe that helps explain Nebraska's lethargy in the first half Saturday.

The Huskers showed up late for the party. Too late, it turns out.

At least they eventually showed. They showed the level of moxie any fan should appreciate. But when the music was finished blaring, the Huskers boarded team buses with a 1-2 record after falling 36-33 in overtime before a crowd that was announced at 53,580.

If you're a Husker fan, how do you view 1-2?

You could chew on that question all week.

BYU and Miami are good teams. But I'll be surprised if they turn out to be great squads. BYU lacks a consistent run game and its secondary is, as usual, shaky at best. Miami looks better than last year. But the Hurricanes were 6-7 last year, and Golden's seat remains uncomfortably warm even with a 3-0 record this season.

Perhaps you noticed the Canes running plays with 10-plus seconds left on the play clock in the fourth quarter. They also did something nearly impossible — they outpenalized the Huskers (13 for 114 yards, compared with NU's 12 for 98).

If you bleed Nebraska red, 1-2 hurts. The Huskers haven't been 1-2 since 1981. That season, they had losses to Iowa and third-ranked Penn State. In between, they walloped No. 19 Florida State.

Nebraska won its last eight regular-season games that year. This season, such a run seems highly unlikely. Which makes 1-2 sting all the more.

This loss also burns because it came to a traditional rival. No need to get into all that. If current Nebraska players cared all that much about the programs' historic games, they wouldn't have broke from the gate as if this were an early-August scrimmage.

In fact, the Huskers showed more intensity in August scrimmages than they showed at times in the first half Saturday.

But Nebraska first-year coach Mike Riley likes this team. He's right: You have to appreciate how it responded in the second half, rallying from down 33-10 with 11:14 left in the game.

Yet Riley's also right when he says it didn't have to come to that.

Against BYU, Nebraska failed to execute its Hail Mary defense. A defensive end inexplicably spun inside, allowing Tanner Mangum to break containment and get off a strong throw. The coverage in the end zone was poor. So, 0-1.

This time, Nebraska failed to execute in overtime. There was a bad penalty. A bad throw. But its failures long before that point were much more baffling and, for the most part, inexcusable.

Nebraska was its own worst enemy in the first half. It had a strange case of the blahs, it seemed. It was especially peculiar when juxtaposed against the wild and rowdy scene last Sept. 20 in Lincoln. NU fed off that energy to defeat Miami. Thing is, good teams can create their own energy.

Asked how he felt about his team's early-game energy level, Riley described it with one word: Bad.

"Everything was out-of-sync a little bit," he said. "It'd just go bang, bang, bang. Nothing was very easy for us. Then we'd drop balls ..."

He lamented the penalties.

"We couldn't do anything without doing something wrong," he said. "We were just sloppy. Very sloppy. We waited a long time to start playing."

His message at halftime: "This is all our fault, the way this is going down. We can change it."

And change it they did. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, of course, played the lead role. Throughout the day, he played with energy. His interception right before halftime was a spirit-sucker. But he kept coming. The team kept coming, with admirable patience. Armstrong simply didn't see the Miami defender on his interception in overtime. It happens.

"He was harassed a lot," Riley said of Armstrong. "I really appreciate how he just kept competing."

Credit Brad Kaaya, Miami's sophomore quarterback. He made good decisions. He threw some nice passes off play-action. Did a good job of isolating certain matchups. The outside receivers' double moves did plenty of damage. But Nebraska often made Kaaya look better than he is.

"We couldn't get him to pull the ball down or throw him off his rhythm for a long time," Riley said.

Kaaya threw for 379 yards as Nebraska's pass defense continues to look lost at times. On the other hand, Mark Banker's crew forced Miami to kick five field goals. That kept the Huskers in striking distance, against all odds, or so it seemed.

You can't blame Banker, or Daniel Davie, for all the offense's mistakes.

"We had a hard time with some formations," among other issues," Riley said. "There's no telling what that cost us in the end."

He assumes his team will be locked-in Monday, ready for work. He said the Huskers have prepared well for all three games.

However, that 1-2 record stares them in the face.

How many of you saw 1-2 coming?

Riley might feel like the season is already 10 weeks old.

He's a hot-blooded competitor. Hot-blooded competitors don't want to hear you tell them they're not far from being 3-0. In this rugged business, it's little consolation.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.



Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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