The weather in Happy Valley on Saturday wasn’t nearly as dreary as the 56-44 loss Penn State handed Nebraska.
The final score was not indicative of how the Nittany Lions mauled the Huskers. Yes, the Huskers managed to beat the point spread and they came back from a 42-10 halftime deficit, but those figures don’t come close to telling the whole story.
As the Huskers fell to 4-7 this season, people will look at this season and wonder when the players packed it in.
Desire and effort are innate in human beings, but they must be nurtured by the coaches each and every day. What we witnessed last weekend were some individuals who played their hearts out surrounded by a larger number of players who have turned the games into spectator sports from field level. The lack of effort was not limited to that one game. We have seen it time and time again this season.
Marcus Newby was flying around the field making one spectacular play after another for the Huskers. There were times when you could look into his eyes and see him saying, “Come on guys. I could really use some help. This is a team sport.” But one man doesn’t make a defense, which Nebraska proved on Saturday.
At times there were defenders standing 3 to 4 yards away from the running back and stopping to watch instead of going to make a tackle. Then there was the sieve of a secondary that allowed Penn State receivers to run wild. Honestly, had Penn State not lost interest at halftime then substituted liberally beginning in the middle of the third quarter, the Nittany Lions could have put 80 points on the board.
Offensively, we once again saw the ineptitude of the offensive line rear its ugly head. Husker quarterback Tanner Lee played the half of his life in the third and fourth quarters and ended up with 399 yards passing with three touchdowns, but he was running for his life for much of the game.
The running game gave another hapless performance. Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon did everything they could to pick up yards on the ground, but there were no holes to run through. The run blocking turned into a joke at times with a running back being gobbled up by three defenders while three offensive linemen were standing a few yards away with their hands on their hips watching.
Of the few sterling efforts we saw from the players Saturday the best belonged to the receiving corps. Stanley Morgan, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Tyler Hoppes all made spectacular receptions, but the true hero of the afternoon was wide receiver J.D. Spielman. The stat line will show he had six catches for 96 yards and no touchdowns, but the heart he showed Saturday was something Nebraska fans can be proud of.
In the second quarter, Spielman took a slant pass from Lee and was tackled at the Penn State 3-yard line. He landed on his shoulder and took several seconds to get back on his feet. For the remainder of the game he gave a valiant effort despite hanging that shoulder limply in obvious pain after each play. If all the Huskers would take the lead of a freshman receiver this Nebraska team could really be something good.
Another player who seems to shine game in and game out is kicker Drew Brown. He made one field goal Saturday and is always reliable. He comes to do his job to the best of his ability each game, making him one of the best kickers in the Big Ten Conference.
To any coach considering an interview in Lincoln shortly after Friday’s game against Iowa, the cupboard is not bare. There are some great players on the Nebraska roster with an abundance of talent. Right now only a few are showing the heart and desire it takes to be champions, but others have that desire deep inside.
They are now waiting for the right man to bring that desire out and lead the Huskers to better times.