NU-A&M:The Morning After The Meltdown

By at November 21, 2010 | 3:42 AM | Print

This column will get lost like the giblets in a turkey carcass until after Thanksgiving, as Nebraska fans shake their fists at the sky and heap all of the blame of NU's 9-6 loss to Texas A&M on that assortment of hapless referees the Big 12 always seems to employ.

You'll rewatch the game – you're probably doing it now – to pinpoint all the Aggie holding calls the officials missed or that one push in Prince Amukamara's back after the play that wasn't seen. You'll do a Zapruder on just how Eric Martin got flagged for two personal fouls, and why Courtney Osborne's perfectly legal hit on A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill was rung up as a roughing-the-passer penalty. Back – and to the right – without using his helmet…back – and to the right…

When you're done with all that – because the officiating did stink, as it's stunk for years in the Big 12 – you come on back and read this. Because I'd hate to spoil it for you before all the anger for the officials and the league has been wrung out.

Nebraska had every right and opportunity to win this game – and the field position to do it. The zebras didn't have to steal it. Just like the 2009 Big 12 Championship game, the Huskers' offense needed only to put a single touchdown on the board. Do that, and everybody's pouring margaritas at midnight, and nobody's watching Bo chase down referees all night long to deliver expletive-laden tirades that few other college coaches could dream of delivering with such gusto.

But offensive coordinator Shawn Watson couldn't dial up that touchdown; he had a devil of a time just getting the plays in. It took him nearly three quarters to abandon those wide sweeps that A&M's speedy linebackers kept tracking down. Quarterback Taylor Martinez – whom Watson and head coach Bo Pelini allowed to play after he badly reinjured his bum ankle – foolishly chose to play, which left him marooned and may keep him out of the Colorado game.

“I don't he think he played well,” Pelini said. “I mean, he did some things OK. But we missed some open receivers.”

Brandon Kinnie open on a skinny post for one. Kyler Reed up the seam for another. That pass was actually an interception, Martinez threw it so off target.

Martinez's backup, Cody Green, couldn't apparently generate any confidence in himself, his teammates or his coaches, if a one-legged scatter shot can get the nod over him in the second half. Zac Lee wore a headset well. He appears too hurt to throw well.

The offensive line? Inconsistent. Jumpy. Beaten off the ball with frequency. They showed up, finally, in second half. Even stayed for a while, paving some holes for Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu. Receivers dropped balls – not that Martinez ever hit them in stride. The Huskers burned four timeouts because the play clock was running down. Watson forgot to pack the Wildcat for the trip. Or any trick plays. Or any tempo, probably because Martinez is hurt, and can't run anything resembling a no-huddle attack.

It was a disaster, really, as if the whole offense literally hinges on Martinez being able to bust off 50-yard runs.

“If he's healthy, we go with him,” Pelini said.

Except that the kid doesn't have the institutional knowledge of, say, a senior to get by on savvy alone. Neither does Green, but at least he could move around a little. At least he could step into throws. Martinez was heaving them with his arm.
Yes, after you've spent days digging out of all the flags thrown on the field, and which Machivellian/Orewellian turn of the screw it must have signified to Big 12 commish Dan Beebe, you'll understand, too, that Nebraska – often for better and now for worse – has cultivated and reinforced the image of being the toughest kids on the block. They get penalized. When you're good – and physical – it's part of the deal.

There seemed to be an extra dose of injustice Saturday night. Tight end Ben Cotton was frankly assaulted by a dirty Texas A&M player who mashed Cotton's privates. Who wouldn't kick back at something so foul and weird?

But Cotton doesn't help matters by arguing with the ref. Bo doesn't help either by howling bloody murder – week after week, game after game – at nearly every judgment call made by an official. He's earned a reputation. The ABC cameras were obsessed with him Saturday night. He's good theater. But he's just merciless with the zebras. At this point, it has to work against him.

“Maybe,” Pelini said when asked whether his treatment of the refs hurts his team. “I don't know.”

Three years into the Pelini era, Nebraska remains a team that excels so completely on defense that it's a little frustrating how offensive and game management issues consistently slip by the boards. Beyond the penalties, you see the same old issues cropping up. Drive-killing mistakes. Mental gaffes. An explosive almost chaotic sideline more befitting of the NFL than the college game. What was Pelini's rant against Martinez about, anyway? Trying to sneak back onto the field? Not taking the cart to the locker room? Something Martinez said?

Afterward, Pelini did a smart thing, actually, by refusing to indulge his anger in a post-game presser. Colorado looms just six days away, and the Buffaloes, believe it or not, have just about as much talent and size as A&M. That Friday tilt could be interesting. Especially if Martinez is as gimpy as he looked tonight.

Nebraska football is not quite out of the woods, here, Husker fans. The North is still in play. NU has to steady itself and bring the division home. Forget about rankings. Forget about records. Just get the win, get to Dallas, play for the crown and get the hell out of the Big 12. The mix of Huskers and Beebe's boys becomes more toxic and chaotic by the day.

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