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October 7, 2012

Post-game notebook: The Snowball Effect

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It was back in July during Big Ten Media Days when Nebraska's players were talking about "The Snowball Effect" and how determined the team was to no longer let close games unravel into embarrassing losses this season.

On Saturday night, it was clear the Huskers were no closer to finding an answer for the problem.

What was once a 10-point lead in the second quarter turned into a 25-point blowout loss seemingly in the blink of an eye. After completely shutting down Ohio State's offense and star quarterback Braxton Miller in the first quarter, NU's defense suddenly couldn't do anything to slow down the Buckeyes the rest of the game.

During their post-game interviews, the Huskers' players and coaches tried to answer questions about why they so often lose control of games against teams that don't appear that much better than them on paper. Unfortunately, no one could come up with an explanation.

"You know what, I don't know," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I wish I knew. It doesn't happen at home. We practice with crowd noise every day. Every single day. It hurts us. It hurts you in a situation like that."

For the players, Saturday night's loss was no different than the defeats they had on the road last year at Wisconsin and Michigan, or even two years before that in the bowl loss to Washington.

"They're a good team, but we're also a good team too," receiver Jamal Turner said. "It's the Snowball Effect, you know? A bad play happens, and then you look up and we're 20 yards behind where we're supposed to be. We've just got to execute when we have to execute and commit less penalties and interceptions."

"It is (frustrating), because like we say every week, the team we play, they don't beat us, we beat ourselves," Turner added. "We had three interceptions, all these penalties - it's hard to come back. The same thing happened last year against Wisconsin. We shoot ourselves in the foot. We're making big plays, but we're getting 10 yards and we're still third-and-10, fourth-and-10, because we shot ourselves in the foot so many times."

Running backs coach Ron Brown tried to provide some perspective on Nebraska's big game struggles.

"It's like anything else, you can't let bad things accelerate," Brown said. "You have to be able to stop things. That's what great players, great teams, great men do. You have to have a level of resiliency. You have to turn the tide. Life is kind of ebb and flow-ish, and when you hit a tough point, you have to be your own worst critic. You have to look at it for what it is, but you can't take it out of perspective.

"There probably will be some things as we watch the film that are good, and there will probably be some learning lessons that come out of this thing that will benefit us. What appears to be something right now may be very different later, and a lot of it has to do with who we are inside."

When asked what the plan was for the upcoming bye week, Pelini said simply: "The plan is to work."

For a team likely with no more room left for error if it wants to play in its first ever Big Ten Championship game, it's clear Nebraska certainly has a lot of work still on its plate.

"You watched it," Pelini said. "You've got to execute. You can talk about it all you want. Like I said, what just happened, happened. What I'm worried about is, we've got six weeks, and we need to win our next six football games to get to Indianapolis."

- Robin Washut

Burkhead's injury doesn't appear serious

One of the big blows for Nebraska was losing senior running back Rex Burkhead in the third quarter after he re-injured his left knee following a big run.

Burkhead was down on the turf for a couple minutes after the play, and he did not return the rest of the game.

His status for the next game or even rest of the season won't be known at least until further examinations when he gets back to Lincoln on Monday, but the good news for the Huskers is that at the moment at least, the injury doesn't appear to be too serious.

"Rex is OK," Pelini said. "He'll be alright. We'll see how he is tomorrow. I don't think it's major. I don't think it's a long-term thing."

Burkhead tried to go back into the game, but it was clear when he tried to run on the sideline that his knee wasn't going to allow him to return. He didn't speak to reporters after the loss, but was seen walking to the team bus under his own power without a noticeable limp.

"I don't think it's too bad, which is good," Brown said. "It's encouraging. He seems to be stable, but we'll find out and see how it is tomorrow. But I don't think it's real bad… He tried to (go back in). He ran on the sideline a little bit, but he was really pretty sore. Once I saw him running around on the sideline, I knew it wasn't going to happen."

- Robin Washut

Huskers have no answer for Miller

Coming into the game, Nebraska's No. 1 goal defensively was to contain Miller, and for a quarter, it did so with tremendous success.

Miller completed just one pass, was sacked twice and had minus-nine yards rushing.

But the Buckeye coaches changed some things up after that and Miller began routinely shredding the NU defense. In the final three quarters, Miller had 195 yards rushing and completed six of his ten passes for another 120 yards.

"We knew they were going to run the ball. That's all they've got," safety P.J. Smith said. "They threw the ball here and there, but they don't really have a passing game to talk about. We had a great game plan, but they figured out what we were trying to do."

Miller gave the Blackshirts fits, especially on third down. After going 0-for-4 on third-down conversions in the first quarter, Ohio State converted five of its seven third-down chances after that. Each time the Huskers had a chance to get off the field, the Buckeyes responded with another first down.

"With the quarterback run game, we didn't play well," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "Bad coaching, bad execution… we just didn't play well."

Early on, it appeared Miller might still be suffering some ill effects from injuries sustained in Ohio State's win over Michigan State last week. But he buried any concerns about his health in the second quarter, picking up 146 yards on the ground, 72 on one run that helped the Buckeyes get some momentum back after Nebraska took a 17-7 lead.

"He's a hell of a playmaker and we knew that," Smith said. "He's the center of their offense. He just got the best of us tonight. I wish we could change it all, but we can't. What's done is done."

- Dan Hoppen

Turnovers come back to bite Nebraska

The Huskers had some trouble holding onto the ball the few past weeks (they had 13 fumbles in the past three games), but had been fortunate and been able to recover most of them.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez had also been efficient through the air, tossing only one interception heading into Saturday.

But the Buckeyes took advantage of NU mistakes. Martinez had three interceptions and lost one of his two fumbles. Ohio State converted three of his turnovers into touchdowns, including a pick-six in the first quarter that was the only reason Nebraska didn't have a stranglehold on the game's momentum.

"We turned the ball over four times and gave them points," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "We've got to do our part and score more than the opponent. We can't turn the ball over and give them a short field and touchdowns. That's been the story of the season and we've got to fix that."

Receivers coach Rich Fisher said there might have been some miscommunication between Martinez and his players on a few of the interceptions, particularly the final one. Martinez threw deep over the middle in the direction of Steven Osborne, but Ryan Shazier jumped in front for the interception. Both Fisher and Beck indicated the route may not have been run correctly.

"At the end of the day, everybody's got to be on the same page," Fisher said. "You've got to run the right route and you've got to make the right read and see what coverage they're in. Obviously, we didn't do that."

Even as the points began to pile up for Ohio State, the Huskers weren't out of the game until late in the third quarter. But with the offense spotting the Buckeyes early points and the defense incapable of slowing anything the Buckeyes did, it was only a matter of time until the home squad pulled away.

"We chipped away today, but we had three really critical turnovers," offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. "We gave them 14 points early. The game never takes the direction it did in the second half if you take those points off the board."

- Dan Hoppen

Offensive line struggles with crowd noise

Fisher said that the Huskers worked on dealing with noise during the week, blaring loud music during the practice to try to simulate a raucous Ohio State crowd.

But it's difficult to replicate the sound of 106,102 screaming fans, and the Huskers struggled to adjust.

The offensive line, which had been relatively penalty-free through the first five games, was forced into several false starts. The Huskers also sustained a delay of game on its first drive when center Justin Jackson was making adjustments, unable to hear Martinez, who was desperately clapping for the ball behind him.

"The crowd noise was a definite factor, but it's tough to win when you beat yourself," guard Spencer Long said. "I'm disappointed in our false start penalties. We need to keep our composure. It's just an away crowd and that shouldn't bother us at all."

Cotton refused to listen to any excuses about crowd-related penalties. He said the team is always in a silent snap count when in the shot gun anyway, so he couldn't think of a reason why his unit struggled with false starts.

"There's no excuse for it," he said. "We haven't done it in training camp and we haven't done it this year. I don't know what to tell you other than that."

Fisher said that had the Huskers been able to maintain the success they had in the first quarter, the crowd noise wouldn't have been a factor. The Ohio State faithful went quiet as the Huskers marched up and down the field, but turnovers and the failures of the defense got them back in it.

"Obviously, this place was loud," Fisher said. "But when we were efficient with the football, we quieted them down quite a bit. We let them get back in it."

- Dan Hoppen



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