LINCOLN — Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the Huskers’ inability to stop the run on first down after halftime made the difference in the 41-21 loss to UCLA on Saturday.
NU held the Bruins to 35 yards on 10 first-down carries in the first half. But UCLA’s first snap in the third quarter was a 38-yard draw play for running back Jordon James. The Bruins averaged 5.4 yards per carry on their next seven first-down rush attempts.
“As the game went on, it was a lot of second-and-5s,” Papuchis said. “That’s a tough down to play.”
The Huskers weren’t great against the pass on first down all game. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley completed 10 of his 11 first-down throws for 212 yards.
Martinez tough to tackle
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who had 13 Ĺ sacks last year, spent much of the game chasing quarterback Taylor Martinez.
And he never could quite get a hard hit on the Husker senior, which was a bit frustrating for Barr.
He finished with 11 tackles. He forced two fumbles, one of which came when he knocked away Martinez’s option pitch. But there were several times Barr thought he had a clear shot at Martinez — and he whiffed.
Credit Martinez for that.
“I couldn’t get my hands on him the whole game,” Barr said. “He was a slippery little guy.”
QB runs hard to come by
Martinez came into this season with 2,858 career rushing yards, making him the active leader at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. But his production has now dropped off each of the last two weeks after he ran for 80 yards on 16 carries against Wyoming.
Asked Saturday if defenses’ ability to limit Martinez is affecting the NU operation or play-calling, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said: “A little bit. In some of the stuff.”
Beck said UCLA loaded the box with the intent of containing Martinez and the Husker run game.
“They tried to make us one-dimensional, and early in the game we were able to do some things to take advantage of that,” Beck said. “And late in the game we didn’t take advantage of that.”
Two sacks and a 20-yard loss on a batted pitch led to Martinez finishing with minus-13 yards rushing against the Bruins. Even taking out those plays, however, the senior still had just 22 yards on seven carries, with 12 coming on one play.
NU ran Martinez only six times the week before against Southern Miss, although Beck said it didn’t have anything to do with injuries. The senior quarterback has no rushing touchdowns through three games to go with his previous 31.
Martinez said he saw UCLA’s focus on limiting his running threat.
“But we just have to run what Coach Beck calls,” he said. “Whatever works, we just have to go out there and execute it.”
Brown: Game like ‘a flat tire’
Nebraska opened a 21-3 lead on UCLA, but assistant coach Ron Brown said “it felt a little shaky to me right before the half” after the Bruins had put up a touchdown and moved the ball two other times before missing field goals.
His instincts proved accurate as UCLA took over in the second half.
“It was almost like the tire had punctured, (like) there was a little nail that hit the tire, and you don’t notice but over a period of time that air’s gonna keep coming out,” Brown said. “And before you know it you have a flat tire. I think that’s kind of what happened.”
Brown has been through the highs and lows as a longtime Husker assistant, but said “this kind of loss” is hard.
“It’s like a bear that climbs on your back,” he said. “People tell you, ‘Don’t worry, hold your head high,’ but it’s hard to hold your head high when the bear’s scratching and clawing at you, and your memory goes back and replays the game and replays all the bad things that happened.
“You have to stop that. You just have to stop beating yourself up and look at it with perspective. The sooner you can get back to a ground-level, planet-earth perspective, that’s when you get it back. That’s what resiliency is all about.”
Bits and pieces
Martinez, who already has the school record for total offense, now has 10,078 career yards. He’s the ninth quarterback in Big Ten history with more than 10,000 total yards. ... Nebraska’s offense has gone three-and-out 12 times in three games. ... Senior Quincy Enunwa is tied for second nationally with five receiving touchdowns. ... Seniors Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans are tied with seven other players for the national lead in interceptions. Each has three. ... Nebraska opponents have recorded 58 offensive plays of at least 10 yards so far this season. Only three teams (Nevada, Idaho and Oregon State) have allowed more.