You had to have a sneaking suspicion that this was not going to be Nebraska's day when South Carolina blocked the extra point after Nebraska's first touchdown and returned it for a two-point conversion. But even with that miscue, the Huskers seemed to controlling much of the game the rest of the first half. In fact, Nebraska twice had opportunities to extend their lead, only to turn the ball over. Ameer Abdullah coughed up the ball at the Gamecock 7, then Taylor Martinez threw his first interception since before Halloween in the closing minute before halftime. Without those turnovers, it's not inconceivable that the Huskers could have had a 26-9 lead at that point.
Instead, South Carolina scores on a Hail Mary and head to the locker room up 16-13. Nebraska started out firing on all cylinders right after halftime, capped by Martinez's 36 yard run down to the South Carolina 8 yard line. SEC speed??? B1G speed! The Huskers looked to be ready to retake the lead at that point, but it turns out that it was all downhill from there. A bad screen pass meant Nebraska had to settle for a field goal attempt that went wide right.
Even worse: Eleven penalties. Credit South Carolina's defensive line for taking control of the game, but Nebraska lost their discipline, especially on the offensive line which drew five flags and gave up five sacks from that point on. Some will blame Martinez for those sacks, but in most of those situations, Martinez was under duress almost immediately after taking the snap. Alfonzo Dennard got ejected for throwing a punch at Alshon Jeffery after the two got into a scrum late in the third quarter. Sad way for his Nebraska career to end, and he apologized for it after the game on Twitter.
Lavonte David is one Husker who doesn't have to apologize for how his Nebraska career ended. 11 tackles to lead the team including two sacks. Should Nebraska have tried to be more aggressive with the pass rush? I tend to agree with Pelini's plan to maintain containment on Connor Shaw and blanket the South Carolina receivers...which they did for the most part. The notable exception, of course, was the Hail Mary. Everybody went for the ball, leaving nobody to keep Jeffery out of the end zone.
ESPN's coverage of the game was very poor. We didn't see a replay of the blocked extra point until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a theme throughout the game as the director preferred to use the time between plays to promote parent company Disney's theme park rather than the game. Play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore didn't realize that South Carolina's face mask penalty gave the Huskers a first down.
It's just a very frustrating way to end the season. We enter a long off-season with questions about discipline on the field and on the offensive line. Last year, it was turnovers, and we saw progress on that front. So I have optimism that Nebraska can improve on that in 2012.
It used to be that nine wins was considered a decent football season. It was the standard for Nebraska football for years. But now with a 12 game regular season, nine wins means four losses...and that's not something that pleases Husker fans. The idea of firing coaches because they are "only won nine games" is a bad one; Nebraska tried that once before, and apparently some fans have already forgotten the dark ages.
That doesn't mean that Husker fans should be happy with a 9-4 season either. It's an OK season; not bad, and not good. Nebraska fans have high expectations and they shouldn't lower them.
And sadly, thus begins our winter of our discontent.