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Nebraska vs Oklahoma: Still Trying To Understand Losing The Last Big 12 Championship Game

Oklahoma had their playmaking receiver. Nebraska did not. Was the loss of Niles Paul a huge factor in this game?
Oklahoma had their playmaking receiver. Nebraska did not. Was the loss of Niles Paul a huge factor in this game?

Being some kind of masochist, I went back and watched the Oklahoma game again, wondering if I'd made the wrong snap judgements just after the game. It didn't change my mind much. I remain convinced that Nebraska could do better than Shawn Watson as an offensive coordinator. While Watson didn't cause the turnovers that cost Nebraska the game and have plagued this this team all year long, I fell like he could have put the Huskers in a better position to win the game.

More after the jump....

Did you realize that Taylor Martinez hasn't scored a touchdown on the ground since the Kansas State game, and hadn't throw a touchdown pass since Missouri? That's a significant drought, and if you want to blame it on injury, be my guest. I'll blame it on youth - particularly Martinez' lack of pass accuracy and his inability to secure the football. It was clear that Martinez was no threat running the ball against Oklahoma, or at least not enough of a threat that the Sooners keyed on him.

Without no worry of Martinez' speed on the ground, Oklahoma decided to make him win this game through the air. It's where they won the game. The obvious turning point in the game came on the Martinez interception in the second quarter. It had an obvious affect on Martinez' confidence, and when that happens it affects the rest of the team.

What I don't understand is how protective the coaches seemed to be of Cody Green's confidence earlier in the season, but left Martinez on the field even though they had to know he was struggling.

The second half turned into a nightmare for the Husker offense. They generated little yardage, didn't keep the ball very long, and committed costly turnovers.

Here's Nebraska's second half drives and their results:

5 plays, 5 yards, 2:41        
Martinez fumble turnover

3 plays, 2 yards, 1:29        
Drive starts with false start, two incomplete passes

3 plays, 6 yards, 1:32        
Two rushes for 3 yards each, incomplete pass

8 plays, 22 yards, 4:33    
Gained first down, the 1st down sack leaves long yardage, short pass complete then incomplete
on 3rd and long

3 plays, 22 yards, 1:11    
Rex Burkhead  bad snap recovered by OU

3 plays, 6 yards, 1:01        
Two incomplete passes in a row, sack

5 plays, 11 yards, 3:03    
Burkhead wildcat first down in two plays, then a short gain, sack on third down, Burkhead just misses Martinez on long pass

4 plays, 6 yards, 0:43
short pass complete, sack, complete to Kinnie, then incomplete and game. Sad thing here - if Martinez had hit Kyler Reed on that play, Reed might still be running with the ball.

The last play is telling - by that time Martinez had been harassed to the point that he was prone to mistakes and he was staring down his receivers.

In the fourth quarter, Nebraska rushed the ball nine times for 23 yards, and completed four of eight passes for 23 yards. That's pretty atrocious offense. Rex Burkhead gained 41 yards on five carries, but also had a fumble on a bad snap from Mike Caputo. Watson didn't quit running the Wildcat completely after that - Burkhead picked up enough yardage to gain a first down on a later series, but after a short gain, perhaps Watson felt that Oklahoma was going to shut down the Wildcat so he called a pass from Burkhead to Martinez that nearly connected (and likely would have changed the outcome of the game). So, bad timing and an inability to execute strikes again. 

That was the second to last series. The last series started with 1:46 left. We could debate whether there was enough time left on the clock for Burkhead to run some more Wildcat to get Alex Henery within field goal range, but Watson decided that he needed to pass. By this time Martinez is suffering from tunnel vision bad enough that he can only hit Joe Broekemeier for a short gain, take a bad sack, then try two telegraphed pass plays to Brandon Kinnie.

Would it have been fair to Cody Green to come into the game on that last series? You put him in the position of people blaming him for a loss - everyone blames the guy at the end, don't they?. Still, Green is a big boy. (He's not a kid, despite people who want to insinuate the "they're just kids" crap that's usually followed by "don't take it so seriously" and then leads me into massive arguments about exactly what we're allowed to be serious about and what we're not and this is one of the reasons why I don't have a lot of friends. But I digress.) If Green is expected to be a quarterback at Nebraska, shouldn't he be up for taking on the burden? Again, a mystery to me.

The offensive line played very well in the first quarter, but then struggled with the speed of the Sooner defense. With Martinez unable to run the ball effectively, the Sooners had a mathematical advantage (if you're not worried about one guy running, you have an extra man to play run defense against everyone else). While the line played okay (most of the sacks were coverage sacks - Martinez couldn't find an open receiver, then couldn't make plays with his feet), there were several plays in which they couldn't reach their blocks.

Why the Huskers have so many running plays in which linemen are required to pull and run down faster defenders to make their blocks remains a mystery to me. The line remains plagued by false starts - perhaps if the blocking scheme were changed to limit the amount of pulls, lineman would be less prone to starting early. You might have a tendency to believe the line operates that way because Barney Cotton is an "old option coach", but don't buy into that. The offense is Watson's responsibility. We'll see if they change the blocking schemes during the off-season. (Don't hold your breath on that, I'm sure we'll be told the offense is fine.)

Niles Paul was sorely missed. Some Nebraska fans had been angered enough by Paul's miscues that they didn't want him on the field, and you saw the result. Could Martinez have hit him on some long pass plays? The possibility is there, but one thing is clear - without Paul, the Huskers couldn't stretch the field. 

Will we see a different Martinez in the Holiday Bowl? Is it his injuries that have rendered him so ineffective, or is it a lack of confidence? We heard earlier in the season that Martinez was unflappable, yet in the the Big 12 Championship game, he made some serious mistakes that cost Nebraska the game. Some of those are to be expected from a young starting quarterback, yet the Huskers had the chance to win a championship and didn't pull it off (again).

I'm guessing I'll be playing this game over and over in my head for quite some time to come. It's not like last year's game. We went into the 2009 game with nearly no one giving us a chance to win. This year there were plenty of people who expected Nebraska to win.

It's Wednesday. Perhaps it's time to move on?