October 24, 2009

Huskers are their own worst enemy in loss to ISU

No matter how many times Nebraska failed to put points on the board because of a fumble or interception, it always felt like the Huskers would eventually pull it together and beat a below-average Iowa State team at home.

Then the time ran out.

When all was said and done, the Huskers ended up with more turnovers than they had points in a 9-7 loss Saturday that stands as arguably one of the program's worst defeats in recent memory.

Altogether, Nebraska had a combined eight turnovers - five fumbles lost and three interceptions - tying the highest total in school history. Their -8 turnover ratio was their worst ever for a single game.

The most staggering figure? Six of the Huskers' final eight possessions ended in turnovers.

"It's pretty obvious, eight turnovers," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm disappointed in our football team. I'm disappointed in it. It starts with me… It's coaching and want to. We didn't get it done. We got beat.

"It's pretty obvious - we moved the football, we didn't finish off drives. Like I've said, you have to execute."

The offensive struggles that have been plaguing Nebraska the past two games reared their ugly heads once again, as costly mistakes held the Huskers to just seven points despite nearly 362 yards of total offense.

Iowa State took an early 3-0 lead on a 52-yard field goal following a fumble by junior running back Roy Helu on Nebraska's first play of the game. The Huskers eventually answered when true freshman running back Dontrayevous Robinson barreled his way in for a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:26 to go in the first quarter.

Though they came painfully close on two other occasions, that would be the last time the Huskers managed to reach the end zone.

The biggest swing of the game came when junior tight end Mike McNeill bobbled a tough catch at the 3-yard line that ended up in the hands of ISU cornerback David Sims.

On the Cyclones' ensuing possession, the Huskers looked like they had forced ISU to punt, but Paul Rhoads called a terrific fake and punter Mike Brandtner scampered 20 yards for a first down.

On the very next play, Iowa State quarterback Jerome Tiller connected with Jake Williams for a 47-yard touchdown pass to give the Cyclones their first lead of the game. Senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh blocked the extra point to keep the score at 9-7.

Nebraska had another chance to put some points on the board, but another freak bounce spoiled what should have been a potential touchdown. With a little less than 4 minutes to go in the half, Lee hit junior wide out Niles Paul down the left sideline.

With one man to beat, Paul tip-toed past the defender along the sideline, but while trying to keep his balance the ball came loose and was eventually recovered by Iowa State in the end zone for a touchback.

"We self-destructed," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "The kids played well up front, we were able to do a lot of good things rushing the ball and had a good plan, but you can't go down there in the red zone and turn the ball over like that. End of story. Period."

Somehow, the second half was even worse for Nebraska's offense than the first.

The Huskers lost fumbles on their first three possessions of second half, and went on to commit turnovers on five of their final six possessions. Even though Iowa State couldn't do much of anything with the football, Nebraska's offense was its own worst enemy.

"It just seems that luck isn't going our way right now," junior offensive lineman Mike Smith said. "There's nothing really we can do about that… I think it's just bad luck. I mean, what else could happen to us?"

Nebraska has now dropped two straight conference home games and are sitting at just 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12. With a trip to Baylor coming up next week and Oklahoma coming to town the following week, the Huskers must find a way to pick up the pieces from a game they literally handed over to Iowa State.

"We didn't make the plays," Pelini said. "We didn't handle the ball or protect the football. It's a classic example; we were our own worst enemy today. It's the bottom line. You have to make plays in this game if you're going to win."

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