A handle on what went wrong: Huskers say earlier successes show how to move past Horseshoe disaster

LINCOLN — Before Saturday night at Ohio Stadium, Nebraska was still ranked No. 15 in scoring defense and No. 20 in total defense — and had just given itself a chance at Wisconsin the week before by holding the Badgers to 17 points in regulation.

That’s the kind of stuff the Huskers chose to remember Tuesday as they returned to the practice field.

“No one’s freaking out. No one’s changing anything drastically,” linebacker Josh Banderas said. “We’re sticking to the plan that we stuck to for the first eight weeks, and it’s worked for us.”

Nebraska was gouged pretty much from start to finish in the 62-3 loss at Ohio State, allowing a season-high 590 total yards and 6.9 per play. It brought back bad memories of some defensive collapses on big stages from recent seasons.

But that’s where the previous weeks, and not the previous seasons, come into play, NU assistant coach Brian Stewart said.

“I think when you feel you’re good — a good player, a good defense, a good team — then when you have a hiccup, you say, ‘That’s a hiccup,’ ” Stewart said. “I do believe that. I just think, as coaches and as teammates, we’ve got to make sure that we don’t harp on, ‘That’s what happened last time,’ and just harp on, ‘This is what we’re going to do now.’ ”

Nebraska feels it knows the answers after the Ohio State game. Husker defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Sunday film review was no longer or more intensive than usual.

The frustration stems from the Blackshirts allowing themselves to become “a little bit frantic, almost,” as coach Mike Riley described it, once things started to unravel against a talented OSU team.

“Just the way it panned out was real disappointing,” defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said. “We came in there confident in what we were doing and the way we were doing it, but unfortunately we couldn’t execute. You learn from it and move on.”

Tackling was an obvious issue, although part of the problem was the Buckeyes’ skill level. Riley said players seemed to be trying to overcompensate when Ohio State started hitting plays, thus losing focus on what they should be doing.

Assignments and positioning were part of it, too, Banker said, pointing to one particular play.

Nebraska had Ohio State facing third-and-20 at the Huskers’ 31 when it was still just a 7-3 game. But it allowed Dontre Wilson to get just beyond the underneath coverage for a 22-yard gain, and the Buckeyes would score three plays later.

“We had the quarterback hemmed up in there,” Banker said. “Really, they only had the one route open to throw to, and we had an opportunity to have two people underneath the route. And we didn’t have either one deep enough.”

Riley on Monday mentioned Nebraska getting beat deep to start the second half on a look that others had tried to exploit but mostly failed.

“We just didn’t stay on that edge, and just stay focused, as opposed to being concerned about maybe the overall situation at times,” Banker said. “Because the same guys in the same situations over the course of the year — right up until that game — made similar plays or similar reactions to the same stimuli, as maybe they didn’t in that game at times.”

Banker wasn’t able to explain why. It’s one of the challenges that always go with coaching.

In film, he said, it was about picking out basics “that didn’t get done.”

“There was no reason to just absolutely beat this team up over a game,” Banker said. “The biggest thing is, No. 1, that we all know that it was unacceptable as far as the outcome of the game.”

Nebraska this week will try to return to being the team that allowed just 312 yards before overtime at Wisconsin. Its previous four Big Ten opponents before the Badgers averaged just 331 total yards and scored 13, 16, 22 and 14 points.

The Huskers have those kinds of performances to fall back on this week, and with a chance to move on against Minnesota.

“I would say as a group that having that type of game is real unfortunate, but having a chance to come out and show who we really are and get another opportunity is good,” Maurice said. “I wouldn’t say redemption as much as just ready to get another opportunity as a team.”

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