Nebraska’s vaunted “Blackshirts” defense has become mortal away from Memorial Stadium.
The Cornhuskers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have given up at least 230 yards on the ground in five of their last six losses away from home. That includes 371 yards at Ohio State and 344 at UCLA this year.
Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini on Tuesday declined to identify any position in particular for his defense’s continued problems on run defense.
“Stopping the run is a team game,” Pelini said. “Our problems were self-imposed, guys not doing … not playing individual techniques the right way, reading and getting to their responsibilities. That’s a team-wide game. We had some guys who were unblocked who didn’t make plays at times.”
Statistically, Nebraska’s starting defensive tackles have made little impact in the team’s two road losses this year, combining for only seven tackles. Baker Steinkuhler and Chase Rome each had one stop against UCLA. Steinkuhler and Thad Randle combined for five tackles against Ohio State.
“For whatever reason we lost our composure, didn’t execute the way we’re capable of playing, and that goes beyond the defensive line,” Pelini said.
Perhaps most distressing for Pelini is his defense has shown the ability to slow opponents at home. Nebraska held Wisconsin to 56 rushing yards on 41 attempts in a 30-27 win on Sept. 29. After the game Pelini said, “Contrary to what you guys think, I haven’t forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run.”
When asked Tuesday if there is a common denominator for the Huskers’ problems stopping the run on the road, Pelini replied “lack of execution.”
But Nebraska’s problems are more than just run defense. Since late 2010, the Cornhuskers have lost eight of their last 11 away from home. The wins were over Wyoming, Minnesota and a reeling Penn State after Joe Paterno’s firing.
Since joining the Big Ten, the defensive road numbers have gotten worse for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers allowed a combined 156 points in losses at Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Nebraska’s average margin of defeat is 44-23 over their five losses away from Memorial Stadium. On average, the Huskers have given up 261 rushing yards, commit two more turnovers and convert half as many third-down opportunities — 6.8 to 3.4 — as their opponent.
Nebraska, which is idle this week, has three more road trips this year — Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa. Michigan State had won 15 straight home games before losing to Notre Dame. Northwestern has won six straight at home. Iowa is 25-7 at Kinnick Stadium since 2008.
Pelini remains undaunted by the road issues and instead focuses on the daily grind.
“We enter into the bye week preparing ourselves for the last stretch of the year, last six games and getting back to fundamentals this week … and getting ready to roll for the challenge that lies ahead,” he said.
NEBRASKA BY THE NUMBERS
Here’s how Nebraska stacks up statistically in its five losses away from Memorial Stadium since entering the Big Ten last year:
Average score: Opponents 44.4, Nebraska 23.0
Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38; UCLA 36, Nebraska 30; South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13; Michigan 45, Nebraska 17; Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17
Yards rushing: Opponents 261, Nebraska, 183.4
Ohio State 371, Nebraska 223; UCLA 344, Nebraska 260; South Carolina 121, Nebraska 137; Michigan 238, Nebraska 138; Wisconsin 231, Nebraska 159
Turnovers: Nebraska 2.8, Opponents 0.8
Nebraska 4, Ohio State 1; Nebraska 2, UCLA 1; Nebraska 2, South Carolina 0; Nebraska 3, Michigan 1; Nebraska 3, Wisconsin 1
Third-down conversions: Nebraska 17-63, Opponents 34-74
Ohio State 5-11, Nebraska 5-14; UCLA 9-20, Nebraska 1-11; South Carolina 4-13, Nebraska 3-13; Michigan 8-18, Nebraska 3-13; Wisconsin 8-12, Nebraska 5-12
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