LINCOLN, Neb. — Why?
Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker doesn’t want to know the why.
Honestly, he doesn’t really care why.
Why his defense gave up 62 points to Ohio State last Saturday. Why a defense that at one point this season was at the top three in the Big Ten did not force a single punt. Why a secondary, which has given itself the nickname ‘Lockdown U’ and at one point this season had the most interceptions in the conference, give up 352 passing yards.
Rather, he’s interested in the how. In particular, how could a defense be that bad, for that long, in that big of a game?
“We can go over and over and wonder why and you know, there’s probably too many reasons that could be or would be the reason why,” Banker said after practice on Tuesday about his defense’s 62-3 performance drubbing in Columbus.
He did, however, shine a little light on the how.
“The thing that was concerning was the basics,” Banker said.
Eye discipline. Reactions to certain plays. Those things, Banker said, Nebraska just failed at.
“And those were the things we wanted to say, ‘Hey, this is what should happen. Or hey, what should have happen here? And how can you correct this?'”
It started to come unraveled for the Huskers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten), he said, with a third and 20.
Thanks to an interception return for a touchdown, Nebraska trailed Ohio State 7-3 in the first quarter before the Husker defense ever saw the field. And on that first Ohio State drive, the Huskers forced the Buckeyes into third and 20 from the Nebraska 31-yard line.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett dropped back, felt the pressure, stepped up in the pocket and found Dontre Wilson for 22 yards and a first down.
“We had a little zone pressure and had the QB pinned up in there,” Banker said. “And then 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. And they end up converting that.”
Why was Nebraska out of position?
Banker couldn’t say. But he did say that the snowball had already begun forming.
A few plays later it was third and goal at the 7. Once again, Nebraska again let Ohio State convert. This time, it was a touchdown.
“Just different things like that that are basic to what we do,” Banker said. “Nothing that was exotic or anything like that.”
From there, Ohio State would convert the extra point, score another 48 straight points, and end up with 62.
Mike Riley didn’t necessarily say why on Monday, either, but his “how” was essentially that the defense was trying to do too much.
“Our guys tried to overcompensate in a lot of ways,” the Nebraska head coach said. “And I think they lost focus on what they were doing.”
Riley’s example was the first play of the second half, when sophomore safety Aaron Williams got beat on a long ball and Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel went 75 yards to give the Buckeyes a 35-point lead.
After that, Riley said, things fell apart.
“And I’m not picking on Aaron at all, but that’s an example of what happened in other areas, whether it was in the run game on the edge of the defense,” Riley said. “It kind of multiplied from there.”
Banker backed up his boss … sort of.
“I don’t know, those are Mike’s words and he’s the head coach so I’ll agree with him, but I don’t know,” Banker said.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. That game is in the past. It’s time to move on.
“You can keep looking back at it and keep opening the wound but for us we looked at the things we have to correct and move on as fast as we can,” defensive line coach John Parrella said. “Otherwise it gets to be Thursday and Friday and we’re still talking about our last game. We’ve moved on.”
But there is a lingering question of why this team played this bad?
Were the lights too big? Was it fatigue? Was it effort?
“I don’t know,” Banker said. “That’s not going to solve anything. At least for us.”