It is a misnomer to refer to Midwestern folk as simple. Simple insinuates stupid rather than efficient.
The distinction was clear Saturday for Nebraska. The defensive scheme Washington saw on film was the defensive scheme it could do nothing to counter during the afternoon’s woodshed moment.
Big Red 56 (gasp!), Washington irrelevant.
The Huskies were pounded back off the national map and it only cost a Peso. That’s what Nebraska calls its base defense that starts with five defensive backs prior to swelling to six or seven.
They’re a petulant group, too. Run a route in their space and prepare to be pushed. Bumped around. Overplayed.
Throw a ball their way … well, don’t. Nebraska has seven interceptions in three games. Because of tepid competition the first two games, the total was discounted as a pinata being struck without a blindfold. But the Huskers were lined up against former Heisman candidate Jake Locker and the Washington spread.
Locker’s first pass was intercepted. He sat in a well-sewn pocket, stared at double coverage, then threw poorly into it. It was a bad decision, poorly executed.
Perhaps the worst part was that Jermaine Kearse was wide open on the left side, jab-stepping his way away from single coverage. It was a total misread.
“That’s not the way you want to start a game out,” Locker said.
The bubble screens, zipped balls to the flat, those weren’t available. A mundane defense like Syracuse may be susceptible, but not this Nebraska defense with at least three NFL players on it.
“No, you didn’t see a lot of that because we match routes so well,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Carl Pelini, brother of head coach Bo and half of the Flying Pelinis, said. “It’s difficult to throw those things against us.”
Nebraska hemmed in Locker, then forced him off initial reads. After the opening interception, Washington’s fifth-year senior dealt with grinding gears in his skull. It was as if he didn’t believe he saw what he saw.
“We don’t really hide our coverages,” Carl Pelini said. “We just do what we do and we did a lot of the same stuff we did a week ago and our guys just cover them down. Not a lot of places to go with the football. ”
His brother, Bo, elaborated: “We cover ’em well.”
What they do well is take things away. First and second reads need to be tossed aside immediately. The easy throws are gone. This turned Locker into a quarterback who could not solve the puzzle.
“Didn’t really hook up with anybody,” Locker joked when asked about his lack of connection with Kearse.
Locker was 4-for-20 with two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 45.9, which was lower than Nebraska’s point total.
The Cornhuskers were much more concerned with double moves. Kearse burned them on one when a corner was expecting help.
Other than that, clean slate for the pass defense. Which meant Washington had to run. It was able to for one drive, then no longer. That’s a rear-naked choke against Nebraska.
“The way we match routes they have to figure out how to run the ball consistently or they’re not going to be able to move the ball,” Carl Pelini said. “That’s just how it is.”
Washington is 1-2. It has a week to regroup prior to heading into Los Angeles to face USC.
Sarkisian’s pom-poms are crunched. The postgame responses hearken back to 2008. “We need to watch the film and improve.” “We can fix our mistakes.” And so on.
Sarkisian, ever the optimist, would not capitulate to the fact that he is at the helm of a team in serious trouble.
“I don’t really like to refer to it as a step back,” Sarkisian said. “I just think … I wish we would have played the way we’re capable of. Maybe I wish I would have coached the way I’m capable. I don’t think Nebraska, as good as they are, is that much better than us.”
The scoreboard thinks different.