Could there have been a more fitting end to the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska? While Pelini wasn’t on the sideline to witness the Holiday Bowl, it felt like his ghost was there as USC defeated the Huskers 45-42 and fulfilled the 9-4 tradition of the Bo Pelini era.
Sure, the loss will technically go on Barney Cotton’s record but the reality is that every season of the Pelini era ended with four losses. Even worse, four of the seven years he was at the helm ended with a 9-4 record.
The Holiday Bowl was a great example of what the Pelini era was all about, as the Huskers defense couldn’t find a way to limit big plays and the offense couldn’t come up big when it was needed.
With just under three minutes left in the game, the Huskers offense had a 3rd-and-three inside field goal territory and was down by three points. The third down play resulted in an incomplete pass thanks to some great defensive play, but fourth down may have summed up the entire Pelini era in all of its glory.
Instead of handing the ball off to star running back Ameer Abdullah or kicking a game-tying field goal, Nebraska’s coaching staff decided a flip-pass behind the line of scrimmage to De’Mornay Pierson-El would do the trick. The play went exactly nowhere and the gamble didn’t pay off.
Putting the ball in the hands of Pierson-El may not have seemed like a bad idea given the fact that he had a career-high eight receptions for a career-high 102 yards. However, his final reception came up a couple of yards short of the needed yardage and Nebraska’s 21-point comeback hopes were dashed.
The real story was Nebraska’s defense and its inability to stop the big play, a common refrain during the Pelini era. Nebraska’s defense and special teams allowed the Trojans to score four of their six touchdowns from 20 yards and out, including two plays of over 70 yards.
All of those plays managed to erase the fact that Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong outdueled USC’s star Cody Kessler. Armstrong had 381 yards to Kessler’s 321 yards, while both had three touchdowns and an interception in the game.
Only the team that has seen Pelini for the last seven years could possibly lose to a team coached by Steve Sarkisian. It wasn’t like the Sark-coached Trojans choked away a game or three this season (wait, you mean they did).
It was all set up to happen again, but the curse of Bo Pelini struck and Nebraska did what it does best in big games — find a way to lose.
With new head coach Mike Riley in attendance; hopefully he got a glimpse of what needs to be fixed. Certainly, the curse can’t follow to the new coach, right?