For one half on Saturday, everything was going right for Nebraska. Wide receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa were getting open and making plays. Quarterback Taylor Martinez looked poised and was putting the ball where it needed to be. A veteran offensive line was doing its job. Defensive end Randy Gregory was causing issues.
Then came the second half, and the questions about Nebraska -- on offense and defense -- will cascade again as UCLA blew out the Huskers 41-21.
Some observations on that game and the rest of the Big Ten action from the third Saturday of the season:
1. Huskers fall apart
Nebraska scored touchdowns on three of its first five drives in building a 21-3 lead, and Bell and Enunwa combined to score the three TDs. Bell is a speedy receiver with good hands, while Enunwa is a physical presence who can overpower smaller corners. But the Huskers managed only 152 yards the rest of the way, with 69 of those coming on one fourth-quarter drive.
And with the Huskers' offense stymied, the defense -- to the surprise of no one -- eventually collapsed. UCLA scored TDs on each of its four third-quarter possessions, and the Bruins won going away.
Martinez completed 21 passes, but for just 203 yards, again showing that he is not a guy who is going to beat a good defense throwing the ball down the field. He simply doesn't have consistent accuracy when he throws deep. Martinez also was shut down on the ground, rushing 10 times for minus-13 yards. UCLA made it a priority to not let Martinez make big plays on the ground and succeeded. The Bruins, as a lot of good teams have done, basically said if Martinez was going to win the game, it would be with his arm and not his legs.
"I think in the second half I kind of got the sense that we needed to try and hold onto the lead," Martinez told reporters afterward. "I think we were trying to, but we should have just gone out there and tried to just blow them out."
Defensively, the Huskers again showed they lack playmakers on that side of the ball. UCLA rolled up 504 yards, the fourth time in five games dating to last season that the Huskers allowed at least 500.
Gregory, a touted junior college transfer, did some good things by applying pressure, and sophomore end Avery Moss had two first-half sacks. Each finished with eight tackles, but they didn't get enough help. Both ends are intriguing prospects. Still, Gregory needs to show he can hold up against the run, while Moss needs to become more consistent and polished.
The Huskers played in front of the largest crowd in school history (91,471) and had their 10-game home winning streak snapped.
2. Cutting them off at the pass
Is it possible for a secondary to surrender 371 yards and three TD passes -- and still play well? Yes. Ohio State's secondary held up nicely in Saturday's 52-34 victory at California. Cal QB Jared Goff had thrown for 945 yards in the first two games, but the Buckeyes did a solid job of keeping Cal's passing attack from taking over the game. Senior FS Christian Bryant had an interception, two pass breakups and seven tackles. Junior CB Bradley Roby, generally regarded as the best in the nation at his position, had two breakups and seven tackles. Senior backup SS Corey "Pitt" Brown had 10 tackles and a breakup. The Buckeyes did allow a 61-yard TD pass in the first quarter, but for the most part, Ohio State did a nice job of limiting big plays. The Buckeyes also got a sack from rising-star sophomore DE Noah Spence, who has 2.5 sacks this season. Ohio State will not play a team as pass-happy as the Golden Bears again this season, though there are games against Northwestern, Penn State, Indiana and Michigan -- teams with aerial attacks that will test the Buckeyes.
3. Indiana passes its test
In a game that was vital to its bowl hopes, Indiana blasted Bowling Green 42-10 behind a highly productive passing attack. Sophomore Nate Sudfeld (6-feet-5, 230 pounds) made his first career start and performed with aplomb, throwing for 335 yards and two TDs. Sudfeld, who signed with IU last year over Arizona, has a strong arm and some mobility, and picked apart a solid Bowling Green defense. Junior Cody Latimer, one of the more underrated receivers nationally, had six receptions for 137 yards and a TD. IU also got big performances from tailbacks Stephen Houston (155 yards) and Tevin Coleman (129 yards, two TDs). Indiana's offense can keep them in every game, and the defense came up with its best performance in a long time as the Hoosiers beat a Bowling Green team that is one of the three or four best in the MAC.
4. Big game for big guy
Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is one of the top seniors at his position in the nation, and he had a dominant game against FCS opponent Western Illinois. Hageman had six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, a pass breakup and a blocked kick. He has 4.5 tackles for loss in three games after having a total of 7.5 last season.
5. Spartans roll -- and both sides of ball perform
Michigan State finally got its offense untracked in a 55-17 rout of FCS opponent Youngstown State -- 13 Spartans players had plays covering at least 10 yards -- but the defense did its part, too. Michigan State surrendered only 172 total yards and eight first downs. Rising-star sophomore DE Shilique Calhoun (6-4, 250) had scored three TDs in the first two games, and though he didn't score against the Penguins, he had a sack, a fumble recovery and four quarterback hurries. Youngstown State ran only 47 plays. The Spartans' offense is not going to play this well every game, but assuming even modest offensive numbers, the defense is going to keep Michigan State in every game.
6. Hackenberg-to-Robinson a big-time connection
One positive aspect from Penn State's home loss to UCF was that true freshman QB Christian Hackenberg once again was in sync with junior WR Allen Robinson (6-3, 210). Robinson had nine catches for 143 yards and a TD, time and again burning UCF's overmatched corners. Robinson has a TD catch in each of Penn State's first three games and now has 23 receptions for 405 yards. Robinson led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs last season -- and looks to be on the verge of an even better season. Robinson doesn't get enough national attention for his skills, but he has excellent size and good speed and plays with a physical nature
7. Big game in tough loss
The most memorable aspect of Arizona State's 32-30 win over Wisconsin is going to be the final 10 seconds, where the Pac-12 refs looked more like Pop Warner officials than those from a major conference. What future Wisconsin foes will take from the game, though, is that Badgers sophomore tailback Melvin Gordon is extremely dangerous. Gordon doesn't start (well, at least not yet), but he showed against the Sun Devils that he is the Badgers' best offensive player. Gordon (6-1, 207) rushed for 193 yards and two TDs on just 15 carries (12.9 yards per attempt) against the Sun Devils while lining up in the I-formation and also in the slot, where he ran the jet sweep. He now has rushed for 477 yards and four TDs in three games. Gordon is a physical runner who has a burst, which he showed on an 80-yard TD run on the first play of the second half. He and James White form a potent 1-2 punch at tailback, but a concern for the Badgers is sophomore Joel Stave becoming a more consistent passer.
8. On the run
Iowa ran the ball 60 times in beating Iowa State and junior Mark Weisman had 35 of the carries, for 145 yards. There was no mystery to Iowa's play-calling, but even though the Cyclones -- and everyone in the stands -- knew what was coming, Weisman still was successful. He now has 425 rushing yards on 85 carries this season. Weisman led the Hawkeyes with 815 rushing yards and eight TDs last season. He played tailback and fullback in 2012, and while he lacks speed, he is a physical between-the-tackles runner who can handle a heavy workload (Saturday was his eighth game with 20-plus carries). He began his Iowa career as a walk-on after first attending Air Force, where he did not play football.
9. Oh, well
Going into Saturday's game against Washington, Illinois senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase (6-3, 205) was coming off just the second and third 300-yard games in his career. Alas, Scheelhaase -- a good athlete who has struggled with the nuances of the position -- reverted to form against the Huskies, going just 9 of 25 for 156 yards, a TD and a pick in a 10-point loss. Scheelhaase had completed 74 percent of his passes in the first two games. So, was Saturday the aberration, or were the first two games a mirage? We likely won't know until October. Illinois is off next week, then plays a bad Miami (Ohio) team on Sept. 28. Then come games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. One Illini player who stood out against the Huskies was senior LB Jonathan Brown (6-1, 230). He had 15 tackles and a sack. Brown was excellent as a sophomore before tailing off badly last season. He is playing well this season and definitely is back on the radar for scouts.