Nebraska backed up the sideline talk, scoring the final 20 points in a 30-27 win, riding a wave of momentum created by Martinez’s playmaking skills, a run-stuffing front seven and towel-waving Memorial Stadium crowd. The No. 20 Huskers tied the second-biggest comeback in school history.
“We knew we had done it before,” quarterback Taylor Martinez told The Omaha World-Herald, referring to the Huskers’ coming back from a big deficit.
That, in a nutshell, is Nebraska’s college football program.
While it was a little shocking and very disappointing to watch a fairly one-dimensional Wisconsin team — with perhaps the only quarterback in the so-called Big Ten with more suspect passing ability than Mr. Martinez — jump out to a 14-0 lead, it should not have been a surprise.
The Huskers are a club with only middling prospects. The defense is devoid of stars, the offense of consistency. The team’s chief recommendation as a contender for the conference title is not that it is particularly good, it is that its rivals are particularly average. But not-good Nebraska is not so poorly coached that it can be demoralized by twice falling behind an opponent by 17 points.
Of course, that is a sort of good-news,-bad-news proposition: Good for you that you didn’t quit, but why did you get in so much trouble in the first place?
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is not the toughest team on Nebraskas schedule. …this Wisconsin team is not very good. It is a team that champions should beat.
On Saturday, Nebraska looked a little ragged and confused, which is baffling for a homecoming game. Coach Bo Pelini uses a system, on both offense and defense, that relies heavily on substitutions, and several times the defense was nearly caught unawares. With a club made up of solely of players Mr. Pelini recruited, that kind of poor execution is not exactly an endorsement of his management.
But at halftime, Mr. Pelini gamely consulted his encyclopedia of cliches, and found time to make a few on-field adjustments, too. “It’s a 60-minute game,” Mr. Pelini said afterward.
The defense held Wisconsin to 90 yards in the second half, seeming to tire the Badgers out as the game wore on. “There’s momentum swings,” Mr Pelini said. On offense, Nebraska stuck to its strength in the face of the deficit, racking up 259 rushing yards. “You gotta play every play and try and outlast it,” Mr. Pelini said. The success on the ground gave the ungainly passer in Mr. Martinez breathing room, and he threw for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns. “It’s a fistfight,” Mr. Pelini said.
Over all, it was not the sort of performance you’d expect from a club that had lost respect for its coach. And, in the end, it ought to have been good enough.
“Contrary to what you guys think,” Mr. Pelini said after the game, “I haven’t forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run.”
Possibly, Mr. Pelini is not the problem. Probably, Nebraska’s fans are. They do not seem to have noticed that the club is no longer the powerhouse it was for four or five seasons in the 1990s.
It is hard to blame them when some sportswriters seem to be similarly confused. The World-Herald’s Tom Shatel watched Saturday’s game and asked himself, “Just think what this offense could do if it would get out of its own way.”
Of course, the only thing more annoying than the red-golf-shirted Dad, screaming on his couch, is the preening apologist who deludes himself that he is the rational one.
As it stands now, the haters will have to be quiet for at least another week. They’ll have to glumly admit that “Martinez played well, but…”, that Pelini’s defense “came through when it mattered, but…”
The Huskers aren’t worthy of your hate. But neither are they worthy of much praise. There were, as The Lincoln Journal-Star’s Steve Sipple said, “too many breakdowns to count — that’s not an exaggeration.”
For one thing, just consider the idea of a “record comeback.” For most of my life, I do not recall ever reading that phrase in reference to the Huskers. Now, in the past two seasons, twice wags have added new victories to the record comeback list.
No matter how stirring a rally is, it still represents a failure. And that is all you need to know.
- A Tale of Two Halves: Nebraska defeats Wisconsin 30-27 (nebraskaradionetwork.com)
- No. 22 Nebraska storms back to beat Wisconsin (nbcsports.msnbc.com)