Taylor Martinez threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns and Nebraska rallied to beat Northwestern 29-28 on Saturday.
It is tempting to assess this result through the lens of, say, 1995, and remark that it is hard to know what is more appalling, 1) that Nebraska had to hustle so much to beat a team like Northwestern or 2) that such a rough-edged victory has the potential to change the season.
But we here have buried those heroes long ago, in the green grass of Pasadena, on the parched artificial turf of Lubbock, amid the rocks and bitterness of Boulder. And it is unambiguously a good thing that the Huskers held together long enough to win Saturday in Evanston, no matter how meek the cheers back in Nebraska are.
The win keeps the wolves from Pelini’s doorstep, most of them anyway.
This the new Nebraska. It is not a team that looks forward to gleaming trophies or a trip to a lucrative bowl paradise. This is a team that looks anxiously for signs of shifting ground at its feet. And here is your good news: Another week has passed without a brimstone-filled chasm yawning open in the brown fields of Nebraska.
Of course, it was disturbing that the miscues that have plagued this team all season seem to be a top-billed star of Nebraska games, rather than a recurring fringe character — to wit, three fumbles, eight penalties and a consistent lack of focus. The Huskers converted only 3 of 14 third downs, 0 of 1 fourth down and it flubbed two 2-point conversions. Nebraska’s sideline was its most animated not when Ben Cotton scored the go-ahead touchdown but when Northwestern missed a potential game-winning field goal minutes later.
That speaks to the Huskers being a club that is maybe more worried about not losing than it is about winning.
But they also piled up 26 first downs and outgained Northwestern by 241 yards. Which brings me to this from Tom Shatel of The World-Herald.
The Big Red should have won big. The Big Red should have lost by 12. They tried to beat themselves. They ended up beating the Wildcats in a thriller and notched the first leg of the six-game gauntlet Pelini laid down.
First of all, yeah, he really did write that the Huskers “tried to beat themselves.”
Second, no matter how tone deaf Mr. Shatel is, he has perhaps unzipped the key to understanding the sometimes-futile, always-quixotic nature of this year’s Huskers. Nebraska may very well be one of the conference’s best teams, though it is unlikely they will be able to keep their trousers up long enough to prove it.
It is easy to think that another club in the so-called Big Ten will charge to the division title while the Huskers locked in the bathroom, angrily telling their parents to leave them alone. But the reality is, with a win next week against first-place Michigan, Nebraska will take over first place for itself.
Bruised and humiliated, the Huskers still have in comfortable reach their ungainly goal of holding off disaster for another more week.