Ameer Abdullah ran for 101 yards and a touchdown, and Nebraskas defense dominated after [Denard] Robinson left with an injury late in the first half in a 23-9 victory over No. 20 Michigan on Saturday night.
“I don’t buy into any of that crap,” Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini told reporters after the game.
If anything ever did, that says it all.
Mr. Pelini was referring to the natural and irritating tendency of sportswriters to jerk back and forth across the road of speculation. Last week, Mr. Pelini was being asked if he had made plans to hang himself; this week, sportswriters were wondering he had already hired someone to knit conference championship banners.
What Mr. Pelini could be referring to, however, is the sentiment that Nebraska’s passage to the title game of the so-called Big Ten has been vouchsafed by the ungainly win Saturday night. Because we don’t buy into any of that crap either.
There was lots of dribble in the media about Nebraska’s defensive players declining to wear their coveted black shirts before the game; you know, because they didn’t deserve to. Lost in the noise was the undeniable fact that those same Huskers have stumbled on a brilliant strategy for winning football games: Exploit inexperienced quarterbacks.
In the opener, Nebraska befuddled twin newbies for Southern Miss. Against Wisconsin, it was the redshirt freshman Joel Stave. In Evanston, it was the unpopular Trevor Siemian, who had inexplicably replaced Kain Colter.
On Saturday, to its credit, Nebraska’s defense had to first pound its way past a fairly accomplished quarterback in Denard Robinson. He is not exactly a Landry Jones, Matt Barkley type, but he has speed and experience. And had beaten Nebraska before. Mr. Robinson’s injury in the first half sent into the arena the freshman Russell Bellomy, who had thrown only five passes this season.
When Bellomy entered the game at first-and-goal at the 8, Nebraska’s defense licked its chops. NU had already put up a roadblock on the Michigan run game. With an inexperienced pocket passer now in the house, the werewolves were coming from all angles on blitzes and various pressures.
Tom Shatel’s overwrought prose notwithstanding, the young quarterback did seem to struggle. Michigan gained only 188 yards on offense, a season low; and Mr. Bellomy threw three picks, which was as many as Nebraska’s defense had totted so far in this middle-aged season.
Yet, that was not exactly the ballgame.
While hamstrung Michigan struggled mightily, so did Nebraska’s offense, arguably its best asset. It needed three field goals to reach 23 points; quarterback Taylor Martinez threw an interception himself, and passed for only 166 yards. As Mr. Pelini told reporters after the game, “We left some points out there.”
Of course, the Huskers played without arguably their best player, Rex Burkhead, and the victory margin was comfortable even if the performance that led to it was not.
So what can you say about the game — which was, as The Associated Press put it,
“billed as the second meeting ever between quarterbacks who each have 5,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing in their careers” — other than the advertising sponsors were probably none too happy about the gruesome spectacle unfolding between commercial breaks.
Still, where would we be without optimists?
So, yeah, Nebraska should feel much differently. Much better, if only because the discussion in Huskerland shifts from Pelini’s job security to NU’s chances to win its first league title since 1999. One could argue that most of the heavy lifting is finished.
Really, the only thing that is in Nebraska’s favor is the cold, heartless math.
The Huskers are 6-2 over all and 3-1 in the conference, tied for first place with Michigan. Obviously, Nebraska has the tie breaker over Michigan, and improbably, it is most likely to be the odds-on favorite to win its four remaining regular-season games: at Michigan State (5-4, 2-3), Penn State (5-3, 3-1), Minnesota (5-3, 1-3), at Iowa (4-4, 2-2).
What remains is to actually win those games. And, as we have seen, that is far from a sure thing for this club. In other words, it isn’t the same as Nebraska’s being Nebraska. But what can be said about Mr. Pelini is that he is, so far, making the most of a mediocre situation. Never mind that the mediocre situation — inconsistent play, unremarkable players — is entirely of his making.
And what has changed for Nebraska is that now its players and coaches have a chance to honestly, credibly play to win again, instead of playing merely to avoid a disaster. Of course, disaster remains a distinct possibility, perhaps even a prevailing likelihood.
What was I saying about optimists?
“You can’t be so short-sighted as a coach to tell them that, ‘Hey, if you don’t win, it’s over. That’s crazy,’” said the Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
- Black and Blue: Huskers shut down Michigan (journalstar.com)
- Legends leaders: Nebraska takes control of game, division (omaha.com)
- Robinson Hurt In Michigan 23-9 Loss To Nebraska (detroit.cbslocal.com)
- Identity regained. Nebraska thwarts Michigan 23-9 (nebraskaradionetwork.com)