‘I Don’t Know. I Wish I Knew.’

Bo Pelini

Bo Pelini (Photo credit: Jory’z Shotz)

Montee Ball rushed for 202 yards and three more touchdowns Saturday night, leading the Badgers to a 70-31 rout of No. 14 Nebraska for a third straight Big Ten championship and a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl. …Nebraska hadn’t allowed 70 points since a 76-39 thrashing by Kansas In November 2007. The loss ended the Cornhuskers’ six-game winning streak, which began after a 63-38 loss to Ohio State, and the Huskers simply had no answers.

via Ball helps Badgers rush past No. 14 Nebraska 70-31 – Yahoo! Sports.

Don’t look at me. I didn’t even watch it.

I had made other plans. Call me a turncoat, but part of me figured Nebraska would win, anyway, albeit in maddening fashion, and I decided that I wasn’t in the mood for the stumblebum antics that would result. I am not ashamed to say that there is a benefit to my well-being in rationing the number of times I am compelled to watch Taylor Martinez fumble a ball off his hind end.

Instead, I chose a museum, craft beers and the cold November air.

But another part of me was already done. Call me a cynic, but there really was nothing of value left to play for. Now, I admit, a casual observer might say that the conference title of the so-called Big Ten was left to play for. But it says here that that is small beer when you remember that undefeated, and ineligible, Ohio State was clearly the best team in the league.

The conference trophy should be emblazoned with the legend, Best Team Not Named Ohio State.

The sentiment was clearly there, anyway. Sportswriters had to be rolling their eyes Saturday night as they typed sentences like, “The Badgers are the first five-loss team to reach the Rose Bowl.”

A five-loss team with weeks to plot …pressed the reset button on an NU season that had been defined by improbable, clutch comebacks. Should those fond memories eventually linger, Saturday night will still live in Husker infamy.

via Wreck at Indy: Badgers ground game runs over, through Huskers – Omaha.com.

To wit, Mr. Ball rushed for 202 yards, scored three touchdowns and set two N.C.A.A. scoring records.

Wisconsin became the first team from the so-called Big Ten to earn three consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl since 1979, it rushed for 539 yards (fourth-best in team history and the most ever allowed by a Nebraska team) and tied the record for most points in a conference championship game.

When the final gun mercifully sounded, it was one of the most depressing walks to a locker room you’ll ever see a team make.

via B1G black eye: Badgers blast Huskers : Latest Husker News.

You want to talk depressing? After the game, Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini told reporters, “I’ve never been a part of a game like that as a coach.” The irony of that statement, of course, is that he was a part of a game like that just a few weeks ago when the Buckeyes throttled the Huskers by a similar score, 63-38.

Back then, a bemused Mr. Pelini shrugged his shoulders when reporters asked to try to explain what had happened. “I don’t know,” he said then. “I wish I knew.”

Now that it is Sunday, the only sensible thing to do is forget all about it. Pretend it never happened. Before the season, it seemed clear Nebraska would not be a solid team. Now that the season is mostly over, nothing has changed.

I should get over it.

Maybe what I should do is stop caring so much in the first place. In this morning’s Times, there was a tiny little reality check. There were three paragraphs in the Sports section on the game and, coincidentally, thousands of words about the life of a woman who accused a Nebraska football player of raping her 20 years ago. Nebraska’s football program at the time was a monument to brutal efficiency, and the player was never punished.

It was a reminder that the bold Husker edifice was not without its flaws. Today, that imperfect monument leans more precipitously to one side.

Pelini bristled at the notion that the loss is indicative of cracks in the program’s foundation. He made a good point — Nebraska had 10 wins in the regular season and won six straight. But, man, how does this happen?

via Steven M. Sipple: Huskers meltdown inexcusable : Latest Husker News.

At one point in his postgame comments on Saturday, Mr. Pelini seemed to be asking for someone else to explain: “What do you do?” he said.

The worst part, perhaps, about Mr. Pelini is his petulant demeanor in news conferences. He’s brusque. He’s smug. He acts like his answers should be unnecessary. “What is defensive football?” Pelini lectured reporters Saturday night.

“It’s play your gaps. Handle your responsibility and be where you’re supposed to be to make tackles. We did none of the above.”

He never seems to have the answers. Which leads to the question, Why is anyone listening to him anymore?


Maybe no one is.

Nebraska looked ill-prepared, lackluster and like it had no business being on a championship field. This, in the fifth year of Pelini’s tenure, with his guys, his seniors, his way of football. Look at this way: at least you won’t hear his name come up for any of the SEC openings.

via Shatel: Something’s wrong that an Outback Bowl cannot fix – Omaha.com.


‘Curses to All of You’

[Rex] Burkhead scored the go-ahead touchdown in his return from a knee injury and No. 17 Nebraska beat Iowa 13-7 on Friday to claim the Legends Divisions berth in the championship game.

via No. 17 Nebraska beats Iowa 13-7 – Yahoo! Sports.

It was a day unfit for superlatives.

Many called Nebraska’s victory ugly, and it surely was. It moved television announcers to try to defend the advertiser-supported tedium. It moved coaches and players to shrug with bemusement. It moved at least one sportswriter, angry at having had to watch the drudgery in the November chill, to rebuke his readers.

Frankly, it was miserable, and curses to all of you who watched it sitting near a fireplace.

via Legendary: Huskers lock up spot in B1G title game : Latest Husker News.

The sky was clear and beautiful, but the temperature was in the low 30s and the wind gusted to 30 miles an hour. Many blamed the bluster for how passes and kicks wobbled, but precision was not exactly expected given the participants.

Rising to a point of order was Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, born and raised in Southern California, who said it was “by far the coldest game I’ve ever played in.”

(For some reason, I am reminded here of the bare, sleet-streaked arms of Danny Noonan.)

Whether it was the cold or the crummy players, neither quarterback topped 100 passing yards. Neither offense converted more than a third of its third downs. There were 13 punts and only 19 complete passes. It was so bad, that I forgot to turn it back on after going for a halftime walk.

The fact is that this team, this season has long since given up the pretense of being entertainment. It has for weeks been something to be stomached, borne, suffered — to be gamely endured. There were sideline outbursts, player defections and, of course, the stain of two inexplicable defeats. But perhaps more fatiguing were the five times — including Friday — that the team rallied from mostly-self-inflicted, second-half deficits.

“We’ve been through a lot as a team to get here,” coach Bo Pelini said.

via Heroes Game win over Iowa sends Huskers to Big Ten title game – Omaha.com.

Egad, so have the fans. Aren’t there better things to do in the afternoon?

Surely, there are.

But whatever. We have been told these are first-world problems.

Now, style points only matter if you are either trying to convince voters to put you in the national title game over others with similar records or if you are vying for an at-large BCS bowl bid. The Huskers aren’t in either situation.

via Nebraska vs. Iowa: Cornhuskers Clinch Big Ten Legends Division in Ugly Fashion | Bleacher Report.

And that is the rub. Dorothy had to remind herself that she wasn’t in Kansas. Husker fans, especially myself, would do well to remember it isn’t 1995.

To paraphrase a former secretary of defense, You watch on television the team you have, not the team you might want or wish to have.

This Is What It Looks Like Now

>> At 8:19 AM, “Ben” wrote:
>> The Huskers won their ninth game yesterday. To my knowledge,
>> John has yet to issue a correction for his repeated statements that
>> they are a “seven win team”. Fans of accuracy are eagerly awaiting his
>> mea culpa.
At 8:28 AM, John wrote:

The Economist always ends corrections with the phrase, We’re sorry. The
effect can be glib.

But to be sure, no one is sorrier than I am. I regret the error, and not a
small amount of the time I spent watching Husker games over the years.

Via my phone.

The reality is that I am just not equipped for a team like this, not for a season like this. Not for a college football like this.

Nebraska has to be one of the game’s most confounding and inexplicable teams: a club that has been consistently boneheaded and listless, but that has nonetheless won five in a row; a team that allowed an opponent to hang 63 points around its neck, but that which is almost certain to win 10 games for the first time in Coach Bo Pelini’s tenure.

The offense is alternately stupefied and sublime. The defense is always bemusing. The sideline fairly redounds with bluster and anger, sometimes seemingly of an internecine variety. But, in four games this season, that same sideline has pulled together to notch spirited, if improbable, comeback victories.

“Bring us home,” players tell each other. And seem to mean it.

In the old days, such theatrics were unnecessary. Nebraska’s schedules were just that, scheduled — wins preordained.

Today, the college game is broader, bigger, it is fractious and fungible. The Big 12 has only 10 members; the Big Ten will soon hold 14.

Here’s more numbers: A record of 11-3 seems possible for the Huskers, something that seemed impossible in September. And something that is an eerie echo of 2001, when Nebraska (11-2) sustained a humiliating 62-36 loss to Colorado and a overwhelming 32-14 flop to Miami in the Rose Bowl.

That was a belly-drop of a bookend to era of relative dominance, and perhaps the first sign that things with Frank Solich were not going to be all beer and skittles.

But in 2012, the prospect of such an uneven season can only be described as success, though probably not progress. And perhaps the best that can be hoped for.

The Full Taylor Costs You Extra

Nebraska took advantage of [a] Michigan State penalty, beating the Spartans 28-24 when Martinez threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Turner with 6 seconds left Saturday night.

via Nebraska beats Michigan St 28-24 on last-second TD – Yahoo! Sports.

Sportswriters will tell you that Nebraska rallied from a 10-point deficit to win Saturday’s game. That is because, technically, it is true. Michigan State shut out the Huskers in the third quarter, turning a 14-14 halftime tie into a 24-14 lead. But, really, Nebraska, beleaguered, bemusing Nebraska, tracked back from a greater distance.

In the final quarter, the Huskers ranged closer to the abyss, and lounged more satisfyingly in elation, than any Odyssean trireme.

On the first play after the Spartans took that 24-14 lead, just a minute into the fourth quarter, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez fumbled on a draw to the right. Such a familiar sight. Across the gray, windswept expanse of Nebraska, hearts leaped into throats — into well-worn, heart-shaped throats. Improbably, the ball eluded several Spartan defenders and bounced back into Mr. Martinez’s hands. Or nearly so. Mr. Martinez, for all his calm, cool and collectedness, possessed not enough poise to simply fall on the ball, which continued to roll until it was safely covered by the fat pink arms of a Huskers offensive lineman.

Slowly, gelatinously, hearts slipped back into their normal positions.

“I was like, ‘Wow, someone’s looking out for us,’” [Nebraska receiver Kenny] Bell said.

via Martinez rallies Huskers past Spartans : Latest Husker News.

What Mr. Bell should have said was, Who the heck would look out for us?!

Ten plays later, with Nebraska having driven to the Michigan State 5, Mr. Martinez threw an interception to cornerback Darqueze Dennard. And all those anginic hearts sloshed right back into their throats. They wallowed there, swelling with sclerotic anxiety, as Mr. Dennard returned the ball in a sputtering commotion of poor tackling 96 yards for an apparent touchdown.

For a few moments, the score of the game appeared to be 30-14.

In fact, it turned out to be the play of the game. The Spartans were whistled for an illegal block on the interception return — a call bursting with symbolism in a game with 18 penalties over all. The flag negated the long touchdown and instead pinned Michigan State deep in its own territory.

“I guess you can’t block on defense,” Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi quipped.

via Huskers get just-in-time delivery from Martinez – Omaha.com.

Like that joke probably did on the postgame news conference, the penalty flag seemed to have a debilitating effect on Michigan State. Over the final 11 minutes of the game, the Spartans would manage only 26 yards, 1 first down and 0 points. Meanwhile, Nebraska hearts continued throatward pilgrimages.

The Huskers got the ball back with 9:40 to play and drove 56 yards in six running plays — including a timeout-enhanced conversion of a 4th-and-1. Mr. Martinez cut the deficit to 3 on a 35-yard run. And after the Nebraska defense forced Michigan State to punt once more, the Nebraska offense appeared to be driving for the winning score.

That is, until it failed to convert a 4th-and-10 at the Spartans’ 45 with 3:24 left. That choking sensation in Nebraska throats probably spread to necks in western Iowa and southern South Dakota.

With the ball and a slender lead, though, Michigan State played not to lose. Five running plays later, the Spartans’ punter drove the ball into the end zone, setting Nebraska for a final, Mr.-Taylor-intensive drive.

We got the full Taylor at Spartan Stadium.

via Shatel: Martinez may lack glitz, but respect NU’s gladiator – Omaha.com.

It wouldn’t be a Tom Shatel column without a little innuendo. The Full Taylor sounds like something that costs $10 extra on the shadowy parts of Ninth Avenue, south of Penn Station. What it meant in Lansing on Saturday afternoon was something far more anxiety-filled and shame-inducing.

It is true that Nebraska drove 80 yards in nine plays for the winning score. But at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, consider that four of those nine plays were incomplete passes by Mr. Martinez. A fifth play was a run by Mr. Martinez for no gain. A sixth was a questionable pass-interference penalty against Michigan State that gave Nebraska the ball at the 5.

Nine snaps in a minute and a half, and two-thirds of them end in failure, or nearly so.

But what can you say after all the places this team has been?

I thought Nebraska was dead in the water when Michigan State took a 24-14 lead 40 seconds into the fourth quarter. Thought the same thing Sept. 29 when Wisconsin went up 27-10 early in the third quarter. Thought the same thing Oct. 20 when Northwestern led 28-16 with 8:31 left. So why should anybody be surprised…

via Steven M. Sipple: NU makes you crazy, but you can’t fault its fight : Latest Husker News.

Crap for Sale

Pumpkin 2 - "Bo Pelini"

“Bo Pelini” pumpkin. (Photo credit: kylestern)

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.

via Nebraska beats No. 20 Michigan 23-9; Robinson hurt – Yahoo! Sports.

“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.

via Shatel: Huskers come up big in crucial game – Omaha.com.

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.

via Steven M. Sipple: Out of the muck, Huskers now Big Ten favorites : Latest Husker News.

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.

On Coming Back and Going Forward

Elated, to not have lost.

Taylor Martinez threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns and Nebraska rallied to beat Northwestern 29-28 on Saturday.

via Martinez rallies Nebraska past Northwestern, 29-28 – Yahoo! Sports.

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.

via Steven M. Sipple: Huskers memorable win keeps wolves at bay : Latest Husker News.

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.

via Shatel: Bumbling but gutsy Huskers clean things up in nick of time – Omaha.com.

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.

The Souring of Saturdays

The Primitive Index of Success (PISS). Yellow represents the number of all-conference players; green the number of all-Americans; and blue the number of wins.

The Huskers play Northwestern on Saturday afternoon in what has become an important game. So important that a blogger could be excused for thinking it was the most important game of the young season. For one thing, the Wildcats are a half-game up on Nebraska in the division, so a win would solidify the Huskers’ slippery grip on second place. For another, a win, especially a convincing one, would go a long way to wash away the foul taste of the loss last week, in which Nebraska allowed 63 points to supposedly average, but still ranked, Ohio State.

A third reason for focusing on an opponent that is an afterthought for most programs is that Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini has, perhaps unwisely, made winning the remainder of his team’s games something of a goal. The first step in winning the rest of them, of course, is to win Saturday. Mr. Pelini has surely noticed the increasing heat on his seat.

I am willing to admit such criticism of Mr. Pelini may be unfair. But he is stuck in a rut. Observe the chart above. Mr. Pelini’s tenure began in 2008, and he clearly exploited the fairly solid recruiting of his predecessor, Bill Callahan. In 2009, Mr. Pelini turned in a stellar season, narrowly losing the conference championship game and causing doughy chests to puff out all across Nebraska. In the past two seasons, however, progress has been harder to measure.

Nine wins is pretty good, it says here. But it still may not be good enough.

With the uncertainty of the season right now, not many kids are going to consider a school that may not have their head coach at the end of the year…

via Nebraska Recruiting: The 2013 Commit Silence Speaks Volumes – Corn Nation.

…In year five of the program Nebraska’s defense bears an alarming resemblance to the defense Pelini found when he arrived in 2007.

via Nebraska Football: Should Cornhusker Head Coach Bo Pelini Be on the Hot Seat? | Bleacher Report.

On Sunday, the first BCS rankings were released h/t ESPN. Unsurprisingly, Nebraska was nowhere to be found.

via Nebraska Football: Breaking Down Nebraskas Spot in the BCS Rankings | Bleacher Report.

It feels like a rebuilding year, like next year is the year they’ll take the next step. The problem is, it has felt like that during every season of Bo Pelini’s tenure.

via Kansas State, Notre Dame Success Make Nebraska Excuses Tough to Swallow | Bleacher Report.

(E) None of the Above

Nebraska fans would like it if they didn’t have to mount big comebacks too much more often. That’s a tough way to make a living.

via Big Ten Rundown: Conference Play Is Here, For The Most Part – Corn Nation.

For another thing, it is hard on the furniture.

How else can you explain the informal poll captured above? Two-thirds of the respondents visiting The Omaha World-Herald by Monday afternoon chose “lucky” or “a close call” to describe Nebraska’s come-from-behind win Saturday night against Wisconsin. I wonder how many would have chosen “frightening,” “baffling,” or “appalling” if those had been options.

Judging by the range of responses, Nebraskans would rather not think about it.

There no doubt was great glowering going on in the man caves of Nebraska late Saturday night. Our correspondents tell us an embarrassingly large number of Huskers fans switched off the telecast before halftime, preferring silence over suffering.

They need not have deprived themselves. Nebraska acquitted itself well, mostly. The sluggish start to the game — the Badgers scored 14 points in the first seven minutes — seems, after a second viewing, to have been something of a fluke. Wisconsin’s first scoring drive was buoyed by a long, dying quail of a pass that nine times out of 10 would be successfully defended; its second by a fumble from you-don’t-expect-him-to-do-that Rex Burkhead. Its third had only four gains longer than 4 yards, one of them a 15-yard penalty.

Certainly, the Huskers did not look polished or powerful. Happily, there are no style points in college football. And despite the anxiety — my favorite in-game texting partner quit after the first quarter — most people (78 percent of 800 registered voters who answer their phone) support the coach, Bo Pelini, and therefore, presumably, the direction all of this is headed.

“He’s very honest, and he does the best he can,” said 81-year-old Omahan Jean Jacobsen…

via World-Herald Poll: Most Nebraskans are in Bo Pelini’s corner – Omaha.com.

The “best he can,” it says here, has not been all that good. Still, even if 78 percent of Nebraskans are wrong, they are still 78 percent of Nebraskans. So Corn Nation’s David McGee can be forgiven for expressing what may secretly be the majority point of view: “If they don’t give Wisconsin 2 very short fields, that game was probably a blowout.”

One thing is for sure, the market over all remains slightly, strangely bullish on Nebraska. The Huskers ranked higher, either No. 20 and No. 21, in the big media-sponsored polls this week, No. 18 in SB Nation’s BlogPoll and were again No. 1 in the so-called Big Ten, according to Corn Nation’s weekly breakdown.

But in a free market, a test of value is never far away. Nebraska’s equity will have a major revaluation on Saturday against Ohio State, otherwise known as Mr. McGee’s No. 2.

The Huskers rallied to beat the Buckeyes last season, of course, in an eerie echo of last week, and it began an impressive mini streak: a comfortable win at Minnesota and a season-defining win against ninth-ranked Michigan State. But before fans had cause to use adjectives like “incredible” or “great,” the “lucky” bled out in a black and purple “close call,” a 28-25 loss to Northwestern.

“Guys are able to come back and battle through it, but you can’t be digging holes like that. No way.”

via Red Report: Beck likes resolve, but could do without digging holes .

The echo from last year’s comeback, reverberating painfully in my empty head, is not the only familiar thing about this game. Ohio State is a club not unlike Nebraska. The Buckeyes’ defense, which was seen as a strength last season, was criticized much of this year until Saturday, when it shut down Michigan State in a narrow victory. The offense is led by an erratic, mobile quarterback, Braxton Miller, and has a potential breakout star at wide receiver in Corey Brown. Even the coach, Urban Meyer, has had mysterious health problems.

The difference this season is that even if the Huskers are unable to harvest a streak of any kind from Saturday’s win, it may not matter. Even with a loss or three, a conference title will probably stay tantalizingly, achingly within reach until late in the season.

That is, as long as Nebraska stays on level ground.

How About Not Ever Doing It Again?

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.

via Nebraskas big rally beats Wisconsin – Omaha.com.

“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.

via Wisconsin vs. Nebraska: Huskers Resiliency Saves Chance at Special Season | Bleacher Report.

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…”

via Huskers Martinez, Pelini Silence the Haters… For Now | Husker Beat.

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.

It’s Time to Crack the Coconuts

Somebody has to win the Big Ten this season.

via Shatel: Statement season starts with Wisconsin – Omaha.com.

Just because it happened to be on TV yesterday, I will mention the film “Pagan Love Song” (MGM, 1950).

I could not avoid catching a few moments of this forgettable musical before I left for work, and my first thought was that it must be one of Hollywood’s most subtly racist movies — the movie is fairly overrun by mumbling natives, and the protagonist Hazard Endicott (played with broad-grinning, G-rated sex appeal by Howard Keel) confuses Mimi Bennett (Esther Williams!) (I know!) for a Tahitian native throughout a series of “Three’s Company”-esque meetings.

My second thought was to ruminate on Mr. Endicott’s oft-stated wish in the film: “I just want to rest,” he said, Todd Rundgen-like, while sitting in the sun.

Mr. Endicott didn’t want to work. Anyway, his native servants told him his native neighbors would do that for him. Ironically, that sloth is part of what propels him toward the wow-is-she-pretty Ms. Bennett.

It is — and as stretches go, this is not so bad — not unlike the forces at work right now in college football, nudging Nebraska toward a championship in the so-called Big Ten — or so we are led to believe. The Huskers won’t have to do any of the work; their neighbors will do it for them.

“Somebody has to win the Big Ten this season,” The Omaha World-Herald’s Tom Shatel writes.

He will never be more right.

We have observed in this space the inexplicable rebound in optimism about the Huskers’ prospects, and followed its roots to the poor competition among their conference peers. Mr. Shatel sees it more clearly than most.

“To make history in their second Big Ten go-around,” he writes with unacknowledged ostentation of the Huskers, “they simply must get out of their own way.”

Go back to the porch, in other words, and wait for a dozen sarong-wrapped extras to render your coconuts for you.

Tonight’s game against Wisconsin is the first opportunity for Nebraska to embrace its own sloth. But as Mr. Shatel himself notes, “It’s not a very compelling formula.”

No, it’s not; not in “Pagan Love Song,” either.

Mr. Endicott’s final misstep before beginning to properly woo the nubile and dazzling Ms. Bennett is to show up at a party in native dress. As he sheepishly allows himself, showing not a little bit of leg, to be introduced to linen-suited party guests, one of his native servants arrives — hilarious! — wearing a suit.

As parties go, it is not unlike the game against Wisconsin. Each team will be wearing alternative uniforms. Nebraska’s is like something out of a Judge Dredd comic; players will have a giant N stamped on their chest. Mr. Shatel refers to the crass, transparent attempt to sell jerseys as “an Andy Warhol fashion show.”

So that is where Nebraska is left, perched on the beginning of a semi-memorable run to mediocrity. If only it can keep from depantsing itself.