The Callahan Conundrum, or Nightmares I Have Had

Was Bill a bad coach in Lincoln? Not quite, he did his job on the offensive side of the ball and recruited fairly decent by all accounts. If you think his recruiting wasnt good, go ahead and name all the players on the defensive side of the ball on the 2009 squad that no one could score on that Bo recruited. Youll come up with a pretty short list. Ndamukong Suh? Recruited by Callahan and Dennis Wagner.

via Debunking Bill Callahan Narratives One Blue Pill At A Time – Corn Nation.

Someone ought to roll up their sleeves and get into whether a cabal of former players and other alumni encouraged Nebraska players to roll over in Mr. Callahan’s last season or two with the Huskers. Certainly, Mr. Callahan was a jackass and a moron, but I am not sure that all of the lopsided losses that led to his dismissal can be attributed to coaching decisions. Had he been more overtly political, and had he better recognized his own limitations (and those of his coaches/friends), he might still be wearing awkward red sport shirts today.

I mention this because Mr. Callahan appears to be getting a promotion in his work with the N.F.L.’s Dallas Cowboys, which is sure to be part of his plan to return triumphantly as a head coach somewhere.

Jones said the decision had been “decided weeks ago,” leaving Callahan to awkwardly talk around the major change in how the Cowboys will run their offense on game days. In fact, Garrett refused to address the move.

via Jerry Jones reveals Bill Callahan will call Cowboys plays; Jason Garrett won’t confirm | SI Wire.

“I’m flattered to be part of this and to take on the added responsibilities of calling the plays during the course of a game,” Callahan said…

via Dallas Cowboys play-calling debacle makes Jason Garrett look like a clown – ESPN Dallas.

That conceals a ferociously organized, demanding persona that rubbed superstars in Oakland wrong enough for them to still grind an axe a decade later. This same persona ultimately had a tin ear for Nebraska culture…

via Bill Callahan’s Comeback | sports.omaha.com.

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Who’s Afraid of New York City?

The downside? Well, its an outdoor bowl game in New York City… in late December … in a baseball stadium, complete with bad sightlines for football in a really bad part of town.

via Big Ten Agrees to Play in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium – Corn Nation.

I spent a few minutes over the weekend with two very different sets of Nebraskans. One set had lived in the city for 18 years, they said, and the other were here visiting for the first time. Needless to say, there were different perspectives being shared. The newcomers were breathless, in some respects, about the size of the city and the accompanying bustle. The veterans were glad 1) to have found a parking place and 2) to have met a Nebraskan who was not breathless.

Being infected with the sickness of Huskeritis, I have in my RSS reader the feed from the blog Corn Nation. Which, if nothing else, is a reliable aggregator. This morning, however, as I read with tepid interest about the coming Pinstripe Bowl, I also recognized what appears to be a reliable Nebraska stereotype.

To be fair to the Husker blog writer, he’s right: The Pinstripe Bowl does not sound appealing. December is not a great time to be standing around outside anywhere in this latitude. And Yankee Stadium is scarcely suitable for baseball, let alone football. But the writer hit a nerve on one point: that Yankee Stadium is in a “really, really bad part of town.”

So I put fingertip to laptop keyboard and wrote:

From: Me.
To: That Guy
Subject: Your Post on the Pinstripe Bowl
Date: Today

I write today because I am a fan of your Web site and, often, of your writing in particular.

This morning, I read with interest your post on the Pinstripe Bowl, but — in my opinion — you have to go back and adjust your comment that Yankee Stadium is in a bad neighborhood. That makes you sound dumb. Or worse.

You linked, by way of citation, to a post by a writer who compared the nearby Bronx streetscape unfavorably with Chicago’s so-called Wrigleyville. But that writer wasn’t talking about crime or blight; in my opinion, your remarks made it sound like he was.

I am a former Nebraskan who lives in Brooklyn and goes regularly to New York’s baseball stadiums. The area around Yankee Stadium probably lacks the obvious amenities and development that baseball fans would recognize, but in many ways it is better. There are three large taverns that open early and stay open late; there are more than a dozen restaurants (Indian, Caribbean, you name it — including a McDonald’s) nearby for takeout (you can bring what you like into the ballpark); and on each side of the stadium there are broad public spaces, ringed with vendors, that are suitable for hanging out and meeting people.

Yankee Stadium might be a stark, depressing mausoleum. The Yankees themselves might be the epicenter of gluttonous team management, disgusting financial largesse and poor role models. But it is not 1979. The streets around the stadium are a safe and comfortable landing pad for responsible adults.

I refer you, for instance, to this.

Yours respectfully,
and Husker-ishly
Me.

Update, June 7: I have a good friend who always ignores about two-thirds of what I write him. I will shoot him an e-mail and say something like, “Did you see that thing on TV? Wow. Anyway. Weather’s great. Do you want to get a beer tomorrow?” And he will reply, “It is a nice day.” We always get the beer; he’s not avoiding me. He just has functional e-mail blindness or something.

Like when you correct someone who’s made a simple mistake and he or she stubbornly and repeatedly outlines how the mistake was made, as if that mitigates things.

Anyway. You learn after a while that some things are not worth fixing.

On an unrelated note, my correspondent replied not long after I published this post.

From: That Guy
To: Me

A fair perspective. Frankly, I’ve never been to Yankee Stadium…in fact, I’ve only been to New York City twice, and both times, it was just Manhattan. So I have to go by what others say. Perhaps I should have said “perceived” because I don’t have first hand experience there. Frank isn’t the first person who thought Yankee Stadium was in a bad neighborhood, though.

Thanks for the feedback.

For the record, High Bridge (where Yankee Stadium is) is not in a bad neighborhood, by gentrified New York standards, anyway.

The south Bronx was once synonymous with urban blight, yet many of the areas neighborhoods, such as High Bridge No. 39, Melrose & Morrisania No. 45 and Mott Haven No. 59, rank higher than gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn with much better reputations.

via The Bronx – DNAinfo.com Crime and Safety Report.

It’s not that Southerners are fatter, they just admit it more.

Quote

Turns out that Southerners fudge less, he said. The study analyzed the weights in the nine geographic regions used by the U.S. Census Bureau. It found that the West North Central region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and North and South Dakota, ranked fourth in obesity by the telephone survey results. But when actually weighed in the REGARDS study, people from that region ranked first in the nation for obesity.

via People in the South are not so fat after all — and they lie less | al.com.

 

Harry High School and the Huskers

For all the grief we give Pelini for his team’s failure to go undefeated, Tim Miles has been putting on a clinic on how you get 150% out of your players. Seriously, the guy has a depleted roster and his team is pushing the best of the Big Ten.

via The Reads: Tim Miles is a Wizard – Corn Nation.

Apparently, enthusiasm for Nebraska basketball — or Nebrasketball, as no one says — is at a fever pitch, if anonymous bloggers are to be believed. Probably, it is more accurate to say that it is enthusiasm for enthusiasm that is at a fever pitch. In any case, excerpted above is just one drop in the leaky bucket of early-season exhortations that this year will be the year when it will finally pay emotional dividends to follow Nebraska basketball.

Herbie Husker, the mascot of the University of...

Herbie Husker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Never mind that the Huskers have only two 20-win seasons in the last 15 years, and have never — NEVER — won an N.C.A.A. tournament game.

But let’s imagine there is reason for optimism, if not for actual, meaningful success than for the satisfying clanks and whistle noises that are the impossible-to-refute evidence of progress toward fickle, ethereal college-athletics respectability. Certainly, Nebraska started the season with a number of victories, as many larger college programs do. But the Huskers also won at Wake Forest, traditionally no slouch in basketball, and they defeated Southern California, which is no doubt lavishing its players with astoundingly lucrative illegal benefits.

And on the morning of Dec. 6, Nebraska was neat and trim and 6-1. That night, the Huskers played instate rival Creighton, and lost in resounding, if typical, fashion, 64-42. It was no surprise, probably, to many observers. And no cause, really, for alarm; the Blue Jays are, year in and year out, a better club.

But for the Huskers, it marked the beginning of an interesting trend: in five out of the next 10 games, Nebraska would fail to score more than 47 points. As a point of reference, the median scoring average for a Division I team is typically 20 points higher.

Indeed, since losing to the Blue Jays, the Huskers have only three wins, none against major-conference programs and only one by double digits. Since starting play in the so-called Big Ten Conference, they have lost four in a row — by an average of 14 points.

“A lot of good things went on,” Miles said. “It just wasnt enough to win.”

via No. 22 Michigan State pulls away from Nebraska late – Omaha.com.

Still, the blogger Salt Creek and Stadium at the really-it’s-good blog Corn Nation writes, “I’m telling you right now – it’s time to buy in.”

South of McGrew, Nebraska - 5

South of McGrew, Neb. A hard place deserves the hard truth. (Photo credit: Welfl)

Which is fine. I am willing to concede that it is more than likely Mr. Stadium has valid, if unclear, reasons for his optimism, and I can believe that the Huskers’ new coach, Tim Miles, is a vigorous advocate for his players. It is further nearly certain that I know so little about basketball that I cannot be trusted to give an intelligent opinion. However, I observe that this finger-on-the-nose giddiness about Nebraska’s basketball team can be interpreted as an example of what I like to call Red Blindness. That is to say, Nebraska fans are not the most level-headed observers of their favorite team. (The showers at the Citrus Bowl had scarcely been mopped before some bloggers were predicting a breakthrough for the football team in 2014!)

Certainly, the phenomenon exists for every club. But I don’t read every blog. And, especially during the football season, what I saw on blogs and on the Twitter was the sometimes angry sentiment that Huskers deserved the support of their fans — to the exclusion of any and all criticism.

I realize that this was not exactly what Mr. Stadium was getting at. Also, it is fair to be mindful that athletes like quarterback Taylor Martinez are, in the end, youngsters and not professionals — though the cash value of an athletic scholarship should never be sneezed at. And it is certainly worthwhile to reflect that college sports are, after all, utterly without importance. But the minute fans stop being honest with themselves and the team they support, the endeavor of college sports becomes futile. It isn’t like Nebraska athletes are your high school classmates; it is O.K. to judge them for what they are: Beneficiaries of your interest.

No one would accuse a serious and reasonable critic of the government of being unpatriotic. So why do I have to swallow gigabytes of nonsense just so I can hang on to my Husker card? Enthusiasm for Mr. Miles and the Huskers might be needed, it might be magnanimous to display, but I fail to see how it is warranted.

Oddly, Sunday night, Mr. Miles seemed to anticipate my feelings.

“If you’re a shallow person and you only need a win to get you over the top, then we’re going to have problems, but you can’t live that way right now.”

via Miles encouraged after short-handed Huskers fall to Michigan State : Latest Husker News.

He isn’t the first to suggest I lack depth. And so, O.K., I guess we restart the clock on the rebuilding project that is, and has been, the Nebraska athletic program.

That being said, having lived for more than 20 years in Nebraska, having seen Moe Iba in person, I am compelled to add that no matter what Mr. Stadium had written, I wasn’t going to start following Nebraska basketball again in any event. There is a quaint form of comfort to be derived from the fact that, One, I can still remember where I was when the Rich King-led Huskers were waxed by Xavier in the 1991 tournament and, Two, Nothing worth mentioning has happened since then.

And that is the thing. That Husker bandwagon that no one has really gotten on? If I have to, I can still slip on the back and no one will notice.

Coda: ‘What Just Happened?’

Huskers - Waiving Flag -  TOUCHDOWN!!

(Photo credit: beatboxbadhabit)

Lets be honest: The Huskers few losses over the past few years have been bad. They haven’t just lost; they’ve been embarrassed. But that got me wondering — does everybody just get embarrassed once or twice a season nowadays, or is this something that the Huskers are particularly bad at? …Fundamentally, getting embarrassed is all relative to expectations, when the team falls so far short of them that it really grabs even the casual observers attention.

via How Embarrassing Have the Huskers Losses Been, Really? A Look at the Stats – Corn Nation.

It’s over. To me, anyway, the Huskers’ season is over, and I am done. But I came across this article from Corn Nation and it scratched an itch I had. What I was wondering was, Is this what college football is like now? Do major college programs, if mediocre ones, really just blow it — and I mean, really blow it — a couple of times a year?

The answer to the question posed in the excerpt above — “Is this something that the Huskers are particularly bad at?” — is a qualified yes, insofar as it is possible to conclude from the hastily constructed and thoroughly imperfect metric. The writer at Corn Nation, by his own admission, came up with a simple answer for a complicated question, but it was good enough for me.

Clearly, something is wrong with Nebraska’s football program. But is it the system? Is it just rolls of the dice? Can it be fixed? Or will it just fade away on its own? For me, the reasons why are not particularly important. It’s too broad a playing field, I think, for a useful discussion.

A common complaint is that the coach, Bo Pelini, seems never to know how to explain such defeats. Possibly, they are inexplicable. Probably, Mr. Pelini is too arrogant to be appropriately self-analytical, even for the tiny attention spans of sportswriters. In any event, Mr. Pelini’s remarks — which usually involve phrases like “lack of execution” — shed no light on the subject.

If I am honest, I don’t really know what “embarrassed” has to do with college football; the corresponding feeling I have is one akin to whiplash. The what-just-happened emotion that churns your stomach after your car hits a deer on a dark night.

But unlike the human participant of such a wreck, who might be moved to ask for medical help or puzzle over a smashed fender, I empathize more with the frightened, wounded animal, stumbling into the woods, trailing gouts of blood in search of a quiet place to lie down.

‘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?

[Pause.]

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.