‘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.

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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.

‘I’m Pointing the Thumb First’

NU gave up 653 yards of offense to UCLA in their 36-30 loss, which ranks as the second most yards ever a Nebraska defense has surrendered in school history. The record goes all the way back to 1956, when national champion Oklahoma went off for 656 yards. The Bruins actually had 658 yards of offense on Saturday until the final two plays when they took a loss of 5 yards to run out the clock.

via HuskerOnline.com – Final take: A tale of two weeks.

The above excerpt captures something of the whiplash whirlwind that assaulted Nebraska football fans, sunk deep in their sagging couches on Saturday night, not to mention a bit of the acrid taste dried into their gaped mouths on Sunday morning. The paragraph starts with an alarming fact — “second most yards” — then pivots back in time, arcing elegantly over the Huskers’ most successful seasons like an errant Taylor Martinez pass. The third sentence is a sickening punchline, shouted from the back of a smoky bar by an indignant, over-indulged heckler.

The 36-30 loss to U.C.L.A. on Saturday night did not look or feel like an ass-kicking as I was watching it, but it was.

“We were inconsistent,” Coach Bo Pelini told The Omaha World-Herald. “Our fundamentals were lousy.”

Coaches always say that. “Our fundamentals were lousy.” We didn’t execute. How, I ask, is that possible* so early in the season after so many practices?

I shouldn’t make too much of that. It’s just coachspeak. It has no real meaning.

But I should like to make too much of some of Mr. Pelini’s decisions. How is it possible that someone like him, who describes himself proudly as old school, who talks about emphasizing the running game, stood by in a tie game that was by no means a lost cause while the offense rattled off six consecutive pass plays — all failures.

…Never mind.

To be fair, Nebraska is a bit improved this season, I think, from a club that was an overachieving 9-4. The offense is far more dynamic and capable of breaking off big gains than it was last season. The team, over all, seems to play more coolly and cerebrally, and to make fewer mistakes — at least in the sense of drive-killing penalties. And, remember, these are just kids.

found on http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/...

Tom Osborne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But these things are, of course, relative. Nebraska fans are still big time; the Rose Bowl was saturated in red. But the team, it has been written here, is nothing like it used to be. Probably, it won’t ever be again, though not really because of any failing by Mr. Pelini or Mr. Martinez. It is hard for a team to get traction after sliding backward. The landscape of college football is softer and more uneven than it has ever been. There are far more programs that consider themselves “major,” and it is probably harder to lure top athletes to a place like Lincoln than it ever was for Tom Osborne.

It shows.

The Huskers’ defense, for one thing, is nothing like its predecessors. This should not have been a surprise. But despite the fact that no major preseason all-star team had a Nebraska defender on its first team, numerous sportswriters and Saturday’s broadcasters boasted about the unit as a team strength, robotically applying the should-be-retired-by-now nickname Blackshirts.

The Huskers smell like a team that is built to be a top-25 power. They play like a team that is just trying to stay in contention for a bowl game.

Mr. Martinez, who has made great strides as a passer — never mind that he has done so two full seasons into his Nebraska career — encompasses the club’s problem. His improvement, though laughable, is also palpable. Mr. Martinez, bless him, really is throwing the ball better. On Saturday, he led Nebraska on a brisk two-minute drill to tie the game just before halftime. It was brilliant. A Nebraska offense has probably never displayed that kind of nimbleness.

Just the same, Mr. Martinez has certainly made no strides in game sense or intelligence. Maybe that is why no other big program recruited him as a quarterback.

Mr. Martinez showed appalling judgment for a junior on numerous occasions against U.C.L.A., including on two sacks in the second half. On the first, Mr. Martinez had his knee on the ground as he threw a wild pass to no one in particular. (It was picked off; referees reversed the call on video review.) On the second, Mr. Martinez chucked the ball wildly behind him as he was being sacked for a tiebreaking safety — inexplicably threatening to turn 2 points into 6.

All you really need to know about what happened on Saturday is that the childishly temperamental Mr. Pelini did not once lose his temper. Think of it. Each season, Mr. Pelini’s headphones are hurled into the air above a football field in a spectacular, purple-hued, slobber-irrigated tantrum with the metronomic regularity of chewing gum’s being hurled onto a New York City street. But on Saturday in Pasadena, he was a model of restraint.

And the simplest explanation is that he was never, not once in the 90-degree heat or in all those hundreds of yards, provoked to anger. He must have known it would happen.

Mr. Pelini, in his usual lucid style, told reporters afterward, “I’m pointing the thumb first.”

* A coach last week told The World-Herald that in the opener, the Huskers’ long snapper struggled with sweaty hands? How is that possible? I grew up in Nebraska and do not remember an August day when I didn’t sweat.