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.

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‘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.

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.

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.

The ‘Only Thing We Could Control’

Nebraska rushed for 347 yards in its 42-13 win over Arkansas State, and its running backs combined for 48 rushes for 293 yards in the easy victory, one that was marked primarily by Bo Pelini’s hospitalization at halftime (he’ll be fine, don’t worry.)

via Arkansas State vs. Nebraska: No Rex Burkhead, No Problem for Huskers | Bleacher Report.

“He will be fine, don’t worry,” writes The Bleacher Report’s Adam Jacobi. I assure you, I wasn’t.

The passing of Coach Bo Pelini into that Great Equipment Room in the Sky would have been just the kick in the pants Huskers fans needed after all the garment-rending and teeth-gnashing last week that followed in the wake of a moribund loss to U.C.L.A. It’s just football, after all, right?

Alas, medical tests showed no diagnosable defect in Mr. Pelini, to hear him say so, anyway, and so perspectives remained warped all across Nebraska.

“We did it for him out there, we did it for each other,” linebacker Will Compton tooted after the game.

Not quite wanting the promotion to mascot, Mr. Pelini cooed, “Everything is fine.”

The Trip to the Hospital in an Ambulance, of course, is better known as the go-to move for nervous, soon-to-be-jilted husbands in the movies. You can just hear Mr. Pelini whimpering, “Doesn’t seeing me in the hospital remind you of how much you love me?”

I hope Mr. Pelini got the answer he was hoping for after taking the temperature of his probably-restive locker room. It certainly hasn’t been easy for him this season. Four players have bailed out on his program so far, and his reputation as a defensive genius is thoroughly dented. Even team boosters feel no compunction about haranguing assistant coaches.

“We can’t control a guy leaving the team,” safety Daimion Stafford told The World-Herald. “We can’t control the past. Only thing we could control was Arkansas State.”

And that was the problem with Saturday’s victory: It seemed about as informative as Mr. Pelini’s medical tests. What can you learn about a comfortable victory against a team like Arkansas State?

Probably, the defense, using both three- and four-man fronts and several untested players, was better. Arkansas State, we are told, is no slouch on offense, and managed to score 34 points two weeks ago against now-third-ranked Oregon.

“We made a statement,” Stafford said, apparently without irony. That statement apparently was, Hey, two times out of three, we’ll win a game.

Certainly, the offense continued playing well, displaying the versatility and depth fans wish the defense had. Taylor Martinez threw only one incompletion in 14 attempts, and a stable of running backs — not including the still-injured Rex Burkhead — galloped for 347 yards, led by the sophomore Ameer Abdullah.

Mr. Abdullah, projected as maybe the lead backup heading into the season, had 30 of the 48 carries by running backs, and finished with 167 yards.

“I like running the football,” Mr. Abdullah bleated after the game.

Comments like that are enough to make a guidance counselor soil himself with excitement.

The highs and lows of the afternoon left John Papuchis, the defensive coordinator who took charge of the sideline while Mr. Pelini was at the hospital, sounding a little like a guidance counselor himself: “There are so many life lessons our guys can take from this.”

Here’s one: Devoting your life to an unrewarding, stressful career in football is harmful to your health.

‘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.

‘A Non-Negotiable Stake in the Ground’

Taylor Martinez. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)

Said running backs coach Ron Brown: “There was resolve. A non-negotiable stake in the ground that said: ‘Lets do what we do best.”

via Martinez, Huskers defeat Golden Eagles 49-20 – Omaha.com.

“It was,” The Omaha World-Herald tells us, “an empty-the-bench, earn-a-letter day” on Saturday for the 17th-ranked Huskers, who won their season opener for the 27th year in a row. There probably was not anything meaningful to be learned in the 49-20 victory against not-exactly-a-cupcake Southern Mississippi.

Superficially, Taylor Martinez, Nebraska’s junior quarterback and the club’s biggest question mark, seemed transformed. His cartoonish throwing motion and off-target passes had been the cause of much anguish for folks in the groaning couches and sagging lawn chairs of Nebraska — “I think for a while I was probably his only friend,” the Huskers assistant Tim Beck said.

Receiver Jamal Turner, unusually for an athlete, hit the nail on the head: “Nobody” — least of all a football player — “wants to be talked about and criticized about not being able to throw the ball.”

On Saturday, the diminutive Martinez, throwing with more zip and from a higher release point, passed for 354 yards, a career high, and five touchdown passes, tying a career high. This productivity was said to be the result of his extensive off-season work — two years into his playing career, mind you — on learning how to throw the football like a grownup.

“I don’t think no one could stop us if we keep going like that,” Martinez charmingly intoned after the game.

But Southern Mississippi’s first-year coach, Ellis Johnson, played the role of wet blanket. Like a red-nosed retired athlete with a telestrator, Johnson hooked a fat finger at the so-called trenches. “The biggest thing was they man-handled us,” Johnson said.

“The only damper for Nebraska,” The Associated Press tells us, “was an injury to Rex Burkhead,” arguably Nebraska’s best player. Really, this was perhaps the most significant development, not because Burkhead’s injury was so serious but because it gives the sputtering, purple-faced head coach Bo Pelini something to be smugly circumspect about so early in the season.

After the game, Pelini met a sea of raised hands from reporters by droning that Burkhead was “day-to-day, week-to-week.”

Mostly, the victory provided a bumper crop of moronic comments dutifully reported by not-much-smarter sports reporters. As in Pelini’s commentary on the performance of Martinez: “I thought, to be efficient, he’s got to handle the offense well.”

Or as in the dim-witted sportswriter who apparently asked Martinez if it was “a statement game,” an unintentionally ambiguous phrase if there ever was one. Martinez answered in kind: “I guess if you guys want to say that,” he said.

“I saw this coming,” receiver Kenny Bell told The World-Herald. “You’re a product of anything you work on.”

“I feel good about where we’re at,” Beck said. “But, I mean, we got U.C.L.A. next week, right?”