Dear followers, regular readers, and people who ended up here by accident,
Okay – a quick show of hands: down by 14 at halftime of the Ohio State game, who honestly thought we had a chance to win? What about down 21 early in the 3rd quarter? Anybody?
If you look closely at your screen, you’ll notice my hand is not raised. I’ll admit it: after the passive way Nebraska played when Wisconsin jumped out to a big lead last week, I wasn’t expecting NU to win when OSU did the same thing. At halftime on Saturday, I was damp, dejected, and depressed. A few hours later, I was dry (a big thanks to early exiter who gave me their poncho), dazzled, and delirious.
Apparently Nebraska was confused by seeing “OSU” on the schedule. Instead of playing The Ohio State University, Nebraska thought they were playing Oklahoma State University. In the first half, they awoke the ghosts of 2007’s home fiasco. In the second half, they replayed the impressive offensive performance from last year’s Okie State game.
There is a huge temptation to look at what happened on Saturday and assign deep significance: a turning point that propels the team through the rest of the season. Quite frankly, I want to believe it too. In that sense, the open week is coming at a terrible time. But mainly, I want to believe that Nebraska can combine a prolific offensive with a respectable defense. That is much more comforting than the alternative – that an ugly 7-5 season is a definite possibility.
So what did we learn?
Given a choice between quitting and fighting, this team chose to fight. Yes, the win was exciting and something that few fans will forget, but I will argue the larger victory on Saturday was not laying down and letting a fairly average Ohio State team walk all over Nebraska. Do not underestimate how important this is – if this team had quit against OSU, it would have led to chemistry issues, future losses, an underachieving season, and a quitter stigma that would take years to shake. By all means, celebrate the W, but it is secondary to this team learning how to scratch, claw, fight, and win.
Tim Beck still has some aces up his sleeve. After the Lavonte David fumble recovery at the Ohio State 23 yard line, it was absolutely critical that Nebraska came away with a touchdown. On 1st Down, Beck called a pretty basic Rex Burkhead run, which got 5 yards. On 2nd down, Nebraska lined up with three running backs in the backfield (Burkhead, Aaron Green, and Ameer Abdullah). At the snap, the movement of the backs made it look like an option or toss play to the near sideline. Instead, Martinez kept the ball on a zone read and went 18 yards for the touchdown. Judging by the ridiculously large hole Martinez ran through – most of the linemen could have scored with that hole – OSU had no idea what was going on. Late in the 4th when Nebraska needed a first down to ice the game, there was Burkhead lined up at fullback (with Abdullah at RB) and Rex getting the carry on the FB trap. First down, game over, drive home safely. Beck took some deserved heat last week, but he deserves some credit this week.
Nebraska is proud to be in the Big Ten. In case you weren’t aware, this was Nebraska’s first game in the Big Ten, but I don’t know how you could have missed it. You would have to overlook the large white “B1G” painted on each end of the field. Somebody let me know for sure, but I think the “XII” came off the Memorial Stadium turf for good somewhere around 1998. During the band’s pregame spectacular, the field was ringed with flags from all of the Big Ten schools – that never happened in the XII. (Side note: I liked how during the National Anthem, the NU and OSU flags were in close while the other ten flags were off to the side – I’d like to see this tradition continue for other conference games). Nebraska has been playing with a Big Ten patch on their jerseys this year; it has probably been a decade since anything relating to the Big XII was on our jerseys. The tunnel walk uses “B1G” as an adjective with a couple of dozen nouns glorifying Nebraska. Make no mistake: Nebraska has a home they can be proud of and it feels good.
So what don’t we know?
What would have happened if all of the suspended OSU players had played? OSU’s starting QB gets knocked out of the game and the back up comes in. On Saturday, that meant the elusive Braxton Miller was replaced with the statuesque Joe Bauserman. Without the various scandals in Columbus, Braxton Miller is replacing Terrell Pryor. Pryor was the biggest name, but there was a lot of talent who was forced to sit out. Ohio State has been paying the price for this scandal all year-long.
Can NU maintain the defensive intensity shown in the second half? One of the biggest red flags for the defense has been the amount of yards they give up on first down rushing plays. For most of the season, a rush on first down has netted 4-6 yards, which leads to a lot of the other problems we’ve seen. But look at the rush yards gained on first down by OSU in the 3rd quarter: 4, 3, 3, and 2. First down success makes second and third down easier. Now the big question to ponder for the next two weeks: was the second half performance (105 total yards) a collective “A-ha” moment for a young defense or was it an adreneline fueled anomaly? My guess is the truth is somewhere in the middle. I’m expecting the defense to play to Blackshirt standards against Minnesota, and we’ll see what happens against Michigan State.
How ugly would it have gotten if NU would have folded in the second half? The fallout from the Wisconsin debacle was fairly big. Toughness was questioned, schemes were doubted, and certain players did not boost their standing with fans or the media. A second, ugly loss – nationally televised, no less – an 0-2 start in the new conference, plus an open week to think about it? Yikes. It would have been brutal. There are still a lot of tough questions to be asked, but this is a feel-good win for the program and for Bo.
5 Players I Loved
- Lavonte David. Just in football terms, his forced fumble/recovery was a thing of beauty. But that single play was the spark the team (and the fans) needed to come back to life. Without the play, I wonder if NU comes back. Outside of that play? In the 4th quarter, you could really get the sense that Lavonte David had taken over that game – he was all over the field making plays and rattling OSU’s QB.
- Taylor Martinez. Rex will get the glory, but we do not win this game without Taylor Martinez. Members of the Brion Carnes Fan Club should repeat that sentence from now until kickoff of the Minnesota game. He completed 73% of his passes, ran for 110 yards, and had his first fumble free game of the year. Did I mention that the rain seemed to intensify every time NU had the ball in the second half? Seriously, can we get off of his back for a day or two now? If you did not see progress from Martinez, it was only because you weren’t looking for it. He will give you future reasons to blame him, I promise, but today he deserves credit.
- Rex Burkhead. Seriously, what more can be said about Rex? In addition to his impressive efforts as workhorse running back and scrapper of extra yards, he also caught five passes as Martinez’s (much-needed) safety valve. He’s not the biggest, fastest, or flashiest, but he just gets it done every single week. Don’t tell my wife, but “Rex” is a leading contender for the name of our next child: boy or girl.
- Brett Maher. Lets remind ourselves of how spoiled we are with Alex Henery, and now Brett Maher as kickers; as anything inside of 55 is pretty much automatic. Remember back when Jordan Congdon was our kicker, and his range topped out at 40-45 yards? You know that amazing second half comeback? How do you think it changes if NU had to punt instead of getting points from a 50 yard FG by Maher?
- Stanley Jean-Baptiste. I noticed there was a #16 getting a lot of playing time at cornerback. A quick peek to the pocket roster showed #16 as Lazari Middleton – who left the team in August. Turns out #16 is Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a WR who moved over to defense a few weeks ago (he had a catch in the Chattanooga game). Even though he is on defense, he can still catch the ball, as witnessed by a pretty (and crucial) turnover in the 4th. Jean Baptiste does get docked to the 5th spot for his stupid personal foul penalty that extended an OSU drive. But he represents definite promise towards finding stability in the second CB spot. Yes it is concerning that one of our best options at corner has been playing the position for less than a month, but we’re focusing on the positive here.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Booing Fans. A quick recap for those who may have missed it: near the end of a frustrating first half, Martinez overthrew everybody – except for the OSU safety who recorded an INT. This led to a shower of boos. On the next play, the defense allowed a long run, and the boos came again. Ohio State kicked a FG and the Huskers fan off the field to still more boos. Look: I get that those were three very frustrating plays back-to-back-to-back, and I get the 2011 Huskers will not be confused with the 1995 team, but what exactly are the boo birds trying to prove? Is there anybody out there who believes the biggest comeback in school history occurred because the boos prompted the team to action? I get that fans have the “right” to boo (and I’m using that mostly in the First Amendment sense, not because you spent $55 on a ticket), but it still doesn’t make it right. What really rubs me the wrong way is the people who were so quick to boo Martinez, the defense, and the team, were the among the first ones to cheer for them during the comeback. I’m not going to tell you fans cannot boo. I will freely admit booing refs, bad calls, and opposing players over the years. But I have never booed a Nebraska player, coach, or performance – and I have been there for pretty much everything over the last 18 years, including the 2003 KSU meltdown, sloppy home losses in 2004, and the entire 2007 season, so it is not like there have not been opportunities. Booing a pro is one thing – consider it one of the downsides to making millions of dollars a year, but a 20-year-old kid who is not making a dime? What point are you trying to make? Walking out of north stadium after the game, a fan said it better than I can: “Anybody who booed should not be enjoying this win”. I completely agree. If you disagree, let me know in the comments.
- Pass Rush. Last week, OSU allowed nine sacks to Michigan State. I’m no jock (which is the biggest understatement in this entire post, by the way) but I would like my chances in a foot race against OSU’s Joe Bauserman. Therefore, I can’t understand why Nebraska only ended up with one sack. Get some pressure and make some plays.
- Execution on Fourth Down. This is an admittedly minor quibble. This is the second time this year that Nebraska has come up short on 4th and 1 or 2 (Washington was the other). I don’t have a problem with the play calling on 4th, but I would like to see better execution. Down the road, we are going to need to pick up a key 4th and short, and I expect the offense to come through.
- Fans who boo. That’s right, I’m not letting this go. I know for some people the signs saying “Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football” are a self-important, Steve Pedersen-era bunch of hooey, and if some quarterback thinks he can overthrow a receiver without hearing about it, well, he’s got another thing coming. But for some folks (like me) those signs represent the high standards that Nebraska Football represents. It is about playing the other team’s fight song, clapping for their injured players, standing ovations when the opponent leaves the field, and congratulating opposing fans on a well-fought game win or lose. It is not about booing one of our own, or telling any of our players or coaches that they suck. Enough with the booing. We’re better than that.
- Eddie George. I heard the former Ohio State star running back was in town, calling the game for Westwood One radio. To the best of my knowledge, he did not return the Heisman Trophy that he stole from Tommie Frazier. Look, I may be biased, but let’s face facts: Eddie George had no business winning the Heisman in 1995. Heck, George wasn’t even the best running back in 1995 (Troy Davis, anyone?) This was a horrible vote from the days when the Heisman was more a vote about NFL potential than NCAA success. Hopefully TSA will stop him at the airport and hold him until the Heisman is returned to the man who earned it on the field all year long, and proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt in the bowl game.