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Why Huskers Fans Won’t Hate the Buckeyes as They Did the Longhorns, and Aftermath of the Shootout in the Shoe

Who’s Your Number One Enemy, Husker fans?

Off-field politics aside, the reason that Texas became the program that Nebraska fans were most antagonized with for the better of the last ten years was that Mack Brown won many a game against the Huskers with more talented players who didn’t play as hard as the guys who wore red. For over a decade, Husker fans would listen to Brown wax poetically while Husker players simply seemed empty. One thing Husker fans will appreciate about loosing to Ohio State is that as they did on Saturday night is that Urban Meyer would be fuming in the press conference if his teams played Nebraska in the same underachieving manner Brown’s Texas teams did.

It’s really the great part about being in the Big 10. Nebraska fans will no longer have to suffer regular fatigue of a passive fan base who are as come-and-go as Texas’ is. Ohio State fans are more like Nebraska fans: blue collar, many working in agriculture. Three years ago in September, I drove in a loop from Cincinnati to Hillsboro and back up through Lima, Ohio, and the whole corridor is littered with Buckeye-named businesses and little Brutuses line the shelves of Pamida

But still, Nebraska has to look up at the Buckeyes, and face the reality that even if they pay a great game on the road against the Buckeyes, they still could wind up loosing. Which was exactly what happened.

While disappointment is natural with a lot, there really isn’t a lot to be disappointed with from an offensive perspective. Against Ohio State, Nebraska’s usually below average offensive line was completely over-matched from the first snap. Even after handing the Buckeyes an easy seven, the Huskers ran the ball extraordinarily well. Unlike the loss at UCLA, the offense never shrunk and kept making plays, or at least trying to make. If Nebraska had held Ohio State to a field goal at the end of the first half, they could have tied the game at the beginning of the third quarter. (Like Kansas in 2007, the Huskers scored to 31 points between the first half and the first drive of the third. In both cases, it was all that could have been asked.)

Which leads to a coaching call that may have turned the game, Bo Pelini’s attempt to “ice” Carlos Hyde before fourth and one. In many ways, the situation can be evaluated like an opposing coach calling a timeout as a kicker winds up, or even attempts in some situations. Coach’s don’t get that much criticism if the kicker makes the kick after the timeout; really, the timeout is going to be wasted anyway, and the move is criticized just because it looks hookey. But when considered, the extra time does more to help the kicker, especially if he’s running on to the field trying to beat the cock.

It was no more evident here. Bo Pelini calls a timeout, and if Ohio State had to live with the play it was going to run out of their hurry-up offense, more than likely, they would have just kicked a field goal. I don’t blame Peini for using defensive timeouts, if he feels he can get his guys into the right situation. The problem is when he can’t, he’s his own worst enemy.

It ended up being much worse…

So where does Husker Nation go from here? The goal of winning the Big 10 is still attainable, even if it would be as meaningless as winning the Big 12 North back in the day. Going 5-1 down the stretch would guarantee winning the Legends, but that’s unlikely with road games at Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa (they’ll get better, believe me). 4-2 seems much more believable and attainable; the biggest challenges will be containing Dennard Robinson and not slipping up in the last three weeks of the season. Stealing a game on the road will also be a challenge. Michigan State is the hardest game to read. While the Huskers never seem to pack their defense, the Spartans don’t seem to have the quarterback to exploit the Blackshirts the way Braxton Miller and Brett Hudley have. Whoever does end up representing the Legends in Indianapolis may end up being the luckiest team, not the best.

Where to go?

Comebacks on my Birthday: Reflections on this Past Years’ Nebraska-Ohio State game

On my birthday this year, I was sitting out in the rain and feeling miserable. Well, at least I was for a while. After a bit, I went home happy and dried off, but for a while, I was just wet and miserable.

My birthday is October 8. Nebraska was hosting Ohio State, in a game that I had looked forward to for over a year. Nebraska would have played Kansas State, had the Big 12 stayed as it was, but now, they were playing one of the big boys. My dad had gotten the two of us tickets to the game, aisle seats about forty rows up in south endzone, a section west of the student section. What was as bad as the first half was that there were a bunch of guys who were sitting in the row adjacent to our seats. They were told to move by one of the security guys in orange vests, then by an uniformed cop. Thankfully, they left at halftime.

When Nebraska was down 27-6 in that game, all I could think of was that Kirk Bohl of the Austin-American Statesman would be writing a column talking about how the Huskers were in over their heads in the Big 10. Here was the dilemma of being a Nebraska die-hard the past ten years-taking the scorn of not living up to the expectations was next to impossible. The first people had begun to leave the game when Ohio State got the ball for the second time in the third quarter. In my head, I had myself begun to calculate mentally when exactly I would want to leave stadium sure that the game was out of reach; thankfully, I never picked the time.

Same day two years earlier, I had been sitting in the Joyo Theater contemplating the exact same thing on a third down play early in the fourth quarter as Nebraska was down 12-0. As that game worn on, I was almost gleeful. While Nebraska was down 12-0 entering the fourth quarter, I comforted myself with the notion that it wasn’t nearly as bad as Nebraska’s last two losses to Missouri. The defense had manhandled Missouri upfront; the only points Missouri had managed were hard earned. I thought well, we won’t win the Big 12 North this year, but hey, Missouri’s defense is tough. But as Nebraska’s defense began dropping interception, I started to think that Missouri had just been lucky up to that point.

So as I was thinking about leaving, Zac Lee’s threw one up to Niles Paul, shocking me that he actually got the ball more than fifteen yards from line of scrimmage. When Paul caught the ball and stumbled into the end zone, the theater erupted. It had felt as if the Huskers were down by four touchdowns, but after that touchdown, it felt like they were ahead. As it felt like they could literally do no wrong, they stormed back to win 27-12, and as Roy Helu scored the games’ final touchdown, I turned to my Dad and whispered, “Best birthday ever”.

Two years later, as Ohio State took the ball again in the third quarter, the feeling that Nebraska would once again be the sorry program who lived in the nineties took over, and in this game, Nebraska looked even more over matched on the lines. And to think that this could be the weakest Ohio State team Nebraska played in the next ten years, who could steal Nebraska’s coach at the end of the season? The results when I walked out of the gate would be unbearable.

The third down where LaVonte David stripped Braxton Miller felt so surreal; I wasn’t celebrating it at first, because I thought they might rule Miller down on replay because David came away with the ball after the fact. But seeing it again, I could tell that David had wrestled the ball away, like an unwilling hand-off. I didn’t feel that sensation of an instant turnaround, but when Taylor Martinez scored a touchdown on the second play after the fumble, having set up the Buckeyes perfectly for the middle keeper, I felt Nebraska had a chance.

In retrospect, many of the similarities between the Missouri comeback and the Ohio State comeback exist, although I didn’t think of them during the game. I didn’t see it until I watched the game again, but it was when Joe Bauserman came into the game on third down that the crowd really came back to life. When Bauserman threw a pass ten yards out of bounds on third down, I began to think Nebraska had a realistic chance to comeback, a thought that I finished when Quincy Enumwa caught the long touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez with 2:21 left in the third, cutting the deficit to a touchdown. That series of plays was two plays in the Missouri game-Ndamukong Suh’s interception of Blaine Gabbert, followed by Niles Pauls’ second touchdown pass two plays later. The longer gap in the Ohio State game really had be holding my breath and thinking maybe.

Obviously, more fortuitous things came up in the Ohio State game, given that Nebraska was down three touchdowns. If Braxton Miller doesn’t get injury, it severally hurts Nebraska’s chances, and if Ohio State doesn’t have an interim coach, they could have had the leadership to withstand the bleeding. But both games signified the making of Nebraska’s season that year: the win at Missouri was Nebraska’s ticket to the Big 12 title game (and their first win in Columbia in eight years), and the win against Ohio State was Nebraska’s first Big 10 win, a win that kept Nebraska among the top 25 for the year, and most importantly, the biggest comeback in school history. If Nebraska had lost the Ohio State game, they would have gone done in the bowl pecking order, and this off-season would be even worse.  After ten years of watching Nebraska fail to come back after several things didn’t go their way in a game, it was rewarding to see them come back, especially against one of the nation’s elite programs.

At the end of the game, the rain was over and my dad and I went to the car, stopping by The Mill for a smoothie and tea. I was still wet, but it was a night that you could believe in magic, if you really wanted to. I can’t wait to see who Nebraska is playing Saturday, October 8, 2016. Or if they get a Thursday night game on October 8, 2015.

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