Derek Johnson Muses

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College Stadiums Through a Prism

In my travels, I’ve passed many college stadiums, and have endeavored to keep a photographic record of them. I love seeing them when they’re empty, because you can tell so much about their character, and what kind of fans go into them. Here’s a few of them, on game days and other days.



This walled-in construction lot this is Cal’s Memorial Stadium during its renovation in 2011. Literally, they tore it all out except for the walls. You couldn’t even go up next to it with all the construction fences, but you could still see inside from up on Tightwad Hill.

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Famous Turf…

As I’ve shared before, this photo was taken through the chain fence at Boise Stadium. That strategy was not as ingenious as the one I utilized below…

My Secret View of the Badgers' Home Turf

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

..where I actually snuck into Camp Randal Stadium and found a window. Looks like a snow globe.

Spartans lying in Wait...

Spartans lying in Wait…

If you look close to the left of the tree, that’s the south side of Spartan Stadium. At the time, I was on a short time table, and there was not an open parking space close to the stadium, so I ended up with this crappy, obstructed picture. The stadium has some dazzling windows, and fits with the summer greenery.

Hawk Nest...

Hawk Nest…

This photo was taken on an early morning in September of 2009, you know, way before Nebraska and Iowa would be shoehorned into a rivalry. At the time, I was just moseying through the lazy Iowa cornfields, wanting to capture a great stadium in the most glamorous college league in America. I’d have a different attitude about it if I were passing by it today.



This is stadium on a game day. The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan to be exact. The flag is the Nebraska flag that flies in the northwest endzone. Pretty simple for such an important college football venue. (More photos from last year’s Nebraska-at-Michigan game.) I don’t get why people criticize it for being a high-brow stadium. As a visiting fan, I’ve been to both high-brow and low-brow stadiums, and Michigan Stadium was much less threatening stadium for a visitor.


Sunny Days…

This is Jack Trice Stadium, through the fence at the south end zone. I’ve been to two Husker-ISU games there, in 2006 and 2010. Even though it’s a bit of a band box, it’s noisy as heck, especially at night, and the trees and greenery in this end zone are an unique feature. That dazzling scoreboard at the other end got installed in the first year was Nebraska out of the Big 12. Sigh.

Window Dressing...

Window Dressing…

With Nebraska’s move to the Big 10, the away trips have gotten longer, like our family trip last year to Northwestern. This is the scoreboard that watches over the north exit from the stadium. It’s in desperate need of upgrades, much more so than Jack Trice. Still, it’s great to think that migrations of Husker fans will continue to Evanston over the next ten to twenty years.

Decks of Concrete...

Decks of Concrete…

Technically, Qualcomm is an NFL stadium that happens to host a college program and two college bowl games (shown here before the 2009 Holiday Bowl), so I guess I can count it. While its sun-worn concrete sags away, it is nowhere near being the dump that its northern California doppleganger, the Oakland Coliseum is. Oh, why I am being so hard on it, it is a throwback to a money-saving time when football and baseball stadiums where single venues.

November 29th, 2013

November 29th, 2013

Did you not think I wouldn’t put in a picture of the stadium of my heart?

The Final Nebraska-Iowa State Game: A Moment that still Hangs

As I watched the extra point team set up, I knew it was going to be a fake. It almost wasn’t fair. Iowa State could every play out of the back of the playbook to win, and they’d look amazing doing it, and Nebraska would have to eat that loss for the next forty years or so.

In 2006, my parents rented an apartment that was within walking distance of Jack Trice Stadium, and since this was going to be the final Iowa State-Nebraska game for a while, I got tickets in the south end zone, ten rows up. This treated us to a bad view at times, and we always had to turn our heads to see the replay board. (Leave it to Iowa State to put in a huge video board the year after Nebraska leaves the conference.)

The view from our seats

Going into the game, I knew Nebraska might be at risk for a let-down, given back-to-back-to-back games against Texas, Oklahoma State, and Missouri. Also, quarterback Taylor Martinez and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard would be sitting out the game with injuries. In chasing the school single game rushing record a week ago, running back Roy Helu had twenty-eight carries, and wasn’t as sharp in the early going. Compound that Iowa State would be at max motivation to get a sixth win for bowl eligibility and because it was Nebraska, this was a smoldering pot.

Having beaten Nebraska 9-7 in Lincoln a year ago (a game that old men told me was the worst Husker football game they had ever witnessed) and Texas two weeks prior, the Cyclones had confidence Unlike many big play-dependent Big 12 offenses, they took what the Blackshirts gave them and didn’t get impatient. Jack Trice Stadium provided the perfect encasement for pesky team; while it wasn’t as loud as I remember it four years ago (that game was at night), the Cyclone Crazies have their way of getting things going, and frankly, it gets louder than the average Memorial Stadium crowd last five years.

Nebraska’s let down combined with the Cyclones advantages were what lead to a game that was frustratingly to close. Helu’s questionable fumble at midfield which couldn’t be overturned on replay, a 57-yard field goal made with the wind, a missed holding call on a long pass on Iowa State’s long third quarter touchdown drive, Niles Paul coming out of the end zone on the ensuing kickoff and fumbling the ball, a missed offensive pass interference call on Iowa State’s tying touchdown (the same officiating crew later called sixteen penalties on Nebraska later that year at Texas A&M), DeJon Gomes dropping an interception that could have set up a go-ahead field goal in regulation, and Cody Green not seeing an open Kyler Reed on a third down which could have set up a game tying field goal, albeit against the wind. All the while, I’m sitting in the midst of the Crazies and thinking it was almost unfair. But football isn’t fair, and neither is life for that matter.

So a long time after I turned my Dad and said “This finally feels like a Nebraska-Iowa Sate game” (third quarter), Austen Arnaud was kneeling down, and Bo Pelini and I thought Paul Rhoads would do something in overtime. Then came the overtime, which was played right in front of where I was sitting. Nebraska scored in two plays, Iowa State scored in three, again picking on one of Nebraska’s scrub corners.

Then came the extra point I knew would get faked. When I saw the holder get up and throw the ball, my first thought was, our guy is going to get to make a play on it. That guy, Eric Hagg, jumped, grabbed the ball, and fell over the back of the Iowa State tight end. Smack, game over, 31-30 Nebraska win. I went wild and high-fived the three or four Nebraska fans who were within arms reach, as the Iowa State fans just stood there stoned-faced. I went home whooping and celebrating, and wondering where Niles Paul would be taking Eric Hagg to dinner.

My view of Hagg's pick

When I watched the play again, I saw that Collin Franklin was open for a second. Courtney Osborne and Prince Amukamara were the defenders assigned to that side, and they both rushed the kicker straight on. If the Daniel Kuehl had thrown a strike in front of the Franklin, they would have won. Based on the alignment, Osborne was the player who should have covered Franklin, and judging by the replay, Kuehl likely had an option to kick if Osborne or Amukamara were standing back in safe. It me made wonder, if Pelini kept said in his press conference they thought something was up with the extra point, why he didn’t make sure one of them was back?

Even if a mistake was made by John Papuchis, Nebraska’s special teams coach at the time, Nebraska beat Iowa State on that play for the same reason they’d beat Iowa State 16 out of the last 20 times: they had better players. When you watch the play from behind the Iowa State line of scrimmage, Kuehl looks overwhelmed and makes a desperation heave on the run. (Indeed, Rhoads asked a lot of Kuehl, a backup kicker, to complete the game winning pass. If a backup quarterback or a player who had played quarterback was the holder, it would have been a better bet.) Kuehl could have run that play ten times in practice and converted it every time, but it wasn’t against Nebraska’s defenders. Hagg covered a lot of ground in a short period of time to make the interception, from the middle of the fiend to the outside of the hashmarks, and he still had time to judge the ball in the air. His speed to the ball is the most impressive thing about the play

On my walk back to the apartment after the game, I wondered why Rhoads didn’t just leave his offense out on the field . If he really thought his best chance of winning was by getting two points right away, why not let Arnaud throw the pass? Why did even need to go for two? Keep playing, and the pressure mounts on Nebraska. Intriguingly, the three top columnists that covered this game closely took three perspectives on Rhoads’ decision: Steve Sipple supported the fake, Tom Shatel thought there was no need to go for two, and Sam Keeler thought Rhoads should have left his offense on the field for the try. It was a Liar’s Poker situation: if the right thing was to go for it, then was faking the kick the right option? And if throwing a fade against Anthony West, who couldn’t have covered a fullback, was the most likely option to covert, was it still the best option to win the game?  Judging by Rhoads’ decisions in overtime this past season against Iowa and Oklahoma State, he may have decided to be patient in overtime because of that play.

For Nebraska, the faked extra point was the closest they came that year to not playing in the Big 12 title game. I still think a lot about that game,  mainly because there were so many little things that could have kept it from being decided at that moment. And nearly a year and a half later, I still don’t know if it was the right call for Iowa State, or if Nebraska was lucky or good. I’m just glad my team was on the right side that day.

Betting thoughts on Oklahoma State-Iowa State and Kansas-Texas A&M

Iowa State (+28.5 vs Oklahoma State) is a program that I follow with some closeness (given that I have to go to Ames for work frequently, I end up reading their papers and listening to their crappy sports radio). Typically, under Head Coach Paul Rhoads, they are team that can get up in spots, against Nebraska in 2009 and last year, last year at Texas (before the Horns went into a complete tailspin) and this year against Iowa and on the road at Uconn and Texas Tech. Once again, he’s got a team that has five wins and needs one more to go to a bowl game. The Cyclones strength is their run, lead by running back James White (4.8 ypc) and quarterback Jarret Barnett (5.2 ypc) who could spell Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who had a lot of success against Oklahoma State. Iowa State has had two weeks, to prepare and comes off two wins, boosting their confidence. (Coming into their road upset of Nebraska in 2009, they had won or been in contention late in their last four games.) This will be a game night, and I have been to a night game at Jack Trice Stadium against Nebraska in 2006. If the crowd gets going, it will be an intimidating atmosphere; those fans know how to be loud, and this will be a crowd of at least 50,000. And unlike Oklahoma State, his will be one of the few games that Iowa State has been in the spotlight this year. The Cyclones should get up for this one.
But let’s look more closely at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are going on the road on a short week, with what could be the biggest game in school history on deck in two weeks against Oklahoma, with a chance to go to the BCS Title Game on the line. Both those factors would be reason enough to fade the Cowboys, but let’s look a little deeper. OSU’s three lowest point totals of the season are 30 at Texas A&M (on grass), 37 against Arizona (short week), and 38 against Texas (grass). (Texas and Texas A&M are Oklahoma State’s only two games on grass this season.) Now they have to play on a short week on grass. In addition, the forecast for Ames calls for twenty mile an hour winds on Friday, with temperatures around 45 degrees. While it may not be frosty, it may be a challenge to get the ball down field, forcing an explosive offense to be patient.
The line opened at Oklahoma State -26 and quickly jumped to -29 where I bet Iowa State. Yesterday, it went back down to -27 but has returned to -28.5. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get -29 before kickoff, as the public money should be on the Cowboys. (As Bryan Leonard of says, the public loves to beat teams who score a lot.)
So all in all, I feel Iowa State is a particularly solid play here. While the Cowboys have been one of the top teams in College Football against the spread this year, their in a situation where they could have a let down and it’s not their ideal circumstances. I’d call for 38-17 Oklahoma State win, and would not be surprised if Iowa State was even closer in the second half.

Kansas(+31) at Texas A&M

This is a betting situation where you get value on a dog against a favorite who is a letdown spot. Texas A&M is 5-5 and 2-8 against the spread. Last week, the Aggies played four overtimes at Kansas State before loosing to the Wildcats. It may have been the last straw in a particularly disappointing year for the Aggies, based on their preseason expectations. Texas A&M is a program that typically underperforms and can’t deal with expectations.
Kansas, while they are 2-8, have played well the past two weeks, missing a field goal that would have sent the game to overtime, and missing an overtime two point conversion that would have won the game against Baylor. Their self-esteem is up, and now they get an opponent who might overlook them. Turner Gill is in his second year at Kansas, and is starting to feel they heat having won only 5 games so far and only one in the Big 12, so they will likely try hard to score even if the game is out of hand. They have one of the best running games in the Big 12, and this should be able to shorten the game.
While I think Texas A&M will beat Kansas, I think that the Jayhawks will stay in the game and still be playing hard even after the game maybe over. Texas A&M wins but Kansas covers 41-17. I haven’t bet this yet, and will wait up until game (12 ET) hoping to get some more points on the Aggies.


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