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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 18

In this episode, I talk Nebraska’s huge upset win over Michigan State, what it means for Mike Riley, and preview the upcoming road game at Rutgers. I also mourn the end of a summer romance (AKA Jordan Stevenson quitting the team) and break down Harvey Pearlman’s recent interview on Gaskins and Stephens.

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The Rise: Does the Big 10 Need Nebraska to Whip Everyone?

Looking in…

Steve Spurrier’s success at Florida in the 1990’s had an impact that went beyond the Gators. Yes, the fun-and-gun was one of the first passing offenses that began to take football by storm in the late 1990’s, but Spurrier’s penchant for running up the score began to raise the standards of many of the schools in the SEC, getting good coaches fired and raising the level of play in the conference to where it is today.

Yesterday in East Lansing, Husker fans saw a piece of how they may just shape the Big 10 going forward. While it wasn’t a huge win, going on the road and beating a consistent Michigan State team they hadn’t lead all day was again a sign of how Nebraska’s basketball-on-grass offense is pushing them to the front of the pack.

There haven’t been that many times  in the past ten years when Nebraska fans have been overtly optimistic. At points in 2003, fans saw the potential if they could only get better players, but that staff was soon scrapped to satisfy Steve Pedersen’s ego. Then there was the 2006 off-season, post-Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, where Husker fans hoped Zac Taylor could get them a conference title, and of course, the glow of the 33-0 Holiday bowl shutout of Arizona. The Pelini years have been good, don’t get me wrong, but now that Pelini’s gone 4-1 in a huge stretch in the Big 10, fans have reason to believe the team can be viable for years to come.

To his credit, Pelini hasn’t rested on his defensive laurels, and instead, has innovated offensively. When the Huskers moved to the Big 1o, Pelini could have justified keeping a grind-it-out, milk-the-clock offense. Instead, he brought in the spread, and now, a fan base that used to go cold at the first sign of trouble begins to believe their team can comeback when they are down two score with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. That wrinkle is how a coach buys multiple years in a place.

But the Huskers remain a paradox in and off themselves. While they deliver in the clutch, they wouldn’t even be in that position if not for penalties and turnovers getting the better of them. Yesterday, starting field position was again an issue, with only Nebraska drives starting past their own 31, and their own 42 and 45 respectively. But the bottom line is, the team doesn’t give up. They are built to come back in games, and if they are this good, imagine how good they could be if they actually got some turnovers in their favor.

Saturday was a good-to-great moment for Nebraska football. They came in off a big win, primed for an upset against a so-so team that was better than their record. There’s no question that Nebraska could have squashed Sparty in Lincoln. But the game was in East Lansing, and the Spartans got the game they needed from Le’veon Bell and their defense to stay in it. Nebraska just had a little more.

It maybe a bit premature to say that Bo Pelini is going to get coaches fired in the Big 10. Really, Urban Meyer is more likely to get coaches fired in the Big 10, with his aggressive recruitership alongside his offense. But both Meyer and Pelini bringing this exciting offense to the Big 10 is a good thing, and if they keep coming back or blowing out good teams, it’s going to be a rough go for the rest of the league.

Bo Pelini and crew are one step closer to their goal of a Big 10 crow, and the schedule is softening slightly. Penn State is a better team now than was expected, but Nebraska gets them at home. Fans should still be concerned about Pelini throwing in a charity loss to Minnesota or Iowa, but as we saw on Saturday, this crew can match anyone, and pretty soon, they’re going to get their best player back. Yes, Burkhead the Beast may return soon, but it says a lot to the leadership of this team that they’ve won all these games without him. That’s something to believe in.

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.

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