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  • After edging Northwestern, Huskers on the brink of something

    That sinking feeling in your gut late Saturday afternoon was Nebraska’s proud football program teetering on the brink of irrelevancy in college football. Then again, that surge of pride – and relief – was Nebraska getting up off the deck and throwing punches, staging two gutsy fourth-quarter drives that showed resilience and character in a game where everything seemed to be collapsing around the Cornhuskers **– mostly because of self-inflicted wounds.

    The Huskers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) avoided a slide that leads to the lagoon where .500 football teams live. They also put themselves in good position in the Legends Division race, setting up a high-stakes game against Michigan next Saturday night in Memorial Stadium.

    This time the Huskers won a road game against a team with a mobile quarterback.


    Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
    This time, Taylor Martinez played the role of effective dual-threat QB. He was not the one making the errors; he was the one overcoming them.

    This is a devilishly hard team to figure out, let alone have confidence in. You’ve got seniors making unsettlingly sophomoric mistakes, usually involving fundamental communication breakdowns. You’ve got coaches who sound surprised at what they get from their team on a weekly basis. In his postgame press conference, Bo Pelini vaguely referred to a “lack of awareness.”

    Nebraska’s players are mentally tough enough to come back from two daunting second-half deficits in Big Ten games. Yet they often appear confused. Stunningly, the Husker offensive line sometimes looked like five people who had just met each other for the first time. On more than one occasion, Nebraska tackles and tight ends allowed defenders to pass between them unmolested, like a shortstop and third baseman permitting a pop fly to drop between them. There was an alarming amount of confusion on a veteran offensive line during the fifth year of Pelini’s coaching tenure.

    Yet the Big Red piled up more than 500 yards of total offense, largely because of Martinez, who overcame shaky pass protection to find and an increasingly brilliant set of wide receivers often enough to give the Wildcat secondary nightmares.

    We know this for sure: the Huskers have won two of three as they travel through we all thought would be a make-or-break five-game stretch.

    The Husker defensive line showed improvement while the o-line took a step back. The linebackers showed improvement even as the running backs were largely held in check by the Northwestern defense.

    This team needs stability in a big way. It often has come from Superman – but Rex Burkhead aggravated his left knee injury and barely played at all. When Burkhead is out, the team suffers a leadership deficit. There are other disconcerting issues. ABC-TV cameras caught a shouting match between Pelini and senior cornerback Antonio Bell after Bell was flagged for a defensive holding penalty on Northwestern’s final touchdown drive.

    On Saturday, the oft-erratic Martinez provided stability, although a good effort by the Blackshirts against Northwestern’s zone-read offense may have been the story of the day. The Huskers forced 10 three-and-outs and their run defense was gashed only once – on an 80-yard scoring run by Venric Mark in the third quarter, and gave up a respectable 301 total yards. Pelini and John Papuchis came up with a good game plan. Ciante Evans, who held Kain Colter to three catches and 17 yards as a pass receiver, is becoming the best player on the Husker defense.
    Allowing Colter only 69 total yards was a major victory for the Blackshirts. I was surprised that Colter lined up under center as little as he did.

    On the other hand, the Huskers did not force a single turnover. They even found a way to give away a takeaway, when Daimion Stafford allowed himself to be drawn into a meaningless shoving match on punt coverage and was whistled for personal foul. This team won’t win often going minus-3 in turnovers.

    Yet there were encouraging signs. The defensive backs look increasingly comfortable in press coverage. Redshirt freshman linebacker David Santos made an athletic tackle for loss on Colter’s option run in the second quarter. Jamal Turner has improved at wide receiver each week this season.

    This is a team and coaching staff on the brink of something. Does anybody have a clue what that something is? Maybe clarity – and confidence – will come calling after the Michigan game.

    Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com


    Comments 15 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Will some husker reporter please ask this coaching staff if they think Abdullah is as good as it gets on punt returns. He's a good back and kickoff returner, but horrendous on punt returns. This is the single biggest weakness for this team. Penalties, turnovers, confusion are evident and symptomatic of a head coach who never learned the axion: keep it simple stupid.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      This team confuses me...
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      The coach has again found a way to make the university and the team look bad. He is becoming a disgrace and needs to quickly learn to control his mouth and do a much better job of preparing the team for games. Palini may be an excellent defensive coordinator but he is beyond his skills as a head coach. The team and the school deserve better.
    1. Reality's Avatar
      Reality -
      Husker fans are unaccustomed to seeing the type of error prone, inconsistent, undisciplined performances that are becoming the norm for NU football teams. If the team isn't going to show up on Saturday afternoons ready to play football, all the sideline ranting and raving in the world by the coach isn't going to solve the problem.

      I agree with Stryker... the Huskers are on the brink of something... but unless things change dramatically, I'm afraid .500 irrelevency is more probable than NU being included in BCS discussions. Those days are over.
    1. tate's Avatar
      tate -
      If Pelini does not get rid of Barney Cotton as O-line coach then he to must be replaced. I have never seen D1 football played to the caliber of 8th graders as this version off Huskers did against Northwestern. O-line doesn't have a clue, guys running into each other, missed assignments and have any of them been taught to move their feet when pass blocking, if not they must be plain lazy then. Nebraska should have beat Northwestern by 20 pts at least. You could see the advantage Neb had all over the field. Tim Beck called another great game (NOT)!!!! Just ridiculous. If things dont change get rid of entire staff.








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    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Stryker, you old has ben wash up, get over yourself and come to reality. Your old Glory days of Devany and Osborne are OVER you crusty old douche. I don't see you trying to do a damn thing to encourage, players or fans. Your arm chair commentary is about as useful and as wanted as a worn out pair of socks....do the rest of the Husker nation a favor and retire. Make way for some new blood that can bring new views to the table and release the anger of not seeing your old glory days relived.
    1. Husker39211's Avatar
      Husker39211 -
      "That sinking feeling in your gut late Saturday afternoon was Nebraska’s proud football program teetering on the brink of irrelevancy in college football. Then again, that surge of pride – and relief – was Nebraska getting up off the deck and throwing punches, staging two gutsy fourth-quarter drives that showed resilience and character in a game where everything seemed to be collapsing around the Cornhuskers **– mostly because of self-inflicted wounds."

      You definitely could not have described any better than you did in your opening paragraph, precisely how I was feeling with 8.5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter yesterday......and various other times prior to that as well. The thing that impressed me the most was how calm those guys were on those final two drives. They had this inexplicable coolness and confidence about them that was mostly lacking the first 51.5 minutes of the game. That's in spite of the fact that on the first drive, TM had like 3 of his first 4 passes that could have and probably should have been picked off. One was dropped because 2 NW players banged into each other and one other one would have been a certain pick 6. Instead of getting rattled and losing his confidence, TM stepped up and just started throwing bullets for strikes that were incredible. That pass he through into tripple coverage was a laser. After what just happened at Ohio State, that was very impressive to get up off the canvas and refuse to lose. When it comes to the bounce of the ball, Nebraska got some huge breaks down the stretch but our team hasn't gotten many of those this season so perhaps we were due. Even earlier events in that game were perfect examples of that fact. In any event, it's a "W" and I'll take it for sure! 5-2 (2-1) sounds a whole lot better than 4-3 (1-2) and basically out of contention!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      It seems to me the team is in need of a sports psychologist. The errors that they seem to make show lack of concentration due to either over enthusiasm or lack of self confidence. There also seems to be a lack of a mean streak among them. I am not sure if that means you can not have good student citizens and mean attitude players in the same body. It seems to be a team that makes you proud of their character but wishing for that "I'll bust you in the mouth" attitude. It is a team that makes it interesting every Saturday.
    1. Bob-O's Avatar
      Bob-O -
      I'm sorry, but I just don't think Pelini is gonna get the job done here . . . ever.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Watch the replay of the game. We made some goofy mistakes, but no give up, give in and fall apart. That's encouraging.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      We r ranked number 20 nationally in punt returns. I have watched every single play this year and have concluded that our punt returns are absolutely terrible. Get a guy with sack who will catch the ball every time outside the ten on the fly and return it rather than waive the white flag. Someone, Marlowe? The fact Abdullah is still back there indicates either the coaches are all fools, or we have no athletes with sack.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      The extreme disappointment a lot of online fans have exhibited in regards to a Husker victory is amusing. They are the same ones that have consistently criticized Solich, yet forget all about the Callahan/Cosgrove cluster. These are the same fans that, when Nebraska barely edged out Ball State, acted as if Ball State was an up-and-coming national powerhouse? Why? Because Nebraska barely beat them and they had to justify it somehow. After reading this column, the response prior to this, and the football board, I am convinced we actually did not win at all on Saturday. I am also convinced that any victory, or anything positive the Huskers do is something that cannot be explained. The fact that this team can even put on their pads correctly is nothing short of a miracle. I have also learned that any junior high team in the country would most likely deliver a sound beating the Nebraska. If they didn't, it would be complete luck.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      You unregistered bozos knocking on Abdullah returns punts make me sick. This last game was the first time he looked uncomfortable out there and he's been close to breaking many times. Stop with the arm chair stuff and support the team!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      When will Pelini understand that rage is not a motivator. Fire and passion work wonders, but if your go-to move is hollering your arse off every time a player gets beat or makes a mistake, well I guess your team might respond very erratically as well. I'm proud of the team's grit in the face of their sc-inflicted gunshot wounds, but Pelini needs a therapist. It's just embarrassing at this point.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Some really valid points here from both sides, but the bottom line is that we won the game. Ugly? Yes, but I will take it since Northwestern is actually a better team than bloggers think. We still have a chance to run the table as Pelini stated we need to do. There is no reason to jump ship yet. As Obama would say, "Forward".
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