Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. Comeback wins are oft viewed as things of beauty, assuming you’re on the side of the comebacker or is it comebackee? There’s also winning ugly and if a formal definition for winning ugly exists, NU probably gets caught trying to squeeze into those jeans. Averaging three turnovers and 8+ penalties over the course of three straight games isn’t sexy, but there have also been teams that just keep winning in spite of their looks. NU is having one of those seasons and appears destined for a Legends berth to Indy, so the riddle today asks if ugly ever turns pretty or does it really matter?
Ugly can be a big issue. Just recently a man in China divorced his wife and then actually sued her for delivering him what he called an “incredibly ugly baby”…and he won the case. But if The Ugly Duckling taught us anything, it was not to count your ugly chickens before they come home to roost. Case and point the newborn Brad Pitt was so ugly he literally caused his father to hurl in Benjamin Buttons, but all grown-up that lucky fool tells an in-her-prime Jennifer Aniston to get lost because he can do better. So how does this translate to football teams that have you ready to hurl one minute and the next are chalking up another win?
In 2009, Iowa had an uncanny streak of ugly near misses, ultimately winning an Orange Bowl. Iowa’s next trick was stumbling five times in 2010, six times in 2011, and with both O and D coordinators splitting while the splitting was good, 2012 seems destined to be a losing Hawkeye season.
Auburns NC run in 2010 wasn’t real pretty on or off the field with several narrow escapes. Unable to find another Heisman quarterback on the rental market, Aubie dropped five games in 2011 and is batting .000 after six SEC games in 2012. Maybe you can just say ‘War Karma’ on that one.
The point is not predicting Husker doom, but proven time and again is that winning ugly is unsustainable; teams clean it up or start losing ugly. A lot of Nebraska ugly gets pinned on T-Mart’s play, but if ever there was an exception to the rule that ugly can’t be sustained, it’s probably him.
Martinez will leave with most if not all of the offensive production records at the QB spot and likely shatter the fumble record if he hasn’t already. Regardless, he’ll be measured by Ws and right now he’s winning. Despite a goofy release and all kinds of frustrating reads, neither of the two losses can be pegged on Taylor.
Nebraska has never been Quarterback U and while NU’s had some special players like Gill, Frazier, Frost (the knuckleballer who was booed in ’96), and Crouch, how soon forgotten are Grant, McCant, Joseph, Newcombe, Lord (not on this list if developed under TO), Dailey, Keller, Dukes, Green, and others? Maybe Martinez is a ticking time bomb, but he’s a talented dual-threat QB that, using history as an example, is a safe bet for this year and next versus trading him for what’s behind the curtain.
We’ve seen Martinez launch some back-foot cannon blasts even when not pressured, in fact every one has been dissected by ABC right down to close-ups on his back-foot, but it gets real ugly when the OL forgets to block or fails to adjust to defenses forcing Martinez to do something other than what was designed.
When you see NU’s DEs repeatedly turn plays outside instead of establishing contain, or OLBs “covering” #1 WRs by running 6 yards behind them, or Safeties coming from 10+ yards off the line to cover RBs on swing passes out of the backfield, things can get pretty ugly too. Special teams for the most part…ugly. Pelini’s face when calls goes against Nebraska, well you get it.
The MSU game was both an ugly and a lucky win for NU. The abysmal officiating was equal, which ultimately favored NU. The road team doesn’t often get behind-the-play calls and NU benefitted twice; one taking the coffin nail TD off the board for the home team. MSU also played an uglier game than even NU; missing tackles, being out of position, and taking idiotic penalties. MSU’s ugly loss definitely aided NU’s ugly win.
The Penn State game will be another chance for NU to shed some ugly. To parlay some slow to arrive defensive consistency and coerce the offense to exert focus and push to get an early lead against a team fueled by emotion and little else. We could dissect the Nittany Lions in the myopic Big Ten way to deem Penn State a tough test, but that’s not reality. In Year 5 of NU’s program rebuilding there could be zero excuse for losing to a team whacked harder by the NCAA than any team since SMU got the proverbial chair. No, NU cannot lose to a decimated program shrouded in ugliness so indefinably ugly that the town should be renamed Ugly Valley.
Bringing it all together, winning ugly is not a sustainable. You can’t draw-up and practice winning ugly. Winning ugly is lucky and/or having talent to overcome bad play. The only sustainable cure for ugly is program, program, program which is born from repeatable process, process, process. College football teams are dynamically changing entities that are continually turning over players and these days support staffs. In both cases illustrated Iowa and Auburn have proven their leaders haven’t developed true programs that can overcome substantive personnel losses.
After decades of being the poster child for an unbreakable brick wall PROGRAM, Nebraska feels a bit like a Jenga game where pieces like Suh, Gomes, Hagg, Dennard, Prince, David, and others have been pulled out leaving the tower teetering. Twelve starters on NU’s are seniors. NU’s offensive coordinator is getting national praise and likewise has been transparent about his desire to be a head coach (and Bo’s propensity to hire from within makes that prospect a bit unnerving).
Getting pretty is going to require holes to be filled and the process of developing a program to stick from one class to the next and weather change. Five years into this process means now, starting with Penn State, is a real good time to take the next step and deliver four quarters of consistency that can be built upon.
No, there’s no shame in winning ugly and every champion has one or two games that break their way in spite of a bad hair day. Yes, ugly is in the eye of the beholder and there’s some beauty in comeback wins, but at the same time there’s a reason for the never ending process to drop the ugly and win as a program, because the winning part of winning ugly usually runs out. It could even happen when a team finds itself looking across the field at Oregon in a Rose Bowl and believe me, if NU brings their ugly game in that scenario, there will be nothing pretty about that.
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