A study in erratic behavior. This is the Bo Pelini era.
His players bring home historically high cumulative grade-point average, are staying out of trouble off the field, and many are model citizens. But on game day, they hover near the bottom of major-college football in turnover margin, rise toward the top in rushing offense, cripple themselves with untimely penalties, yet fight back to win games you think they'll lose.
And yes, they lose big once in awhile.
The Huskers are steady off the field, unstable on it. Have you gotten used to it yet? I'm not sure I have.
Show a ton of resolve and courage in win in the Big House and Happy Valley. Lose three times at home. Look pretty doggone good in the first half against UCLA. Look drop-dead ugly in the second.
Iowa smacked around Nebraska's beat-up offensive line Friday and trounced the Huskers 38-17 on Senior Day, winning in Memorial Stadium for the first time since World War II. Nebraska was badly outplayed in the kicking game and set its young but improving defense up for failure by allowing Iowa to start half its 14 drives in Nebraska territory.
During the game, Pelini didn't help his cause, and after the game, he hurt it badly with a tense, defensive press conference, which culminated with the embattled coach more or less daring Shawn Eichorst to fire him.
It's a shame, because Pelini made good on a guarantee he gave in another tense postgame interview session in late September, telling everyone he would get his ailing defense fixed. And that's pretty much what happened, with Pelini presiding over the steady rise of the Blackshirts.
Over the past month, it's been a flashback to Frank Solich and 2003, with all the uncertainty in the status of a head coach who has a good overall record, but several ugly losses. Had I been AD in November 2003, I would have given Solich one more year, and I feel the same about Pelini now.
But this whole series of events has been unfortunate for Nebraska football. From here, it looks like athletic director Shawn Eichorst is in a no-win situation. Whatever he decides, he'd better do it with vigor and he'd better do it immediately. If you're going to fire him, do it this weekend. If you're going to keep him, defend him vigorously. The time for silence is over.
Personally, I think Pelini deserves a chance to continue. I agree that his team is heading in the right direction. I decided that before the Iowa game. I think he could take the Huskers to a conference title in the next five years. We'll all find out soon whether he gets the chance.
Pelini's behavior Friday gives his detractors fresh ammunition to fire at him, which is unfortunate. He came across as surly and dismissive when ABC-TV's sideline report asked him a silly question in the heat of battle. He drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the third quarter, taking off his hat and swinging it within inches of an official's face.
Pelini has been relatively reserved lately, but Friday he let his frustration get to him. He reverted to his 2008-10 form, which is unacceptable, even if Kirk Ferentz is behaving just as poorly on the other sideline. Pelini has a bad reputation; Ferentz does not. Pelini needs to be above reproach so officials won't unfairly punish his team, but he didn't meet that standard in his team's final home game.
Pelini's players paid tribute to his dual legacy after he left the postgame podium.
Offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles, who made his 40th start Friday, addressed the topic of turnovers. His take was unfortunate but not surprising.
"It's almost become who we are, and that really sucks," said Sirles, who has watched more than his share of turnovers over his four-year tenure in Lincoln. "It's almost like we can't hold onto the ball for certain things."
Wide receiver Kenny Bell, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise, pointing out that Pelini has not only won more than his share of games at NU, he has been an effective father figure.
"People are saying it's about the wins, but the man has the wins, and the way he's going about it is life-changing to guys around here. Look at some of these guys and where they come from and how they were raised, myself included. Words can't really describe how much I appreciate the head man."
Why can't Pelini's players be as disciplined on the field as they are off the field?
Pelini is paying for his past. And Nebraska's program gets the fallout,especially from the national media.
If Pelini is retained, he should show enough humility to make changes on his coaching staff. He needs to completely his revamp his plan on special teams. And if he wants to get a better handle on the program, he would be well advised to replace John Papuchis and be much less hands-on with the defense. It may be the only way he can achieve stability in his program, and that's something he desperately needs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org