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  • Trick Plays, Close Games, and a Random Act of Husker Kindness

    When I watched the documentary The U, I was taken aback at how lightly the Miami Hurricane players thought of Nebraska, even during the 1984 Orange Bowl when Nebraska had been a college football power for twenty years and the Hurricanes had just started winning. Howard Schnellenberger told his players that Nebraska was running the “Fumblerooski” because they didn't think they could be Hurricanes straight up.

    Flash forward to last Saturday. Michigan State ran a trick play, wide receiver pass on a third-and-goal. Then they faked a field goal on a fourth-and-one, where they could have easily just run a quarterback sneak. They aren't calling those plays if they think that their regular offense was good enough to beat Nebraska or if they felt a nine-point lead with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter was safe.

    Nebraska could be walking into a similar situation in State College. Penn State, while not daunting, is playing their de-facto bowl game on their Senior Day. At 6-4, their current season doesn't quite yet qualify as a high success, and with their game at Wisconsin next week, this is the last game that they feel that they have a chance in. It seems more than likely Nebraska could be seeing one of the Nittany Lions' best efforts of the year and shouldn't be surprised if Bill O'Brien pulls some trickaration on them.

    As we assess Bo Pelini's job performance at Nebraska, one of the pros is his recent record in one-score games, 9-2, over the last three years, an improvement from a 4-8 record in such games his first three years. But these numbers don't include games such as 2008's win over Colorado or this year's loss at Minnesota, both padded by late touchdowns. So I went through Pelini's six years and reviewed his record in games that were either decided by one score, were one-score games at the end of the third quarter, or if the game was more than one score at the end of the third quarter but the trailing team ended up winning (ie, at Missouri 2009). Here's his record under those circumstances:

    08: 5-2
    09: 4-3
    10: 2-3
    11: 3-2
    12: 6-2
    13: 3-2

    Pelini's overall record in these games is 27-14: 11-8 his first three years, and 16-6 in his last three years. So he's never been as bad as we thought in close games, and has still been pretty good in close games these past three years.

    Another Pelini streak on the line this week: he has not lost back-to-back regular season games since 2009's home losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State in consecutive weeks.

    I will reiterate what I have written earlier this season: it is better for Nebraska if Pelini comes back for a seventh season. I still believe he's not a perfect fit for Nebraska, but his record up until now is 56-23, and the teams Nebraska has lost to are a combined 25-5 this year. Yes, I saw the UCLA game, but unless you're getting Chris Petersen, it's not worth it to make a change. As a program, Nebraska is a lot closer to averaging eight wins a year than ten with the raw material they have. (Of course, the next two games could change a lot.)

    Mark Dantonio's Michigan State record the last six years is virtually the same as Pelini's, 53-23. The reason they are happy with him and Nebraska isn't happy with Pelini is, in part, what I said at the top of my most recent game recap: the Spartans are consistent Big Lots and the Huskers are an erratic advertising agency. Nebraska culture is a lot closer to Big Lots than an advertising agency.

    The best part of belonging to Husker Nation is that the stories of good will like the one below run over. This was shared by a Facebook friend of mine, who gave me permission to post it here. Thanks to him, and to the giver.

    “I had been intending on taking my girls down to the stadium for Husker pregame all year, just to introduce the atmosphere to them. Harper and I were going to run an errand anyway, so I thought we have an enjoyable daddy date walking around the columns. We were sitting at the columns talking when a middle aged couple walked up to us, and asked me if we had tickets. I said we didn't, and they offered me theirs. I asked 'How much?', knowing I only had about $20 in my wallet. The man said 'Nothing. We want you to enjoy the game with your daughter.' I was kind of speechless as he put the tickets in my hand. His wife then said 'People always used to give my brothers and I free tickets when we were younger. I like to return the favor.' I then said thank you multiple times and let them know that this would be my daughter's first Husker game. The wife then said, 'The seats are high up on the south stadium. So you guys should get going now so you can make it before the game starts!' With that we hurried off. We got to our seats 2 minutes before the tunnel walk started.

    “These were these people's actual seats. They were dressed and ready to go to the game. For whatever reason they decided to be spontaneously generous.”


    Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog,, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05.
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