Miami (33-36, OT)
Well what do you know, the Huskers found an even more gut-wrenching way to lose a ball game. I’ve been pondering, in wake of BYU’s Hail Mary, the toughest type of loss to swallow, and I think is what we saw on Saturday. In that dreamlike fourth quarter, Nebraska carried us to the peak of euphoria, only to drop us like a Tommy Armstrong first-half pass into the valley of despondency. It didn’t have the implications of Orange Bowls past or Big XII Championship losses to Texas, but the way the Huskers lost was just as devastating. That being said, they had no business being in the game in the fourth quarter. The comeback deserves to be discussed, but it shouldn’t take focus away from the awful first 50 minutes. In an all too familiar script, Nebraska was once again flat on the big stage, outplayed significantly by a team that wasn’t that much better than them. Arguably two passes at the goal line away from being 3-0, the Huskers are far from perfect.
The Good (What I Liked)
The Comeback: We knew 2015 would be a learning experience, and one thing Nebraska fans have learned is that the Huskers have heart. From swinging their way off the ropes against BYU to this incredible resuscitation on Saturday, Nebraska doesn’t stop fighting. Admittedly, they were in trouble because of their own mistakes, and there is a lot to clean up. But the team didn’t bail. The eternal optimist in me wouldn’t quit watching the game, but I didn’t expect anything like what unfolded. Maybe the Husker players didn’t either, but at least they kept coming. And give Miami credit too—they were instrumental in Nebraska’s comeback.
Tough Tommy: Armstrong will take heat for that last pass, and whatever the reason (I’m guessing he never saw the Miami DB), it was a bad one. But aside from a couple other questionable throws, I thought he played very well. He got NO help from his receivers through three quarters, and several big plays were called back by penalties. I don’t know without hearing from players and coaches, but I assume the first pick was on a freshman receiver and the second pick didn’t appear to be a horrible throw so much as a bad bounce. Nevertheless, Tommy showed toughness and leadership, and for the second time in three weeks, impressed the TV commentators with his improvement as a passer. There is still some refining to do, but Tommy is showing the potential to be a star. Here’s hoping he keeps his head up; if not for him, Nebraska doesn’t sniff OT.
The Bad (What I Didn’t Like)
Flat as a Florida Freeway: This game was eerily reminiscent of last year’s loss at Michigan State, even before the near miraculous comeback fell just short. On a big stage against a name opponent, the Huskers came out looking sluggish, suffered from numerous self-inflicted wounds, and seemed incapable of competing at a high level. Of particular frustration were the penalties, seeing as how so many of them were procedural. I’ll forgive a guy for an effort penalty, but how hard is it to line up in the right place? The drops were also frustrating. I know Miami put some good hits on the receivers, but unless it is a bone-crushing hit, contact isn’t an excuse for dropping a pass. This is football; contact is sort of part of it. The drops were atypical of this receiving corps, so I’m chalking it up as a fluke . . . for now.
Forearm Frustration: When I was a little kid, I used to play touch football with my dad in the backyard. One time, he let my sister play. After handing the ball to her, he blocked/screened me so that she ran all the way for a touchdown. I was so mad I tackled her by our lilac bush, earning myself appropriate punishment. I tell this anecdote to say that I can empathize with Alexis Lewis. However, at the time, I WAS SEVEN! His personal foul penalty after Tommy’s OT interception, while understandable, is inexcusable. Instead of starting at the 25, Miami started at the 12 1/2. And Badgley’s 28-yard game winner was drifting right and would have missed from 40. Admittedly, the play calling might have been different had the Canes started at the 25. But even after Tommy’s pick, the Huskers still had a chance. After Lewis’s loss of self-control, they didn’t. If I was Mike Riley, I’d have him up at the crack of dawn Monday to run gassers until he puked. Actually, I’d have the entire team up to run gassers until they puked, and I’d make Alex Lewis watch. This sort of thing cannot happen again.
The Comeback: How’s that, you say? Wasn’t the comeback one of the things you liked? Yes, but it also is a terrible punch to the solar plexus. That was a once in a generation comeback, something we’ve never seen from the Huskers before—23 points in the final 8:36 of the fourth quarter. Just think of all that had to go right: First, Miami had three red zone possessions end in 6 points after a penalty called back a touchdown and a Josh Kalu interception, keeping the deficit at 23 instead of 30+. Then the Canes had another TD called back by penalty, had a visibly legitimate catch nullified (because of the NCAA’s absurd rule that a receiver has to get two feet down, land, roll over, get up, make a sandwich, and write his mother back home before letting go of the ball), failed to convert makeable third downs, and committed a series of penalties. Nebraska had to score touchdowns on three straight possessions after scoring just one all day. They needed to convert a fourth down (on the TD to Reilly) and a pair of 2-point attempts, the percentage of which alone is under 25%. It took all of that to create the incredible, magical comeback on a tropical late afternoon turned evening. It would have been one of the great moments in Husker history. Instead, it dissipated as quickly as an afternoon Florida thundershower.
At the End of the Day
This is not the time to panic. I say that because, the last sixth of the game aside, Nebraska looked terrible. Just as was the case with BYU, had they won, it would have felt like they got away with something. Being 1-2 is a strange feeling for Husker fans my age or younger, and the streak of nine-win seasons looks to be in jeopardy. However, the sky is not falling. Nebraska’s mistakes are largely, one would think, correctible. In theory, the coaching staff and players will begin to gel. Mark Banker will figure out his defense. Danny Langsdorf will formulate a bread-and-butter on offense. Youth will mature. DPE will come back! Nebraska can still be, I believe, a very solid team come November and can still win the Big Ten West. To me, Minnesota sets up as the key game of the season (first time that’s ever been said by a Big Ten contender). The Huskers should beat Southern Miss and Illinois (they may not be lay-ups, but they’re certainly open jumpers from the elbow) but will likely struggle against Wisconsin. At the beginning of the year, I picked them to start the year 3-3, and that’s where I see them now. If they beat Minnesota, they’ll have a chance to gain some momentum before the Spartans come to town. If they lose, they’ll be facing a better-than-expected Northwestern team and the possibility of not going bowling. Bo Pelini’s first team started 3-3, remember, but aside from a loss to a highly ranked Sooner team, ran the table down the stretch. Come bowl season, they were much improved from the squad that let Missouri name it’s score in Lincoln in week five. It’s too early to bail on the Huskers. Yes, the season could fall apart. But judging by what I saw in the South Florida gloom Saturday night, I don’t think it will.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of the all-whites. However, they’re starting to grow on me. I don’t want to see them replace the traditional white on red, especially at Iowa or Michigan or Penn State where the white on red contrasts with the opponent’s colors so drastically. But on occasion, I’m okay with the “clean” all-white look. As for the hand-painted cleats, let’s hope they were donated. Both schools should have their charters examined if they’re spending money on those. You can’t tell me any well-adjusted teenager said, “Wow, they have shoes with palm trees painted on them. I’m pursuing my higher education there!”
Did Cethan Carter make the “U” gesture to fans after catching the 2-point pass? If so, he gets a Cris Carter-esque “C’mon, man.” Down 15 is not the time to make any gesture other than a head-down trot back to the huddle or sideline to get back to work. Kids these days.
I hope you weren’t so disheartened from the loss that you gave up on football for the night. Alabama and Ole Miss treated us to a spectacular ball game. Too bad it ended just before sunrise.
I feel ya, Texas. If there’s a worse loss than Nebraska’s, it might be the Horns’. They rallied from 21 down in the fourth quarter, scoring a TD with 70 seconds left, only to have the kicker shank the tying extra point. They lost 45-44. I hope folks in Austin lay off the kid. As Fox commentators Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt said, “Bless his heart.”
Remember when Ndamukong Suh picked off a pass and ran over a nameless Colorado quarterback just after Alex Henery’s 57-yard field goal? That is what Leonard Fournette of LSU did to every single Auburn “tackler” yesterday. What a stud.
I expect Nebraska to be a little sluggish against Southern Miss next week, not so much because they’ll be hungover mentally or emotionally, but because they will be drained physically. They had to expend a lot of energy in the heat and humidity on that comeback, and it could take a toll. And, frankly, if they do come out in a bit of a fog, it wouldn’t be shocking either. The talent gap is substantial enough that they should get by the Golden Eagles, but don’t surprised if it’s not easy. Fans, if you’re headed to the game, I know it’s an early kick, but be loud and make Memorial Stadium a vibrant atmosphere. The boys might need the help. Nebraska 35, Southern Miss 20.