In retrospect, last week’s win over Minnesota was pyrite. (That’s fool’s gold for you non-geologists.) It was not a turning point for the Huskers. It was merely a data point on a continuum not dissimilar from the San Andreas fault during “the big one.” This team is all over the map because individual players, units, and the coaches are all over the map. Northwestern was not a good football team. (Make the Stanford argument all you want, but did you watch the Cats? They dropped passes, committed costly penalties, and ran an offense about as exotic as vanilla pudding.) But Nebraska was worse. An average team would have beaten the Wildcats comfortably. But at 3-5 with two more likely losses on the schedule, the Huskers aspire to average.
The Good (What I Liked)
The Gunslinger: Tommy played erratically on Saturday, but was by far at his best on third and long and on the move. He made repeated big throws downfield to convert and keep the chains moving. It looked like the Huskers had the offense clicking at the end of the second quarter and throughout the third, but in reality, that was mostly the off-the-cuff playmaking of #4. As frustratingly bad as he can be when he’s off, his ability to pull a play out of the fire makes him exciting and dangerous.
Three Minus Three: For three quarters, except for three plays (all scrambles by Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson), the Blackshirts played very soliddefense. They were particularly stout against Northwestern’s designed running plays. They were also good with their backs against their own goalpost, forcing NU to run three plays to get two yards for a first-quarter touchdown and holding them to a field goal in the third quarter.
The Bad (What I Didn’t Like)
Drop it Like It’s Hot: Credit to @BigRed_Fury for what might have been the quote of the day: “A blind lobster could do a better job catching passes than this receiving corps today.” Pretty much. Tommy’s passing was inconsistent enough without them brick-handing touchdowns and first downs. The Huskers WRs are really good, but not all the time. Saturday they were just plain bad.
Live by the Sword . . .: I don’t know what it is, but for the last five years, Nebraska has been “blessed” with talented QB’s (T-Magic and Tommy) who have made a lot of big, spectacular plays. Unfortunately, not all of those big plays have been for Nebraska. Both players too often ran/run around like chickens with their heads cut off. I said after the pick-six (which was just awful) that Tommy should sit a series to regather his poise. He didn’t, and he still responded with some big-time throws and runs. But the interception was too much for a Huskers sloppy offense to overcome.
Disappearing Act: After three quarters, the Huskers had run 70+ plays to Northwestern’s 31. Yet, after taking a 22-20 lead and forcing a three-and-out immediately thereafter, instead of seizing control of the game, Nebraska flopped on both sides of the ball. The offense went three-and-out, the defense gave up a touchdown, the offense went three-and-out again, and the defense gave up a field goal. Suddenly the Huskers were down eight. The offense did respond with a big drive to score again, but the defense allowed Northwestern to run out the final four-plus minutes of game clock. You have to wonder, if the Huskers couldn’t secure momentum in this game, can they ever?
Big Spin: Through eight games, I still have no idea what Nebraska is trying to accomplish on offense. I do know it isn’t a running game. I get it, they can’t just pound the ball into the line every play. But Iowa showed Northwestern is susceptible to a power running game (particularly, say, if their defense is on the field all game). And Nebraska had good success on downhill running plays in the first half. But after getting solid gains (six-plus yards) on first down, they’d get cute with obvious jet sweeps or bubble passes and the drive would stall. It’s like Danny Langsdorf is spinning a wheel to see what play call he lands on. Power run. Drop-back pass. Bubble screen. Misdirection handoff. Jet Sweep. Heave it deep. There’s no consistency, no rhythm, no theme. And far too many bankrupts.
At the End of the Day
The story of the 2015 Huskers seems to be that they can’t get over the hump and close the sale on games they could win—in several cases, games they should win, either because of the situation or the talent of the opponent. But I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t a false conclusion. I’m not sure Nebraska should be winning these games because I’m not sure they’re any better than these teams. Nebraska didn’t look like a good team playing down to Illinois’ level; they looked like a (marginally) better-dressed Illini team. Saturday, the Huskers didn’t slop their way into a loss against a gutty opponent. Northwestern was just as sloppy, but in the end, made one less mistake. So is it the players’ fault? Is it Bo Pelini’s fault for not recruiting/developing better talent? Is it Riley and his staff’s fault for taking a good (if not great) team and turning them into a mediocre (at best) team? I don’t know. Maybe the final third of the season will give us a better answer. All I know is that, on the day when the university honored the 1995 national championship team, the product on the field couldn’t have been more different from what those legendary Huskers produced. Riley may still be “the guy,” but we’re a long way from home right now. A very long way.
Johnny Cash once sang, “I wear the black in mourning . . .” Perhaps that explains the absolutely atrocious unis the Huskers wore. Never mind the fact that black is not even a school color. Never mind that nobody had any idea who was who (Note to Adidas, contrast would help). Why do we feel the need to keep trotting out these garish alternate uniforms? The old standby I hear is that kids love them. At some point, don’t we have to ask, what’s wrong with kids? Nebraska looked like the “bad guys” in a movie about high school football. All that was missing was a demon logo on the helmet.
Nebraska still had a Michigan State-esque chance when Maliek Collins decided to blow his stack and get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That’s twice now that Husker captains have lost their composure and ruined what little chance the team had of getting a win. Not exactly the leadership I’m looking for.
I did have a little joy in the “early window” of games, watching Miami get caned by Clemson. Ha ha, ha ha ha.
Um, who cares? Wait a second, you say. Isn’t your Twitter handle @atruebluehusker? Isn’t your entire wardrobe red? What kind of fan are you? The kind who gets sick of watching a pile of hot, stanky garbage, that’s what kind. I have no idea what Nebraska team will show up in West Lafayette next week, or if really matters against Purdon’t. But if I’m honest, I don’t much care. I’m not sure I have the heart to spend three and a half hours in front of the TV watching them piddle around with the Boilermakers, maybe losing in another puke-inducing performance, maybe winning and “showing potential” to create more false hope. Right now, I feel about Nebraska the way I feel about weddings: I’m not in the mood for cooing and gushing, buying shower and wedding gifts, and wasting a Saturday afternoon on a 50/50 proposition. If you’re still together in ten years, call me and we’ll celebrate. Similarly, if Nebraska does get rolling, okay, I’ll get excited again. But I just can’t get on the hope train any longer. Call me a fair-weather fan if you like, but I’m getting really tired of cheering in the rain.