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Tag:Niles Paul
Posted on: November 16, 2009 6:15 am
Edited on: November 16, 2009 6:17 am
 

KU KO'ed: Nebraska 31, Kansas 17

It's been a running joke all season. So much so that the television announcers who called Saturday's game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Kansas Jayhawks referenced it multiple times during their broadcast.

For several weeks, it's seemed that no one wanted to win the Big XII North Division Title.

And despite knowing otherwise, that oft-repeated "joke" has contained more than an element of truth during this topsy-turvy season.

It's not difficult to see why. Visit almost any college football message board or blog, and you'll quickly see a pattern. Scores of cynical fans repeatedly asking the same question.

Why would any team want to be offered up as a sacrifice to the undefeated Texas Longhorns in the Big XII Championship?

While I don't agree with that sentiment, and believe that Nebraska has the best chance out of the North to compete against Texas, it's understandable why some people might feel that way.

First off, let's look at the Longhorns.

Their offense is ranked second nationally in points scored at 41.6 pts/game. Aside from the Oklahoma game, which Texas won by three, the Longhorns' average margin of victory has been 10 points or more. However, most times it's been more. Much more. Texas Tech was the only other team that managed to keep within 10 points of the 'Horns when the final gun sounded. Texas defeated its eight other opponents by an average of 34.6 points, including this past Saturday as they pasted Baylor, 47-14.

Defensively, Texas is the No. 1 team in the nation, allowing an average of 232 yds/gm. In fact, the only things that Texas doesn't do exceptionally well (i.e. rank in the Top 25 in the country) is rush the ball (55th), punt (84th) and prevent sacks (48th).

Meanwhile, in the Big XII North, it's been a bumpy ride for most teams.

Colorado and Kansas have been downright awful. After winning five in a row, Kansas has now lost five in a row, the latest being a 31-17 defeat at the hands of the Huskers. Not even the fact that it was Senior Day for Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier, Darrell Stuckey and Max Onyegbule, among others, or the fact that the Jayhawks were playing for bowl eligibility could propel them to a win.

It probably wouldn't be too presumptuous to pencil in that sixth loss in a row; Kansas travels to Austin next week, though the Jayhawks still have their neutral site game against Mizzou on the horizon.

The Tigers, who have failed to find a consistent identity under Blaine Gabbert, did the Huskers a favor and beat the Wildcats, 38-12 in the battle of Big XII feline football. Coupled with the Nebraska win, that gives the Huskers a half-game lead over Kansas State.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that the Big XII North title will be decided next week in Lincoln when K-State comes-a-callin’.

And after Saturday, it appears that the Big Red wants it more. Either that or they have the talent to get the job done. Maybe both. 

Nebraska has had their fair share of key injuries, so it's a negative on depth.

Aside from the Kansas offensive line doing a fine job containing the Nebraska front four for most of the game, there was improvement in other key areas, which should be an encouraging sign for the Huskers going into their own Senior Day with the North title on the line.

Nebraska was much-improved on offense, piling up over 400 total yards, their highest output since the Louisiana-Lafayette game. Roy Helu, Jr. backed up his 100+ yard effort a week ago with 156 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

In fact, it was the Big Red offense’s turn to answer the opposition for a change instead of forcing the defense to make a game-winning play, though Dejon Gomes’ third-quarter strip of Meier as he headed to the end zone certainly helped. Besides, after the Huskers’ eight turnovers against Iowa State (several in the red zone), it somehow felt fitting, as if the earth started spinning properly around its axis once more.

In the fourth quarter, Reesing, looking like the Todd Reesing of old, drove the Jayhawks 89 yards down the field (their longest scoring drive of the season) and punctuated the effort with a sweet 21–yard strike to Dezmon Briscoe to take a 17-16 lead. 

However, following Niles Paul's hefty return of a KU pooch kick, the Huskers who had scored only four offensive touchdowns in as many games were not the same Huskers to take the field. Aided by a facemask call on KU cornerback Justin Thornton, Helu bolted for 20 yards and a score.

And unlike past games when the Huskers were unable to run significant time off the clock, the Nebraska offense managed to get the ball back with 5:15 to play and cap the game with another Helu rushing touchdown.

Nebraska still made mistakes, though not as many as last week. Asante’s late hit on Reesing could have easily earned him an ejection and will most likely be reviewed by conference officials in the coming week. Likewise, Keith Williams’ tripping penalty deep in Jayhawk territory most likely caused the Huskers to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.

Overall, things could have been much worse for the Huskers, but they made some plays when it mattered, got some lucky breaks, cut down on penalties and managed to find the end zone more than once.

Instead, they could have had Danario Alexander compile 200 receiving yards against their defense, lose any momentum they might have had going into the game to decide the division and add another chapter to the comedy of errors also known as the 2009 Big XII North.

But on November 21st in Lincoln, when the Huskers and Wildcats face off, he who laughs last, will laugh best.

Until they face Texas.

With a chance to make history.

Posted on: November 6, 2009 10:26 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2009 10:29 pm
 

Just Bearly: Nebraska 20, Baylor 10

Although expounding upon my pathetic little blurb at this late date will be irrelevant, I feel I must keep some semblance of continuity in my small and insignificant corner of the Internet.  As for why it took me so long, there's mainly two reasons:

1.  The politics between DirecTV and the Versus Network.  I was unable to record the game and, even though I was in attendance, it wasn't as if I took notes.  What I usually do each week is watch the game in real-time then, if it was remarkable in any way, I re-watch it and take notes for my blog.

2.  Honestly (and more importantly), I didn't know quite what to say.  I know that a win is a win, but in all my years of being a Husker fan, I had trouble remembering another time in which I came away from a Nebraska victory with such an empty, unsatisfied feeling.

Don't get me wrong.  I had a good time overall and was in good company.  Got to see the great Dr. Tom in person as well as the boldly decorated semi that hauls all of the Huskers' equipment around and speak to its driver.  The Baylor fans were gracious (the few that were there, anyway) and it was interesting to see another Big XII stadium and compare it to Memorial Stadium.  It wasn't much of a comparison; however, you have to take into account the historical fortunes of both programs.

Before I get into my true feelings concerning the game, which are decidedly negative, I want to focus on the positive aspects first:

Most importantly, it was exciting to see the first career start of the quarterback who should end up being the face and the future of the Nebraska program.  A murmur of anticipation went through the crowd as fans received texts that Cody Green would start.  When Green did indeed take the field (with the added confidence of a 7-0 lead courtesy of the Huskers' special teams) he was greeted warmly with a generous wave of applause and probably more than a little relief.   What was perhaps the most interesting aspect of watching Green play in person, was the occasions when he tucked away the football and ran.  He has a long and graceful stride which tricks the eye into thinking that he's not moving very quickly.  However, upon closer scrutiny, it's apparent that he possesses an efficiency of movement that makes his runs look almost effortless.

Another observation (and perhaps not a surprising one coming from someone who writes a Nebraska blog): Husker fans really are among the best in the nation, at least when it comes to traveling to away games.  On the visitors' side of the field, the grandstands were an almost solid sea of red from the south endzone past midfield to the 40-yard line.  The Baylor side, from the south endzone to the twenty, was almost all Husker fans as well, with pockets of red scattered throughout the rest of the sparsely occupied seats.  I attribute this, in part, to the North Texas Nebraskans organization.  They not only threw a decent-sized shindig in the parking lot prior to the game, but also handed out "GO BIG RED" signs in addition to the ones they planted into the ground along the route to the stadium. I actually felt bad for the true Baylor faithful (and especially their players), as it appeared that they were well out-numbered in their own house. Floyd Casey Stadium seemed more like Memorial Stadium South.  

In fact, at one point, Larry Asante and other Husker players beseeched the Nebraska fans to make more noise when the Bears had the ball, which brings me to my lone complaint about many of the Husker fans who were there: They were far too passive when Nebraska was on defense.  There were times (key third downs or plays directly following a loss) when the bulk of the NU fans remained silently in their seats while the Blackshirts toiled on, trying to compensate for the poor showing by the offense.  Our group was seated at the 50-yard line and it was mentioned that, at Nebraska home games, this is typical for that section.  I just didn't expect it in Waco, Texas.

Which reminds me that, indeed, a game was played, such that it was.  The first half looked promising.  Besides the special teams touchdown, Nebraska was able to convert their early drives into points.  Jared Crick played like a proverbial monster on defense and the first half was highlighted by a beautiful 45-yard pass from Green to Niles Paul (who managed to not fumble it into the end zone) which gave the Huskers the ball at Baylor's one-yard-line.  A few rows in front of us, a fan clad in red held up a sign which read "DON'T FUMBLE!".  Tray Robinson managed to heed that advice and scored two plays later, giving Nebraska a 20-0 lead which they held onto until halftime. 

Unfortunately, they decided to play a second half...a half in which Nebraska's offense forgot how to sustain drives (much less score) and forced the defense to stay on the field much longer than they deserved (once again).  Baylor kicked a field goal, Green threw a pick-six which, by all appearances, wasn't a surprise to anyone, except maybe Green himself...and the Bears were back in the game. What had first appeared like the perfect prescription for the Huskers after consecutive losses, seemed like bad medicine.  Even when the Huskers did something right (like pressure the quarterback) things went wrong (Suh's ridiculous personal foul for throwing Baylor QB, Nick Florence, to the ground). In the fourth quarter, the Bears were able to mount a couple of drives into the Huskers' redzone, but Ben Parks missed a 24-yard field goal and a Jarred Salubi missed a gift-wrapped pass from Florence.

Watching the field goal attempt miss its mark and Baylor's subsequent drive in which they almost scored, one couldn't help but think "what if?".  What if Baylor had made the field goal?  What if a wide-open Salubi had held onto the ball?  It would have been a whole new ballgame, except that the momentum was firmly on the Bears' side.  One of the Husker fans in our party described the Nebraska offense as "tepid" and "anemic"; a fact that was painfully evident when the Huskers couldn't get a first down and run out the clock; as we all know, the game ended with Baylor continuing to take shots at the Huskers' end zone.

Now I understand that it was Green's first game.  He made a couple of mistakes while also showing some flashes of future promise.  And that's all part of the learning process.  The Huskers are also relying on youth with Robinson sharing time with a banged-up Roy Helu Jr. and receivers like Khiry Cooper figuring into the mix.  But the simple fact is that Baylor played this game with a QB that was listed third on their depth chart before the season started and their offense still managed to outgain Nebraska by three yards and convert seven more first downs.  Our offense, playing against the 91st ranked defense in the country, scored thirteen points, tallied less than 300 yards and failed to keep the Blackshirts off the field.

In the past, this is a game that would have been a laugher.  I'm not hitting the panic button, not after one game with Green as the starter.  I have faith in Pelini.  But after a season that started with such promise, with most of Husker Nation (as well as the national media) believing that Nebraska had turned some sort of corner after the Virginia Tech and Missouri games, things have gotten ugly fast.

Almost Unbearable.
Posted on: October 24, 2009 7:08 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2009 3:02 am
 

State of Shock: Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7

The Huskers entered the stadium solemnly, four-by-four, arms interlocked as a show of unity.  A silent display to all, a statement that they would not be divided following a loss to Texas Tech the week before and and all the criticism that followed it.

The Cyclones entered the stadium not having won there since 1977.

As the old rhetorical question goes, "If you knew before the game that Nebraska's defense would hold the Cyclones, who were playing with a redshirt freshman at QB and another redshirt freshman replacing the Big XII's leading rusher, to nine points, would you think that the Huskers would win?"  Yes, that was a bit longer than your typical rhetorical question, but the point is made.  Most Husker fans would feel confident going into that contest, not knowing that the sum total of Nebraska's points would be a three-yard touchdown run by Dontrayevous Robinson.

Nebraska's first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble (fittingly, it would later seem) by Roy Helu Jr.  Nebraska's last play ended in an interception by Zac Lee.  In between, there would be six more giveaways by the Husker offense.

The Cyclones, meanwhile, didn't turn the ball over even once, preserving the ball and a two-point victory that left Husker fans speechless, temporarily.

Temporarily I say, because my cell phone has already blown up with calls of "Fire Watson!", "Bench Lee!" and the suggestion that our trip next week to Waco, to watch the Huskers play Baylor, be canceled.

So, is the "pound of flesh" that Husker Nation demands warranted?

To be sure, an autopsy of this cold corpse of a game is needed, no matter how painful.

Following the Robinson score, Nebraska's defense stopped Iowa State and, after a punt, Nebraska's offense started at their own fourteen-yard line.  They moved the ball methodically to the Iowa State sixteen where a bizarre play that changed the entire complexion of the game occurred.  The Cyclones' Jesse Smith tipped a Lee pass intended for Mike McNeill which bounced around like an exploding kernel of popcorn and finally landed in his teammate's hands.  The game wasn't the same after that.

To be sure, this is not your father's Cyclones.  A fake punt on the next possession extended the Iowa State drive.  Jerome Tiller (one of the aformentioned redshirt freshmen) threw a 47-yard bomb to Jake Williams for a touchdown.  A recurring theme: Nebraska's defense played well overall, but gave up a huge, game-changing play.  And while the extra point was blocked by Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska would not lead again, let alone score.

In the second quarter, Niles Paul dropped a sure touchdown catch as he was tripped up on his way to six points.  The ball dribbled into the end zone and was pounced upon by a Cyclone defender.  From touchdown to touchback in the blink of an eye.

On Iowa State's ensuing drive, it looked like Nebraska would force a turnover of their own as Barry Turner stripped a scrambling Tiller, but Jared Crick was unable to recover the fumble.  Any momentum that Nebraska might have gained was thwarted.

The Husker offense tried to compose themselves and drove down the field following a Cyclone punt.  Then Helu supposedly fumbled at the ISU two yard-line.  I say supposedly, because the call on the field was overturned when it seemed fairly cut and dried to everyone not wearing Iowa State colors (or black and white stripes).  Touchback.

Either way, Helu wasn't right.  Robinson's number was called.  For a while he shouldered Nebraska's offensive load and did it with an aggressive attitude, an attitude that ended up costing him and his team.  While running through Cyclone defenders in the red zone, Robinson gained a first down, was stood up at the ISU five and, while he was fighting for more yards, stripped of the ball.

The Cyclone offense was stopped once more by the Husker defense.  Nebraska again with the ball, their inconsistent offensive line playing almost the entire game without its starting center, Jacob Hickman, allowed a sack, bringing up third and fifteen.  Lee completed a pass to Menelik Holt, who was also stripped.  Cyclones' ball.

The Blackshirts again stopped Iowa State despite the Cyclones having their best field position of the day and Suh punctuated the defensive stop with another blocked kick that was returned by Sean Fisher to the Iowa State thirty-five.  However, the offense failed to get anything out of it.

If this sounds repetitive, well, it was.  All day, Nebraska's offense shot itself in the foot, the hand, the head and Nebraska's defense tried to keep the walking wounded of the offense in the game.  They couldn't.

Two more interceptions by Lee in the fourth quarter, as he tried to make something, anything happen and, in the end, Nebraska would have more turnovers (eight) than points.

The turnovers would breakdown this way: Helu fumble, Lee interception, Paul fumble, Helu fumble, Robinson fumble, Holt fumble, Lee interception, Lee interception.

Did Lee throw errant passes?  Yes.  But, while it's easy to point at the quarterback for the loss, his receivers had too many dropped passes.  The Huskers couldn't hold onto the ball when it mattered and tied their record for turnovers in a game.

Take nothing away from Iowa State.  Yes, they got lucky at times, but they also forced turnovers.  Again, Nebraska had eight giveaways.  Iowa State had none.  Nebraska lost by two points.  They were lucky that the margin was that small.  Against the powerhouses of the Big XII, they would have lost by five touchdowns or more.

So, you could blame Lee.  You could blame Watson.  But when the offense literally drops the ball on almost every possession, this is the result.  

Needless to say, it ain't pretty.  As ugly as a 9-7 game sounds in theory, this one was downright hideous.

Posted on: October 17, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2009 9:08 pm
 

Wrecked: Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10

We're six games into the season, and Husker Nation still doesn't know the identity of this Nebraska team and exactly what they can accomplish.

Following a last-minute meltdown on the road against Virginia Tech, a thrilling rally against Mizzou in a monsoon, and three convincing wins against Sun Belt opponents, Husker fans could point at this team and, despite all its scars and blemishes, feel somewhat good about them.  Yet, while most felt that the VT loss was as respectable as the Mizzou win was dramatic, many question marks remained.  There were those who thought that the rain-soaked game in Columbia, despite the thrill it gave much of the nation, obscured several glaring concerns spiraling around this Nebraska team, not unlike like the sheets of rain that pelted them last Thursday.

So, as much as we don't know about this version of the Cornhuskers, perhaps it's easier to talk about the things we DO know about them:

Their offense, when not playing Florida Atlantic or Louisiana-Lafayette, can be downright offensive.  Zac Lee is wildly inconsistent, not only in his throws but in his decision-making on the field.  While I no longer reside in Nebraska, I can only imagine the swelling opinion, correct or not, that will be resonating throught the state: Cody Green needs to play more, if not start altogether.  As it turned out, Pelini somewhat agreed as I wrote this, inserting Green into the offense in the second half, though it was far too little, far too late (a lone touchdown pass to Khiry Cooper following a near-interception). 

It's clear that Roy Helu Jr. cannot do everything and, while I feel that there is no room for excuses, the loss of Rex Burkhead as the number-two I-back was more costly than initially imagined.  Additionally, it seems that while a receiver or two might step up one week, no receiver has stepped up consistently.  The announcers today hit the nail on the head when they remarked that Nebraska's receiving corps is essentially wide-receiver-by-committee.

The Huskers' defense, just rewarded their Blackshirts by Pelini, have a very unsettling habit of playing soft towards the end of a half; they did it most notably against Virginia Tech, in the first half against in Missouri and also in the first half against Texas Tech.  Exactly what was Carl Pelini thinking at that point, calling a prevent defense and having his defenders play so far off of the Red Raiders' receivers?  And while Ndamukong Suh has been adding to his resume each week (except perhaps this one) and Jared Crick has been benefiting from all of the extra attention being paid to his linemate, the defense has had horrible lapses and not exactly where they might be expected.  Going into the season, the main concern surrounding the Nebraska defense was the lack of experience at linebacker, not the secondary, which is where a frightening amount of NU's defensive failures have occurred.  Yes, the Blackshirts held the Red Raiders' offense to just a handful of yards in the second half, but it was long after the real damage had been done.

One more defensive observation: Though they managed to put some pressure on Sheffield, how was the Nebraska defense not able to more fully exploit Tech's offensive line in the first half, when they had three players get nicked?

Another thing that Husker fans this season have known all too well?  Penalties.  Penalties, penalties, penalties.  Again not an excuse, but it's been very surprising to see a team, coached by a disciplinarian like Pelini, consistently shoot itself in the foot with stupid penalties and suffer other mental lapses, not the least of which was how the offense just gave up and stood around after the botched lateral from Lee to Niles Paul.

None of this bodes well as Nebraska still faces games against Oklahoma and Kansas (in Lawrence).  And at this point, following this game in which Nebraska had gotten most of the nation to buy what it was selling, if they didn't win the game outright, they were expected to at least feed off of the win at Missouri, continue their momentum and be competitive.  Instead, Nebraska hit a red and black wall of bricks and the Big Red machine came to a smoking, grinding halt.  At this point, no conference game is a gimme.

The final thing we do know about Nebraska?  They are NOT back.  Back?  We don't even know who they are.
Posted on: October 9, 2009 7:23 am
Edited on: October 24, 2009 9:17 pm
 

Declawed: Nebraska 27, Missouri 12

For three quarters, I'm sure that most of Husker Nation was feeling the same way: Here we go again.

After dispatching the Ragin' Cajuns 55-0, our beloved Cornhuskers were getting embarrassed on a national stage once more.  All that talk of Nebraska's inability to win a road game against a ranked opponent, the same mantra over and over again by media types of every stature.

Shawn Watson tried running Helu inside with poor results.  In the third quarter, Helu tried the sidelines with only slight improvement.  Zac Lee, despite his upbeat demeanor, was throwing above and behind receivers.  The flooded field was further flooded by yellow flags on both teams.  Time and time again, the Huskers' transgressions seemed to come at the most inopportune moments; the proverbial self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the foot.  Special teams were almost impossible to watch, causing more than one Husker fan's heart to catch in their throat each time a punt by either squad was attempted and well before the safety that started the scoring for Mizzou.  Admirably, the blackshirtless "Blackshirts", anchored by Ndamukong Suh, kept NU in the game.  Yet, seemingly certain interceptions bounced from their grasp and once again they gave the impression that they were unable to finish a complete half of football as the second quarter expired.  My honest and (somewhat) unbiased opinion?  Gabbert's knee was down.

So for three quarters, visions of how fiery Coach Bo was going to berate his team were flashing through my mind while I pieced together the criticisms I intended to unleash on the Huskers (and their staff) in my commentary.

Then, while the rain kept falling in Columbia, the clouds abruptly parted for the Huskers.

Three plays into the final stanza and, like a bolt of lightning from those same rain clouds, Niles Paul benefited from a blown assignment in the Mizzou secondary (sound familiar?) and a beautiful pass from Lee which resulted in a 56-yard touchdown strike.  Even from my comfortable (and dry) seat on my living room sofa some five hundred miles away, I could feel a cold wave of apprehension and disbelief ripple through Faurot Field.

Momentum had swung in an instant.  Husker fans everywhere hoped that Nebraska could capitalize on it and erase a five-point deficit.  They didn't have to wait long.  On the Tigers' first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Ndamukong Suh showed again why he is a man among boys, as he took to the air to intercept a Gabbert pass.  Prior to that, the former Husker-commit hadn't thrown a pick all season.  It wouldn't be his last.  Suddenly, the crack in Missouri's composure had become a fissure; one large enough for Niles Paul to run through again and score his second touchdown, a thirteen yard pass from a resurgent Lee.  Although, the Huskers failed to convert their two-point try, the damage was done.  The thoroughly soaked gold and black clad locals, hoping to see their team defeat Nebraska for the third year in a row, a feat not accomplished in most of their lifetimes, could only stand in the rain with their mouths agape.

Meanwhile, the Husker faithful who had made this rain-drenched journey rejoiced; nothing could dampen their spirits.

Especially when a mere three plays into Mizzou's next possession, Dejon Gomes, neatly stepped in front of another Gabbert pass near the midfield stripe and took it to the Tigers' ten-yard line.  Mike McNeill ran a delayed route on third down, made the grab, and waltzed into the endzone with nary a Tiger in sight for the Huskers' third touchdown of the quarter.

With each ensuing score, the Tiger fans became further dejected, further deflated and farther from the stadium as they sought shelter from not only the garden-variety rain, but the Big Red reign as well.

On Mizzou's next drive, the Nebraska defense seemed to soften, allowing the Tigers to gain some yardage, aided by a weak horse collar penalty called on Suh, but then found their aggressiveness once more.  Following a holding call on Missouri, Gabbert threw four straight incompletions and surrendered the ball to the Huskers.

While running out the clock, Helu finally broke loose for a 41-yard gain, then punched in Nebraska's final score from the five-yard line on the ensuing play.  A handful of meaningless seconds ticked away into the soggy night.

One of the most dramatic turnarounds in Husker history was complete.  An ESPN analyst quipped that the rain hid the Tigers' tears.

It was a vindicating win for a team that would not give up.  Yes, it's true that Coach Pelini will have a laundry list of items for his team, items where they need improvement.  But for one quarter of one game on one miserably wet night in enemy territory, the Huskers played up to their potential like the great teams of the past.  As the joyous Huskers head home to Lincoln, they have to know that, as a program, they're headed in the right direction as well.
Posted on: October 6, 2009 10:54 am
Edited on: October 7, 2009 2:07 am
 

300! Nebraska 55, Louisiana Lafayette 0

It's been a few days since the Huskers' convincing win against Louisiana-Lafayette and just a couple more days until the Huskers' next big test of the season.  Meanwhile, I've been silent, only leaving a place-holder where my commentary should be.  In true Pelini-like fashion, I'm not going to offer any excuses.

Besides, the game acted as a balm, temporarily soothing the pain of the catasrophic loss in Blacksburg and reminding us Husker faithful of happier times, when Nebraska would routinely hang "half-a-hundred" on their foes.  Granted it was ULL and not LSU but, for a week all seemed right in Lincoln.  The throwback aspect of the game was as entertaining as it was unusual, right down to the Blue Streak Sports Section in the World-Herald the next day.

Other than that, there wasn't much to discuss.  The team put together a strong effort, responding well after their one-point loss the week before, and no particular Husker shone much brighter than the others. 

If you're a glass-half-empty sort of person, you could comment on the difficulty that Zac Lee and Jacob Hickman had with their exchange early in the game or the reduced production of wide receivers, Niles Paul and Menelik Holt.  Defensively, you could bemoan the injuries to the Huskers' secondary (Asante, Thenarse & Amukamara), although it seems that only Thenarse will miss significant playing time, or worry that the defense gave up too much yardage on the ground to a Sun Belt team facing its third BCS opponent in three weeks.  After all, the never-satisfied Pelini still doesn’t think that his team is where it needs to be, especially on defense.

Or if you’re like me, you could complain about Matt Davison’s work in the booth, as footballnut correctly guessed from my teaser.  Yes, I like my Husker broadcasts to have a Nebraska flavor with a little homerism mixed in, but sometimes Davison’s work is downright cringeworthy.  Nevertheless, his playing style fit the mold of the Osborne-style receivers back in the day (lots of blocking and a key reception here and there), his efforts are still sprinkled in the Huskers’ record book today and his name will forever be etched into Husker lore for being in the right place at the right time on an unforgettable early evening in Columbia, Missouri.  And fear not Husker fans, he is nowhere near my all-time least favorite announcers: #1 Brent Musburger, #2 Kirk Herbstreit, #3 Brad Sham.

If you tend to spend your time on the sunny side of the street, you could talk about Larry Asante’s 74-yard interception return for a touchdown (right before he injured his ankle), or maybe Matt O’Hanlon’s fumble recovery (though I doubt you will).  Asante’s score was the Huskers’ first pick-six by a DB since Fabian Washington did it against Arizona State in 2002.  Other positives were the Huskers D sacking the previously unsacked Ragin’ Cajun’ QB’s, handing ULL their worst loss since Texas clobbered them 60-3 in 2005 and shutting them out for the first time since North Texas in 2002.  Perhaps most important (in the long-term) was the play of Cody Green (7 of 8 for 62 yards) and Rex Burkhead (112 all-purpose yards).  The Texas duo hooked up for a 24-yard score off of a shovel pass in the fourth quarter.

But what I’d really like to take away from this game is that Nebraska rebounded well after a gut-wrenching road loss.  ULL provided the perfect “palate-cleanser” if you will, chasing away some of the bitterness after losing a game they should have won.  And this team, already road tested, should be able to go TIGER HUNTING and atone for last year’s 52-17 drubbing.  Yes, the Tigers come into the game undefeated, but two of those wins were more than lackluster (27-20 over Bowling Green & 31-21 @ Nevada).

So…Huskers win.  Oh, and I hope to see some of you at our next 300 consecutive sellouts.

Posted on: September 20, 2009 12:19 am
Edited on: September 20, 2009 4:09 am
 

Epic Fail: Virginia Tech 16, Nebraska 15

Now that my blood pressure has gone down sufficiently for me to form complete sentences, I'm going to try to give a little commentary on a game that tore the collective heart out of Husker Nation.

Yes, it hurt that bad.  At least it did for me.

Despite the Blackshirts playing well for most of the game, they gave up the big play with under two minutes to go and lost another heartbreaker. 

There were a few bright spots, though not bright enough to chase away the gloom after this loss.  Roy Helu Jr. bested his personal single-game mark in rushing.  Alex Henery was stuck on automatic and made a nifty rugby-style punt of 76 yards with Hokie heat in his face.  Niles Paul's 54-yard punt return gave Nebraska a spark and led to their first points of the game.  Defensively, Ndamukong Suh continued to make a name for himself.  If you didn't know who he was before today; you had better know now.

However, both offenses looked horrible at times.  Nebraska couldn't find the end zone with a GPS unit.  The implosion after getting first and goal at the Hokies' 6-yard line will echo in the minds of Husker fans for a long time. 

From what I've seen, many Husker fans are upset with a particular defender, who they believe had a bad game and then gave up the big play.  Personally, I don't like to call out any particular player, especially an amateur.  Yes, he plays for a big-time college program, but he's just a kid.  Besides, he wasn't the only defender fooled on that play (the corner was frozen by Taylor's scramble and let the receiver slip past); however, he was the only player to sack the quarterback on the next one.  If you want a goat, fine.  You want your pound of flesh?  Kick your dog.  Or blame Pelini for not going for it on fourth-and-one when Virginia Tech was out of time-outs and Helu had posted a career rushing day.  The coaches are professionals; blame them for not calling the right plays at the right time, especially in the red zone, and settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.

And while this one hurts, I can't help but feel that Nebraska is still headed in the right direction.  Yes, their record of futility against Top 20 opponents continues, as does their penchant for losing the close game, but I know that the majority of America didn't think that the Huskers would be competitive in Blacksburg, let alone come that close to winning.  On that note, a special shout-out goes to the degenerate gamblers at work who picked VT.  Although there are no moral victories, at least you lost your money.

A lot of people are also saying that the better team lost the game.  While my heart tells me that Nebraska is the better team, you have to score touchdowns, not field goals if you want to win.  You have to be better than a missed call by the officials or a single lapse in pass coverage.  Nebraska failed in that respect...in epic fashion.

All Husker fans can do at this point is hope that this young Nebraska team learns something positive from it.

And when Nebraska finally gets that elusive win over a Top 20 team, the scream of jubilation you'll hear coming from North Texas?  That will be me.

Posted on: September 14, 2009 2:30 am
Edited on: September 14, 2009 2:31 am
 

Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9

It wasn't the Roy Helu Jr. Show again this week.  Instead, It was Zac Lee's time to shine.

Meanwhile the Blackshirts played better in some aspects, worse in others.

Not to oversimplify things, but having watched the game twice and knowing that many of you watched it also and/or read recaps and commentaries of the game, I'm going to break the game down into what I think are the salient points.

Note-I never read any media reports on the week's game until after I write my blog, so as not to color my perception.  I only check stats.

Before I examine the forensics of Nebraska's latest win, I have an admission to make: I hardly knew anything about Arkansas State.  I  know that they shocked the Aggies in College Station last year and that they beat Mississippi Valley State, 61-0, in the first week of this season.  And yes, Mississippi Valley State is what we would have formerly called a Division I-AA school.  However, despite the disparity in talent, anytime a team shuts out another by sixty-one points that's saying something.  So to reiterate, I didn't know what to expect from the Red Wolves, but I still expected a comfortable win by the Huskers.  And that's what we got.

Comfortable, but not particularly impressive.

Even though the Huskers punched in their first score in just over three minutes and jumped out to a 21-0 lead (which should have been 28-0, see below), Coach Pelini, ever the perfectionist, thought his team could play better.

Especially considering that the Huskers have a date in Blacksburg in less than a week, and while the Hokies lost in week one to Alabama, they more than took care of business against Marshall, albeit a Marshall team that squeaked out a three-point victory a week before against Southern Illinois.

So what do we really know?  Practically nothing.  I don't think it's any big secret that Pelini and his OC, Shawn Watson, haven't shown their team's full potential against two decidedly inferior opponents.  We do know that Alabama left a blueprint on how to beat Tech, but we don't know if the Huskers have the talent to execute it.

Besides, all of this is a topic for another day, a day very soon.

So, here are my observations of the Arkansas State Game:

Zac Lee looked quite comfortable as he threw for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, which was good considering that Arkansas State's defense seemed to have an answer for Roy Helu, Jr.  Helu had sixty yards rushing and another forty-four receiving.  While Helu's production was diminished, Watson stuck with his gameplan, mixing equal parts of running and passing plays well into the second half when it became clear that Nebraska's fortunes were to be gained through the air.  What was more impressive than Lee's stats was his ball distribution.  Fourteen Huskers caught passes (eleven from Lee), and the touchdowns were scored by Mike McNeill (twice), Niles Paul and Tyler Legate.  Niles Paul could have had a third score (his other TD came on a reverse), but Lee's beautiful 70-yard strike to Paul was called back after a holding penalty.

Which brings me to a second point.  While the Huskers had only four penalties, the aforementioned holding call and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a kickoff were big ones and are the type of mistakes that the Huskers can ill afford to make against the Hokies or any of their upper-echelon Big XII foes.

Another thing that should give Husker fans pause was the play of the defense.  This week, Carl Pelini's squad managed to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and tally four sacks.  They also held the Red Wolves to ninety-eight net passing yards.  However, they allowed 174 yards on the ground and gave up sizable chunks of yardage on first and second downs.  Once again, this will not do when Nebraska faces more talented offenses.  They cannot continually give their opponents the advantage of second-and-short or third-and short.  And while Nebraska was able to exploit personnel mismatches, most notably their taller receivers against ASU's 5'11" DB, Cordarious Mingo, Pelini remarked after the game that the Huskers have had too many missed tackles and blown assignments in their first two contests.

So, in a week in which there were perhaps more questions than answers, will Nebraska have time to sharpen its game before their big date in Blacksburg?  And, just what is this team capable of accomplishing?

Husker Nation will have to wait for the answers.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com