Unlike last week, I actually watched the entire Husker win over Michigan. As long as they have the lead, what’s not to like, right?
I’ve already learned never to turn away from the screen, because you could miss something huge. Good or bad…certainly huge. This one never really produced that one moment – although Denard Robinson’s injury could qualify I suppose. Sorry, but UM gets no sympathy here. Nebraska played the entire game without its best player, Rex Burkhead. Remember him?
This game taught us the value of depth. In fact, I think if Ameer Abdullah had gotten hurt, Imani Cross probably would have racked up some big yards late in the game. (Michigan’s defense was gassed…just like the old days!) Thankfully, Nebraska hasn’t collapsed in the face of a key injury…although if it was Taylor Martinez and not a running back that was injured, you never know.
So as we’ve been saying all along, Nebraska has a great shot at going to the Rose Bowl. Would that make all the ups and downs of this season worth it? Of course it would. Would it lead to even better stuff in the future? Who knows. With this bunch, it’s impossible to tell.
What we’ll find out this week is this: If Nebraska goes in and beats a very tough Michigan State outfit – the best defense Nebraska will face this season – on the road, then they truly will have turned a corner. We will officially be able to call what happened in Columbus a fluke (the lopsided score, not the loss itself. The better team won the game) and be able to look forward to solid, mature performances down the stretch. Wouldn’t that be a relief?
Lose to Sparty (and this is one of the two games most of us figured Nebraska would lose this season, Ohio State being the other) and the roller coaster ride will continue. A single loss most certainly does NOT kill Nebraska’s Rose Bowl shot – Michigan still has to play Ohio State and Nebraska has the tie breaker – but it signals that this team remains a cut below the best programs in college football and a lot more growth – both by players AND the inexperienced coaching staff – is needed.
Here’s what a Nebraska loss does: It makes it VERY likely that Boise State will earn a BCS bid. That’s because the one-loss Broncos (whose only loss is at Michigan State in the opener) will undoubtedly finish ahead of whoever wins the Big Ten title and be ranked 16th or better in the final BCS poll. That sends the Broncos to a BCS game automatically. Right now, the Broncos are #18 in the BCS and Nebraska – the highest rated Big Ten team, is #19.
If Oregon somehow gets into the BCS title game (meaning USC will have lost at least two more games and the Pac 12 probably won’t get an extra BCS bid) could we be looking at a 10-3 Nebraska vs. an 11-1 Boise State in the Granddaddy of them all? Don’t ask Jim Delany to put on a happy face for that one.
But that’s looking waaaaaaaaaaaay ahead. First things first. For Nebraska to beat Michigan State, the offensive line play has to get much better. Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, because “the Pipeline” groups of the 80’s and 90’s weren’t asked to pass protect very much, but Barney Cotton’s group seems to be just average in everything they’re asked to do. Pretty good pass protection most of the time. Decent run blocking most of the time, and so on. Not close to dominating in any phase. That’s what you get when you ask college lineman, who can practice for 20 hours a week, to be able to do all these different kinds of blocking schemes like the pros do.
And FINALLY Nebraska won the turnover battle from someone, albeit a freshman QB. Sparty’s Andrew Maxwell isn’t great shakes, but he will be better than Ralph Bellamy (great actor, not so great QB) and he won’t just hand the Blackshirts – YES, we can use the moniker now – any freebies. They will have to be FORCED takeaways. Still need a LOT of improvement in the giveaway – takeaway department.
Stay tuned. Something tells me this is going to get a lot more interesting before we reach the finish line.