Time To Mount The Badgers

Last year in Madison, the Badgers delivered the Huskers a bitter pill on an icy cold November day. In case you need a refresher, Melvin Gordon had a game for the record books, rushing for an NCAA-record 408 yards with 4 touchdowns. Against the Blackshirts.

Now here they come again, but this time both teams have first-year coaches and an 0-1 record in the Big 10 coming in to the game.

One startling difference in this year’s game (that will hopefully be the difference maker) is Nebraska’s ability to stop the run. Nebraska is only allowing an average of 85 rushing yards per game, ranking the Huskers third in the Big Ten and 12th nationally against the run. Ergo, there will be no running back heroics from Wisconsin this time. Instead, look for the Huskers’ true freshman Devine Ozigbo to bust loose.

Defensive end Jack Gangwish points to what he calls Wisconsin’s tradition. “They have a great fan base,” he said. “There’s a lot of similarities between Wisconsin and Nebraska, and I think since we’ve been in the Big Ten there’s been a lot of good battles. I think all those things contribute to that hype that surrounds this game.”

It’s clear that the 2015 Huskers have yet to gel and find a winning identity. It’s also clear that the team is scrappy and in every game until the last second ticks off the clock. We have talent, and we have a plan. This season is far from over.

Nebraska fans have endured plenty of heartache over the years; perhaps this year we get that out of the way early? How we finish the season from here will tell us plenty about the character and determination of this team.

Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 5-4, including a 3-1 edge in Big Ten regular-season matchups. The Badgers have won four of the last five meetings, but the Huskers are 3-0 all-time versus Wisconsin in Lincoln.

Go Big Red.

Stewart Mandell (Sports Illustrated) Big 10 Preview

LegendsStewart Mandell of Sports Illustrated released his Big 10 Preview.

In short, he predicts Michigan winning the Legends division and Ohio State as Big 10 Champ, defeating the Wolverines in the championship game. Mandell projects a conference record of 8-2 and an overall record of 10-2 for both Nebraska and Michigan. A head-to-head win by Michigan, avenging last year’s 23-9 loss, puts Michigan in the championship game.

Given the relatively soft nature of this year’s schedule, would you find a 10-2 record and missing out on the Big 10 Championship game a success or failure?

Huskers Ranked 16th In Coach’s Poll

Nebraska is ranked 16th in the first coaches poll of the year. Fellow Big 10 conference foes Michigan (8th), Wisconsin (12th) and Michigan State (13th) are ranked ahead of the Big Red.

So the Legends represent 3 of the top 20 spots. While the Leaders represent 1. Time for division name changes in my book.

1. LSU (18)
2. Alabama (20)
3. USC (19)
4. Oklahoma
5. Oregon
6. Georgia
7. Florida State
8. Michigan
9. South Carolina
10. Arkansas
11. West Virginia
12. Wisconsin
13. Michigan State
14. Clemson
15. Texas
16. Nebraska
17. TCU
18. Stanford
19. Oklahoma State
20. Virginia Tech
21. Kansas State
22. Boise State
23. Florida
24. Notre Dame
25. Auburn

Four Downs: Nebraska vs Iowa

Well, Nebraska wins the “Heroes Game” and finishes the season the with my predicted record of 9-3. It was a solid season, with playmakers making the difference in key games. Let’s keep it with playmakers.

First Down: Lavonte David, Team MVP – Outside of Mike Rozier, what other junior college transfer has had an impact like Lavonte David as a Husker? (And even then, Rozier only played one season at the junior college level.) He broke the single season tackles record last season, and then this season played at an All-American level. A Butkus Award finalist, you saw his excellence throughout the game. One play summed up him up. He’s in coverage, and an Iowa WR pushes off on him. Lavonte falls to the ground, and the Iowa WR makes the catch. Lavonte chases him down, forces a fumble and recovers it. He does all this on a play where the Iowa WR is called for offensive pass interference against him. Again, on a play where the WR pushed him to the ground, Lavonte recovers and forces a turnover. He was a difference maker in a number of critical games this year. [Read more…]

Four Downs: Nebraska at Michigan

Well, Nebraska will be playing two more times in 2011, instead of one more time. What an all-around ugly performance today by the Huskers, with the exception of LB Lavonte David. I can’t believe I thought the Huskers deserved BCS consideration after watching them play today. [Read more…]

Bigger Than Football

At first, I was surprised to learn that Bo Pelini thought yesterday’s game against Penn State should not have been played.

But now that I’ve read David Haugh’s Chicago Tribune op-ed on the game, it makes more sense to me.

To say this football game was revealing has nothing to do with either Penn State or Nebraska’s chances to win the Big Ten Conference title. A 3 1/2-hour event turned into a daylong sociological seminar on the power of coaches as entrenched as Paterno, and college football, in communities such as this one in Centre County built around the sport.

Haugh’s op-ed is about the danger of blind obedience and ugliness of mob mentality. He points out that some Penn State fans think “the media” brought JoePa’s house down, when that’s clearly not the case. He also reports on the actions of one man with a conscience, Penn State grad John Matko, who put tape over his Penn State hat and stood outside Beaver Stadium with a sign that read, “Put the abused kids first. Don’t be fooled, they all knew.” According to Haugh’s report, Matko was threatened several times by PSU fans for his dissenting point of view.

While the lack of perspective saddens me, I am glad the game was played. “The show must go on,” and there are lots of people in this — like the Penn State players — who would have been punished by a cancellation, even though they did nothing wrong. Yes, child abuse and the alleged cover up is outrageous and something needs to be done about it (and thankfully something is being done about it). But cancelling a football game, or the remainder of Penn State’s season, is not the answer.

Was the cover up a cold calculation meant to protect Penn State football, JoePa and the university? Probably, but the motivation to “protect the church” is only one factor. It’s also a natural human reaction to recoil from something so monstrous and repress it to the best of one’s ability. Of course that’s not the answer we’re looking for…the answer is to face the monster head on and slay him, but we all know that storybook ending is often rewritten in real life.

It’s easy to project how one might have handled things differently if confronted by the things Mike McQueary saw in 2002. And it’s also easy to say you would have intervened and maybe kicked the crap out of the vile offender. But I can see where McQueary was stunned and traumatized by what he saw. Whatever his first reaction, he needed to pull it together and call 9-1-1. He didn’t do that and he and will likely regret it for the rest of his life.

But back to Pelini and his desire to be an educator of young men first and a football coach second…it’s an interesting balance that a head coach has to strike between being a compassionate guy and a role model, while at the same time making his living as the guy who instills a killer instinct and an unrelenting will to win. I’ve been tough on Pelini at times this season and last, but on the whole, I’m a fan.

Four Downs: Nebraska at Penn State

A crazy week in college football comes to an end with Nebraska holding on to beat Penn State 17-14 in State College. If you read my blog, you know the scandal affected me. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was just observing everything at the outset of the game. A nice moment by Huskers assistant coach Ron Brown in leading both teams in prayer before the game. It seemed like it took a few series before the players were into the game. It was easy to understand why the fans weren’t into the game for awhile either.

First Down: Taylor Martinez – Almost one year ago, the Huskers almost came apart on the road, against Texas A&M. The chatter made it seem like a majority of fans were ready to throw Taylor Martinez out of Lincoln. Now? The guy is in command. He played another great game in all aspects. If his receivers catch a few more balls, his numbers look real good. He’s showing what his teammates have been saying this season, he is the leader on offense. Who would’ve thought this a year ago, or even after the Wisconsin game? He’s playing great. The third quarter touchdown drive was a thing of beauty, especially the option pitch to Rex Burkhead for the touchdown. If he keeps this up, he’ll join a list of Husker players who were doubted early in their career, only to be regarded as legends once they finished.

Second Down: This game should’ve been over earlier – Penn State’s offense is awful, but Nebraska helped them out in the second half. In the third quarter, Penn State QB, Matt McGloin, got away with an underthrown pass, into double coverage, for a huge gain that the Huskers secondary lost track of. That big play led to the first Penn State touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Huskers went to the well too often with Burkhead under center and Martinez in the backfield. Penn State blew up the play, and Burkhead fumbled it. (Or Burkhead apologists will blame Tyler Legate. Whatever. Anyway…) There was no need for that at that point in the game. Nebraska was moving the ball down the field and taking time off the clock. It gave Penn State another chance, and they converted for a touchdown to make it 17-14 with under six minutes to play. I can’t complain too much because Husker fans will take any win they can.

Third Down: Brett Maher gets a game ball – His kicking was the difference in the game. He made his field goal opportunity, while Penn State’s kicker missed his. More importantly, his punts pinned Penn State back on their side of the field. One of the key plays of the season? Maher’s 61 yard punt late in the fourth quarter, which pinned Penn State back as they drove for the tie or win. Dude is money.

Fourth Down: The axion goes, “Big time players make big time plays” – Lavonte David made the critical fourth down stop late in the game, especially when it seemed the Blackshirts were tiring. He had a solid game as usual. Alfonzo Dennard was shutting down receivers and showing why he is a potential first round pick in the NFL Draft. Burkhead, despite the fumble, had a solid game running the ball, and got better as the game progressed. Martinez made conversions on third down. Nebraska’s best players stepped up and won the game.

Looking Ahead: Nebraska can’t worry about what Michigan State does. All they can do is take care of business. And, who knows, it might be better for Nebraska to win out and not make the Big Ten Championship Game. Hear me out. Nebraska wins out and is 10-2. They still have a chance to be picked for a BCS Bowl Game because Husker fans travel well. Now, they need some help for that to happen, but it could happen. First things first, beat Michigan next week. It’s simple. If they contain QB Denard Robinson, they will win the game. If they don’t, they will lose the game. The Huskers two losses came against teams with mobile QB’s.

Postscript: Say a prayer for the victims, and their families, in this sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. The scars will be with them forever, but they can overcome it. It will be hard, and take time, but it can be done. I hope the Penn State community continues to rally around and support the victims and their families. I also hope the Penn State community can deal with the reality of the scandal, address it and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again, and get back to being a well-regarded university. It will take time, and whether they like it or not this scandal will always be linked with them. This past week, I saw one columnist link this scandal, and Joe Paterno, with what former Husker RB Lawrence Phillips did in assaulting a woman and Tom Osborne keeping him on the team. While that scandal is still mentioned from time to time, it doesn’t define Nebraska. I hope this sexual abuse scandal doesn’t come to define Penn State either, even though they’ll always be linked with it. I know a few Penn State grads, and they are good people that are proud of their university. They’ve been disgusted by their university the past week. I hope they can be proud of their university again.

Bradley v. Pelini One Of Many Storylines

Players play the game, but coaches also line up against one another on game day.

Tomorrow at high noon (EST) Tom Bradley lines up against Bo Pelini and #19 Nebraska.

It would be a heck of a debut under any circumstance, but given the spotlight and widespread condemnation in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it’s hard to say just how big of a moment this is for Bradley and his team. I don’t think he’ll be getting much sleep tonight, let’s put it that way.

According to ESPN:

It’s no secret Bradley has wanted this job for years.

Just not like this.

When the ball is kicked at high noon tomorrow, a new chapter in Nittany Lions history will be underway. I wish Penn State and Bradley well (against Ohio State next week and beyond). But tomorrow can belong to Nebraska, provided we pound the ball and stifle their every move on D.

The Pelini brothers are not perfect coaches, but they’re competitors and I have to think we’re going to unHappy Valley to lay a beat down on a disoriented and overly emotional team.

My call: Huskers 42 – Penn State 21.

Go Big Red.

Smells Like Teen Spirit And Pepper Spray

Tom Osborne said on KLIN radio this morning that Husker fans might want to wear something other than Nebraska red in unHappy Valley this Saturday. He said he and Bo Pelini would understand, even though I do not.

Apparently T.O. and Nebraska Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln are concerned about the safety of Nebraska fans and players.

According to a national news report, Clare said, “Happy Valley is a pretty interesting place on a normal football Saturday. Given what’s developed the last several days, particularly last night, we have a duty to ensure that our football student-athletes, staff, coaches and our fans are safe.”

By “interesting place” he no doubt refers to the rude treatment Nebraska fans received in 2002 when the Huskers lost 40-7 to the Nittany Lions. One Nebraska fan, Jeff “Rocky” Sisel of Arlington, Va., said his safety concerns won’t stop him from going to Happy Valley.

Sisel said he will go with four or five friends to Saturday’s game. He said he’s considered renting a car for the trip because he’s worried his own vehicle will be targeted for vandalism.

Meanwhile, Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley, speaking at a news conference, admonished students to not engage in hooliganism. “I think the message is clear: Let’s show them what Penn State is really all about … Let’s show class; let’s show dignity,” Bradley said.

Four Downs: Nebraska vs Northwestern

After last week’s domination of Michigan State, you thought the Huskers had righted the ship and were in prime position to win their division. I should have waited another game before thinking Nebraska was on its way. Looking back, there seems to be one game a season, under Pelini, the Huskers lose they shouldn’t. Today was that game. A number of little things added up to lead to the biggest upset since Iowa State was on the receiving end of eight Nebraska turnovers in 2009.
[Read more…]