The Desert Husker Homecoming
Strike up the band. Heat up the Valentino's pizza. Tie a big red ribbon around your next-door neighbor. This weekend marks the semi-triumphant return of the Desert Husker to the Heartland (assuming some old outstanding warrants have been cleared up before my plane departs).
That's right. This weekend I'm heading back to my native land -- Lincoln, Nebraska -- to visit my parents, see some old friends and take in the game versus Texas Tech. It's been nearly eight years since I turned in my stalk of corn in favor of a saguaro cactus, and though I've been back semi-regularly since, the home of the Big Red will be a sight for sore eyes (especially if I don't replace my contact lenses soon).
Though the arrival of the Desert Husker falling on NU homecoming weekend is merely coincidence, it will be an added bonus to take in some of the homecoming floats (here in Arizona, a "float" is what we call a fur-bearing mammal that decides to commit suicide in your swimming pool).
The return to Lincoln will also afford me the opportunity to take my young son on a tour of the places that helped define the Desert Husker - the campus building where I slept through my first University class, the sites of ill-fated dates (if you concentrate you can still smell the desperation), the concrete wall in my parents' basement into which I slammed my fist after the Huskers lost to Oklahoma in 1987.
The memories will be heavy - and speaking of heavy, the NU offensive line sure looked good against Baylor. (How's that for a forced segue!) This past week's tilt with Kevin Steele's Baylor Bears was an interesting one. Rarely have the Huskers been so dominant statistically, and yet at the end of three quarters it was a two-touchdown game. The game's weather seemed to mimic the Huskers' performance - unrelenting but sloppy.
What went right?
Well, 641 yards rushing is a pretty good place to start.
Each week NU's offensive line has looked stronger and more focused. On Saturday, it didn't matter who was carrying the ball, he was going to be running through some huge holes. Granted, what works against the Baylor D may not be as effective against Oklahoma. But at the very least, the O-line's last two performances have made the opening debacle against TCU a fairly distant memory.
For the second consecutive week, it was great to see the coaches finding ways to get Thunder Collins involved in the action. The more he plays, the more you can see Collins' confidence growing. And, when he and Dahrran Diedrick are on the field at the same time, it can cause nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
Finally, the Blackshirts keep on rolling. Only an Eric Crouch fumble in the end zone kept the Huskers from making Baylor their first shutout victim of the season. Demoine Adams - who I've maligned a few times in this column - showed up with two big sacks, and true frosh Barrett Ruud continued to show uncommon maturity and some serious quickness.
What Went Wrong
As football-related scenes go, it was only slightly less uncomfortable than watching the 1985 Chicago Bears do the "Super Bowl Shuffle." Seven times, in front of a sprawling room only crowd, the Cornhuskers put the ball on the carpet, resulting in five turnovers and Baylor's only score. This sloppiness kept the game much, much closer than it should have been.
Though the turnovers were frustrating, I'm willing to assume they were weather-caused anomalies. For the DH, the bigger concern is the NU kicking game. A missed field goal and a botched extra point may not have had a huge affect on the outcome of the Baylor game, but against stiffer competition these miscues could come back to bite the Huskers.
Lastly, I'd sure like to see the Husker offense show some sense of urgency when time is running out at the end of a half and they have an opportunity to score. This happened before the end of the first half on Saturday and has happened in a few other games this year. Going without a huddle is remarkably ineffective when it takes the team 35 seconds to get to the line of scrimmage and bark the signals. Please NU players and coaches, humor me. Even if you are unconcerned that the gameclock is down to 20 seconds, at least make it look like you care. Sprint to the line of scrimmage. Avoid running up the middle and throwing to receivers nowhere near the sidelines. Don't stop to ask the referees what they thought of last week's episode of "Temptation Island." It's called a hurry-up offense, so hurry up!
The Desert Husker Offensive Player of the Game
Considering the Big Red only had four pass completions, we can probably rule out any receivers. Instead, I'll give this one to Thunder (appropriate considering Saturday's weather conditions). Let's face it, if you're named Thunder, you'd better be good - and against Baylor, he was. By rushing for 165 yards and catching 50 percent of NU's pass completions, Thunder gave a performance fitting of his name.
The DH Defensive Player of the Game
I'll give this one to Adams (congratulations to the Adams family). In the past I've questioned if Demoine had the power and killer instinct to be an effective rush end, but against Baylor he showed plenty of both. I've been rooting for Adams to step up and make a bigger impact, and was more than pleased to see it happen at the expense of the Bears. Hopefully this won't be the last time he receives this prestigious award.
Is it possible to fumble seven times and still win by 41 points? Apparently the answer is yes. Send this one to Ripley's Believe it or Not. They can put it in a display next to the one about the guy who went through life with a crowbar through his skull.
Will the real Texas Tech please stand up? Will Solich and Co. be battling the stumbling, bumbling, fumbling Red Raiders team that lost to lowly Kansas, or the sharp-throwing, hard-hitting Tech team that manhandled K-State last week?
What will this week's game teach us?
This week we'll not only find out if the thin-blooded, Arizona-acclimated Desert Husker can stave off hypothermia when the temperatures on the plains dip into the 40s, we'll also learn how the Blackshirts respond against an offense that throws the ball nearly every play.
Well, that should do it for this week. I look forward to being back home in the land of wine and Runzas. In fact, if you get a chance, look for me at the game. I'll be the one wearing red.