R E D C L A D L O O N
LOON DROPPINGS, Vol. 4:
Penn State 40, Nebraska 7
Let me tell ya, I really hate it when Nebraska plays on TV. Partly because they tend to lose more often when the lights, cameras and action are in full effect -- but also because I have this bad habit of flipping stations a lot during the game. As things got out of hand on Saturday night, my wandering thumb inadvertently switched over to The Learning Channel, which just happened to be showing back-to-back episodes of "Trading Spaces." For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last two years, this is the wildly popular home-improvement show where two couples, with the aid of a pair of interior designers and a carpenter, renovate a room in one anothers' homes. After last year's late-season meltdown, the Huskers most certainly had hoped to redesign their image and rebuild their foundation with this trip to Happy Valley. But as it turns out, well, they simply got hammered.
A few takes:
NO QUESTION: So after watching this eerily familiar meltdown for basically the third time in the last six games, one has to ask oneself: "Hey, do I detect a trend here?" With each passing emasculation, it's getting more and more difficult to rationalize these beat-downs away: Against Colorado, NU ran up against a talented and hungry team who went on to win the conference -- right? The 'Canes? Well, they were one of the all-time greats and anybody who played that Miami Pound Machine was going to eventually get trounced -- right? But Penn State? In the last two seasons, slow, lumbering, unathletic PSU has sucked like the toilets on a Delta 747. And that's why this loss is particularly icky on two levels. One, knowing that NU made a fairly ordinary ballclub look like the St. Louis Rams, but most of all, because red flags are suddenly popping up all around this team -- and I'm not talking about the kind you see at the Nebraska Bookstore with the big Block N on them, either. Anomalies, these three piano-wirings? Coincidences? I guess we'll find out soon enough.
LION KINGS: In the days leading up to this ballyhooed ballgame, much fuss was made about Mike McCloskey's controversial out-of-bounds catch in 1982, and how Todd Blackledge's passes saved the Nittany Lions on that drizzly September day to give PSU a 27-24 victory over Turner Gill & Co. This time around, Penn State needed no late-game heroics to pull out a victory -- eh, no early- or mid-game heroics, really, either, now that you think about it. Simply put, Nebraska was outplayed, outcoached and outclassed Saturday evening. Zack Mills, who looked like Eric Crouch with an accurate arm, spun the Blackshirts dizzy with his trickery. The only comparison that this Loon can draw to Mills' performance -- you know, running rampant for huge chunks of real estate and lofting easy throws to wide-open receivers -- would be to Mizzou's Corby Jones, circa 1997. Mills also wasn't hurt by the fact that Nebraska's defensive gameplan was last seen wandering shoeless and shirtless in the Mojave Desert. Talk about ill-prepared: Remember third-and-one from the Husker four in the first half, when the Blackshirts weren't even set by the time PSU snapped the ball? Well, that pretty much summed up the whole evening, now didn't it.
BLUE CRUSH: In running up a 3-0 record against assorted kolaches this season, Nebraska had enjoyed starting their offensive drives in favorable field position thanks to some stellar special-teams play. But it's fairly difficult to get DeJuan Groce untracked on punt returns if, uh, the other team never has to punt. Every time J. Lo & Co. came onto the field, they were facing at least an 80-yard march, which must have had PSU Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley wringing his hands with glee. With each passing Lion score, the pressure mounted on Lord, and it showed. Who would have thought State's assistant coaches would have been able to poke OldPa with a stick and actually keep him awake long enough for him to come up with such a slick game plan? Gotta hand it to the geezer -- he coached like a man of 65, hell, of 60 last night.
HE STARTED IT: Longtime readers of The Pond know that we tend to be purveyors of positivery, and unlike many Cornhusker fans we usually don't degenerate into a sniveling pile of human goo -- or worse, an I-told-ya-so -- when NU loses an athletic contest. And hey, we ain't gonna bitch if Nebraska goes down, as long as they go down fighting. But brawling? Richie's ejection, coming on the heels of that ugly interception return for a TD, was the only official disqualification for the Cornhuskers, but after that they all pretty much stopped playing. Yes, it was harder than Chinese algebra to swallow the events on the field, but c'mon -- let's lose the same way we win, with some class. There will be better days, no?
BUFFA-LOSE: Silver lining alert: Meanwhile, out in Boulder, Colo., it appears Gary Barnett's group is slyly preparing to build yet another case for playing in the national championship game this January. The 1-2 Buffaloes, fresh off a 40-3 piano-wiring at the hands of the University of Spoiled Children, are undoubtedly running the shrewd plan to perfection, lulling the pollsters and their opponents to sleep in hopes of sneaking up on everyone in November. Those sly foxes. With games yet against ISU, UCLA, Texas Tech and Oklahoma -- not to mention the Skers, who by then will undoubtedly be eating gunpowder and bench-pressing Volkswagens in preparation for the Bluffs -- it could be a lonnng-with-three-Ns-in-lonnng season in Boulder. Still feel bad about your Huskers getting pounced on Saturday? Well, keep this in mind: Conventional wisdom said Nebraska was SUPPOSED to have a rebuilding year in '02. The same cannot be said about the overhyped golden boys to our west. Me, I coulda set my watch to it.
THE BOTTOM LINE: As the party rages on in Happy Valley, one has to wonder if this is what Garrick McGhee, Justin Fuentes and Gary Gibbs used to feel like back in the early- to mid-1990s -- you know, when Oklahoma was still a name team, but was getting punk-slapped here and there as they struggled to maintain the high standard set by their predecessors. Now, it would be a bit premature to declare that the Corn will go the way of OU, Miami, Texas, USC, Notre Dame and pretty much every other traditional power in the face of parity and coaching transitions. There's still a long way to go in this season -- and as Hank Williams Jr. used to say, "Let's Keep the Heart in The Country." Now, after Saturday's drubbing, it's understandable to think that all our rowdy friends have settled down, but something tells me NU has some fight left in 'em. Give the Big Red a week to rest up for their next challenge -- spunky Ames College, who obviously must like the aforementioned country-western artist, too: I mean, why else would the Cyclones have one defensive end named Beau and another named Cephus? Get that tear outta your beer, Loons -- and get ready to take Ames. Nebraska 28, Ames College 24.
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