R E D C L A D L O O N
LOON DROPPINGS, Vol. 9:
Nebraska 38, Texas A&M 31
As he watched the final, saccharine-sweet seconds tick away on the College Station clock Saturday, the Red Clad Loon considered cranking up Nebraska's fight song on his CD player in celebration. But instead, he reached for a much different musical number -- one from old-school rapper LL Cool J, believe it or not. As some of you may remember, in the early 1990s L.L. had a hip-hop hit entitled "Mama Said Knock You Out." The opening lyrics to that classic went something like this: "Don't call it a comeback! I been here for years." And come to think of it, that's a pretty good way to describe Saturday's stirring, come-roarin'-back road victory over the Aggies. By doing what they've done for years, the Huskers (and let's just say it, a QB worthy of the nickname "Cool J") didn't just knock out Texas A&M. They slobberknocked the Aggies with a flurry of fourth-quarter haymakers. The beat went on in the form of a punishing ground game, but the Huskers also scratched out this record win with heart, drive and character. Which makes a guy wonder if so far this year, maybe these Cornhuskers have been getting a bad rap.
A few takes:
WHOSE LINE IS IT, ANYWAY?: Admittedly, in recent weeks we here in The Pond have taken a number of jabs at Nebraska's willing-but-not-quite-ready offensive line. But The Hurtin' Unit took a big step Saturday night in turning that phrase around. Likewise, we are ready and most certainly willing to give credit where it is due. And oh my, it is due. Yes, David Horne ran for four touchdowns. Yes, in the second stanza the Blackshirts stiffened like a junior-high geek peeking through a peephole to the girl's shower. But let's just be upfront about this: The biggest reason Nebraska won is firmly grounded in The Pipeline. It was a Miltdown out there. Particularly warming the cockles of my red-clad heart was the notion that this happened against a D that up until Saturday had been harder to navigate on the ground than the freeways through St. Louis at midnight. Wake up, Aggie, there's something I've got to say to you: The Loon's game ball this week goes to Nebraska's oft-maligned O-Line, with a special tip of the ballcap to Junior Tagoa'i. June stepped in after Wes Cody's injury, and NU didn't miss a beat. Notice how the Cornhuskers kept pounding that right (Tagoa'i's) side? Yeah, I thought you did.
WHEN AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED: Try, try again, as the saying goes. A common knock on Solich & Co. is that they fail to -- or (whisper whisper) aren't willing to -- adjust their gameplan during the course of the game in reaction to what the opponent is doing. NU arrogantly sticks to their schemes, the knock goes, because, well, they're Nebraska, dammit. Often, pride can be a sin for the 'Skers, but on Saturday night, it was a Holy Sacrament. Down 17 midway through the third quarter and with a Husker Nation struggling through an Oh-Crud-Here-We-Go-Again moment, Solich refused to abandon the ground game. Dahrran Diedrick, unhappy earlier in the week about his role on the team, validated his coach's decision with a pair of fierce -- not to mention timely -- runs to set up a quick third-quarter score. Apparently, Frankie realized the prospect of J. Lo having to pass NU back into the game was a strategy not unlike the current fight against terror -- going to the air to retaliate right away might seem like a quick fix, but in the end it will probably only inflame the matter and make things worse. The result: A must-be-a-misprint 73 rushing attempts -- 54 of 'em by Lord and "Miso" Horne, who continues to impress. And who says Solich lacks the eloquency of his old mentor? Right after the game, Frank did some serious politickin', evoking Dee Dee's name as one of the big reasons the Cornhuskers were able to mount the massive comeback. Nice job, Frank.
DEFENDING THE PROGRAM: See, this is where being a card-carrying member of the Fan Math Brigade -- that ever-annoyed subset of Husker fans that add and subtract certain plays each week to prove whatever inane point is on their minds at the time is the Absolute Total Complete Truth -- can be kind of fun. It works both ways, y'see. Take away the punt block score, the fumble that gave A&M the ball at the six and the freak fumble TD return, and you've got yourself an old-fashioned Husker butt-kicking to the tune of 38-10. Ah, aren't we grand? Now, in all seriousness: There is tons of praise being heaped on the Cornhusker offense, but let us not forget the effort of Nebraska's defenders on this foggy Texas night. The rejuvenated Aggie offense came into this game with more momentum than Camryn Manheim going downhill in a gas-powered go-kart, rumbling to 40 points in three straight games thanks in large part to a new playcaller. Perfect occasion for the 'Shirts to rise up with one of their better efforts of '02. The second half required -- nay, begged -- for the D to make big plays, and the Blackshirts delivered. The pinch by Pat "Sticky" Ricketts off Dustin Long was a huge, gigantic, Fonoti-sized fourth-quarter turnover, while NU's d-line provided steady pressure on the QB. Meanwhile, Aggie runners had nowhere to go. The old axiom is true: If you stop the run, you can control the game, and that's just what the Huskers did in the end. The defining series was when NU was down 31-28 and Super Demorrio blew through for a sack at the A&M 8, leading to a quick three-and-out and a punt so ugly it should have been sitting in the Aggie student section. Six plays later, Horne scored and the Cornhuskers never looked back. Daaamn, that felt good.
TURNERED OFF: No, this take is not to be added to the legions of knee-jerk calls for NU's QB coach to become the Huskers' offensive coordinator. Au contraire. It's about Turner Broadcasting. Lissen, I'd like to make an outright apology to the overcooked hams at ABC Sports -- the professionalism and competency of Saunders, Mushmouth, Porky Bowden, et al., is absolutely striking after having to wince through TBS' gawdawful portrayal of Saturday's game. Now, some may excuse the Superstation's shortcomings by saying they're new at covering college football. But like Dave Burke and Mike McCashland switching jerseys in the '84 Orange Bowl, nobody is fooled by that. These guys are the same boobs Fox Sports has forced upon us for the last few years; they just have a spiffier logo now and a halftime show that doesn't cause distorted feedback from all the inane screaming. It was with this knowledge that I allowed myself to be disappointed, but not surprised, by the level of TBS's putridity. You can tell a bad sports broadcast by the crew's tendency to continually resort to stupid cliches, empty footballisms and -- worst of all -- pet phrases, because they lack the expertise to truly analyze the game. Just how many hundreds of times was the A&M defense referred to as the Wrecking Crew in the first half? Oh, hey, look -- it's yet another sideline feature about the 12th Man. And here's one about Reveille! And, ugh, here's one about homely Texas farm kids kissing after their team crosses the goal line. You just don't need to see that kind of stuff on your screen, y'know? That's just bad TV, no matter how much Chili's barbecue sauce is involved.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Leading up to the game in College Station, there had been much said about the mystical curse of Nebraska's all-white road uniforms, and how they have made NU players slower, weaker and more apt to forget the lost art of tackling opposing ballcarriers. This myth is right up there with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Sooner Magic -- well, OK, maybe not that last one. Regardless, it seemed perfectly appropriate that the Cornhusker who made the play that effectively buried the All-white Uniform Curse had the last name "Bland." If the symbolism were any more obvious, someone would be making a cheesy red, white and blue bumper sticker out of it. As for this Loon, I'm just glad Nebraska was able to go to College Station and whup up on that mildly alarming quasi-cult, what with their propensity to wear Gestapo uniforms, get high on order, evoke scary mythos and participate in groupthink. In fact, one Scottsbluff-area Husker fan who made the trip was walking through the A&M student section and was asked where he was from. When he said "Gering," the gray-clad cadets nodded knowlingly, saluted and said, "Ja!" Traditions at Nebraska tend to be a bit more benign -- like winning every game at home, for example. NU has dropped just one contest in its last 63 at Memorial Stadium, and we all know who The One was. The last time NU faced Texico in Lincoln, the Huskers were in the Top 10 and still had an outside shot at the national title, while the Whorns were unranked and had no pressure on 'em whatsoever. That 20-16 loss saw the second emergence of Texico's own mythic tradition vs. Nebraska -- what has become known as Austin Powers, the burnt-orange version of Sooner Magic. This time around, the tables are turned. Texico is ridiculously talented, and probably won't need very much good fortune to create trouble for the Big Red. But perhaps it's time to witness the most time-honored tradition of all: What goes around, comes around. Nebraska 20, Texas 16.
Baud to the Bone.
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