R E D C L A D L O O N
LOON DROPPINGS 9:
!@#$ing Texas 31, Nebraska 7
Saturday's beat-down was kinda like watching a really nice house burn slowly to the ground. It only took a small spark to start the trouble, really, and the next thing you knew the problem was spreading through the whole structure. Sure, help eventually arrived, but by then it was too late to even think about saving the place. And in the end, all a guy could do was say, "well, at least everyone got out OK and no one got seriously hurt." Cripes, getting torched by Texas is nothing new to Nebraska -- in narrow losses over the years they've been smoked by James, razed by Ricky, burned by Major and charred by Simms. But this all-consuming conflagration was different. This time, the House of Husker was completely gutted.
A few takes:
COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME HOME: Shortly after the lights went out in Texas, it was rumored that Frank Solich slipped away from Turner Gill's post-game pep talk ("Hey, look on the bright side, guys, we don't have to come back down here until 2007"), and placed a call to thank his former quarterback, Eric Crouch. As it turns out, without No. 7's 9-yard-run off the left side while trailing No. 25 Notre Dame 24-21 in overtime three and a half seasons ago, the coach's road record against ranked teams would be 0-10 today rather than the much-more-acceptable 1-9. Ranked foes, unranked foes, doesn't matter -- in 31 games played away from Memorial Stadium since '98, the Huskers are basically a .500 club. If the Solich-Era Cornhuskers were a Super Friend, they'd have to be Aquaman -- y'know, in the ocean, he was the master of his domain and could do no wrong. But God forbid, if he had to respond to a Trouble Alert on dry land, he was just an ordinary dude in a really bad orange shirt. How to explain Nebraska going from having an embarrassment of riches in Lincoln to just being an embarrassment on the road? Like Yogi Berra once said, 90 percent of this game is half-mental. Over time, a team takes on the personality of its coach -- his strengths, weaknesses, dreams and fears. And with 14:59 left in the first quarter, it was more evident than Britney Spears' cover shoot for "Esquire" that the Cornhuskers were expecting to lose this game. This, Loons, is what the Solich Era has wrought.
LORD, GIVE IT A REST: Predictably, like the sun coming up on Sunday and some super-clever Husker fan reporting that it did despite the loss, the Lynch Lord Legions -- fully rested after two weeks of hibernation -- returned to sing their familiar refrain. No, Jammal did not exactly have what one would call a career day, unless that career is in the Iraqi Air Defense Ministry. But to place the blame solely at his size-10s only shows you have a jerky knee at best. Wondering whether Joe Dailey would have fared better against the Longhorns than NU's starting quarterback is like wondering if the Polish Infantry would have slowed down the German advance in 1938 for a few more minutes had it been on bicycles instead of horseback. It's pretty simple, really: It all starts up front. If your I-back is getting met three yards behind the line of scrimmage by a defensive tackle, you shouldn't be surprised when opponent outrushes you by 300 yards. On the option, if your fullback resorts to his unique Matador Blocking Technique, your ballcarrier is going to get clobbered. If your quarterback, already a hot-and-cold passer, has a first priority of trying to dodge an untouched defensive end instead of looking downfield, then yeah, he's going to look like a "bad thower." All week, NU said it was going to run right at Texas; all week, NU said it was going to go inside and pound on Wright and Tubbs; all week, NU said it was going to control the line of scrimmage. But like usual, when all was said and done, more was said than done.
D-PLEATED: On the other side of the ball, there was a similar sense of being overwhelmed. If you were to tell me that the Blackshirts picked off three Longhorn passes and blocked a kick, I'd say that they probably played well enough to win. But those few-and-far-between bright spots were between watching a whole lotta Texas pile up a whole lotta yards. Between trying to chase down that genetically engineered quarterback to getting pounded up the gut by Cedric Benson to worrying about Roy Williams going deep when they weren't looking, the Blackshirts were stretched thinner than Mark Mangino's waistband. I'd have to say that on a Husker fan's list of situations they'd like to find themselves in, watching Bo's boys get blocked into oblivion they way they did ranks just ahead of "waking up in a bathtub full of ice and minus one kidney." It was bittersweet to see Bullocks get his record-setting eighth pick of the year, because by that point, it was meaningless. Take heart in that they didn't give up, though they had about 484 reasons to do so.
THE BOTTOM LINE: As reporters flocked around him following the Emasculation in Austin, Bo Pelini responded to a question about where his defense goes from here. Bo's answer: "We go to the next game. It's the same thing you do after you win a football game. You just keep working to get better. You don't sit there and cry about it, the same way you don't exalt in it when you win football games. You go to the next game, you get better and you go back to work. That's how you win football games." And as the Cornhuskers pack their gear for a trip to lovely Lawrence this coming weekend, let's hope to Devaney Almighty that his words are heeded by the whole team. Compared to the press coverage in the last week, this week's NU-KU game will get about as much coverage as a Carol Moseley Braun-for-President press conference, but unlike last year when being ignored was justified, there's still plenty to play for in this one. Two weeks ago, NU and KU were atop the North; today, the Jayhawks have about as much chance of winning the division as Mack Brown has of getting a street named for him in downtown Lincoln. The Huskers? Well, they can still pull it off. Step one of three is in Lawrence on Saturday. So, as Bo said, we go to the next game. We hope to get better and go back to work. That's how you win football games, after all. And next Saturday, that's what will happen. Nebraska 37, Kansas 24.
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