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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
June 27, 2010

 
Texas loss can serve as momentum
 
Throughout much of the spring and summer of 1994, the game clock inside Memorial Stadium showed 1:16. That summer, the Cornhusker players were constantly reminded of how close they had come to a national championship when they took a 16-15 lead over Florida State on a Byron Bennett field goal with 1:16 remaining in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1994 – a lead that evaporated when the Seminoles kicked a late field goal.

This summer, will the Memorial Stadium clock be set at 0:01? More importantly, will that number be fixed in the Huskers’ minds?

A tough loss is a painful thing to face. That’s why it was so good to see Tom Osborne’s 1994 Huskers stare it down and use it for motivation throughout one of the most memorable seasons in Husker history.

The 2010 version of the Huskers has a chance to do the same thing with the negative energy that came from the 2009 Big 12 championship. Having been shut out of a conference title since 1999, Nebraska has all kinds of incentive to go out this fall and give the Big 12 something to remember it by.

We hear that all kinds of bad vibes will be flowing in the aftermath of Nebraska’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten. Sounds like fans in Manhattan, Stillwater, Ames and College Station will be hard on the Huskers when they go on the road this fall. Well, that should set up very nicely for the Big Red on its farewell tour. A mentally tough football team loves to go into environments like that and shut the fans up.

How mentally tough will this team be? So far, after two years under Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s football program seems to be headed in the right direction. It has shown a propensity to finish strong, winning six of its last seven games in both 2008 and 2009. It has learned to come from behind. Under Pelini, Nebraska has won three games after trailing at halftime, something it never accomplished in four years under Bill Callahan.

Under Pelini, the Huskers are 3-0 when tied at halftime. And they have developed a fast, nasty defense that will keep them in any game, even when the offense is having a bad day.

On the minus side: NU lost too many close decisions last season – 16-15 at Virginia Tech, 9-7 to Iowa State and 13-12 to Texas. The Huskers won a pair of close ones – 27-12 at Missouri (after trailing by 12 going into the fourth quarter) and 10-3 against Oklahoma. They’re making progress from the Callahan days, but three close losses are too many. Mentally tough teams don’t make a habit of losing nail-biters; they make a habit of beating rated teams in close games.

To win a conference title, Nebraska will have to get better at overcoming difficulty.

Handling adversity is what made the 1994 team a national champion. The Huskers saw their first- and second-string quarterbacks go down, and they sent out Matt Turman to start a pivotal game at Kansas State. He got the job done, with a bunch of help from the Blackshirts.

Then, in the Orange Bowl, the ’94 Huskers overcame one of the program’s most deflating moments – an untimely interception thrown by Brook Berringer early in the fourth quarter when Nebraska had just taken over inside the Miami 5-yard line after a bad punt snap. The Huskers still had enough in the tank to put together two touchdown drives and win it all on the Hurricanes’ home field after having all kinds of trouble against Miami in the previous decade.

This Husker team has a lot of proving to do before it can be compared to the ’94 edition, but at least there’s a pattern to follow.

And there’s a pattern that will be important for Nebraska to break – losing close ones to Texas. The Huskers have had plenty of trouble with the Longhorns over the past 10 years, losing all five of their games. Four of the losses came by a field goal or less. Contributing factors: an interception thrown by Jammal Lord in the Texas end zone late in the fourth quarter (2002), a fumble by Terrance Nunn after he had virtually clinched the game with a first-down catch late in the fourth quarter (2006), an extra second put back on the clock by the referee to allow Texas to kick a game-winning field goal (2009).

A 33-0 win over Arizona will give the Huskers momentum going into the 2010 season, but a it’s just as important for NU to remember what happened Dec. 5 at Arlington. The Huskers have plenty of incentive to use to beat Texas once – or twice? – this fall. While they’re blinking sweat out of their eyes in summer workouts, will they be staring 0:01 in the face?

 

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive

 
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