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. Thats why it was
so good to see Tom Osbornes 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 Nebraskas
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, Nebraskas
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. Theyre making
progress from the Callahan days, but three close losses are too many. Mentally
tough teams dont 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
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 programs 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 theres a pattern to follow.
And theres 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 its just as important for NU to remember what
happened Dec. 5 at Arlington. The Huskers have plenty of incentive to use to
once – or twice? – this fall. While theyre blinking sweat out of their eyes in
summer workouts, will they be staring 0:01 in the face?