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Khus the Red

Now is the Past

Having been called away and rendered almost completely in the dark Saturday evening, I returned in the aftermath, fully expecting to see blood coming out of the VCR. Not quite. The one true Red never led in this game and never threatened to, and in fact found themselves behind the 8-ball soon enough. It is clear enough who leads and who follows at this point in the rivalry, though it may be that the next time these teams meet the last shall be first. Yet as far as the win-loss category goes, when the numbers are even, you’re way behind.

Offensively, the final score suggests the word “ineffective,” but there was a good approach to attacking OU. Obviously, attempting to run right at the Sooners would have worked as well as asking Stoops if he would kindly punt on second down the entire game. Callahan and Norvell did a good job of trying to give Joe manageable throws and keep the rush coming at semi-unpredictable times, especially with lots of motion before the snap. Yet when all the motion ended with a FB sliding across into lead blocking position, OU was prepared for the handoff. And when they weren’t prepared for Pork Chop fixin’ to gash them, they didn’t need to be; they had the talent to keep a six yard gain from becoming a 30 yard gain, as it may have gone for against other opponents. If this NU team had shown up against ISU, the Clones get Red rolled. There is that much separation between Iowa State and Oklahoma, and certainly in 2004 we are much closer to the left side of that spectrum as well.

The defense flowed to the ball well and kept attacking, but this game even more so than any other demonstrated the difference in personnel between these two programs. When three Blackshirts have the correct pursuit angle to contain a running back and he is still able to bounce outside for seven yards, that’s not scheme or play calling or alignment or Pelinilessness. That’s simple lack of speed. Argument terminated. Although Pelini’s comment earlier in the season that no one on the NU defense would make the OU three-deep was regarded by many as smack and hubris, both of which Bo has plenty, after Saturday night no one should doubt he was simply telling it like it is. I recall the Sports Illustrated preview of the 1995 Fiesta Bowl that characterized the Nebraska squad as a herd of power-run steamrollers lining up against a squadron of Fun n’ Gun Formula cars. SI missed the analogy by only nine years and 50% of the correct teams, but that is entirely within their normal range of accuracy.

Last week I said OU was going to grab us by the shoulder pads and shove us facemask-first into the ground. That happened. And while I disbelieve in moral victories almost as much as I hate the concept, if you looked closely Saturday, you could see something else. This team was beaten soundly, but it never lost the glare in the eyes that said this will be remembered. This team stayed focused, stayed disciplined, stayed intense, stayed Red. Listen carefully, friends. Do not mistake this as numbness to or acceptance of yet another lopsided loss in a string of them that began far too long ago in Boulder. Like a bantamweight fighter that was simply not in the correct weight class but took his licks round after round from the heavyweight anyway, this team never stopped hitting, never stopped challenging, never stopped fighting. And then at the end he landed a blow, if only a glancing one. The champ smirked a little exiting the ring, knowing his title designs were as intact as ever, but the overmatched challenger knew it’s just a matter of time.

And time is entirely the matter. There is a very interesting parallel to examine. In 1997 we were in the midst of yet another national championship run, while OU was looking for a way out of their dark days. 2004: Same scenario, just switch the teams and adjust the calendar. Their past may be similar to our present, but two gridiron ships passing in the night at this particular moment on the cyclical timeline of college football history is not predictive of where NU is going. What we saw Saturday night appeared to be an indication that the fog will soon clear. And let’s not forget that past: In ’97 we beat OU 69-7, whereas they could only manage a namby-pamby 30-3 beatdown in the now. Therefore, our badness is 35 points better than theirs.

In truth, this bloodthirsty Norseman is every bit as proud of his men in this loss as he was of the win against Missouri, although displeased enough with the result that the gameday battleaxe will remain embedded in the end table. Allow me to be direct: Husker fans should not disrespect their team that went out and played four quarters as though they were never told they were severely overmatched.

The twilight of a transition year is upon us, and we still do not know where this ride will end. Unbelievably, the postseason still comes down to the Colorado game. Iowa State will not win out. Either we have three games remaining or we have one. An off-week awaits, but we’ll speak regardless.

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Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The Red never taste of death but once.

redkhus@mchsi.com