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Khus the Red

Wake

So it ends.

End of the season, the streak, The Streak, the chance for a peaceful off-season. There is not much need for analysis this time. We saw what we have seen far too often this season: a team that came out flat on both sides of the ball, missed opportunities on offense by missing open receivers and invited deep trouble on defense by allowing CU out of deep field-position holes. Gary Barnett coaches best with his back against the wall, but by the time the final gun put a bullet in the heart of ’04, it was the Huskers flat on their own backs, being carried out on a stretcher, headed straight to the morgue.

Even before it began we saw a barometer of how unimportant this game has become: We didn’t get the ABC A-team in the booth, nor the B-team. Instead, the mostly nameless, faceless group in the booth ranks somewhere in the in the boring letters of the alphabet; M perhaps. If there is a single silvery-Red lining about the game, it is that Brent Musberger was miles away from Memorial. However, that meant an afternoon of listening to Terry Bowden speak as if he’s having that final massive coronary and is trying to hurriedly expectorate his final few words as the darkness closes in around his peripheral vision. Pick your auditory poison.

Offensively, it was eerily familiar early. NU’s first first down came on the first play of the second quarter, and by that time most Huskers were on their third fifth of whiskey, wondering if the fourth quarter would bring the fourth blowout of a season that has been frustrating to the Nth degree. And it is probably safe to say we are now watching the Joe Daily era enter its twilight. Joe works hard, and his struggles are not for lack of effort or heart or perseverance or an inhuman amount of maturity and candor when facing the media following another multi-turnover day. However, just as we did not recruit Purdue QB Kyle Orton, so too would Bill Callahan not have recruited Dailey. That is the tragic situation Joe finds himself in, to have an NFL staff handing him an NFL offense, but he simply has not progressed on a consistent basis. Perhaps he’ll stay under center in the spring, but it is likely that this staff will turn to the not-new-to-the-WCO newcomers, Jordan Adams and Harrison Beck.

Obviously, changes will not be made in the defensive coaching staff. Again I disagree that confusion has been the problem on defense this year, and only a couple times has the scheme been to blame. The fractured cornerstone of this Blackshirt squad this entire season has been the lack of a pass rush—and the manpower to generate it. Don’t forget the opening lines of the first chapter of Excruciatingly Remedial Football 101 for Uber-Dummies, which read:

“Never enter a season in Division I football without Demorrio Williams. If Demorrio Williams is not available, use the following procedure:
1. Clone Demorrio Williams. If genetic cloning is illegal in your country, contact an offshore biotech lab and arrange a meeting. Bring nondescript briefcase full of cash.
2. If (1) is not a possibility, find a comparable replacement for Demorrio Williams. If your team plays in the SEC, bring nondescript briefcase full of cash.
3. If (2) is not a possibility, weep.”

It is simultaneously agonizing and a strange comfort the way this season played out. There were the blowouts that showed us how far from elite status we have fallen, exposing that we either lack the talent to recover from poor execution or simply lack the talent to pose any kind of serious threat to the conference elite. However, despite this, not every loss was in blowout fashion, which at least may indicate the road back won’t be as long as other programs have had to endure. The importance of recruiting, as obvious as it is, simply cannot be overstated. But this year’s near-misses were too many. We could what-if-that-pass-is-complete this and if-only-that-defensive-series that, but what-ifs and if-onlys serve no purpose. The history books will record two cold numbers: five and six. This was a season of missed opportunities, the kind of opportunities that this program is simply not accustomed to missing.

And the history books are precisely the reasons why this massive coronary that the historians will simply call 2004 is so difficult to stomach. It is fitting to mourn the passing of an era such as the one Nebraska football has enjoyed. Mourn its passing, but I would much rather watch this coaching staff and the Husker faithful move on rather than mope. The NU dominance we have enjoyed didn’t die this year, nor did it die in 2002, nor did it die in 1998. Success like NU enjoyed through the 1990s is simply not sustainable, and as the good Dr. Tom himself said, we have been extremely fortunate to be able to avoid the downturns that all programs eventually go through. He knew. He knew then how surreal 60-3 was, he knows now how aberrant 1961-2003 is. We fans should at least have the decency and respect for him, if not the current staff, to recognize the same.

A national columnist stated after the Colorado game that NU fans used to be able to look down their noses at the Notre Dames and Penn States of the world. The past tense of that statement I do not understand. This football program has accomplished things that will never be matched in the modern era of college football. 60-3, the decades without sorry seasons, those are hallmarks that will not diminish over time. Much has been said this season about The Nebraska Way, and much of it used in accusatory, derogatory ways when the opportunity to assess blame made it convenient. Let me be clear: If streaks, their prestige and the opportunity they afford to look down on someone is solely where one’s Red pride and faith is held, then both pride and faith are misplaced. You know me well by now, you know my penchant for optimism, and truly these are black days, Red friends. In the fever sickness of the moment it is easy to want to turn the gameday battle axes on the necks of our own. Don’t. It is weakness and cowardice. A wake is the celebration of a passing. Let this transition year die, and bitter dissention with it. After too many consecutive years of recruiting classes ranked in the 40s, this year’s class sitting at Number oNe should be cause to refill the chalice indeed.

And so for the first time in approximately 13,140 days, the Husker faithful are looking toward the practices of spring rather than the bowls of winter. So be it. Spring will come soon enough, and do not forget this program is still in a state of transition. We have seen that a system such as the West Coast Offense cannot be installed in one year. We have also seen the explosive promise it holds, if only brilliant glimpses. Let the haters hate. A new Red dawn is coming at the end of these black days, sooner than they wish.

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Regardless of the stormy seas of the season, this Red one wishes to thank you all for your emails and kind words. I regret I cannot reply to you all, but let this stand as my Big Red thanks. The sun sets on this season and the horizon is richly Red, but I’m not sailing off into it. We’ll talk again from time to time throughout the off-season, and should you find a notched and scarred gameday battle axe leaning against a café table somewhere along O Street, stop and say hello. There are many stimulating conversations yet to be had.

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from game to game,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have dismantled opponents
The way to dusty Red death. Out, brief transition year!
5-6 is but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the FieldTurf,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing
.

redkhus@mchsi.com