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Nebraska 44, Utah State 13

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1991, the last time Utah State stumbled into town to pick up a paycheck, there was a Texan in the White House. Patriotism was running high, thanks to a fracas in the Middle East. On the big screen, Dr. Hannibal Lecter was licking his chops in search of his next victim. Miami ruled the college football world, while Nebraska was busy breaking in a new quarterback who wore No. 10. And, of course, the Huskers ran over, around and through the outmanned USU Aggies for an early-season, blowout win. Heck, the only difference between this year's stomping and the one from a decade ago was that in '91, NU's rout was temporarily interrupted by a lightning storm. But on Saturday for the Huskers, all skies were clear -- shoot, there wasn't even a trace of Thunder.

A few takes:

TAKING OFFENSE: Not so long ago, Nebraska fans would stand in giddy anticipation when the Big Red Machine came onto the field to start a drive, knowing full well that a Hun-like horde of big plays were about to overwhelm the outmanned enemy. But when it comes to today's Husker offense, we all have lower expectations than the saleswoman at the new Versace counter at Wal-Mart. Perfect time for a typically Huskerian first-half mugging that knocked out their foe before the break, don't you think? Lord is enjoying a positively Viagran upsurge in confidence after Saturday, and has looked better each week since that Drop-Back-Tuck-Ball-Run-Like-Hell experience against ASU. It's probably true of most QBs that they throw much better when they have time in the pocket, but in Lord's case, this fact is more obvious than Anna Nicole Smith in a lime-green thong bikini. When he's getting heat, he's a thrower. But when he's back in the pocket, he suddenly becomes a passer.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: As purty as all those J. Lo spirals were, something still ain't sitting quite right with this Loon -- and I'm not talking about all those gut-bomb barbecue wings I woofed down at The Watering Hole after the game, either. Face it, kids, happiness starts at 300 yards rushing in Lincoln. Two eighty-eight? Well, we were kind of hoping for that by the end of the first half, given the opponent. Still, it's difficult not to appreciate the efforts of No. 30, Dahrran Diedrick, who showed flashes of his '01 form for much of the first half with his slashing runs. Though a lot of the success has come this year from attacking the corners, don't fear -- power football in Nebraska is like corn, Interstate 80 and old people who are angry at the world. It's always been here, and it'll never go away.

WELL, ISN'T THAT SPECIAL: There really wasn't much work for the Fan Math Brigade to do Saturday, given that all of Huskers' points were scored by that spoilsport offensive unit (if one was particularly pessimistic, I suppose he could say NU merely outscored USU 7-6 in the second half). So, with no numbers to work with, Brigadiers started claiming that without special teams, the first three games would have been different. Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. Say, because everything Tom Osborne says might as well be written down on a stone tablet, does anyone remember what he said about that hallowed 1971 team? You know, the one that was unstoppable and considered the greatest team ever? "As great as that team was, take Johnny Rodgers out of there on kickoff and punt returns and it probably wouldn't have gone 13-0." Get the picture?

DEFENDING THE PROGRAM: Let's see. What can be said about the defense this week? What's that? Six sacks? Four interceptions? All the yards came in garbage time? Aiight, well, that pretty much covers it. Sure, Utah State and their "Varsity Blues" offense caused some trouble, but by the end of the game they had lost so many teeth they could have starred in the latest installment of HBO's "Hookers at the Point." Barrett Ruud, gimpy and cast-laden, and madman Chris Kelsay had the Aggies on the run all night. Oh, and it was great to see Pat "Sticky" Ricketts get a pinch, too. He's earned one.

STICK TO IT: Don't get me wrong -- I think the Skers are taking pretty good care of the football right now. But after J. Lo's second fumble in two weeks, Wilson Thomas pulling a Fryar on a perfect Lord toss in the second quarter and Marques Simmons' yip that resulted in a touchback in the final minute of play, you've got to wonder exactly what marketing genius dubbed the new rock a "fumble-free football." Isn't that a little bit like creating a "crash-proof" car or a "whine-proof" Colorado football coach? For the record, Nebraska has fumbled seven times in the last two weeks. And also for the record, I'd like to point out that the new ball is burnt orange.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Coming into this season, it was clear that the beloved Big Red Machine was going to need some work in the shop. Luckily, Frankie & Co. have had three weeks to look under the hood, tinker around and get everything tuned up for the long haul. But according to the pundits around the nation, the next stop on the road trip -- Penn State's trapezoid-shaped field -- is where the Huskers are supposed to break down first. It's possible, I suppose; like "Smokey and the Bandit" star Jerry Reed once said, "We've got a long way to go, but a short time to get there." But something (Arizona State 46, Central Florida 13) tells me that the Nittany Lions may have a longer road in front of them than many want to admit. We're eastbound and down, load it up and truckin'. We gonna do what they say can't be done. Nebraska 30, Nits 20.

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