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Iowa State 36, Nebraska 14

In searching for appropriate adjectives to characterize the enormity of Saturday's collapse, one has to really struggle to resist the urge to select the word "titanic." You know, as in "This loss was a titanic disaster from the start." Still, comparing one of history's biggest nautical tragedies to the Huskers' haplessness is a pretty big stretch, not to mention an overused cliche. And we all know what a cliche is, right? Something that has become overly familiar or commonplace -- like minivans. Or family-style chain restaurants. Or that sinking feeling you get by watching the Cornhuskers getting holes ruthlessly punched in their hull by opponents. Now cast away from the rankings in the wake of this sudden shipwreck, our one-time big fish looks more and more like a football minnow. And it's going to take a lot of courage from Fearless's crew, or this minnow could be lost.

A few takes:

RUNNING TO STANDSTILL: Nebraska's game plan coming into Ames, it would be safe to say, was not to play football but a game of Keep-Away instead. The goal was to establish the power game, thereby controlling the clock, and thereby keeping the pigskin out of the eager mitts of one Seneca Wallace, Esquire. Instead, Nebraska's offensive ineptness rotated the complexion of this contest precisely 180 degrees. While NU ran 19 plays in the first half (17 of them quite badly, thankyouverymuch), ISU snapped the ball a must-be-a-misprint 50 times. If you're Frank Solich, that's sort of like playing Russian Roulette with a Gatling gun. If you give an Ubermensch like Wallace that many chances with the football, it's a safe bet he's going to conjure up highlight-reel material two or three or, hell, 12 times. Yes, there is blame to be placed at the Blackshirts' feet -- they didn't exactly have the game of their lives at Jack Trice -- but make no mistake about it. Basically, this game was lost by a Cornhusker offense so anorexic, it was getting casting calls for the lead role in the "Ally McBeal" movie by the end of the third quarter.

FIRE IN THE HOLE: One of the intangibles that Big Red backers fretted over during the off week was whether the team's motivation had gone south for the winter. That question seemed to be answered in the games' opening minutes, when NU exhibited a lot of fire. But it soon became clear that the Huskers were all jacked up in that BAD way -- you know, the sky-high, WWF-looking, I'm-so-wound-up-I-can't-remember-my-assignment kind of mindset that Colorado used to exhibit in the early- to mid-'90s right before surrendering a touchdown on the first play of the game. As a result, NU dug themselves in deep from the start, handing the 'Clones a mess of turnovers and killing with penalties any meager momentum they may have established. I haven't seen a buzzkill like that since the cops closed down Lance Brown's dance club on O Street.

BLACKLISTED: In defense of the defense, the Blackshirts would have had to play their best game to date to slow down McCarney's high-octane attack. But with NU's running game doing its "Stop, Drop and Roll" routine, the Blackshirts' margin for error became narrower than Hank Hill's urethra. The 'Shirts were back on their heels from the very start, dealing with short fields and a slippery opposing quarterback. To their credit, the Husker defenders created two pinches, a yip and a punt block. But when they had to nut up and make a stop, they got shoved aside like creditors at an Enron office party. This was most evident at the third quarter's start, when ISU rambled their way down the field for a relatively quick score. For the Cyclones, that drive was an Iowa Statement. For NU, it told you all you needed to know.

YOU ALONE ARE THE MOST HIGH?: Let the record show that the scoreboard had 13:06 remaining in quarter number four when the debate that has been simmering all spring, summer and fall in the Husker Nation officially saw liftoff. I'm speaking, of course, about The Dump Jammal Lord Lobby vs. the Stick With The Top Guy Group. Quite honestly, I don't know where to land on this one. J. Lo's 90-yarder to Pilkington was silky-smooth, but man, he was so open a lot of quarterbacks could have made that throw. Otherwise, watching Lord run things is like a visiting a meat-packing plant -- it smells pretty bad and you know that inevitably, things are going to end up getting bloody. True, Mike Stuntz came in and moved the team, but the only real highlight he provided was ABC's canned replay of 41 Black Flash Reverse Pass. You could have Jammal Lord, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, or Kurt Warner behind this offensive line, and the results probably would be the same. It all starts up front. I'm all for Stuntz, but Lord shouldn't have to be the Fall Guy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While watching Nebraska get punk-slapped by a longtime whippin' boy had to be a major sexual moment for ABC's Brent Musburger, he could have at least done his homework. It was shortly before halftime, I think, that Ol' Screamy ran out of ways to express how shocked he was to see NU wilting the way they were. He apparently was the only one. This weak attempt to create a storyline was only surpassed by the number of times he suggested that Saturday's contest was TBGITHOAI -- that is, The Biggest Game In The History Of Ames, Iowa. But it was Mushmouth's partner, the ever-astute Gary Danielson, who had the most profound statement of the day. As the final seconds ticked away, he even phrased it in the form of a question: "I have to wonder, what must Nebraska be thinking?" Well, Gary, most in Huskerland would tell you that there's a simple, two-word answer to that question, which incidentally rhymes with "Ducking spit." Oops, is that too obscene? Well, maybe. With back-to-back regular-season losses for the first time since '76, these Huskers are certainly turning into some ornery cusses. Say, perhaps Saturday's vulgar display was a turning point for this crew. Or maybe they're just cursed. Looking ahead, we probably won't have to use much bad language next week, when some place called McNeese State comes to Lincoln. But with the hallowed 9-win streak in mind, this game suddenly becomes important. And that, fellow Loons, IS obscene. I swear. Nebraska 31, McNeese State 17.

Baud to the Bone.
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