R E D    C L A D    L O O N

Nebraska 48, Texas A&M 12

The pregame buzz on Saturday's big game was that Texas A&M's quarterback was practically an identical twin of (gulp) Mizzou's Brad Smith. Both wear No. 16, folks were saying. And both have lightning speed and silky-smooth moves, and both can fling the football a country mile. When it was all over on Saturday, though, those expecting this game to be a perfect copy of the Cornhuskers' meltdown in Columbia struggled to find very many parallels. Nebraska's ballhawking defense decimated the Aggies, doppelganging up on A&M's quicksilver QB and pounding him until he saw double. Or did they, really? After all, the Blackshirts do have a set of identical twins of their own -- who along with a Ruud linebacker or two made it clear that the Aggies had indeed met their match.

A few takes:

GIVE IT AWAY, GIVE IT AWAY NOW: With but a few minutes left in the first half, the image of uberwunderkind Reggie McNeal sitting on the aTm bench as backup Dustin Long took over the Aggie offense caused quite a bit of speculation: (1) Was Reggie injured? (2) Did he suffer a concussion or something? (3) Did he need an X-ray on his melon? And (4) just what exactly was going on inside that poor, befuddled kid's head, anyway? Answers: (1) No, not really; (2) Again, no, but a good guess considering how hard he was getting popped out there; (3) Um, nope again; and (4) If he HAD gotten X-rays, all it would have shown was Bo Pelini, dressed in a white smock with a bottle of steamy, multicolored potions in each hand, laughing maniacally. Yes, McNeal made some amazingly athletic plays in this contest, but for a vast majority of the time he looked more lost than the entire Donner Party. The only thing more devastatingly persistent than the Blackshirts forcing turnover after turnover -- one every eighth Aggie snap, on average -- was that gawdawful Anastacia-and-Cyndi-Lauper-in-the-bowling-alley Dr. Pepper commercial. It goes without saying that the Loon's game ball, sliced nicely into eight equal pieces, goes to NU's dogged defenders. It's redundant, dammit, but it's a redundancy I'll gladly partake in each and every week.

JUST BLEAT IT: 'Course, a 36-point win over a team that so far this year had been more offensively minded than Andrew Dice Clay giving a keynote address to NOW's national convention served for only more grim predictions for the Cornhuskers' next five games. Using Fan Math -- the unilateral ability to subtract illegitimate NU scores that were too easy, fluky, or weren't earned with the proper aesthetic value -- many Curmudgeonly McCranks left Memorial Stadium convinced that the Actual Real Score of Saturday's contest was somewhere around Nebraska 20, A&M 12. The only difference between this year and last is that in '002, it was DeJuan Groce setting up NU's offense in good field position, and this year it's the entire defense setting up NU's offense in good field position. Why this isn't accepted as a good thing by the rubes is beyond me. History has shown that a great defense will trump a great offense more often than not; Alabama won a national title using this same formula in '992, and Oklahoma ran a carbon-copy of that same playbook in '000. The Boshirts are not impenetrable, as Mr. Smith demonstrated a week ago. But when they're playing lights-out (and angry), Nebraska's D has fewer holes in it than a dartboard in Stevie Wonder's basement, and all good things flow from that.

FINISHING THE JOB: In the early weeks of the season, much work went into getting NU's offense to stop sputtering when it had the short field. One must note the progress made on this front: Trailing 3-0, a J-Train return gets NU to midfield, and before you can say "who's our holder gonna be this week," Jammal Lord is in the end zone after a 22-yard gallop. Bullocks gets his seventh pick of the year, and within moments Miso Horne is standing in the land of the colored turf. McNeal fumbles at his own 12, and one play later J-Train finally, finally, final-frickin-ly gets his first score of the season. Lastly, Dustin Long gets picked off in the fourth by Fabes, and Isaiah Fluellen and Joe Dailey quickly make a love connection. It's clear that as this season has unfolded, NU's offense is a lot like the ocean -- it's kind of up and down and fairly unpredictable from moment to moment, but no matter what, you always have to respect it.

NORTHERN COMFORT: Unlike last season, when the Cornhuskers waited until the third quarter of their second league game to even take the lead on a Big 12 foe, the Big 12 North is up for grabs. Don't look now, but after three games the division looks like Stephen A. Douglas's 1854 legislation to officialize popular sovereignty in the U.S. in hopes of stopping section division over slavery. In other words, non-historians, it's a regular Kansas-Nebraska Act. At 2-1 each, both preseason also-rans now are heading up the division. KSWho's win over Calarady was probably the key result outside of Lincoln on Saturday, followed closely by OU's shellacking of Mizzou. Blimey, will the key game in the North not be fought in Boulder this year, but in Lawrence instead? I know, I know. Lots of football to go.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Hey, did anyone else think it was funny that Texas A&M, home of the famous 12th Man, needed two 12-men-on-the-field calls against Nebraska on Saturday just to muster a measly field goal? No? Too big of a stretch, huh. But as far as looking for things to gripe about, well, the guy on the Husker sidelines who's responsible for counting players is about the only one that the Loon can think to single out this week. Key words in that last sentence are "this week" -- in other words, here in our Aldous Huxley-like realm of wondering whether Nebraska is going to win each week, rather than just wondering by how much, it's probably worth our while to enjoy each victory as they come rather than worrying about what may happen if and when there's a Day of Reckoning some day in the future. As a fan, kicking back and enjoying this win isn't "pumping sunshine," as the so-called Realists have termed it. Being happy for the players on this Homecoming Saturday isn't being unrealistic, or pollyannish, or being "satisfied with mediocrity (another Realist fave)." It's being a fan and finding enjoyment out of a victory rather than being a soul-sucking Yeah-But all the time. Still, despite the grumbling, perspectives have changed enough this season that even the most pessimistic Loons are fully expecting the Big Red to mash next week's opponent, the Iowa State Cyclones, into gooey cardinal-and-gold clumps. If you would kindly check your calendar, you will see that this is Revenge Game No. 3 of 6. So while the Yeah-We-Won-But fans are probably already overlooking the sly Clones and mentally preparing for Texas, there's little reason to believe that the Cornhuskers themselves will be doing this. After all, the last time the Huskers and ISU met, it was an Attack of the Clones; NU was Forced out of the rankings for the first time since Mark Hamill wielded a Light Saber. But now, it's a whole different show in Lincoln -- for one, the Marching Band is back to playing the Imperial March as the Blackshirts come onto the field. The rebel scum had their fun last season, but now it's time for the Empire to Strike Back. Nebraska 42, Iowa State 7.

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