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LOON DROPPINGS, Vol. 14:
Ole Miss 27, Nebraska 23
12.27.02

Seven, they say, is a pretty lucky number, which is something that Nebraska fans can't argue with very much. For six years, they watched as a pair of 7s brought them bushels of good fortune -- a Sears Trophy, conference titles, a Heisman. Alas, there were no lucky 7s in 2002 -- just an imperfect 10, as it turns out. Given its lack of luck this year, it seemed fitting that Nebraska concluded its season in casino-friendly Shreveport, the Council Bluffs of the South. Appropriately, in the third quarter the Huskers decided to roll the dice on fourth down ... and promptly crapped out. And now, they're stuck holding a pair of sevens.

A few takes:

INDEPENDENCE DAZE: Hmmmm, let's see if we can detect a trend here. In the first half, Nebraska plays solid D, gets its running game going and builds up a halftime advantage. But by the end of the third quarter, Cornhuskers on both sides of the ball look like they've really pissed off Tony Soprano -- that is, they're wearing cement shoes. This happened against Penn State. This happened against Okie State. This happened against Colorado. And, sigh, this happened again Friday. This familiar scenario is worth noting, Loons, especially as we weather yet another round of populist angst over (here's an original complaint) playcalling and (here's another) lack of in-game adjustments. When it comes to getting it done on the field, it seems to me that it's less about the alignments and the aligners, and more about the fitness of the alignees. And folks, in the second half of games this year, the 'Skers visibly wilted. It was like watching Colorado wear NU down to a nub in '90, or Washington doing the same thing a year later. Back then we could take solace in the fact that those foes were eventual national champions. But Ole Miss? Shoving NU around like a bunch of Hy-Vee shopping carts in the second half? Great googily moogily. In the words of "Animal House's" Dean Wormer: Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son. And that, my friends, is what needs to be addressed with this team -- otherwise, you could have Turner Gill, Vince Gill, Gil Thorp or Jim Thorpe calling plays, and it wouldn't make much difference.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: First, a disclaimer: We in the The Pond don't usually like to play pin-the-fail-on-the-zebra -- that is, making claims that if this call would've went one way, or if that call would have gone another, then Nebraska would have won. No, NU did enough damage to themselves in this one that they didn't need a lot of help from the refs (though I must say, Judd Davies is just about as accurate throwing the ol' pigskin as Jammal Lord is). But from our Hey That's An Awfully Odd Call Dept., it did seem a bit strange that Wilson Thomas got mugged in the end zone in the fourth quarter, allowing his defender to catch J. Lo's pass, but that the throw was somehow ruled uncatchable. Sure, we understand that by the fourth quarter the referees had figured out that most of Lord's throws basically fell into that category, but that non-call effectively ended NU's shot at winning the game. As the Cornhuskers moved inside the 10, the Loon turned to friends and predicted ! that if they were unable to get six points out of that drive, they would lose the Indy Bowl. As it was, they got three points -- their final three of the game -- and the rest was history. Still, had the zebruhs had their heads screwed on straight, the Huskers would have had a fresh set of downs inside the 5. And maybe, just maybe, that would have meant a different ending to this icky little story.

DEJUAN GONE: As the curtain falls on this gawdawful campaign, it is with great fondness -- and sadness -- that we must say goodbye to this year's senior class. Chief among them is DeJuan Groce, Nebraska's record-setting punt returner who punctuated his stellar career with a 60-yard TD bolt to put the Skers up 10. No. 5 doesn't have any national championship rings, so he'll probably never be considered the greatest punt returner in school history, even though the stats say he should be up there. But as we slip away this winter to grouse about the infinite putridity of the team finishing at .500, remember (as Troy State and Missouri do) that without Groce, Nebraska might not have even been playing Friday. The Loon's game ball -- scuffed, slashed, deflated though it might be -- goes to No. 5, Nebraska's Most Valuable and Most Valued Player this season.

THE BOTTOM LINE: In August, the Red Clad Loon snickered as he referred to the dire prognostications about the Cornhuskers coming from the various preseason pundits -- visions, by some accounts, of Nebraska losing (gasp) seven games in '02. Back then, such tomfoolery seemed about as well-balanced as Bob Devaney on St. Patrick's Day and about as believable as Saddam Hussein in the presence of a U.N. inspector. Who knew that four short months later, those dire predictions would be realized -- and that as we rummage for something to keep us warm this winter, we find ourselves with such slim pickins? Those old standby streaks -- whether they involve nine wins, winning seasons, consecutive home victories or a Top 25 ranking -- have splintered like a locked door in a Steven Seagal movie, leaving us shivering and shaking and crying like newborn babies in the delivery room. Yep, being forced out of that cozy amniotic sac after 40 long years is undoubtedly a chilling shock to many Loons. And some, who have gone so far as to say that those decades of tradition and excellence have been undone in the course of the last 14 games, deserve a good slap on the behind, too. But for those of us -- and that's most of us -- who are still smitten with the Huskers, 2002 provided us a chance to see how very, very good we've always had it. Better than we could have ever imagined at the time, really. Armed with that perspective, we now turn our attention to what proves to be an, ahem, intriguing offseason. And eight months from now, this whole grand exercise will begin again. It goes without saying that we in The Pond will be there, red-clad and glad. In the immortal words of Jerry Macguire: Who's coming with me? Who's coming with me? Nebraska 7, Opponents 7.

==STEVE==
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