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October 18, 2008


Thud! There, it's done. Bo Pelini and his coaching staff went to Ames, Iowa, and slid one of the foundation stones for the Cornhusker football program into place.

It looks square and plumb, and for the first time in a long, time – solid.

Nebraska 35, Iowa State 7. Not spectacular, not a complete game – but solid. If you're looking for an attractive college football team, you might want to go somewhere else, like Norman or Austin or Gainesville or Los Angeles. But there is some construction going on in Lincoln right now.

It was just a foundation stone, after all. There's a lot to be done, and there's a lot of junk at this work site. Things aren't pretty around here. After all, the Huskers entered this game having lost eight of their last nine Big 12 games.

But you get the feeling that things are starting to turn around. Nebraska is 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the conference and has a chance to take another step forward when it hosts Baylor next Saturday.

It's been at least two years since Nebraska football has had a solid road win in the conference. In fact, that's a rare commodity anywhere in the Big 12 these days. But the Huskers got one Saturday, and it should pump more confidence into a team that is slowly improving.

Pelini told a Versus Television Network reporter after the game that he thinks his team can get "a lot better" this season. But in the postgame media session at Jack Trice Stadium, he made it clear that the Huskers have a lot of work to do.

"I'm happy for the players," Pelini said. "They've hung together through it all, and I think we walked off the field a better football team today than when we walked on the field. I like the attitude and I like the work ethic of our team, and I feel like our best football is still ahead of us. I thought our kids played well, and I see progress. We've got it going in the right way, but we've still got a long way to go.

The best part of the game was that Nebraska played its best half of the season. The worst part of the game was that Nebraska couldn't put together four quarters of good football.

But it looks like the Cornhusker defense, a bleeding Big Red open sore for more than a year, is finally starting to heal. Nebraska gave up only 218 yards of total offense to an admittedly mediocre Iowa State team (2-4, 0-3). But don't forget that the Cyclones gave Kansas all it could handle two weeks ago.

The Huskers had two sacks and made five tackles for loss. And more importantly, they forced turnovers – two of them. Pierre Allen worked hard to punch the ball out of an ISU receiver's hands at the sideline, and Rickey Thenarse made the hit of the day, blasting Iowa State punt returner Devin McDowell, and forcing a fumble that Niles Paul recovered at the Cyclone 39-yard line. Eight plays later, Ganz scored on a quarterback sneak to give Nebraska a 28-7 lead and remove what little suspense was left in the game.

Joe Ganz looked like a surgeon during the first half as he sliced up the Cyclone defense, leading the Huskers to a 21-0 halftime lead. Ganz led scoring drives of 92, 85 and 71 yards. Nate Swift had eight catches, one for a touchdown, and is moving closer to Johnny Rodgers at the top of the all-time Husker receiving charts.

Milestones of progress? Nebraska committed only four penalties. That alone is grounds for encouragement. Husker running backs and receivers are starting to win physical battles and get yards after contact.

The Huskers recovered an opponent's fumble for the first time since the season opener. And the defense itself was steady in the third quarter, when the NU offense went stagnant, giving ISU the momentum and an opportunity to get back into the game. Take away the one big breakdown – the 67-yard touchdown run by Alexander Robinson – and the Huskers had a great game defensively.

The Huskers ran the ball 41 times for 220 yards and had more than 37 minutes of possession time. Marlon Lucky, Quentin Castille and Roy Helu each had more than 60 yards rushing. But NU fumbled the ball five times, losing three, which gives Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson plenty of things to work on.

No, things aren't pretty yet. However, things are starting to firm up a bit. The foundation is not yet complete, but Nebraska clearly has a something to build on.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive