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T A D    S T R Y K E R
October 29, 2009

The Nebraska football program has reached its crisis point for 2009. Something will happen in the next couple of weeks that defines this season.

In early October, I thought that NU’s turning point had come in the fourth quarter of a rainstorm at Columbia, Missouri. I thought the Husker offense had buried its demons that night. I was mistaken. The decisive moment is yet to come.

Most teams have a turning point during a given year unless they are consistent enough to go unbeaten. The Cornhuskers have had some notable turning points over the past few years. Most, but not all, have occurred on the field of play.

In 2001, the 62-36 Black Friday game in Boulder sent the Nebraska program spinning in a downward cycle that lasted clear through Frank Solich’s 7-7 season in 2002 that signaled the beginning of the end of his tenure in Lincoln.

In late November 2003, Steve Pedersen decided to fire Solich without having a good plan for replacing him. Some would say that Pedersen’s decision to hire Callahan was a turning point for the entire decade, but Callahan’s teams had their moments of destiny on the field as well.

In November 2004 at Ames, Iowa, Nebraska had a chance to clinch a bowl appearance for a record 36th consecutive year, but gave up a last-second touchdown before halftime to get in a 24-3 hole that it could not recover from, and lost to Iowa State 34-27. The Huskers nosedived to three consecutive defeats to end the season and finished 5-6 in Callahan’s first go-round, and Nebraska’s first losing season since 1961 sent shockwaves through the state.

In 2005, a windblown 40-yard field goal by freshman Jordan Congdon gave NU a 27-25 win over Kansas State and started a three-game stretch of victories over the Wildcats, Colorado and Michigan that probably was the highlight of the Callahan era. When you add NU’s season-opening wins over Louisiana Tech and Nicholls State, you have the five-game winning streak that was the longest of Callahan’s tenure.

In 2007, Nebraska led Southern Cal 10-7 in the second quarter and had a ton of momentum, but the Huskers suddenly went quietly into the night, falling behind 21-10 at halftime and 42-10 in the third quarter before losing 49-31 in a game that sent the NU defense into a tailspin that it didn’t pull out of until late the following season under Bo Pelini.

Last year’s turning point came in the form of improvements after big losses to Missouri and Oklahoma, showcasing the mental toughness that Pelini’s coaches had built into the Huskers in their first year on the job, as the Big Red won its last four games to finish 9-4.

It’s turning-point time in 2009, and you’ve got to believe that the decisive moment will involve the offensive platoon. It’s hard to believe that the season will continue in its same track, with the Blackshirts keeping the Huskers in games while the offense continuing to misfire in its current notorious fashion, squandering the efforts of Ndamukong Suh and company.

Will Shawn Watson prove his detractors wrong by fine-tuning a few details here, adjusting an assignment there and turning his horizontally-based multiple scheme into a resounding success? Will improved execution by Zac Lee and his wide receivers make the short passing game function the way it’s drawn on the blackboard? Will a playmaker emerge from the current format?

Or will there be some decisive change that irreversibly alters the course of this season?

Will there be significant shift in personnel? Will there be new pass receivers? A new quarterback? A new blocking scheme? A new attitude? Pelini says he’s looking for a spark.

Will the Husker offense finally develop one thing it does reliably well and stick with it?

It’s likely that the flood of turnovers against Iowa State was simply a one-game aberration. But simply turning down the flow of giveaways will not be the salvation of this offense. It needs to become effective enough to finish plays and finish drives and turn good field position into touchdowns.

Crises often turn out to be an impetus for good. If Nebraska is to show significant improvement in Bo Pelini’s second year as coach, the change has to come now.


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