Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
Sure, Shoelace was on the sideline in the world's largest coat and the backup Quarterback had the awareness, poise, and arm strength of a JV fourth stringer, but Nebraska won and gave themselves the inside track to Indy. No apologies.
On Saturday night, I invited my dad over to watch the Michigan game. The reality of big games these days is that I need to be surrounded by people I trust. I cannot deal with questions like, "So, Nebraska is pretty good, right?" -or- "That official threw that flag, is that a bad thing?" Big parties where all people want to do is talk about their week don't do it for me anymore. The obvious caveat is if you are in the stadium, but that is a different ball of wax, right?
Anyhow, on Saturday I was prepared for almost anything. In the moments leading up to the game, somewhere around USC blowing it against Arizona, my dad and I were trying to predict what exactly would happen. Would good Nebraska show up and put up points against what was obviously the best defense they had faced this year? Would bad Nebraska show up and give up a billion yards to Denard Robinson and the RB-formerly-known-as-Fitz-Toussaint? Would Memorial be loud and obnoxious for once? Would Taylor Martinez throw 350 yards and 3 TDs or 98 yards and 3 INTs? All of these questions were perfectly valid outcomes for the game and in some alternative universe, each played out causing exultation and agony for their respective fanbases.
Then the game started and a kind of, "none-of-the-above" feel started to settle in. Nebraska's defense refused to give any lanes to Denard but also no pressure either, Michigan's defense stuffed the middle of the field and Nebraska tried to challenge that, and Nebraska had to go to extreme hurry-up to gain the lead after a scoreless first quarter. Then it happened. On what honestly looked like an innocuous play, Denard was found rolling on the ground writhing in pain and grabbing his wrist. This was not full-on gore mode like the awful play that Marcus Lattimore went through (DO NOT POST THE VIDEO. WE'VE SEEN IT AND ITS AWFUL BUT DOES NOT NEED TO BE REHASHED OVER AND OVER), but rather a simple tackle in the middle of the field after a nice run to the seven yard line. It looked like a bump or bruise that would hinder the guy, but surely not take him out for the game. The worst part? He probably could have gotten the first and ran out of bounds instead.
What happened next was that Nebraska's defense smelled blood in the water. Russel Bellomy proved that experience and athleticism matter and in showing he had little to none of either, it became a tribute to ineptitude at the quarterback position. To be fair, this was not his fault. He was put in a situation where his receivers were not getting open, his line was not protecting him, and he was told to make a comeback in enemy territory. Michigan's defense did everything they could to keep this fairly inept offense in the game, but Nebraska knew they were in a position to win that game. The confidence was obvious as the Blackshirts blitzed like there was no tomorrow. Minus some ridiculous calls on both sides from a questionable officiating crew, both the Offense and Defense did their jobs and a 23-9 score changed the complexities of the Big Ten division race.
So what's the big deal? Why the hyperbole? Well, the point of this is to say that Nebraska beat Michigan in one of the strangest games I have watched this season. It really was anti-climactic and I was surprised to see Michigan's offense play dead after Denard went out. I usually read all the blogs, both mine and the opponents, after the game and it seemed oddly calm around Michigan -- almost as if they expected this to happen one day. Granted, when a player as dynamic as Denard goes down, things change, but there was no energy or contingency plan. My dad and I just kept shaking our heads at the terrible playcalling on Michigan's side (even from the beginning). While it may be true that all fans would be apathetic after a loss like that and quick to blame it on one injury, the fact still remains that Nebraska won.
It's now Tuesday afternoon and the afterglow for the players has probably worn off. Pelini threw down a challenge to his players after Ohio State basically saying Six Wins or Bust. Somewhere in the third quarter last week, a lot of Husker nation was looking for a new head coach. This team didn't give up and now find themselves one third of the way home with winnable (and lose-able) games left on the schedule. I don't know what I learned about Nebraska after this game, but I can definitely say this. Beating Michigan? Absolutely as fun as advertised. I'm hoping it happens more often.