I am kind of a stats nut. I have the vaunted NCAA official records book for college football dating back to, well, I can't read the year on it, it's that old. Because of that, I have become a die-hard believer in that if you look hard enough, the numbers tell the entire story.
In this game, they did, but they didn't.
Just to scan down the stats, you see NU with over 300 yards rushing, two players with 100 yards or more on the ground and the time of possession is almost ridiculous in Nebraska's favor. Not a terrible amount or penalties, at least in the second half and the defense was, well, what they have typically been under Pelini since this season began.
You take a look at that final score though and you have to wonder just what's going on or figure that it must certainly be a typo. Surely you can't put up those kind of numbers and just score 18 points, can you?
I'll give you the simplest formula for turning the best offensive output of the year into just 18 pts. for the game.
First, do a whole lot between the 20s, but not much in the Red Zone. Sounds like typical Nebraska this year and in this game, that didn't change. Jammal Lord didn't help matters by throwing an interception in the end zone, a pass that was by all accounts meant for someone in Red rather than Blue, but the pass was so poorly thrown, only the video footage of the wide-open receiver gives you any indication of where the ball might have been intended to go.
Lord then added two more fumbles in the first half (one lost) to compliment the other miscue.
All and all and you will have to forgive the directness of this, if you have gotten somewhat used to why NU has been ineffective on offense this season, today's game shouldn't have come as a major surprise.
Here's another problem. With the report of Joe Dailey once again having issues with the shoulder he had operated on in the off-season, even if Frank Solich wanted to put the freshman in there, he probably couldn't, the risk simply being too high. With that in mind, the coaches' other resort was a guy who had been kicking field goals this last week, because nobody was asking him to take snaps at QB.
Kind of puts you in a rock and a hard place, doesn't it?
After the game, Frank Solich stated that he would have gone to someone else had Lord continued to turn the ball over like he did in the first half. Oh, really? To who? The walk-on who transferred out after being demoted on the depth chart who then subsequently transferred back?
In a place built on the option, what Solich has are few options indeed. Lord is the man, even if they don't want him to be.
So, what do you do?
When everyone should be (and to an extent, is) doing right now is enjoying a victory over a team that lambasted them a year prior. Revenge, yet another payback game in the bag and an undefeated record to show for it.
What most are doing is simply scratching their head, wondering when Jammal's oft-used rebuttals of "get better" and "move on" will actually happen.
What Nebraska saw against Penn State is something they aren't likely to see anymore for the rest of the season, if but for possibly two games. Penn State only running 8 offensive plays in Nebraska territory. The Big Red running the ball ad-nauseam because the 6 passes on the day netted little. Do you think that Souther Mississippi's talent-laden defense will let Nebraska run the ball in excess of 20 times in a row?
When the season began, I thought at this point we would have a pretty good idea of just where NU was at. Oklahoma State was offensively potent, Utah State would have allowed the team to play a lot of players and Penn State, well, it's Penn State and there's so many reasons why that game was going to be huge. I do have to admit though that I didn't envision myself thinking that NU would be as good as I really think they are.
Granted, the Penn State D-line just wasn't that good and much sterner tests await down the road. But, while last year's O-line is still trying to gel, this year's version of the "pipeline" has found a unity that is a must when the Big Red are trying to play like the Big Red most have become accustomed to knowing.
The defense is, well, completely unexpected and I don't care how much you bought into Pelini's background. From where this defense was last season to where it is now, it's like two totally different units on the field.
Nebraska isn't good, they are potentially very good. They just have one slight problem.
I firmly believe that this season will ride either on the climactic success of Lord or the abysmal failure of the much-maligned QB. He's NU's go-to guy if only because simply don't have anyone else to go-to right now.
A coach who said you needed a second QB has one QB in a shoulder brace and another kicking field goals after practice. It sounds like they have one QB to me.
And, it's really up to Lord, because whether you like it or not, Nebraska doesn't have a reasonably viable option for Souther Miss. unless Dailey's shoulder issue is extremely minor or Mike Stuntz stops kicking and starts passing A.S.A.P. If any of that doesn't happen, no matter what occurs during the game down in Hattiesburg, what you see is what you are going to get.
What NU can hope for is that the potentially talent-laden defense of Souther Miss. stands firm to what it's done thus far this season on defense, the Eagles' "D" not resembling their units of recent years.
This is Nebraska they will be playing though, once again a ranked team, it's the Big Red and they are coming to town, this already being touted as the biggest game Southern Miss has ever hosted. They will be up for this game to say the least.
That's almost two weeks away though, time enough for Nebraska to figure out just who is doing what and perhaps if they can do something a bit different. The Red Zone woes have been survivable because NU hasn't faced that good of teams. That will change, so what NU does from this point on to show it has something more than an offense that holds onto the ball for a long time, but doesn't score.
I know that I should be celebrating with everyone else over a game that NU needed if only as a major boost in the ego. Yes, it's not a great version of Penn State, but it's still Penn State and a victory over them can't hurt anyone's confidence in the end.
With that being said though, maybe it's the still-lingering sting of last year that has been a bit worried, not quite cautiously-optimistic and yes, a bit frustrated that a team that seems to be doing so many things right can end up looking like it's doing so very many things wrong.
I don't know.
As a Husker fan, I only want to look at those stats because those stats (the passing aside) remind me somewhat of Nebraska teams of old. A lot of yards per carry, an opponent's defense tiring out all but completely and clock control that is almost ridiculous. Yep, if you could only look at some stats.
The numbers do end up telling the story though, numbers many just don't want to see. 6 passes, 2 turnovers and oh yes, the 7 penalties to boot. They are numbers that will eventually be considered either foretelling of certain cataclysmic single-game meltdown or simply looked back upon as growing pains, NU eventually growing out of them to carry on what would be considered a major comeback for Nebraska.
Is it that simple? Is it that black and white? Probably not, but in the world of big-time sports and big-time programs, it's either here or there as there is no in-between.
Aww, screw the numbers, they won. That's good enough. Right?
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619