With any good soap opera, there is the main plot, but within that, a myriad number of sub-plots, if only to make the overall story that much more interesting. Well, sports teams could actually show some of those soap operas a thing or two, most enduring a bevy of sub-plots each and every game. Nebraska has exhibited many of their own this year as the Huskers tear out another page of "As the Big Red turns".
"The Young and the Restless"
What else can you call a unit that just came off of a demoralizing loss to Missouri, Nebraska self-destructing to the tune of 27 points given up in the fourth quarter against the Tigers. There were plenty of opportunities even after that game for the entire team to start questioning themselves, perhaps feeling somewhat like they did last year when the wheels all but fell off.
Between the defense getting flogged and the offense killing themselves with turnovers in that final quarter, these youngsters had ever opportunity to let that restlessness take hold, actually effecting them heading into homecoming week.
400 + yards total offense with over 300 of that on the ground and 8 turnovers on defense sent a resounding message that Nebraska was not only not down and out, but was back with a vengeance.
What does it take to get 8 turnovers in one game? Great players, but great passion as well and that's just what Husker fans got from the "blackshirts", rebounding with a resounding explosion on the unfortunate Aggies of Texas A&M.
8 turnovers? Are you kidding me? That's got to be some kind of record. Well, it is actually, the defense tying the mark last accomplished by the Huskers way back in 1979 against the Kansas State Wildcats.
Amongst those gaining turnovers were Josh Bullocks, grabbing his 7th pick of the year, leading the country and tying the all-time season mark for interceptions in a season. His brother, Daniel caused and grabbed his first turnover just a day after finding out that he was now officially a "blackshirt". Barrett Ruud took an interception to the house, his second score off a turnover of the season. Demorrio Williams covered up a fumble caused by Benard Thomas. LeKevin Smith jumped on a turnover forced by Barrett Ruud, Lornell McPherson got a pick from a Trevor Johnson tipped ball, Fabian added a pick of his own and finally, Titus Adams got his own interception, a theft that occurred at the Aggie 3 yard line, Adams taking the ball into the end zone, subsequently executing one fine "spike" that quickly drew a personal foul penalty.
Of the spike, Adams said that the motion was all inclusive, not even realizing what he did, but his teammates on defense are still green with envy, Williams admitting that he would do 30 "dirty workouts" if only to have a moment like that. Barrett Ruud even commented that his score didn't even seem like it mattered because Adams actually did what all had talked about doing, even practiced to some extent, but only Adams had the courage to do at this point.
Heck, even the coaches were laughing about it, even as they tried to fake some matter of obligatory sternness, because that's what you are supposed to do.
This could be the obligatory tribute to Bo Pelini, the former NFL position coach gathering his usual gamut of praise, well, all except for one quarter down in Columbia. Rather than that though, we'll simply give credit to his philosophy that even the defensive players admitted they got away from somewhat last week in the last quarter against Missouri.
The constant driving force combined with an instinctive understanding of the system, doing their best to take the complexity out of defense and just make it all about getting to the ball. NU got back to that this week and while the Aggies seemed to have some success moving the ball early, the second half netted for Texas A&M exactly zilch and not much more than that in total yards.
Demorrio Williams said of the last session in last week's game that what could have gone wrong was that there were too many people thinking about what was going to happen and this week, it was just the NU defense making things happen, two over half a dozen turnovers to show for it, not to mention taking Jammar Taylor's aspiration about grabbing two Aggie career records in this game and shoving them into the land of wishful thinking.
Effort was king and the king is most certainly not dead.
Talk about hits, there were plenty of those against Texas A&M and hard ones at that. A couple that I remember most vividly was the backside "smackdown" of Reggie McNeal by Trevor Johnson, a play that illustrated two things. One, Trevor never gives up on a play and two, it doesn't matter how hard you hit someone, that field turf rebounds quite nicely. I couldn't see an impression of any part of McNeal in the turf anywhere.
The second, well, if you asked Josh Davis what the hardest hit of the day he faced was, I would almost bet it wouldn't have come from anyone on the Texas A&M side of the ball. Rather, it came from his teammate, the center of all people.
In a touchdown run that almost wasn't, Josh Davis tore off an 11 yard run that stalled abruptly at the one-yard line, but in a perfectly opportunistic move, center, Josh Sewell came up from behind and gave Davis a helping hand into the end zone to finish off the run. Well, it wasn't really a helping hand. It was more like a train hitting Davis in the back, hurling him into the promise land, but hey, whatever works.
"As the World Turns"
It would seem that my idea of what it takes to make Nebraska a winning team was all wrong after all. Here I thought NU needed balance, a perfect combination (for Nebraska) of passing to running, 40:60 in ratio, respectively. I thought that the first three quarters Jammal Lord had against Missouri was what it would take for NU to have some serious post-season aspirations.
Turns out, terrible passing percentage, no scores and just running the ball is truly the formula for success and just let those big uglies down in front do the damage to the other guy all game long.
Jammal Lord was 2 for 7 on the day for 22 yards, but ran for 2 touchdowns on the game. A perfect combination for Nebraska to crush the Aggies, 48-12.
Yeah, yeah, the 8 turnovers on defense were ok, but we know what really helped the Huskers out in this game.
Actually, it was turnovers, but not necessarily just the eight that the blackshirts caused, but by the fact that the Nebraska offense didn't have any.
If Jammal Lord can play how he plays, but never turns the ball over, NU has a great chance to beat pretty much anyone out there.
"All My Children"
All my Children means everyone and yes, that means Joe Dailey to. Before you think I am going ton some "Joe should be starting" diatribe, take heart in that I'm not going to do that at all. My beef is that if you are going to use the young man, put him in a situation to succeed.
Granted, Joe got his one pass, a pass he placed perfectly into the end-zone for a score, but 3 rushes and a bunch of hand-offs at a point in the game where the coaches don't want to score, well, seems to me that you go out there to apparently learn the system, all you are teaching him is how not to move the ball.
That's the catch-22 of putting a QB in, in mop-up duty in that you may want the snaps, you just don't want the points. How else could you explain Nebraska actually going for it on 4th and 8 with Dailey at the helm and calling a running play to boot and then, 4th and 1 and all NU has to do is run up the middle to get the first down, NU coaches decide that's the time to punt.
They pulled his redshirt because..........?
Lord is the starter. Ok, fine, but your only real back-up is only getting mop-up time. What exactly does he learn from that? Put Dailey in when he can actually run the entire offense. Call me weird, but hey, I would just as soon Dailey know how to do something other than how to do anything other than score.
"One Life to Live"
When you are a special teams player, a punter to boot, your life as a football player is obscure, compliments coming so sporadic, your very existence comes into question at times.
Not for Kyle Larson.
All this guy has done has proved once again his mastery over not just booting the ball for distance (he had a 69 yard punt against the Aggies), but placing the ball deep, deep and even deeper inside the opponent's territory. I mean, this kid is unreal. 5 times Larson punts put the Aggies no more than 11 yards away from their own end zone.
His life may be technically obscure due to his position, but Kyle has made everyone take notice, because he's simply as good as it gets.
A soap opera that doesn't exist anymore and maybe that could be ironically fitting for my own opinion, defunct and finding significance only in re-runs (if anyone watches/reads them at all), but because of the name, it is only fitting for my own final salvo of senseless musings.
How a team responds from adversity defines them in my estimation and this team responded with an emphatic message, telling everyone out there not to find those feelings from last year comfortable, because NU wasn't falling back into the abyss.
The turnovers caused were something else, but no turnovers on offense I found to be equally significant. NU didn't hurt themselves and that in and of itself is a triumph, Nebraska often it's own worst enemy at times this season.
The play-calling will continue to get it's share of criticism, but you can't build a bird house with a pipe wrench. In that I mean, you do what you can with the tools you have and as much as Lord might be a savvy runner, a heady leader and an improving analyst at the line of scrimmage, he's not a consistently good passer, period, done, end of story. Cotton calls the game with what he knows he can do and NU can run and pass.......at times.
The Big XII North is looking more and more winnable all the time, no team setting themselves apart from any other. Texas looks typically overrated, actually quite susceptible to very physical teams while Kansas State hasn't been hitting on all cylinders against any decent team they have faced thus far. It's there for the taking and to be able to say that Nebraska even has a chance to do that based on what happened last year, that's a success right there.
As for the overall Big XII title, if Nebraska makes it there, you can consider the season a huge if not epic success, but enjoy that, because if NU faces Oklahoma in that game, NU will indeed have to be perfect just to have a chance.
6-1. Anyone have a problem with that? Ok, anyone with any reasonable amount of intelligence and rational expectations? I didn't think so.
Nebraska is on it's way again, rebounding, retaking the steam somewhat lost last week and Iowa State is on the horizon and then, the biggest test of the year, Texas down in Austin.
I don't know about you, but right now, Nebraska may not look like a world beater, but if that's what you were expecting this year, you need to stop sniffing glue. It looks like a solid team, built on great defense and a marginal, but opportunistic offense.
Just another year in the life of Nebraska Football and that's the best soap opera of all. Of course, this show doesn't have near as many hot chicks, but that's for another day.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619