Traveling to Columbia while being on the Cornhusker football team has been a daunting task within the past decade or so as the games have proven to be hard-fought and typically have one or two deciding plays. 2005 was no different with Missouri getting in the knockout punch behind the swift feet and accurate arm of Brad Smith who racked up more yards than perhaps either side had anticipated after suffering the effects of a concussion the week prior.
After losing Stewart Bradley for the season, many Cornhusker fans were concerned about the ability of Adam Ickes to fill in his role. At times, I felt Ickes did very well, but there were mistakes that a backup typically makes as well. Overall, I felt he did well in his first start of the year. Phillip Dillard showed promise, but did make true freshman mistakes biting too hard on some coverage and it would appear that at this point, Zach Bowman may be a better choice for the starting cornerback opposite Cortney Grixby than Tierre Green as midway through the season, Tierre seems to be lacking basic fundamentals that it appears Bowman has down.
The encouraging part of the game was the second half when down 21-10, managed to rally and knot the score at 24 all going into the break. What was less encouraging was seeing wide receivers typically known for their ability to catch a well thrown ball pick up a case of the drops, part of which I attribute to the atmosphere, but mostly due to a poorly played game. Some catches you simply have to make. A tip of the hat goes, however, to Nathan Swift, who did very well with nine catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. Also, Todd Peterson decided to make his presence known with a three-reception, 65-yard, one touchdown day.
What can you say about Zac Taylor besides the man must have about as much steel in him as Cory Ross? Some of the blows he absorbed against the Tigers had me wondering if he would, indeed, get up, but he always did. Zac didn't necessarily play flawlessly, but he did not play poorly. He cannot make his receivers catch their passes, nor can he prevent a fumble at the opposite end of the field. In the end, penalties and turnovers became too much as the Tigers once again lay claim to the Victory Bell and deal NU another loss.
Now, while the loss is disappointing for various reasons, I still believe that there is no team on the remaining schedule that is unbeatable. This includes Colorado at Boulder. However, improvement, naturally, needs to be shown and yes, improvement can be made after bad games by leaps and bounds. A poor game was expected by many this year and Nebraska fans have seen one, only it was two poor halves combined.
For those so adamant about the removal of Kevin Cosgrove as Defensive Coordinator, I would point back to the last time Nebraska entered Columbia with current LSU Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini and gave up a similar number of yards both through the air and on the ground with Brad Smith leading the charge, as a sophomore, no less, rather than a senior. Just food for thought.
Though, I would like to comment that I was not a big fan of the three man rush when Smith and the Tigers ran a five wide spread set on repeated occasions. Also, there was an occasion when Nebraska had literally no one in the middle of the field allowing Smith to use his speed to launch himself towards the endzone for a score.
Speculation surrounds the game for Nebraska fans for many reasons, but eventually all eyes turn to next week and the renewal of the series that many a Cornhusker fan lives for, Nebraska-Oklahoma. The atmosphere will be electric for multiple reasons and, the last time Nebraska came off of a lost, they won a close, gritty battle. I honestly expect them to do the same versus the Sooners and improve their record to 6-2. Oklahoma does have talent and does have ability, however they are suspect in areas that I feel can be exploited. Again, a game that is very winnable, but no game is a given. They never are.
One thing that Cornhusker fans can take solace in is that the 2005 squad continues to show heart and the ability to want to improve and the actual ability to improve. Much like the old saying goes: Day by day, we get better and better. No doubt these young men, much like their predecessors, several of which will be in attendance next week, will do.
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