I'll be the first to admit that Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan knows how to coach his offense, knows Xs and Os and his players genuinely seem to like him and want to play for him.
But not long after the Cotton Bowl was over, the Huskers had lost and Coach Callahan went up to the podium for the post game, that's when I got a little confused.
If you look at the statistics, Nebraska beat Auburn. It's not an unusual story for the big red, but if you didn't know what the score was, you would have thought it was Nebraska that came out on top of Auburn, 17-14 instead of the other way around.
An ill-timed, confusing and botched fake punt along with an interception return later, though, Auburn only needed to march 23 yards total for their two touchdowns of the game.
If you think that was confusing, however, it didn't even scratch the perplexity, at least in my mind, the comment made by the head coach himself following the contest. "We said that as we came in here that we weren't ready to be a top 10 team yet," Callahan said of comments he posed before the press conference began. "We've closed the gap on a lot of people."
Ok, I will give him that. From 5-6 his first year, to 8-4 the next year, and now 9-5 – yeah, that's closing the gap. But if it's perception you are trying to fuel, what about the fact that for two out of the three years Bill Callahan has been the head coach Nebraska has finished outside of the Top 25.
You know that's what will happen, and Offensive Coordinator Jay Norvell takes exception to what he believes will be thought of this team once that becomes official. "They're a top 10 team and we beat ourselves," he said "You can spin that any way you want when it comes to rankings, but they (Auburn) beat a lot of good teams this year and we didn't play well (tonight)."
"We could have won the football game and probably should have won it. If they are a top 10 team, we feel we should be right there."
I'd have to agree with that, but going back to the head coach, if you didn't know the outcome of the game and were to listen to what he said about the game, you'd think that Nebraska was lucky to get out with the narrow margin of defeat that they did. "I thought out of all the teams we have played this year, that was the fastest defense – the most speed we've seen," he said. "The speed in the SEC is unbelievable – just unbelievable."
"To come in here and play this team to a three-point game, I just have to commend our kids. They played excellent."
I could be just imagining things here, but I seem to remember a head coach just crushed, almost overwhelmed with the loss to Oklahoma. It was all his fault, he let everyone down and he apologized to anyone and everyone that would listen. Even though his defense had played solid all game against the Sooners and the only real negative was the unusually suspect play of his star QB, the third year head man acted as if Nebraska never even showed up for the game.
After this game, the head coach took the blame for the fake punt call (as well he should have), but there wasn't this compunctious individual falling on the sword, taking yet another one for the team. Nope, it was the Coach Callahan we have come to know over the years. "To close the gap against Texas, close to the gap against Oklahoma, close to the gap against Auburn – we're getting there," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in this football team as it grows and matures going into next season, I'm awfully confident they will get better (and) we'll break through at some point."
As Nebraska loses their entire starting defensive line to graduation, I wonder where growth and maturation are supposed to take place. As one of their most consistent linebackers moves on, hoping to hold a spot in the NFL, I am curious how much more mature a team has to be.
I don't know. Call me perplexed, but it was perhaps just one bad call early in the game, that certainly gave Auburn a lot of help in getting back to even with the big red. I'm a little uncertain as well, as I can't figure the complete lack of faith in your scholarship kicker to not only kick the ball off, but apparently even try to tie a game with a kick that certainly shouldn't have been impossible for him to make.
I seem to remember Jordan Congdon kicking the game-winner against Kansas State two years ago from 40 yards, and in an absolute gale.
Coach Callahan says he has a lot of confidence in his team. He says that he's certain his team will get there, wherever there might happen to be. I don't know. I watched the game myself and I can't see how they weren't there already. I can't figure out how he could say that this was a group who wasn't ready to be a top 10 team.
I'm not a coach though. I don't understand the fine nuances of a team mindset, the disposition of a team ranked amongst the best in the land and what it takes to keep that position consistently.
But they aren't there yet, according to Coach Callahan. I guess we'll have to wait for him to tell us when they are.