If there was a theme from yesterday's press conference, it was the number, 348. That's the number of weeks that NU has sat on the AP top 25 consecutively. No matter who was answering questions, the question almost always came up as to the pressure of knowing that losing this up-coming game means the end to the longest AP record there is.
Here's what they had to say:
Frank Solich: "We are faced with that and we understand that. The last thing we want as a staff and players is to not have things continue the way they have been. So, we do everything we can to make it work and see how it turns out. When you look at it from a pressure standpoint and yes, it depends on how much pressure you want to throw on yourself, but what we are preparing to do is play an excellent football team, going to their place and come out with a win. If you look to far beyond that or behind, that, you are probably going to have some problems."
Philip Bland: "It's one of those things that you don't really talk about. Everyone knows it. They know this game is so important for so many reasons and we know a loss puts us at three and two and yeah, everyone knows."
John Garrison: "We're not going to lose this game."
From politically correct to a downright hatred for a loss that still leaves a bitter taste, the reality of this Iowa State game is clear. Lose and they will boldly go where no Husker has been since 1981, but in this case, it's not exploration that will get them there, but another implosion in all phases of the game.
The benefits of having an off-week are apparent. Injuries have time to heal, coaches have time to study and players have time to practice and in this particular case, try to improve on the performance against Penn State. Whether it is tackling, position or simple execution, as much as NU has been looking at the Clones, they have been looking at themselves with equal fervor.
Another theme to this game will be intensity. Though by all accounts, NU was certainly emotionally ready to play against the Lions just over a week ago, when a team loses by 33 points, giving up the majority of those in the second half, some are going to wonder if they came out flat or just folded after the chips were down. Was Penn State that good or did NU just have a complete and total meltdown? Solich looks to the philosophy that appearances may not be everything, because this team was (at least emotionally) ready to play. "If you look at it from a standpoint of do our kids play with emotion, do they play with great intensity? I think that we've been able to get that from our players year after year, game after game"
"It didn't appear that we were intense." Solich stated. "They (Penn State) really probably had their best football game in a couple of years and maybe were really climaxing to that coming off two seasons that were losing seasons and having an experienced quarterback back who played a great game against us. So, did we play our best game in a couple of years? No, we did not."
Truth to tell, you get few real answers at a press conference you didn't already expect. The usual banter, the general quantity of a politically correct diatribe and there we go, trying to (as they say), put lipstick on a pig. We try mightily to make "they moved around well" sound interesting week to week, but if you think it's the answers that are the real draw of the conference, well, for me, it's not. It's the feel. Forget the answers. It's how people say things, what tensions there are, if any and the mannerisms they used in how they spoke.
I for one took one thing away from the Solich Q&A. For most of it, it was a bevy of "in terms of" and "no questions", but within those answers, I caught (even if just a few times) some genuine passion in his voice. Not coincidently mind you did they all come when talking about the players and their dedication to winning. If I am to assume anything from this is that Solich firmly believes in the guys he has right now. It would appear that energy and heart isn't the problem. Some say they quit towards the end of the Penn State game, while some would say (more accurately) that they simply got tired because the offense couldn't stay on the field. If my assumption is true, than without taking the blame, it's a coach taking the blame and whether you will admit it or not, that's what most of you want.
You want someone to come out and say, "we screwed up." You want them to come out and say, "We didn't do our jobs" and you want it to be someone other than a player. Well, maybe I am reading too much into this, but maybe, it's a subtle way of a coach bearing the responsibility already flung upon him by a very fickle fan base.
The head coach takes the blame no matter who's fault it is. That's the rule and one Solich bears, but as you might guess, it's nothing he wasn't expecting. "This job has always had pressure, so I'm not concerned about where I'm at on this." Solich stated. "I'm concerned as to where this football team is at and that they believe in one another and that they're ready to continue to work like they've shown this past week. They want to be the great football team that they can be, and it's just a matter of continuing to press forward with that."
With this program, there is never enough blame to go around when Nebraska loses, especially like it did two weeks ago. But in stark contrast, there's very little credit. If NU does go into Ames and takes away a victory, will you fling about credit as you did criticism or will it be just a back and forth of "well, it's about damn time, but we still suck."? Questions only time and a win will answer and that's just what NU will be attempting to do.
For NU, it's about winning. For the fan, it's about not losing a streak. For NU it's about motivation and for Iowa State, it's about momentum, because they clearly have it coming into this contest. And even if there is but one loss in the season, this game is about redemption for the players and certainly more-so for themselves than anyone that cheers or jeers them on. It's about making sure that other shoe doesn't hit the floor.