No moral victories at Nebraska

Moral victories are what they are, and it's doubtful any Husker player will say they would take one any day of the week, even after last week's showing against Missouri. But when a team which was soundly handled at home, goes on the road and almost beats a top seven squad, you can't say that they didn't get some things right.

Moral victories are what they are, and it's doubtful any Husker player will say they would take one any day of the week, even after last week's showing against Missouri. But when a team which was soundly handled at home, goes on the road and almost beats a top seven squad, you can't say that they didn't get some things right.

It was back to basics over practice this week, Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini saying that they were changing the plan, doing a few things different and tearing things down to fit who they had and what they could do.

The unfortunate part is, if you are one who thinks they should have been able to do that earlier in the year, until you face a team like Missouri you just don't know.

But with that knowledge and what was being called a great week of practice by coaches, the Huskers went down and almost stunned the Red Raiders, losing in overtime, 37-31.

The story of the game for Nebraska wasn't that they were able to stop Tech's potent offense. The story was that they did just what you have to do against an offense like this, keep them off the field. Nebraska held onto the ball for a whopping 40:12 while Tech didn't even hit 20 minutes on offense for the game.

That equated to the Huskers hitting a season-high in plays, reeling off 82 against the Red Raiders, and surprisingly enough, getting it done both on the ground as well as through the air.

It wasn't the 300-yard per game performances Husker fans got used to seeing back in the option days, but the offensive line did enough in every aspect to cause Texas Tech Head Coach to say after the game that he thought they looked like the "Husker line of old."

Senior running back Marlon Lucky, running perhaps one of his grittiest games of the last couple of years, averaged 4.1 yards per carry on the way to a 66-yard day. But Lucky didn't get too much out of his form in regard to where he shines, leading the team in receiving yards, totaling 80 on seven catches for the game.

With the offensive balance actually working out, Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson engineered a marvelous game plan which seemingly had the Red Raider defense on its heels most of the contest. While Nebraska rushed the ball for only 111 yards, it was the effectiveness it had in spots to make the play action pass effective, where senior QB Joe Ganz took advantage and went to work.

On the day Ganz topped career totals in completions, with 36 of 44 passing, along with a personal best completion percentage, over 81 percent of his passes finding their mark. The senior QB finished with 349 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

It's the interception which everyone will remember, unfortunately, instead of Ganz' superb performance leading up to that point, highlighted by a two-minute drive where Ganz went 6-for-6 for 80 yards and the tying score which led to the overtime session. ""I told Joe (Ganz) this, I told the football team this: that play did not lose us the football game. There were a lot of plays out there for us to win the game," Pelini said. "We would not have been in that situation without Joe Ganz. That play did not lose the football game. It never does."

This was a game where Ganz found eight different Huskers in the passing game, including touchdown tosses to senior wide receiver Todd Peterson and sophomore tight end Dreu Young.

But as Texas Tech has proved more often than not, they don't need a lot of time with the ball or a lot of snaps on offense, to put up points in a hurry.

Of their six scoring possessions, only one went double-digits in plays (10), and even that one took just 3:45, whereas Nebraska had four double-digit drives, the longest being a 15-play, 74-yard drive which ate up over eight minutes of play clock. The shortest of those particular drives went 11 plays and chewed up five minutes and 30 seconds.

Penalties, however, reared their ugly head once again for the Huskers, the team penalized for false starts on the offensive line twice, holding three times, two of which came consecutively from offensive tackle Mike Smith. "We're still beating ourselves. We're still doing some things penalty-wise, dropping coverage, busting assignments, things you can't do against a good football team," Bo Pelini said after the game.

Then there was the call.

Early in the second quarter with Texas Tech leading Nebraska, 10-7, the Huskers had a fourth down on the Red Raider 30-yard line. It was only one yard to go, but if you make it you tie the game, and coming into this game Alex Henery has had five cracks at field goals over 40 yards, and made them all.

Bo Pelini instead opted to go for it, running sophomore Quentin Castille up the middle for what would be no gain, the Huskers turning it over on downs.

Tech QB Grahama Harrell wasted little time in taking advantage of the change of possession, hitting wide receiver Edward Britton down the sideline for a 56-yard gain, giving Tech a first down at the Husker 14, which they added three more plays to before they drove it in for the score.

It's impossible to say whether that was the game right there, because Henery could have missed, or even if they had made it, Tech could have drove it down the field in similar fashion, taking at tie game and stretching the lead to seven.

It was only if the game finished close this call might be revisited.

There's little doubt, considering how close this game ultimately was, that it will be.

The heartbreaking turn of events aside, the Huskers stayed true to the reputation they have garnered under Pelini, competing all the way through the course of the game, and led by Ganz and an opportunistic running game, they chipped away at the score.

But it wasn't going to do much good for Nebraska to continue putting together these long drives with all these snaps, if they couldn't stop the Red Raiders' potent attack.

They did, an almost incomprehensible three and out of the Red Raiders, which happened with fairy tale timing for the big red. With 12:10 to go in the game, Nebraska trailing, 24-17, it was two rushes for short gains by TT, ultimately finished off with a tackle behind the line of scrimmage by junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Tech punted, and eight plays and 60 yards later, Ganz engineered a four-minute drive which tied up the game. That led seemingly inevitably to Tech scoring once again, giving Ganz his opportunity to take the team down the field and try and send this game into overtime.

He did that, of course, but then you get into another call, or in this case, a non-call, Pelini perhaps with the opportunity to put this game out of reach, going for two instead of the extra point which Henery ultimately made. That would have gave them a one-point lead with just 29 seconds left in the game.

Like the fourth down call earlier in the game, if you do make it, it's gutsy and people will commend you for taking risks in a situation most coaches would play it safe. If you go for it and don't make it, people will say you didn't give you team a chance to win.

But as it is Nebraska came all the way back from seeming oblivion, not just to tie the game, but to take the momentum, it seemed. But one big play into overtime, a run from scrimmage which took Texas Tech down to the one, was obviously a big play in keeping momentum going as Texas Tech got into the end zone shortly after. "That first play in overtime hurt us. We let the back get away from us and that was unfortunate," Pelini said.

Nebraska now moves to 3-3 on the season, scheduled to head to Ames, Iowa to play Iowa State.

There are many who will actually be charged over this game, loss aside, because it showed Nebraska could still do some of the things we questioned earlier in the year, especially after the Missouri loss.

But Pelini, a coach, often looking at the things which need to be fixed rather than necessarily looking at the good, chooses not to think of this game as anything more than what it was. The team did some good things here and there, but from his perspective, those kinds of victories won't do. "Like I said all along, there's character in the room, we have to play smarter. We're not about moral victories," he said. "Nebraska never will be as long as I'm head coach. If we start being about moral victories, you need to get a new coach."


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