LINCOLN, Neb. -- There they
were again, after another 60 minutes of football, the Cowboys were taking that
long walk, between the usher-held ropes, past the red-clad Nebraska fans, up the
hill under the north stands at Memorial Stadium to the visitors locker room in
the North Fieldhouse. The sportsmanlike Husker fans were applauding, voicing
their thanks to the Cowboys for coming to Lincoln to provide another home
opening win for the hometown heroes. These were the same fans that were booing
the Huskers off the field at halftime when they trailed the Cowboys 7-3. The
Nebraska faithful saluting the Cowboys should have been a showing of their
appreciation for the Pokes generosity. Five turnovers, four in the second half
-- two resulting in touchdowns -- gave Nebraskans a reason to cheer and
surely helped promote the postgame kindness.
It had been said all week, all preseason: All the Cowboys had to do going to Lincoln was play an average game and NOT turn the ball over and victory was likely theirs. For proof all you need was the first half. It was a below average half as far as output. The Cowboys had just 126-yards of offense, only 51-yards rushing and 75 through the air. They had answered the Huskers' opening drive for a field goal, a nice bend-but-don't-break-stop by the Cowboys defenders, with an 11 play, 54-yard excursion that ended with Rashaun Woods second catch on the drive, a four-yard touchdown. After that the offense was less than average, but it didn't self-destruct.
The second half was an ugly throwback to the UCLA game from a season ago. There were even some similarities beyond the rash of giveaways. Both games were on national television and both games were looked at as breakthrough opportunities against traditional programs. Against UCLA the major killer was the interceptions starting with Fields' first that was returned for a touchdown breaking the momentum of the Cowboys 10-0 start. At Nebraska last Saturday fumbles were the culprit for the Cowboys. When Tatum Bell, without being hit in the upper body, lost the ball as he was falling down (No complaint, but look at the tape. It was close) and the ball dribbled to Husker linebacker Barrett Ruud, who acted like Josh Davis is taking a direct path to the endzone.
"We didn't move the ball on offense, and we turned the ball over five times," OSU coach Les Miles said of the bad field position the Cowboys stuck themselves with most of the day. "Our inability to run the football and then throwing the ball on very predictable down and distances led to pass rush and us not executing in the passing game. It was a very uncharacteristic day for our offense all the way around."
Just to prove that they could be generous too, the Huskers Josh Davis fumbled the ball at the Cowboy 11and Robert Jones recovered for the Cowboys. But the Cowboys were the most generous. The new tackles proved to be a bigger problem than originally thought, as Fields got banged around several times during the afternoon. The banging as he tried to throw the ball with just over three minutes left in the third quarter set up the final points. Blitzing safety Jerrell Pippens made the hit as Fields was spying an open target downfield. The ball sputtered into the air only to be recovered by defensive tackle Ryon Bingham. It was an ugly play that had Miles dancing down the sidelines trying to convince the officials that Fields arm was moving forward and the loose ball was no more than an incompletion. Miles selling job went for naught, and Fields, himself, wasn't sure whether his arm was moving forward.
"I thought it was," Fields said of the fumble that led to Nebraska's final points. "I'm always going to look at it optimistically. To be honest, it was questionable -- an iffy, iffy call."
Replays showed no doubt, Pippens coming off the backside slapped the ball away from Fields before he could move the arm forward which caused the ball to come out sideways. There were no "ifs" as to what Nebraska did with the second gift inside the Cowboy red zone. They took three plays with the third being fullback Judd Davies two-yard drive into the endzone. Two plays, two turnovers turned the game around.
There are no guarantees, but if the turnovers hadn't been turned over, maybe the momentum and the lead wouldn't have either. Back in 1984, former O-State head coach Pat Jones once told an ABC television audience at halftime in Lincoln that, "we're going to try to win the game 3-0." The Cowboys had better than that, a third quarter 7-3 lead. Nebraska was moving the ball some, but couldn't punch it in. They were really struggling with field goals having missed one off an upright and then having one blocked. It would have been tough, but minus the turnovers and considering that Nebraska coughed up one of their own in each half, maybe, just maybe, a 7-3 win might have been in the cards. It doesn't matter now. The only thing that matters now is that the Cowboys get it fixed.
"This team came in with the opportunity to win (at Nebraska)," Miles added. "They really fought like heck, and that defense, if you would have told me we were going to tunr the ball over five times and they are only going to score 17 points. If we just don't turn the ball over I just don't know how many times they get in the endzone. It's a different day and a different outcome."
"There's no doubt," Fields said. "We didn't want to play like this, and we didn't expect to make the mistakes. We just have to get back and fix it starting next week."
"This is not an acceptable effort as far as the offense is concerned," Rashaun Woods said. "We are going to have to improve immediately if we are going to accomplish the goals we have for ourselves."
The Cowboys veteran safety Elbert Craig, Jr., admitted that the defense could have helped.
"As a defense our goal is to force three turnovers a game, and we only got two," Craig said of the defense. "It's hard when you going out there and playing 14, 12, 10 plays a series. That's a killer for the defense (and offense) when you are out there that long instead of coming up with three and outs and more turnovers."
It will be a small consolation to OSU fans that were counting on that big win over Nebraska, but there is lots of football left to play starting with the home opener against Wyoming, and there is precedence for the Cowboys getting the turnover bug cured. Last season in the final seven games, including the Houston Bowl, the Cowboys cut the turnovers to virtually nothing. In three preseason scrimmages leading up to the Nebraska game the first team offense had no turnovers, not even close.
It has to be hoped that the Cowboys will learn their lessons from Lincoln. The opposition gets easier. The success should be much greater. The momentum can be built, and on October 11 awaits another opportunity to step up and beat a Big 12 heavyweight in Kansas State. The next five weeks won't be as fufilling as a win over Nebraska would have been, but they could be very important. If the work and corrections leads to a 5-1 record and a win over the Wildcats the Cowboys hopes and dreams will be back on track. No excuses, the Cowboys weren't quite ready for the jump against Nebraska.
Labor Day in Stillwater means there is lots of work to do.
Meet John Holland
You may want to know more about this guy, because you are really goning to like him. He was a heat seeking missile in the opener at Nebraska with a couple of big hits and an interception. In all, Holland had 12 tackles, five of those unassisted, along with an interception.
Holland is a transfer from NEO A&M Junior College where he was a two-year starter that earned All Conference honors as a sophomore. He was a three-year starter in high school at Oklahoma City John Marshall. Holland had some fun at Nebraska, and it would appear he intends to have more fun the rest of the season.
"I felt real good out there, and I was all over the place," Holland said after his first college game which he started because of a turf toe injury to Thomas Wright. "That's the way I like to play. Playing free safety is like playing quarterback and you have to be all over the place."
"From the sideline I can tell you Jon Holand hit like heck at safety," Miles said, who sounded like he really likes Holland being on his side.
Anybody For Golf?
Down on the field at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln were PGA touring pros and former O-State golfers Scott Verplank and Bob Tway. They were joined on the field by ultra successful OSU golf coach Mike Holder. In the stands at the game were former Cowboy golfers Chris Tidland and Bo Van Pelt, both are currently playing on the satellite tour. It is safe to say that the Huskers could not have come up with as impressive foursome if the sport on Saturday had been golf.
Where Was Tim Burrough?
The senior fullback didn't start and only played a few plays as a results of a shoulder injury during the second scrimmage. Head coach Les Miles had kept the injury quiet because of the importance of the fullback position in the OSU offense and not wanting the Nebraska staff to clue in that the Cowboys were going to have to adjust to Burrough's absence. Burrough did play several plays in the second half and should be ready to resume full playing status soon, maybe against Wyoming.
Swann On Woods
With ABC Sports covering the game with their "A" team broadcasters, Lynn Swann was on the sidelines for the matchup. Swann, is a Hall of Fame wide receiver that was known for his acrobatic receptions during the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl glory days in the seventies. Swann spent time with Cowboy All-American wide receiver Rashaun Woods on Friday and then stood next to Rashaun and his younger brother D'Juan as they caught passes early before warmups on the field at Memorial Stadium. Swann said they discussed several things including route running.
"I've covered college football for a lot of years," said Swann. "I really don't think most college wide receivers become good route runners until they go to the NFL. They don't have the needed time with their coaches and watching film as you get in the NFL. Up until doing my homework for this game and watching Rashaun on video, I thought Marvin Harrison and Torrie Holt were the best route runners that I had seen as college receivers, but I think Rashaun is the best I've seen after watching him."