After Baylor walloped Washington State earlier this season, I knew that this was not the same Baylor football program that we've been become accustomed to in the Big XII. Both teams beat Iowa State by the same margin (28 points) in back-to-back weeks. So all signs pointed to a close matchup.
Stop for a pause there. Last year, I felt Nebraska had fallen to the level of Baylor in terms of Big XII football, and while that's not necessarily something to be proud of, both teams are improved in 2008.
That being said, trailing Baylor 20-17 at halftime is not an accomplishment. Coming back in the second half to win 32-20 is one, albeit minor. It's not where Nebraska want sto be, but it's progress from where they were.
Tom Shatel today agreed with my postgame question whether Bo Pelini's ongoing discussions with referees are actually counterproductive. There's no doubt there's no shortage of calls to protest. I think everybody is still trying to figure out how Baylor ended with the ball on the ball on their 24 yard line after muffing that second quarter punt. But referees don't like being shown up...especially by a rookie head coach. Respect is something that has to be earned, and it's becoming apparent that the referees aren't respecting Pelini at this point.
Both Menolik Holt and Phillip Dillard are "questionable at best" for the Oklahoma game this week. Dillard's injury is a major concern since he's the anchor at linebacker. Cody Glenn is going to need to step up and be a playmaker. He'll also need to quit giving the officials a reason to throw the penalty flag at him. Some of the calls may be questionable, but when the referees are not giving Nebraska the benefit of the doubt, even the slightest hint of impropriety seems to draw yellow.
Holt's injury means that Niles Paul needs to step up his game. Curenski Gilleylen got a chance, but his stone hands will keep him on the bench. (Shades of Abdul Muhammad...)
Certainly the defense had plenty of busts on Saturday; in fact, most of Baylor big plays were the result of defensive lapses. Bad arm tackling and a mismatch in coverage led to the Bears first touchdown, as did a lapse in coverage on two long Robert Griffin runs on Baylor's second drive. To be sure, Baylor had more speed than Nebraska on Saturday. That's one of those things that will take time to address, but keep in mind, that it's not just speed, but the combination of speed and strength. And Nebraska was the stronger team yesterday.
Certainly Nebraska's performance, while not exactly what Husker fans were after, was the best that the North could in head-to-head matchups with the North. Oklahoma laid Kansas State to waste in the first half, though there are huge questions marks with the Sooner defense after giving up 35 to the Wildcats. The Sooners just haven't been the same since linebacker Ryan Reynolds tore up his knee against Texas. Almost as bad on defense yesterday was Kansas, who never really stopped any Texas Tech drives until the end of the third quarter. Iowa State is now the worst team in the Big XII after letting Mike Sherman's motley crew hang 49 on the Clones at home.
And if any Husker fans are still thinking about winning the North, well, Missouri is back and in complete control of that race at this point. Colorado's "playing rather well" defense was no match for the Tigers. Of course, that "playing rather well" is a rather absurd statement, considering the Buffies are now #78 in total defense. In fact, here's your statistic of the week: Nebraska now has the best defense in the Big XII North. Nebraska is #66, followed by #78 Colorado, #87 Missouri, #88 Kansas, #101 Iowa State, and #109 Kansas State.
Hold that thought, though. Let's make that "least awful defense" in the Big XII North instead.