Last week, I pointed out Shawn Watson, Ted Gilmore, and Barney Cotton as coaches who probably were under the greatest scrutiny over the performance of their charges.
Tonight, they deserve a toast after today's performance against Texas Tech. Barney Cotton's offensive line was physical and opened up some nice sized holes for all of the Husker I-backs. Ted Gilmore's young receivers, especially Menelik Holt and Niles Paul, were making the catches today. And Shawn Watson's game plan was stellar with a wonderfully balanced passing and rushing.
Look at time of possession: 40:12 for Nebraska to 19:48 for Texas Tech. Some people call time of possession the most overrated statistic in football; I disagree. The only statistics that really matter are points scored and points allowed. In today's game, that two-to-one dominance of time of possession was huge for the Huskers.
Everybody in college football knows how productive Mike Leach's offense is, so every moment that they are off the field is an opportunity to stay in the game. And to be sure, it doesn't matter how long you hold onto the ball if you don't score points. But by that same measure, if you give Texas Tech fewer possessions, that means there are fewer possessions that you need to stop them.
You can look at the defensive performance as a glass half-full or half-empty situation. On one hand, Tech averaged 8.8 yards per play. But Nebraska went into today with an even more decimated linebacker corp. Cody Glenn and Phillip Dillard played very little today, as they only mentioned a "participated" on the stat sheet. True freshman walk-on Matt Holt was the starting MIKE linebacker.
But others stepped up. Larry Asante returned from the Twilight Zone and tackled like a man possessed today. Eric Hagg made some key stops as well on pass coverage.
Joe Ganz had his best game of the season, and arguably the best game of his career when you consider the opposition. Some fans will unfortunately blame him for the loss, since his interception ended the Huskers chances. That's unfortunate. Nebraska had plenty of other opportunities to execute and possibly win the game before overtime. Take the blown coverage on Michael Crabtree on 4th and 4. If someone covers Crabtree (or at least helps) and the pass falls incomplete, Nebraska has the ball in great field position instead of Tech late in the game. If someone makes a better block on Castille's first half 4th and 1, Nebraska maintains possession.
Football is a team game. You win as a team, and lose as a team.
Nebraska fans can take a lot of positives out of this game. Great effort, great heart, and much crisper execution on both sides of the ball. But in the end, it was still a loss. Nebraska doesn't count moral victories. You're heartened by the improvements, but there were still plenty of opportunities for improvement.
If Nebraska continues to improve the rest of the season like they did this week, it will still be a successful season and a major improvement from 2007.