At this point in the season, it's obvious that the 2009 Huskers look ugly. In October, you could dismiss the ugliness on injuries, inexperience, and a bad game or two. But not anymore; certainly not after Thanksgiving. It's simply ugly.
It's also 9-3. And now, two years after dispatching the "Great Raider Flunky" (credit AJ the Huskerk8er) back to the NFL as an offensive line coach (where his true calling is), all this team does is "Just Win Baby." It's not pretty, but once again, the Huskers pulled out a victory.
Of all of the Nebraska victories this season, this was the worst of the bunch. Giving up over 400 yards to the Colorado Buffaloes isn't anything to be proud of. Granted, 56 of that came on a meaningless final play, but there were plenty of things to criticize on both sides of the ball. For starters, how about not sacking Tyler Hansen ONCE? Hansen has been sacked 31 times this season despite not playing in the first four games of the season. What about failing to sustain any drives until the fourth quarter? Nebraska had the field position advantage all afternoon, but never could seem to keep the chains moving.
But that's the "glass half-empty" side. The "glass half-full" side points out that, once again, Nebraska willed it's way to victory in the fourth quarter. On that clinching touchdown drive, the Huskers just imposed their will on the Buffaloes. Oh, how this team needed Rex Burkhead today. He's still a freshman (remember that missed block that resulted in a Zac Lee sack), but he delivered on the ground. The offense desperately needs someone to force defenses to play honest, but after 12 games, we know it's not there for the most part. Niles Paul does it occasionally, but rather than risk a deep incompletion or worse, Husker fans get a steady diet of smash-mouth grind-it-out football. But unlike the 1994 Huskers against Kansas State, this isn't a team that can simply force anybody and everybody to "assume the position".
In his post-game comments, Bo Pelini made it clear that he wasn't pleased with the Huskers performance today either. No Husker fan should be either. Perhaps this team really was looking ahead to Texas next weekend; certainly Texas could be accused of doing the same last night in College Station.
Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star calls it "Woody Hayes/Jim Tressel" style. Play great defense and great special teams, and don't screw up on offense. And today, special teams helped ensure Nebraska got off to a good start early. Between Alex Henery landing punts inside the Buffalo five yard line and Niles Paul's touchdown return, Nebraska owned the special teams play today. And what about another two missed field goals by the opponent today? I think it's time to give Ndamukong Suh and the Husker special teams credit for some of these misses. Opponents have converted only 10 of 20 field goal attempts against the Huskers this season. Looking over the NCAA's top 100 kickers, most kickers seem to convert about 80% of their field goals, so how can Nebraska's opponents be only converting 50%? I'll suggest that the mere presence of Mr. Suh disrupts the kicker. It's like putting a pond next to the putting green on a golf course; the kicker tries to take Suh out of play.
So it's off to Dallas and the Texas Longhorns, who will be prohibitive favorites. If the Huskers play like this next week, it'll be brutal. Maybe not as bad as the last time Texas played in the Big XII title game (70-3 bad)...but ugly. But a perfect game plan, much like what Nebraska engineered a few weeks ago against Oklahoma, will give Nebraska a chance. Nebraska hasn't played an offense like Texas, but I'm not sure Texas has played a defense like Nebraska's.
Then there's the x-factor of the Big XII Championship game. Texas started it in 1996, knocking Nebraska out of the Bowl Alliance championship game. Texas A&M dashed Kansas State's dreams of playing in the first BCS title game in 1998. Don't forget Colorado upsetting Texas in 2001 and Kansas State upsetting Oklahoma in 2003. Oklahoma ended Missouri's dreams of a BCS berth two years ago. National championship contenders are only .500 in the Big XII title game. Anything can happen.
But just to be on the safe side, if you know anybody who's suffering from the flu, suggest that they spend next week in Austin. Every little bit helps.