Wednesday, November 15, 2006

NU Re-View: Nebraska 28, Texas A&M 27

THE GOOD ...
- THE DRIVE TO KANSAS CITY: I know, it's ripping off from the World-Herald, but it's as good a name for Nebraska's last drive as any I could think of. NU's execution of their two-minute offense (with the help of a timely roughing the passer penalty) will go down in Nebraska lore with the Immaculate Deflection in Columbia and Billy Sims' fumble.
- ALSO PARTICIPATING: Lost in the glory of Maurice Purify's game-winner was the performance of Todd Peterson, who hauled in seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Peterson was the workhorse of the receiving corps, particularly after Nate Swift went down. A special note of congratulations should also go to Dan Erickson, who made a clutch catch to advance the final drive. Generally, when he's been in the game you could expect a run, so it was very nice to see him get into the stat column for something other than a pancake.
- YOU ARE WHAT YOUR RECORD SAYS YOU ARE: Regardless of the underlying problems, sports is a business of results. The entire world would be different for Bill Callahan if Terrence Nunn doesn't fumble the ball against Texas. The same can be said for the results of this game. Even though the flaws that have plagued Nebraska all year (see below) have not really been resolved, a win is a win is a win, and Callahan has delivered the hardware he said he would this year. There's no "yeah, but ..." inscribed on the Big XII North trophy.

THE BAD ...
- DON'T LET THE DEODORANT FOOL YOU: The Taylor-to-Purify last-second heroics covered up a disturbing sense of deja vu, as the A&M game bore striking similarities to Nebraska's collapse in Stillwater a few weeks ago. As was the case against Oklahoma State, in the first half it looked like NU was in control of the game and should have landed a knockout punch in the third quarter. Instead, mystifyingly conservative play calling and poor defensive execution (which can be traced in part to a lack of focus on the players and fatigue from being on the field the whole second half) just about snatched defeat from the jaws of victory again. It's great that Nebraska won, but there's nothing in this win that makes a fan think the problems are any closer to being solved.
- TAYLOR AT EASE: No one can say that Zac Taylor isn't clutch. My concern is his level of performance when he doesn't HAVE to be clutch. How is it that a guy can complete over sixty percent of his passes when the game is on the line, and yet be under fifty percent at the time when Nebraska is in control, and ready to throw the knockout punch?
- STRONG LEGS GO FOR IT ON FOURTH DOWN, SO WEAK LEGS DON'T HAVE TO KICK A LONG FIELD GOAL: Yeah, I know, it's a stretch. But this has been a point of concern all year in terms of field position on kickoffs. But when Callahan elected to go for a fourth down rather than take a chance on a 44-yard field goal, then we learned all we needed to know about his faith (or lack thereof) in the strength of Jordan Congdon's leg. Having a kicker who cannot be relied upon to kick a 44-yard field goal is a significant weakness in a football team that wants to compete for championships.

... AND THE ENDGAME.
The day after Thanksgiving comes again, and for the first time in three years, almost nothing is on the line. Colorado will certainly be looking for a strong end to the season by beating Nebraska on Senior Day and trying to salvage some momentum from a disastrous first year for Dan Hawkins. But even a CU win wouldn't keep Nebraska from the Big XII championship game. This time, instead of bringing hammers (as they did in '04 to "nail the coffin shut" on NU's bowl streak), the best they can do is staplers.

THE BIG PICTURE
Mission accomplished. Amazing how that phrase, made so famous by President Bush after the "end of hostilities" in Iraq, fits Nebraska's situation. Yes, Callahan and Co. did deliver the hardware they said they would, thanks to a last-second drive that will live forever in Nebraska history. But that final drive shouldn't make Nebraska fans feel any more comfortable about this team's consistent inability to finish games. Enjoy the win, enjoy the trip to Kansas City, enjoy the glory of Nebraska winning again, but do not be fooled into thinking that the order has been restored yet. As we've learned before, "mission accomplished" doesn't mean there's not a lot of hard work left to do.

THE NEXT GAME
Colorado @ Nebraska. As the game is the day after Thanksgiving, there's no line, so I can't tell you where to put your Christmas money yet. Colorado does have the 24th-rated rush defense in the country. Unfortunately for the Buffs, that's coupled with the 92nd-rated pass defense. Colorado is currently sitting at 2-9, but they have been playing better as of late. Nebraska is in danger of "mission accomplished" syndrome and not having the focus to be successful in this game. However, it IS Colorado, and after the hammer stunt two years ago it's hard to imagine Callahan not having the squad ready. Nebraska is a superior team athletically, and there's no reason that NU should not win this game comfortably. Nebraska 45, Colorado 17. (You can figure out which way to bet when the lines come out after that. Thank me for earning enough to buy your PlayStation 3 later.)

GBR, baby.

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