Sunday, November 22, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 17, Kansas State 3

Pardon the prelude, but Saturday was a challenging day. In the morning, I went to my Uncle Ronald Runge's funeral, then drove home, changed, and went to the NU game. I'm not sure I've had a day of such contrasting emotions. But it reminded me, both during the funeral and during the game, that life's moments are precious. Don't ever allow them to be stolen by fear, selfishness, laziness, or greed. Our time on this Earth is far too short to not passionately live each moment that we're privileged to be given.

My uncle was an attorney and an author, and was a massive character in our family. I learned a lot from him, and his absence will be felt by myself, my family, his beloved Minnesota Twins, and the people who knew him. But Uncle Ron was good at not letting life's moments be stolen from him by the static of daily living. If nothing else, if his life is a challenge to the rest of us to use our time on this Earth well, then his is the legacy of a life well lived. Rest in peace, Uncle Ron.

THE GOOD ...
- NOT BREAKING: As in, bending but not. After going up 17-3, NU's offense sputtered and the Purples spent a lot of time in Nebraska's half of the field. But the Blackshirts stiffened, preventing KSU from putting points on the board after the first drive of the game, which prevented them from regaining any momentum and putting pressure back on the offense.
- ALEX MONEY: Give punter/placekicker Alex Henery the MVP award for the season. I know Ndomukong Suh has been a monster, but Henery's punting mastery was crucial in NU's win over Oklahoma, and was crucial against KSU. He hit two punts which bit sideways and went out inside the Purples' 5 yard line, flipping field position and forcing the 'Cats to drive a really long field. For my money, he's been NU's most important player all year.
- CHANNELING HIS INNER BELICHEK: Prior to NU going for it on fourth-and-one at the end of the game, a guy in front of me asked if head coach Bo Pelini would go Bill Belichek and try for the first down. We laughed, thinking how ridiculous that would be. Then Zac Lee and the offense came out, and got the first down. I understand there were football reasons to do that (primarily to let the offense stay on the field to win the game and to show confidence in them after a poor second half), but I can't believe that bit of Pelini bravado didn't have something to do with the 2003 confrontation between then-defensive coordinator Pelini and KSU head coach Bill Snyder. Whatever the motivation, it was great to see ... because it worked.

THE BAD ...
- THE TURTLES: After Nebraska went up 17-3, it appeared the team felt like they had enough points to win and all the offensive rhythm of the first half dissolved. NU didn't cross into KSU territory until later in the fourth quarter, and the defense was left on the field for an extended period. While it's hard to argue with the result, NU had a chance for a knockout punch in the early third quarter and failed to deliver.
- CURIOUS STRATEGY: Two weeks in a row, now, NU has used an ... interesting plan on defense. Let a wide receiver break wide open up the middle, let him sprint to about your own three, then force a fumble. It's great when it works, but it's not terribly sustainable. Against both the Jayhawks and the Purples, NU avoided early second-half, potentially momentum-shifting touchdowns by the thinnest of margins.
- TIPPING YOUR HAND: In the fourth quarter, when NU looked like they were going to open the playbook up a little, they tried the option pass that worked so well against KU the previous week. Apparently, KSU saw that tape because they sent a backside corner blitz and got a free blind-side hit on Lee. Forget being happy he didn't fumble, I was just happy the kid stood up.

... AND THE BIG XII NORTH CHAMPIONS.
I'm happy Pelini and Co. didn't celebrate like they had won something monumental by clinching the North, and I'm glad NU doesn't list division wins on the "wall of fame" on the side of the pressbox. But make no mistake, it's a big deal for NU to win the division in Pelini's second year. It's even more amazing to consider that NU won the division in the same season that they lost to Iowa State at home. NU is definitely a work in progress under Pelini, but the kind of toughness demonstrated by a team to lose such an embarassing game to the 'Clones, then turn around to win the division, bodes very well for the future.

THE BIG PICTURE.
Please, stop with the silly talk about how it's not good for this average Nebraska team to go to the Big XII Championship against Texas. First of all, NU's defense is good enough (particularly with a week's rest) to avoid an embarassment. But even if NU did get run off the field by Texas, being there is still better for the program than not being there. If the North is going to be down, then it's up to Nebraska to make sure they're the dominant force in the North. And, any time you have a one-off situation, anything can happen (see State, Iowa). NU is one win away from their first BCS game since 2001. There is nothing - nothing at all - bad about that.

THE NEXT GAME: Nebraska vs. Texas, Dallas, TX. Whoops! Strike that. Nebraska @ Colorado. Yes, Nebraska, you still have to go to Boulder even though the division is wrapped up. CU put an inspired, tough performance together against Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Thursday, coming up three points short. Say what you will about Dan Hawkins coming just a bit short of his ten-win-or-bust proclamation at the start of the season, the Buffaloes are still playing for him. Plus, CU will be coming off an extra three days of rest, while NU has a short week before a Friday game. There's a witches' brew of circumstances leading to the conclusion that this game will be closer than expected.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 24, Colorado 20.

NU-KSU pictures:
http://picasaweb.google.com/patrickrunge/KansasStateNebraska09?feat=directlink

GBR, baby.

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