Friday, October 9, 2009

Huskers Show Muscle in Missouri Monsoon

I'm still dumbfounded. The game ended hours ago, but I'm still sitting here in some kind of idiotic stupor, like a kid who thought he had lost his favorite toy but then found it in the least likely of places.

Which is fitting, because a similar thing happened to Nebraska on Thursday night in Columbia.
For three quarters, the Huskers offense looked less effective than Poland's army did against Blitzkrieg tactics.

Zac Lee seemed hell-bent on trying to replicate his performance against Virginia Tech. The running game was anemic, receivers were dropping passes, and our line was getting pushed back on every play. It was truly painful to watch, and it got so bad that I even tweeted at one point: "It has become apparent the only way we are going to score is if our defense does it."

That's right—the Nebraska offense laid such an epic bomb during the first three quarters that I thought our defense would have to find a way to score two touchdowns and simultaneously keep Missouri from scoring to win.

All of which goes to show that doubting Nebraska might be a very bad idea.

First off, let me say that I know it's only Missouri. This wasn't Oklahoma. This wasn't Texas. This didn't win any championship, and it probably didn't really alter the national perception of the Huskers that much.

But compared to the alternative? If Nebraska loses that game, the entire season swings the other direction. People would have written the Huskers off, and we wouldn't have heard anything about them the rest of the year.

But a win like that? In those conditions, and particularly in that style? It gets people's attention.
Yes, much will be pointed out about the negative—like having approximately 80 yards of offense through three quarters. But numbers, stats, all that crap doesn't matter when the scoreboard reflects the true story: When it seemed there was no hope, both units, both offense and defense, rose to the challenge and responded with a kind of grit that even the most hardened Husker fan didn't know was there.

With Cody Green taking warmup snaps on the sideline, Lee decided to show why Shawn Watson and Bo Pelini had so much faith in him. A guy who couldn't hit the broad side of very large barn for the first 45 minutes threw three touchdown passes in four minutes, not only vaulting Nebraska to a lead it would not relinquish, but simultaneously turning Faurot Field into the quietest group of 70,000 people I've ever seen.

Lee's main target, Niles Paul, finally had his true breakout game. While some may have pointed to his performance against Florida Atlantic, I'd say his six-catch, 102-yard game tonight, complete with two momentum-changing touchdowns (in a torrential downpour, no less), tops that performance by a mile.

Oh, and Bo? You might want to dust off those Blackshirts. Missouri totaled a meager 225 yards and turned the ball over three times, the last two being absolute back-breakers.

Ndamukong Suh turned in a performance that hopefully will open up whatever eyes were still closed to his brilliance. For three quarters, he nearly singlehandedly kept Missouri from opening up a lead—and then, somehow, he topped it in the fourth.

His final stat line is impressive: a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, six tackles. But like most interior defensive linemen, stats don't do the man justice. He dominated that game like few players can.

I'm not the first to say it, but I will repeat it: This man has to be considered for the Heisman. The quarterback club be damned—if Suh keeps this up, he has to get an invite; otherwise they ought to throw that trophy away, because it's a fraud.

For over two hours, I sat in silent gloom, that familiar shroud of a loss creeping in. We've all felt it ruin our weekend in the past. When Nebraska loses, the world just isn't that fun. You're irritable, cranky, and sometimes downright depressed.

Watching Nebraska for three quarters, I feared I'd find myself in that all-too-familiar position.
Fifteen minutes and 27 points later, all is right in the world.

It's too early to say where the season goes from here. There's still a lot of football left to play and plenty of drama yet to unfold. But at the end of the season, and maybe even years from now, we'll look back at this game as a turning point, one where Nebraska, having played 45 minutes of the crappiest football anyone has ever seen, decided that enough was enough.

The Big Red might not be "Back." But they sure as hell are on their way.

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