Someday when we look back upon the 2013 Nebraska football season, we’ll realize it was one of the more eventful seasons in recent history. It had some great highs (wins at Michigan and at Penn State, a Hail Mary and development of some promising young football players) and it definitely had some lows (Friday’s loss to Iowa among them.)
That’s what football is about. Sure, at Nebraska we’re used to hanging banners and playing on New Year’s Day for our bowl games. We’re used to and expect a lot more than most fan bases around the country. That’s a good thing. However, we also need to keep in mind that the journey is a part of the process to returning to that ultimate destination.
Let’s reflect on Friday’s loss to Iowa. It was a disappointing outcome for sure. Nebraska did not come out of the gates very well – specifically on offense and special teams. Turnovers and poor field position go hand-in-hand. That poor field position is compounded even worse when special teams do not get the job done. When we reflect on 2013, the two biggest issues that HAVE to get corrected going into 2014 are turnovers and special teams. If those two areas were even 25% better this year, then the Huskers may have finished about 10-2. They are a big deal. The Huskers have to shore them up.
Once again I felt the defense played pretty decent football on Friday. Unfortunately, much like in the Michigan State game, the defense was time and again put into impossible situations. That happened plenty this year. You could even argue that the offense’s inability to sustain a drive and slow UCLA’s 2nd momentum back in September had as much to do with the Husker D’s struggles as anything else. Football is a team sport. You have to execute in all phases. Too often this year Nebraska only played well in one or two of those phases.
I felt once the Huskers scored on the opening drive of the 2nd half that they had weathered the storm, they had taken Iowa’s best shot, and would not seize control of the game. Give Iowa credit: they answered with a field goal scoring drive to go back up by a touchdown. The Huskers were able to hang around and give themselves a chance throughout the rest of the 3rd quarter and early 4th quarter, but could never get closer than a touchdown deficit. It still looked like the Huskers might pull this thing out when Nebraska got the ball at their own 41 yard line with 10:09 remaining in the game down 24-17. Ameer Abdullah fumbled shortly after and Iowa recovered. It seems like that was the Huskers’ last chance. You can’t fault Abdullah though; that kid was the heart and soul of this team this year. Too often he made plays when no one else would or could. Without AA (which stands for Ameer Abdullah but should stand for All-American) it’s hard to imagine what Nebraska’s offense would have become with all the injuries.
Bo Pelini was passionate on Friday. He let his emotions get the best of him at times. He apologized for it. He knows that Friday was not his best day as the Husker coach. However, make no mistake; this man has had plenty of very good days as the head Husker. A young child running for daylight and punching cancer in the face, a high school quarterback that may never be able to play again having his scholarship honored by Bo because it’s the right thing to do, an emotional and inspiring speech following the Penn State game in 2011 and countless other examples exist. You should know that Friday was a regression in what has been a major upward trend in terms of his “polish” as the head coach of the Huskers. Look for that upward trend to continue again moving forward.
The most important piece to the puzzle is the locker room. I can tell you that I’ve never been around a program in which the locker room is more behind its leader. The kids that play for Bo and have played for Bo would do anything for him. The same can be said for the people on his staff and on his support staff. These people appreciate his passion. They love his loyalty. They know a man that is different than what the cameras show.
Now we wait for a bowl assignment. It would appear that the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl versus Texas or Oklahoma is a strong possibility. There is nothing like an old rival to finish the season. Let’s support this program and these kids and help them try and achieve a 9-win season for the 6th consecutive year.