Pipe Down Back There
No Husker fan walked away happy with what they saw against USC Saturday night. The Huskers could neither run the ball nor stop the run â€“ two pretty big keys to winning football games. But the Huskers were facing the top-ranked team in the country. How did Florida look against Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl or Tennessee against Nebraska in the 1998 Orange Bowl? A lot like Nebraska did two nights ago. Each team went on to win a national championship the following season. Losing badly to a great team does not spell the end of a program.
Yet some Nebraska fans would have you believe that. The same fans that scream that Callahan needs a â€œsignature winâ€? - now. They sound like the child in the back of the car that keeps asking â€œAre we there yet?â€? To them I say, â€œPipe down back there! You'll know when we get thereâ€?.
The Rearview Mirror
Here's some quick history. Tom Osborne's final four teams went 47-2 (a 95.9% winning percentage). Over Frank Solich's first 49 games Nebraska went a very healthy 42-7 (a 85.7% winning percentage). Over his next (and final) 28 games, Solich went 16-12 (a 57.1% winning percentage). If there's a better definition of â€œgravitating toward mediocrityâ€?, I haven't seen it.
Bill Callahan got off to a shaky start trying to run a West Coast Offense with option personnel, producing a 10-10 record over his first 20 games (a 50.0% winning percentage). In the 20 games since, he's gone 14-6 (a 70% winning percentage) which is noticeably better than Solich's performance over his last 28 games. In fact, it looks like he's â€œgaining on a national championshipâ€? to borrow a phrase.
The Road Ahead
But Nebraska's not there yet. Probably not until they roll out a line with a mature D.J. Jones, Jaivorio Burkes, Bryce Givens, Dan Hoch, and Baker Steinkuhler will they be able to steamroll ranked teams the way USC did on Saturday. And to be able to stuff the run like USC, Nebraska will need more help from the front seven like they could get from Cameron Meredith, Will Compton, Shaun Mohler, Sean Fisher and Eric Harper.
Of course, those guys are all pretty young which means the cries of â€œAre we there yet?â€? will continue for a while. But in the meantime, there are still positives to take from Saturday night. Sam Keller showed he is ready for prime time. Mo' Purify looked his best since Colorado a year ago, and both Todd Peterson and Nate Swift played well. Cody Glenn was healthy enough to contribute (which will mean a lot over the course of a long season). The Nebraska secondary held the Trojans to 4.8 yards per passing attempt which you'd take against anybody.
The next three games are critical. Ball State is no bye week coming off a win over a bowl team from a year ago. Likewise, Iowa State â€“ the laughingstock of the Big 12 after two weeks â€“ upended the Hawkeyes on Saturday to serve notice that they are not to be taken lightly. Both games should be a good chance for the Huskers to work on running the ball and stopping the run. Then comes the â€œrealâ€? big game for the Huskers at Missouri. If the Huskers sit at 5-1 at that point, all of the whining about USC should fade a bit. It would be kind of like having a DVD player in the minivan for the kids.
Saturday was a bad night, but let's not make things worse by screaming the sky is falling. Drink your sippy cup. We'll get there.