Sunday, September 28, 2008

Game 4: Virginia Tech 35, Nebraska 30

The most telling moment of the new Nebraska football era came following this past Wednesday's practices. Bo Pelini was short with the media, calling the sessions "average at best". Away from the cameras, the coaches were livid at all of the mental breakdowns that took place on Wednesday from all players (Cody Glenn's name came up an awful lot). Wednesdays can be the worst day of the work week. You don't have the enthusiasm that Thursday brings, or the "let's just get this weekend started" spirit of a Friday. And this Nebraska team had two full weeks of practice to get ready for what was their first real game of the year. But Pelini and staff at least acknowledging the Wednesday worry was a good sign, and it confirmed my belief that Nebraska would be able to beat a very good Virginia Tech team in Lincoln.

In fact, we figured Tech was the one game on a tough remaining schedule the Corn would find a way to put together a nice victory. Oh sure, many columnists are acting proud that "at least the Huskers didn't get blown out". Seriously, are we at that point STILL? Are we giving this coaching staff a pass for the entire year here? This was a loss, one where those mental errors that caused headaches for Pelini on Wednesday cost the Corn last night. And now Nebraska has a brutal stretch of games for the rest of the season, and even after 9 ranked teams lost over the weekend, there's only one game on the Husker schedule (Iowa State) that feels like an easy lock.

In a way, a lot of us underestimated Virginia Tech because of their season opening loss to East Carolina. We assumed that THIS was the game Nebraska could somehow squeak a win out of, before getting thumped by Missouri next week and then Texas Tech on the road. And oh by the way, everyone was (and still is) openly concerned about Missouri fan taking over Lincoln next weekend. The real shock was how well Hokie fan traveled. They were out big time in Lincoln both Friday and Saturday, day and night. I must say, for all the credit Husker fans get for being among the "nicest" in college football, these Va Tech fans are certainly an amiable lot.

Here's the major problem, one we've been pointing out for weeks: Barney Freaking Cotton. The 900 pound elephant in the room is the offensive line, something that was supposed to be one of this team's strengths. Somehow, Cotton has made the offensive line worse than it was LAST year. The Huskers can't run the ball. They won't run the ball. And this is a disaster. Let's call a spade a spade here. Pelini obviously brought a couple of coaches to his staff out of pure loyalty or to please some of the masses (we're not just looking at you, Barney Cotton, but Ron Brown as well). You have to think Pelini is seriously overly concerned about Cotton not being the right man to rebuild his offensive line. No matter how well the defense is -- and make no mistake, the Huskers have a decent one in the making and are at the very least going to do their part in keeping Nebraska in every game -- a non-existent offensive line is going to be the difference between an 8-4 season and a 6-6 or even worse record.

Oh, but let's not forget that Bo Pelini did have his own moment that could have very much cost his team the game. Husker Nation has taken to Pelini's passion and enthusiasm, going back to when he got in then Kansas State coach Bill Snyder's face after the 2003 NU/KSU game. Pelini's temper cost him last night big time when he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the fourth quarter, giving the Hokies easy room to tack on a clinching touchdown. The ironic thing is that Pelini was right to be angry (Ndamukong Suh was flagged for what was incidental contact, giving Va Tech a first down they clearly didn't deserve and sealing the Huskers fate). Pelini's outburst gave Tech a first and 10 on the Husker 11-yard line. Instead of forcing the Hokies into a field goal, Pelini's unsportsmanlike conduct put the Husker Defense in a bad spot. I'm sure Husker Nation is divided on how they feel about Bo going batshit crazy over that call. Some are pleased that Pelini stood up to the Atlantic Coast Conference officiating crew, and see this as some way to bring the entire team together. Others are livid. It reminds them of Billy C's throat slashing against Oklahoma back in 2005. They recall Osborne getting upset over a bad call, but never to the point of getting flagged for it. Pelini's got a lot of Lou Piniella in him, something we like about him quite a bit.

This week's odd Husker Sideline Guest: Rush Limbaugh. This explains why Pelini had such a short fuse last night.

Here's your Pollyanna-esque promising segment of the Husker program. This team is at least going to be competitive against everybody. Out of all things that came out of last night's loss, you can't say the entire game wasn't entertaining. Which will sure make for a more fun season than say having a team throw up 76 points on you. So after tuning up against those three pansies for the first 3 games, the Corn got a legitimate test last night. They have one of the top quarterbacks in college football, who probably isn't utilized to the best of his abilities (a lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line, and some whispers suggest Joe Ganz has a minor injury that impacts his game sometime). Nebraska's defense, as predicted, is inspired. The Shatel's and Sipple's of the world are somehow suggesting Nebraska passed this test. The idea however is to actually win the game. Until that happens against a team that isn't Iowa State this year, the Huskers haven't passed any tests.

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