We learned that even in the era of global warming, Mother Nature can still have an impact on a football game when she so chooses. Mostly though, we learned how much fun it is to watch Rex Burkhead run with a football under his arm.
The Huskers division-clinching win over Iowa was ugly, no doubt. National media types who were watching were quick to heap more criticism on the Big Ten, but as one Nebraska writer noted, let’s see a couple of SEC teams play in 30 mph wind with a 12 degree wind chill and produce a masterpiece. (For that matter, let’s see any SEC team play ANY game outside their own time zone…)
A win is a win, and we’ll take it. Still, there was plenty to be critical of if you’re a Husker fan, like the play calling of Tim Beck, who didn’t have his best day, or the poor Taylor Martinez, who hasn’t had to play in that many really cold days during his life. He played like a Californian who was out of his element. Thankfully, this week’s title game in being played indoors.
In the end, the Blackshirts were terrific again, Burkhead returned to carry the offense – and the Hawkeye defense – in the late stages of the game, and Bo Pelini had his third division title in five seasons in Lincoln.
The work isn’t done yet, of course. The first two division title seasons each ended with a loss in the Big 12 Championship game, so Pelini and Co. are still in search of their first Conference championship. To earn it, they will have to beat Wisconsin for the second time this season. It won’t be easy. Then again, nothing much has been easy for this year’s Huskers, right?
We noted last week how tough it is to beat any team twice in one season. Nebraska has never done it. They’ve been involved in three rematches since 1978, with each two-game series ending up being a split. (Oklahoma ’78, Texas ’99 and Washington 2010.) Last year, Wisconsin played Michigan State twice. You guessed it, they split the two games.
Ironically, all four teams fighting for Rose Bowl berths are in the same boat this season. Stanford beat UCLA this past Saturday and now has to beat them again six days later to punch their ticket to Pasadena. If UCLA earns the split and the Huskers somehow beat UW, they will get yet another rematch, this one with the Bruins. Follow all that?
If you watched Wisconsin’s hot start at Penn State, you probably got very nervous. Curt Phillips is a very average quarterback, but he can make the throws if given the right situation. Wisconsin is still about their powerful running game. It’s an old cliché, but if Nebraska can stop the run and make the Badgers one-dimensional, they will undoubtedly hassle Phillips into mistakes. But if the Badgers get going on the ground against a Blackshirt front that won’t have Baker Steinkuhler, then Phillips will be able to hurt them with some throws.
It’s really up to Martinez and the Husker offense to dictate the tempo of this game. Get ahead (what a strange idea for this team, huh?) and make Wisconsin play catch-up, and Nebraska will be in great shape. Wisconsin may throw in the towel if they are down by a couple scores in the third quarter.
Fortunately, this team has learned to play under pressure most of the season. They know how to win, which is crucial in this game. All the Huskers wanted after the debacle at Ohio State was a chance to redeem themselves and control their own destiny. They have those chances now.