Nebraska football fans were probably not envisioning a trip to Jacksonville, Fla., to see NU play in the Gator Bowl at the start of the 2013 season. But coming off an ugly home loss to Iowa to conclude an 8-4 campaign, and all of the drama surrounding head coach Bo Pelini’s job status towards the end of the season, focusing on any bowl game will be a welcoming change.
So what should Nebraska fans be looking for as they prepare for NU to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1? Here are five things that are on the menu this holiday season.
In Nebraska’s last three games, the Cornhuskers had 10 turnovers (11 if you count the boneheaded fake punt against Iowa). Unsurprisingly, Nebraska went 1-2 in those three games, including dropping two at home.
I believe turnovers can be a bit like free throws in basketball—if a team starts inexplicably missing free throws as a unit, it can become contagious and hard for the team as a whole to stop. As simplistic as it sounds, the only way for Nebraska to stop turning the ball over is, well, to stop turning the ball over.
If the Cornhuskers can protect the football against Georgia, they can lay a good foundation to start valuing possession more in the 2014 season.
Towards the end of the 2013 campaign, Nebraska started seeing an uncharacteristic amount of dropped passes. Even reliable targets like Quincy Enunwa and Jordan Westerkamp were failing to haul in catchable passes.
Having a rotation of three quarterbacks throughout the season, of course, doesn’t help to develop chemistry or expectations about where passes will be delivered. Seeing the receiving corps, particularly those coming back next year, starting to make catches on a regular basis would be very encouraging.
Bowls have long been viewed as an exhibition, a reward for a good (or at least a winning) season. But Nebraska could really use some postseason success as a base to build upon. In 2009, Nebraska dominated Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, and a jubilant Bo Pelini declared Nebraska was back and here to stay.
Nebraska hasn’t won a bowl game since.
A win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl might not be evidence that Nebraska is back and here to stay. But it would make the narrative for 2014 a lot more positive, particularly with all the drama that ended the 2013 campaign.
As the Iowa game unfolded, it became hard to imagine that Pelini wasn’t affected by the speculation swirling around Lincoln about his job status.
Perhaps the clearest example of that uncertainty was the fake punt call—made deep within Nebraska’s own territory with NU down only one score—which reeked of desperation. And if the fake punt didn’t reek of desperation, then the postgame press conference with “Coach Chickenbleep” sure did.
When Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst announced Pelini would return as head Husker, much of the drama around the program dissipated. It’s impossible to tell how much Pelini’s job status affected the team since the shock loss to Minnesota in October. But by seeing how Nebraska plays in the Gator Bowl, we might get a pretty good hint.
Yes, it is important to use a bowl game as a springboard for the next season. But it will also be the swan song for seniors who have sacrificed a lot for the sake of the Nebraska program.
If Taylor Martinez is healthy enough to play at full capacity (and at actual full capacity, not the “I can go, coach” mode we saw in Minneapolis), then he should get the starting nod. But even if he can’t, there is a whole class of seniors that deserves to be sent off in style.
This group of seniors has never won a bowl game. It would be a great send-off for them to win their last game in scarlet and cream.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.