Mount Pelini, ready to blow during the South Dakota State game.
That crumpling sound you hear across the Heartland is the sound of forfeiture letters from Big 12 North athletic directors being tossed into the trash. Apparently, Nebraska winning the Big 12 North is not a foregone conclusion.
Actually, maybe the Big 12 North is within reach, but Husker fans can forget about making the FCS playoffs.
South Dakota State lost their first two games to FCS opponents by a combined score of 50-17. Husker fans should drop to their knees right now and thank former athletic director Steve Pederson (aka, Sauron - look it up, it fits) for not putting Delaware or Illinois State on the football schedule.
In retrospect, there is a lot to like about this game, a 17-3 slop-fest of a victory for Nebraska. I've already contended that Nebraska was, perhaps, ever so slightly overrated at the beginning of this season.
The destruction of a sub-par Washington Huskies team last week probably created unrealistic expectations for Nebraska going in to Big 12 play. Nebraska had the ability to turn in a horrible performance, causing them to reset their focus, and still be 4-0 entering October.
So, let's call this a teaching opportunity (I'm including the coaches on this) and move on to the SWOT:
I love sophomore running back Rex Burkhead, I'm man enough to express my feelings. That kid just flat out knows how to play some football. He didn't have the most yards (66 net) or the most carries (14) or the best average (4.7 yards), but he runs with fearlessness and heart. He is the embodiment of the Pelini era and Nebraska football overall.
Two more interceptions for the defensive secondary—and there's that Alfonzo Dennard fellow again. The junior is reaping the benefits of quarterbacks refusing to challenge eventual first-round draft pick and senior cornerback Prince Amukamara.
Sophomore P.J. Smith also got into the act with an interception off of a tipped ball. At this rate I'm going to have a hard time figuring out clever ways to talk about interceptions as the 2010 campaign rolls on.
Yeah, that's a gross scatological reference, and so was the Husker's run defense on Saturday.
Honestly, if you're an upcoming opposing coach looking at film, why, why, why, would you do anything but run right up Nebraska's gut. Just pound it between the tackles like a big, high-steppin' Jackrabbit.
The Cornhuskers are starting to produce 100-yard rushers—for the opposing offenses— with regularity. Not missing Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh? HA! There is definitely something missing from the front four.
Hats off to Kyle Minett, the Jackrabbit's running back, for getting 112 yards off of the Blackshirts. What's more astonishing? Even though he clearly was South Dakota State's offensive weapon of choice he only had one negative yard for the entire game.
Back it up.
I stated this as a weakness last week, but it is obvious Nebraska has no depth at quarterback. Sophomore Cody Green, the two-time starter from last year, threw flares for passes. Under-throws, over-throws and some wild throws.
Yes, I know he only had two pass attempts, but let's look at the body of work. On the other hand, if you need a quarterback sneak from your own one-yard line, he's your man.
And this is the guy that took over for poorly performing starter Taylor Martinez. But hey, Martinez has an excuse. He was running the scout team last year when Green was playing with the big boys.
The value of an education.
The Huskers learned this week that victory is not a birthright for this team. You have to come to play no matter who the opponent is. But, more importantly, the coaches—starting with the head man himself, Bo Pelini—learned that they do not have a complete understanding of this team yet. In the postgame presser Pelini admitted that the team had a good week of practice and that he had no idea why their performance was so poor.
Normally, when a coach says something like that you'd view it as a threat. However, look beyond the words and you saw a coach that was calm, cool and collected in front of the media after a particularly bad performance.
Would you have ever thought you would read a sentence like that in describing the fiery head coach? Pelini is confident. He does know this team. And the team knows what's coming the next nine days of practice.
Check the schedule.
The Huskers have a bye this Saturday then play Kansas State the following Thursday night on ESPN.
Some media types and fans think that a bye week after such a bad performance is not ideal. I disagree. This gives the coaches and the team enough time to assess their performance through the first four games and to give all of the quarterbacks sufficient practice reps before tackling their last Big 12 conference campaign.
Plus, this team will want to completely cleanse their pallets of the rotten taste from a poor performance. The pressure to move on starts building at practice tomorrow and this team could potentially be ready to explode onto the national scene against a tough Kansas State team on Oct. 7.
Thomas the Train.
If Kyle Minnett of South Dakota State sends shivers down your spine then Daniel Thomas of Kansas State should cause you to curl up in the fetal position. The 6'2", 228-pound senior wrecking ball of a running back already has 628 yards rushing through four games this year, averaging just shy of six yards a carry.
Crusty, old (and I mean this as a compliment) Kansas State coach Bill Snyder will need to look at about five minutes of film on the Huskers this year to put together his gameplan and it will be exactly what he likes to do anyway: Pound the rock up the middle.
The Pelini brothers will need to:
a) Figure out how to run a conventional defense with actual linebackers or 2) Find out how to get 15 defenders on the field.
And yes, the recommendation and the numbering system were both jokes.
Growing up is hard to do.
After Martinez's latest performance, it looks like the Heisman race will continue to be run.
Against South Dakota State the balance between flashes of brilliance and freshman mistakes tilted clearly to the mistakes side. Two interceptions and a fumble are not acceptable and may cause the Husker's defensive-minded head coach to pull back the reigns on the offense.
The problem with that? There is no Suh-perstar on the defensive line this year and there are some pretty good running backs still to come on the schedule.
So it was a somewhat disturbing turn of events in the 2010 campaign for Nebraska.
However, Husker Nation, before you grab your pitchforks and torches on your way to storming the coaches' offices at South Stadium, grant me this brief historical narrative:
The current staff took Nebraska from 5-7 to 8-4 and a Big 12 North Division tie in year one. Then they took the team to 9-4 with an outright North Division title and came within one second of winning the conference in year two.
Now they've navigated their way through an undefeated pre-conference record for the first time since 2005 and have Nebraska squarely in the national championship hunt with a top 10 ranking in year three.
This consistency has me believing that the South Dakota State game is merely a blip on the radar on the way to greater things to come.