Nebraska Cornhuskers' Rollercoaster of Emotion: What a Difference a Month Makes

Michael HuckstepCorrespondent INovember 19, 2009

As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Memorial Stadium on October 24, the Husker fans who remained stood in frozen silence. Many of them were not sure what they had just witnessed.

A justifiably jubilant Paul Rhoads celebrated with his Cyclone players as they soaked up the adulation from the Iowa State section. Husker players couldn't get off the field quickly enough and put the nightmare behind them.

In a literal sense, Husker Nation knew what had transpired that day. Following a sound defeat by Texas Tech, Nebraska's offense had returned to the field the next week and failed on a level of genuinely historic proportions. 

Eight turnovers, four within the Cyclones' six-yard line. The eight miscues tied Nebraska's record for giveaways, set in 1972, also against Iowa State.

The naked facts of the 9-7 loss transcended several eras of Nebraska football.

The Cyclones hadn't won in Lincoln in 32 years. They did so with back-ups at quarterback and running back.

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Nebraska hadn't lost in 126 games in which they held their opponents to 10 or fewer points, a streak dating back to 1981.

But what did the defeat mean in a larger sense?

Was it another speed bump in the rebuilding process of Nebraska football?

Was it an anomaly, a day when the football gods had decided that, no matter what, the ball was to bounce the way of the Cyclones, thus ending their streak of futility on Nebraska soil?

Or was it something worse? Something much worse? The low-water mark in a decade akin to a drought for a once-dominant program?

Coach Pelini didn't have much to say, issuing terse statements while promising change in Waco the following week.

Meanwhile, Husker fans and the media were abuzz. It seemed that everyone from Auburn to Alliance wanted answers. Everyone had their own suggestions on how to turn the Big Red Bus around.

Bench Lee. Start Green. Fire Watson.

Fast forward nearly four weeks later. The Cyclones proved to be a flash in the pan, following up their emotional win with consecutive losses to A&M and Okie State. They're third in the Big XII North with a losing conference record.

Nebraska, on the other hand, rebounded with three consecutive wins, including one against Oklahoma, and sits atop the North with a half-game lead on Kansas State and the opportunity to win the division with a victory against the Wildcats this Saturday.

Before I go any further, please understand that I'm not proclaiming that all is well in Husker Nation.

It's not.

The offense has continued to struggle, managing only five touchdowns in those three wins, one of which was a fumble recovery in the end zone.

The defense has had to carry the team during this stretch and the pass rush virtually disappeared in the KU game.

During this three-game span, the Huskers allowed the Bears to rally in the second half of the Baylor game, benefited from five interceptions from OU back-up QB Landry Jones, and were aided by a drive-extending facemask call at a crucial point against the Jayhawks.

It hasn't been pretty. At times it's been down-right gut-wrenching. But the Huskers have found a way to win against their last three opponents and, whether most of you are willing to admit it or not, hardly anyone thought they would beat the Sooners.

A game that most thought would be yet another example of a South Division team trouncing a lesser North Division foe morphed into a titanic defensive struggle that, in future years, might be looked back upon as a defining moment in Pelini's career.

In Nebraska's defense, it's not the Huskers' fault that they played a third-string quarterback, Nick Florence, at Baylor. It's not their fault that Sam Bradford was re-injured against the Longhorns. The Huskers have no control over such things. They've just been playing the best team their opponents can field...and winning. Besides, it's not as if Nebraska hasn't had its fair share of injuries as well.

Now that you've indulged me this long, back up for a minute to that overcast day against Iowa State.

While you were standing there slack-jawed and dumbfounded, either in Memorial Stadium or in front of your television, did you think then, even for a second, that Nebraska would be playing for the North Division title?

The answer is no.

You didn't.

At that point, it was widely accepted that no game on their schedule was a given.

Yet they prevailed.

However, the Huskers' work is not done.

Despite being heavy favorites against the Wildcats, despite the fact that those same Wildcats lost at home against Missouri, media reports all across the great Midwest say that Kansas State relishes playing its underdog, all-or-nothing role this Saturday in Lincoln.

Meanwhile, the Huskers can only wait.



And while Coach Pelini stresses that they stay hungry and improve each week, perhaps they're feeling a small measure of pride and good fortune, while still keeping their eyes on the prize.

Fortunate because they were given another opportunity and proud that they've taken advantage of it.

So far.


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