Nebraska V.S. Michigan: Belittling the Big House

Posted: November 18, 2011 in Sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Can you taste that, Husker fans?  Drink it in.  That’s the chaser.  The upcoming game that already tastes so incredibly sweet when compared with the foul taste of that last one; after that warm-Barton’s-Vodka-tasting shot of a game, let’s quickly grab ourselves a giant chaser to fight down the gag reflex. 

How can we put into words what was the Penn State game?

Yes, we won.  No, we didn’t care that much. 

It was such a strange conclusion.  Victory without joy.  Athletic successes juxtaposed against the backdrop of moral failures. A gigantic road win against a top 12 team that wasn’t the storyline.  It was strange and sad and mournful and, somehow, in the midst of it all I found myself extremely proud to be a Nebraskan.  For the way we handled the game, as trivial as it was, and for the way we managed to give a struggling, reeling town a sense of normalcy if only between the white lines on the field.

The Penn State game wasn’t really about football.  It was about escapism and pride in where you come from and really anything but the actual sport.  The Nebraska athletic department, suddenly finding themselves waist high in a murky quagmire of scandal and media-frenzy, handled themselves well.  Bo Pelini, for his part, wielded as deft a touch as we could have imagined, given the circumstances.  For a man who so often resembles the human version of a hammer, Bo was succinct, thoughtful, and well-spoken.

The story was dark and vile and, for a few moments, I was worried we’d get pulled into the blackness.  We were passing very near a black hole and the abyss was a gaping, hungry maw.  But we made it through, thank the Heavens.  We got pulled in close to a story that cast light into the midnight-black mind of a real life villain; came face to face with a veneer that, when cracked, revealed rotting, decrepit morality underneath.

Drink up fans.  Let’s get a chaser in here quick.  To the dawn, everyone, to the dawn.  Where a new game, fresh start, and a chance to forget for another weekend what is happening in a sad place called Happy Valley.

The chance to play Michigan in a football Mecca like the aptly named “Big House” is one that Husker fans have been waiting for ever since 1997.  Sure, we played Michigan in 2005 and came away with the win.  But my bloodlust for the maize and blue stems from a much deeper wound: the split national title in 1997. 

This travashamockery (*Author’s note: travesty+sham+mockery+I’manidiotthatenjoysbeercommercialswaytoomuch) was such a slap in our greatest-run-in-college-football-history faces.  After downing Ryan Leaf in the Rose Bowl, despite my brother and I’s attempt at a large and elaborate amount of voodoo (*Author’s note: this highly scientific ritual involved writing down each player on Michigan’s team on a strip of tape, placing the tape on a Pee Wee Herman doll and beating the holy hell out of the toy.  Highlights included sawing off the tip of his nose and using our little league bats to launch Herman’s creepy, smiling grin across the basement.  Needless to say, my parents were not amused.), and Nebraska defeating Peyton Manning and a Tennessee team that was good enough to win the national title the following year without him the table was set for what appeared to be the Huskers’ 3rd national title in 4 years. 

As fate, and the AP Poll — proving themselves forever to be morons and flicking the proverbial cigarette butt into the dry tinder of “Nebraska Will Forever Be Hated By The National Media” guy — intervened.  The title was split and the debate has raged on ever since.  The BCS was created to end these kinds of debates, and line the pockets of people with superficially important titles, but since it was the last non-BCS year it will forever be a thorn in both programs’ sides.

This Saturday, ostensibly, has little to do with that ill-fated split of the title in 1997.  But there’s little doubt two proud programs will remember it with equal venom. 

Here are some of the key questions to keep an eye on during Saturday’s game:

How Will The Huskers Contain Denard Robinson On the Ground?

First a brief breakdown of Denard’s statline for the last two years, brought to you by the good people of holyshityoucan’ 6,776 yards of offense and 57 TDs. That’s a little under 4 miles of offense.  Robinson has earned more than a 5k worth of yardage for his team.  If you’re playing college fantasy football, he’s probably scored a bajillion points for whomever was lucky enough to get him.

Of all these stats what worries me the most is one that you can’t quite quantify.  Not even his road-race amount of stats.  Not his video game like touchdown stats.  It’s his innate ability to escape the pocket and haul ass downfield like he’s got a JATO strapped to his back.

Nebraska has struggled mightily against mobile quarterbacks this year.  The worst-in-years d-line made Russell Wilson look like Barry Sanders and Braxton Miller was shredding the Blackshirts with his legs before the Huskers injured him.  Against Northwestern the Wildcast did better without Dan Persa.  Why would a struggling offensive team do better without their star QB, you may ask despite a clearly emerging pattern based on what I’ve written above?  He was more mobile.

We’ll have to figure out a way to stop Robinson from running.  Which leads me into the next question. . .

How Much Dennard on Denard Crime Will Be Perpetrated?

Alfonzo Dennard has been coming on strong in the last few games for the Huskers, displaying the lockdown cover abilities that have many projecting him as a high draft pick this April.  Denard Robinson’s penchant for throwing jump balls, some ill-advised and far-too-long-hanging, will test our defensive backs’ body control and cover skills.

With a bevy of talented wide receivers, the Husker DBs have their work cut out for them.  Winning those jump balls will go a long way towards shutting down the passing game.

Will Tayvid Copperfield Continue His Be-Gloved Magic Show?

Martinez’s stats through the first 5 games of the season: 50.46% Completion percentage, 4 Touchdowns and 3 interceptions (*Author’s note: all three did come in one game against Wisconsin, so these numbers are slightly skewed). 

Martinez’s last 5 games: 62.26% Completion percentage, 6 TDs and 2 ints. 

Those numbers are significant.  Martinez has gone from Boom-Or-Bust dynamo to a half-boom-rarely-bust game manager.  Which is exactly what we need.  His throwing style is still hideous, he still misses open receivers from time to time and he has received little help from a receiving corps that suddenly has been afflicted with a serious case of dropping passes.

So what’s the secret?  Has he matured into the smart, confident quarterback we prematurely believed him to be last season?  Or are the gloves magic?  (*Author’s note: I’ve found myself referencing these gloves at an unparralleled level this season.  In my “Repeated Glove Mentions BCS Standings” Martinez has shot up to 2nd place behind perennial frontrunner O.J. Simpson)

Martinez is like Rogue from the X-Men.  Gloves on: he’s safe.  Calm.  Non-dangerous.  But when you take those bad boys off, he can suck the life right out of you.  Ask anyone that watched the Wisconsin game.

The Huskers’ season is at the precipice.  Make no mistake, which way this team goes — up to the peak or over the cliff to another mediocre demise — will rest largely in the gloved hands of a magician who is. . .going Rogue.


  1. Sean Breslin says:

    I definitely think Nebraska will win this game. Great post!

  2. Sue Tolles says:

    “human version of a hammer” you have such a way with words. Robinson has thrown 13 TD’s this year but………he has also thrown 13 interceptions. We’ll know soon.

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