All week, Nebraska fans blasted Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and the Cornhusker defense for getting pushed around by Ball State. There were boos floating around Memorial Stadium for much of the that game and calls for Cosgrove’s resignation for six days afterward. Some people thought it was overreaction. They were concerned that a cadre of leather-lunged Nebraska fans was putting too much pressure on a bunch of 20-year-old college students.
It turns out that the hardcore Husker Nation didn’t put nearly as much pressure on the Blackshirts as the Huskers’ own offense did Saturday against lowly Iowa State. Perhaps irked by continually being called on to save the day the week before, the Husker offense turned the ball over three times, went three-and-out on three other occasions and generally wore down its defensive teammates by giving the ball back so the Iowa State offense.
Incredibly, Iowa State ran more than 100 plays from scrimmage in a losing cause Saturday. The Huskers never really took control of the game. It took a pair of touchdown set up by long interception returns by Bo Ruud and Courtney Grixby to finally subdue the 1-4 Cyclones.
Despite its offensive inconsistency, Nebraska outscored Iowa State 35-17, moving to 4-1 for the season, so why does it feel like these Huskers are ill-prepared for what could turn into a very bloody October? Nebraska is a team without momentum moving into games at Missouri, at home against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, then on the road at Texas.
The Blackshirts, to their credit, kept fighting hard throughout the game, although they gave up more than 400 yards to possibly the worst team in the Big 12. The emergence of several young players could save this defense and actually make it a good one by season’s end.
The Nebraska offensive line looked very soft at times. Aside from Marlon Lucky’s 41-yard touchdown burst on the first drive of the third quarter, the Huskers could generate only four first downs in the second half. Nebraska rushed for only 130 yards against a below-average Cyclone defense that has exactly one All-Conference-caliber player – linebacker Ace Bowen, who bewildered the Husker offensive line all day.
The Huskers have no real momentum heading into the midseason. Cosgrove’s defense improved while Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson’s unit took a step backward.
Kansas State, which was expected to finish behind Nebraska in the Big 12 North, defeated top 10-rated Texas for the second consecutive season. Colorado, which was expected to finish behind Nebraska in the Big 12 North, shocked No. 3-rated Oklahoma.
Nebraska fans can be thankful the Huskers weren’t playing in Folsom Field, where Colorado came from 17 points behind to stun the Sooners 27-24 with a 45-yard field goal on the game’s final play. CU Coach Dan Hawkins has done more with his young Buffaloes this year than Bill Callahan has with the more experienced Huskers. Hawkins has his signature win over a top 10 team just a year and a half into his tenure at CU. Callahan is still looking for his first such win, and he’s well into his fourth season.
Hawkins has shown that it’s about heart and emotion and effort, not just size, speed and top 20-rated recruiting classes. If you compare the talent on the NU and CU rosters, NU wins by a wide margin. If you compare results on the field, Nebraska has no clear advantage.
Nebraska has a lot of good players who are not really playing together well as a team right now. Ultimately, that is Callahan’s responsibility. Can Callahan coach as well as he recruit? That continues to be the question that dogs the former NFL coach throughout his tenure in Lincoln.