This was a game for all those fans who wish we could just turn back the clock to better times for Nebraska football.We can’t do that, but we can enjoy an old-time 73-31 thrashing of Kansas State at Memorial Stadium that definitely had a 1997 feel to it. That’ll have to do for this season as the Huskers move to 5-6 heading into their regular season finale at Colorado. More on that in a minute.
If you turn back the clock to August, during those optimistic days during fall camp, when the Cornhuskers were favored to win the Big 12 North and fans were literally counting down the hours and minutes until kickoff, this is the kind of butt-kicking performance against K-State that the Josh Freeman-hating bloggers envisioned.
Husker defenders were flying around, attacking the Wildcats on third down and forcing bad throws. NU blitzers punished Freeman and the Huskers rolled up several sacks of the rocket-armed quarterback who as a high school senior, verbally committed to Bill Callahan and the Huskers, only to change his mind at the last minute. Callahan is only 15-16 against the Big 12, but he’s 2-0 against Freeman.
Nobody predicted this, because since August, Husker fans’ expectations have been lowered quite a bit. Five consecutive losses have a way of doing that. Things got so bad that ESPN’s Pat Forde bluntly said in his online column this week that “the Huskers have quit.” But for one glorious afternoon, we got a chance to see what this Nebraska team could have been in 2007.
This was the aggressive style of defense that we’ve been waiting most of the season to see. Sure, a lot of young players made mistakes, but they made them going full speed. Husker fans had flashbacks to happier days when they realized that Kevin Cosgrove’s defense was actually attacking the opponent on third down.
Nobody – well, maybe only a hardcore, radical few – would be asking for Cosgrove’s resignation if the defensive unit formerly known as the Blackshirts had played erratically but with passion all season.
“Where was this team all year?” seems to be the question of the day. But I ask, “Where was Joe Ganz?”
If Callahan could turn back the clock, would he have played Ganz earlier this season? After the Texas A&M game, I (and many others) asked why Callahan stubbornly kept Ganz on the bench while Keller’s play slowly deteriorated. I think the junior from Chicago would have given the Huskers a much-needed spark at a time when almost any change would have been worth a try.
It took a season-ending injury to Keller to finally get Ganz off the bench. He has responded by passing for more than 400 years in each of his two starts. Against Kansas State, he broke the single-game Husker record for touchdown passes, yards and total offense. If Callahan is fired this season, as he certainly should be, he can look back and wonder why he didn’t go to Ganz earlier.
Ganz wasn’t the only reason the Huskers prevailed. Nebraska stunned Kansas State by decisively winning the kicking game, where KSU had excelled all year. The Huskers’ kick coverage was rock-solid. And when Cortney Grixby ducked a defender, then broke up the middle and into the clear for his 94-yard kickoff return, it marked the first time since Frank Solich’s debut as head coach against Louisiana Tech in 1998 that the Huskers had returned a kickoff all the way. It was the first time in the Callahan era that a Husker had returned any type of kick for a touchdown (going back to October 2002 when DeJuan Groce helped beat Missouri with a punt return for a score).
Too much bad water has gone under the bridge to rescue Callahan’s job now. But NU players and fans got a badly-needed chance to celebrate on Senior Day. It avoided one more negative “when was the last time?” scenario, as in “When was the last time that Nebraska had a losing season at home?” The Huskers finish 4-3 in Memorial Stadium this year.
Now it’s on to Boulder, where until lately, Colorado looked like a dead-lock cinch to beat the reeling Huskers. The Buffs are young but were looking very good at midseason. Since then, they have lost four of their last five to fall to 5-6 overall, without a single win over a Big 12 North foe. CU is very beatable, especially if all-conference linebacker Jordan Dizon is slow to recover from a concussion that has plagued him the last two games.
For weeks, folks out in Colorado have been looking forward to giving Nebraska a good pummeling. On Nov. 5, one columnist in the Boulder Daily Camera eagerly pointed out that on four consecutive Saturdays, NU opponents had produced the Big 12 offensive player of the week against the leaky Husker defense, and envisioned senior running back Hugh Charles piling up 100 yards on “Bye Bye Bill Day” at Folsom Field.
Another columnist in the same issue took a break from criticizing the Denver Broncos after a 44-7 loss at Detroit to say, “At least (Mike) Shanahan looked upset on the sideline. Can’t say the same about Bill Callahan, who appeared to be thinking about where to vacation with his buyout money during Nebraska’s 76-39 loss to Kansas.”
The NU-CU game could be one of the most intriguing games this season played between two teams with losing records. If the Huskers win and go to 6-6, it will be interesting to see if they get a bowl bid.
It could have been so much better. But you can’t turn back the clock.