2 things happened this weekend, nearly simultaneously, that enhanced a great weekend all the way to a truly amazing one.
1) After months of waiting, debating, and feverishly checking Twitter for equally feverish updates on the size of Randy Gregory’s biceps we’re finally here. We’ve made it through the lean, dog-days of WNBA games and all-baseball highlight shows to the promised land of football’s triumphant return to our great nation. With Nebraska’s first home game of the 2013-2014 season now officially a wrap, having defeated the Wyoming Cowboys by a score of notenough to waytoof-ingclose (*Author’s note: 37-34 if you live under a rock), it was finally time for our first post-game dissection of the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 2013.
2) The Shining was on TV approximately 37 times on BBC America. (*Author’s note: I watched it roughly 36 of those times.)
These two seemingly unrelated events actually tied perfectly together for me. The tense, ominous, slow-simmering creepiness of the Shining played well with the dread-filled-dumbbell-hitting-the-floor-of-your-stomach sensation that watching a Mountain West Conference team slowly chop into your lead and nearly pull off the upset gives you.
I’m going to do my best to not knee-jerk to a 3-point win against a team that lost to Cal-Poly last year. I’m going to try to reign in the burgeoning brush-fire of panic that comes with watching a home team with 7 Blackshirts give up 383 passing yards and 8+ yards per play. I’m going to try to remain calm in the face of a dumpster fire defense getting burned through quicker than a blunt at a Snoop Dogg concert. So far, you can see, it’s not going so well.
I can’t accurately put into words what the atmosphere was like on Saturday night as we watched our beloved Cornhuskers labor so mightily against a seemingly inferior opponent. But, with a little assist from my friends in The Shining I believe that I can more accurately depict how I felt before, during, and after the game.
At the Start of the Game
There isn’t an adjective or a metaphor that does pre-kickoff Husker football justice. Take all the party clichés, the old-timey sports-as-a-reflection-of-the-good-parts-of-human nature hyperbole, toss those in a blender with a fifth of vodka and pour over 91,000 anxious maniacs and you’re getting a little closer. When the opening notes of the Tunnel Walk spin-kick you in the chest with glorious bass notes and people around you are primally screaming like Neanderthals on the hunt and instead of judging you join right in, taking the tenor Neanderthal part and doing your best to create pre-historic, whoop-noise fusion? It’s a beautiful thing.
Blackshirts (and the 4 other guys) Force a Punt
When you have a team full of youth, you’re never quite comfortable. I imagine that Bo Pelini feels like a parent with a 16-year-old behind the wheel. Sure, they’ve passed the requisite tests and have 20/20 vision. Sure you raised them to respect the road and drive defensively, but on the inside there’s the bubbling worry cauldron full to the top of “they really just don’t know what the F- they’re doing” stew. You hope that they don’t spill the pot immediately and scald themselves. Or crash the car. Or give up a touchdown on the first play of the game. The Husker defense didn’t. Other than a foolish offside penalty on Ciante Evans, they looked okay. Early on, we were rattled, but pleased.
And Then We Were Suddenly Losing by 7
Wyoming scored in 1:57 and made things look shockingly easy. Sweat came oozing out of my already-overworked pores and I was suddenly stricken with a bout of post-traumatic-Big 10 Championship- Syndrome. I cycled through all 12-steps of being a Husker addict on the spot. Intense peaks of joy, depression, moodiness, denial, rage, and then 7 more steps of remembering the 1996 Fiesta Bowl with bittersweet wistfulness. Then I looped back to anger in a swift, manic, u-turn. This was Wyoming after all.
The Huskers Offense Had Some Bright Spots
Imani Cross looked sharp, especially on a bulldozing, dervish-whirling 31-yard TD run early in the 3rd quarter. And Kenny Bell looked every bit the part of All-Everything WR that he was billed as, making plays on special teams and offense with equally good results. Even though offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, was playing his cards so close to his chest that they were surgically implanted in his sternum, Nebraska was able to move the ball well enough. In fact, the ground game got to churning so well in the mid-third quarter that Nebraska was able to put together a 15 play, 6-minute scoring drive. The Huskers were up 31-14 late in the third and it seemed that the scales had been tilted back to their rightful balance.
But then the defense came out.
I watched in horror as Brett Smith completed 6 passes in a row and scored easier than a swingers party attendee on ecstasy.
Nebraska Responded. . .at First
Riding the hot hand of true freshman, Terrell Newby, Nebraska was able to pound the ball down the field once again and Taylor Martinez delivered a strike to Quincy Enunwa. Nebraska was up 16 points with 11:38 to go in the half. Right as Wyoming seemed to be putting together another inexplicably efficient drive, Ciante Evans came up big with an interception. Crisis narrowly averted, and chest paddles still charging for their potential defibrillation, Nebraska started a drive of their own.
The Huskers were ground-gaming their way downfield, getting closer. Ever closer. When Martinez tossed an interception and immediately transported me back in time to 2012. Or 2011. Or 2010. Or maybe we were just in some alternate reality, an un-funny Groundhog’s Day? Was I a fatter, less funny, Bill Murray?
Then Things Really Got Weird
Wyoming scored in 44 seconds. Two passes and just like that, we were only up by 10.
Nebraska Got the Ball Back With 6:02 to Play
In desperate need of a clock-grinding drive, the Huskers found themselves faced with a crucial 4th and 1 on the Wyoming 39. Martinez kept it on a quarterback sneak and somehow found himself struggling to gain the first. In a wild, headlong effort to breach the first down line Taylor Martinez got a little too Taylor Martinez and coughed the ball up.
Wyoming promptly scored a touchdown. It took them 29 seconds to go 62 yards. Nebraska was only up by 3. I heard a little boy screaming, his voice shrilly cutting through the now-sarcophagus quiet Memorial Stadium. I realized it was me.
The Husker had the Ball Back Once Again
All they had to do was eat up as much clock as possible. Wyoming had all three timeouts but there was only 1:32 to go. The Huskers ran 3 times, gained 6 yards and Imani Cross ran out of bounds, gift-wrapping the Cowboys an extra timeout.
Wyoming Ball. Down 3. With Our Defense on the Field?
And Yet. . .
Somehow we held. Thanks to two egregious holding penalties (*Author’s note: Wyoming had been holding all game and, thus, probably assumed they’d be able to continue to do so with the game on the line.) and a defense that decided to hang tough. Somehow we had escaped with out lives, if not our dignity, intact.
Allow me to try to explain how this near-loss to Wyoming happened.
Maybe Our Defense Just Needed This to Wake Up. Sure We’ll See a Resurgent Blackshirt Unit That Learns From This Aberration and Rights the Ship. Surely There Won’t be Any More Games Like This, Right? Right?!?!?