Imagine you are in a dark corner of an old dusty Husker bar in Norfolk, NE. A good ol’ boy, Boss Hog looking man comes walking in and ships up to the bar, sitting on a rickety, wooden three-legged stool. You think to yourself, this man has to be tipping six bills. You watch intently, partially anxious that at any moment, one wrong shift will splinter a leg and sending the mass of man tumbling to the ground.
Thus is the the story of the Nebraska defense. One leg is the front seven, one is the secondary and another is the scheme. If one fails, the offenses of the Husker opponents will come tumbling down like an avalanche toward the end zone and there will be no stopping the scoring.
After game one we are seeing some cracks. A big, talented but young front seven got gashed again and again. A more veteran secondary got torched like kindling for over 300 yards. The scheme may not be fully realized by either squads. It all resulted in 600+ yards and 34 points allowed … to Wyoming.
How dare an inferior team come into our house and rack up over 600 yards. How dare they not bow down to the Big Red. How dare they challenge Husker Power. Who are they to think they can shock the world?
And try they might, unlike many other underdogs who had their day, the Huskers won.
Is there any joy that comes from beating a team by three points? Some might say there is joy in beating an Ohio State by three, but not a Wyoming. What’s the difference? Doesn’t a win by three count the same as a win by 31, even to most voting powers and binary prognosticators?
I would almost rather a team, especially a young one, face some adversity and this game was full of that. Never mind the score, but we saw a defense get learned, we saw the our star quarterback nurse a wing and we question the mid and late game absence of the star I-back. But was also saw sparks of the defensive future, was saw Taylor gut one out and continue to perform at a brave level, and we saw a Newby get his legs. Watching the Huskers lead by just three at the half, take it up to 17 points, just to blow it again late, it was more sweat then I was comfortable with in week one, but the result is what matters. Not the style points.
Let’s discuss another three-legged stool, one that is solid as steel, the offense. Martinez completed 77% of his passes, a personal best with more than 20 attempts. Sure he threw an interception, but that was as much on the rookie receiver as it was Taylor, and sure he got hit with a lost fumble, but that was on a 4th down play and was a turnover on downs anyway.
The monster that is the rushing team of Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby compiled 375 rushing yards and six yards per rush. The receiving corps branched out to more than just the offense as well. The Quincy Enunwa touchdown catches were a statement to the rest of college football that there is a beast amongst us, but the special teams MVP was Kenny Bell. Bell downed a couple punts, made a glorious open-field tackle on another, averaged 36 yards per kick return and, oh by the way, caught seven balls for 57 yards.
One thing was clear … Wyoming Quarterback Brett Smith is legit. His play reminded me of another Brett. And no I’m not getting into hyperbole and saying that Brett Smith is Brett Farve, but he reminded me of old No. 4. His pace on the ball, his game smarts, his toughness, his sheer will to never quit and when he broke down when it was over I felt his pain. He left everything on Tom Osborne field. This game meant more to Wyoming than it did Nebraska, and Smith personified that spirit.
Touting Smith leads us back into our rickety three-legged stool. The defense got off to a shaky start, played better in the middle, but got complacent. There were cracks, and against a more complete team, there would have been a failure and Boss Hog would have flat lined Husker Power. I would have loved to see the defense get more push and pressure to not allow Smith to look quite that good. I suppose we have to have faith that will come.
Say what you will about this being deja vu from last year and that Nebraska is one dimensional and will go as the offense goes. But I want to leave you with this. As good as the offense was, the stool didn’t collapse. The two goal line interceptions by Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans are the reason the Huskers are still 1-0 today and the reason Nebraska has now won a nation-leading 28 straight season openers. For all its shortcomings, Nebraska won this game because of the defense, not despite it.
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