After a flat performance against Colorado, Husker fans will be doing a lot of rationalizing this week as we head to Jerryworld to take on the Texas Longhorns. We'll be hearing it throughout offices wherever Husker fans can be found. It'll sound something like this:
You remember the play, right? Holt catches the ball and takes a step in the end zone before he tumbles to the turf and the ball comes out after he's already finished (not completed, unfortunately) the play.
What a minute difference between a catch and an incompletion. Had that catch been ruled a completion, the Huskers would have beaten Virginia Tech, been highly ranked and it may have changed the whole season. That's one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that it wouldn't have changed much about the season other than the Huskers would have a better resume'.
Niles Paul shoulda gotten after that incomplete lateral against Texas Tech.....
One week after the amazing fourth quarter comeback against Missouri, the Huskers come out flat against a Texas Tech team starting a backup quarterback. Zac Lee throws a low pass that Paul can't handle, and the next thing you know a Tech defender has returned it for a touchdown.
The Texas Tech loss stands as the only game in which the Huskers gave up over 20 points, 14 if the defense woulda kept Colorado from a cheap score on the final play of last Friday's game. Perhaps the coaches will use Tech to remind the Blackshirt defense what can happen if they don't "turn it up" the moment they step on the field.
If only Paul woulda held onto the ball when he had that 72-yard pass play against Iowa State.....
I can't think of another game in recent history that can be so easily dismissed as freakish as Iowa State. Eight turnovers and a loss by two points, and the play that most appropriately defined the game was Paul's inexplicable drop and turnover near the goal line. The other inside-the-five fumbles can be explained away by Traye Robinson getting stripped when he was trying too hard or Roy Helu's injured shoulder. But Paul's play cannot. It remains as both a highlight and lowlight of the season.
But again, what difference does it make? Instead of finishing 6-2 in the Big 12, Nebraska would be 7-1, but either way still be Big 12 North champions. In fact, there's an attitude that the Iowa State game was a turning point in the season as it served as an eye-opener for a team that wasn't playing nearly as well as it could.
If Roy Helu/Rex Burkhead woulda been healthy for the whole season.....
I don't think it hurts to wonder about the possibilities had both these players been available and 100% for every game this season. Helu showed why he's one of the best running backs in the conference, but had a few flat games that were excused due to a shoulder injury. Burkhead gives the offense a straight-ahead, always-gaining-yardage approach that's a wonderful alternative to Helu.
Burkhead is back heading into the Texas game, so we've got that going for us. Helu has been playing better towards the end of the season, just like in 2008. Would an all-conference award for Helu make any difference heading into the championship game other than to make ourselves feel better about our chances?
If Shawn Watson woulda listened to Tom Osborne earlier in the season......
This one is more devious than the rest because of the implication that all of the offensive woes could be solved by replacing Watson with someone else, particularly if that someone were named Osborne.
Fact is, Watson has the offense playing well enough that the Huskers are on a five-game winning streak despite all the ugliness. He can't magically make his offensive tackles faster than they are any more than he can make Zac Lee a tougher runner. He's done well to adjust to his team and pull a winning season out of them.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda comments are all about making the Huskers sound like a better team than they really are. It's okay to make them. It's human nature to talk down an opponent, especially one like Texas, a team that has all the advantages.
The key point to remember, though, is that none of them make a difference. Nebraska accomplished their major goal of the season in winning the Big 12 North and getting a shot at the conference title. Despite all the offensive difficulties, the fumbles and miscues, the Huskers have a chance at an incredible season, and all this in Bo Pelini's second season as head coach.
And who knows what affect a 9-3 record will have on the Longhorns? We might hear the talking heads on television play up Nebraska's defense to build an audience, but the online talk (and newspapers, if such things still exist and are read in Austin) will be completely one-sided for Texas. The point is, maybe that record plays to our benefit as the 'Horns come into the game believing they're all that and find themselves losing by three points on a last-second Alex Henery field goal.
Or perhaps I'm just rationalizing.