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The Morning After: Minnesota

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Rounding up the Sunday best after the Huskers drop Saturday's game to the Gophers.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

Tom Shatel - Omaha World Herald: Writing's on the wall for Husker coach Bo Pelini

Say this about the Big Ten West: It’s put the Husker program in its place and in perspective.

Wisconsin and Minnesota are marvelously basic, efficient machines that do all the little things right again and again. They play with heart and head. They will not beat themselves. You have to beat them.

It’s clear what Nebraska football must do to survive in this league. It’s got to be more talented and more efficient than the other guys.

I’d say it’s embarrassing that Nebraska football is now getting schooled by the same style that it mastered all those years.

But you can’t really be embarrassed anymore, can you?

There was Pelini afterward, saying, "We’re not good enough. ... We don’t play very smart. ... We got into the game and it’s like we never saw it before."

And even as the coach was indicting himself, it didn’t seem to faze him or anyone listening.

He’s said it all before. We’ve heard it all before.

Still, it was a little surreal how this season has flipped in a few weeks. After the Oct. 25 win over Rutgers, the Huskers were rolling with a fleet of playmakers toward the big games in November.

But they’ve had mistakes in almost every game and overcame them with talent. The injury to Ameer Abdullah didn’t help. But eventually the mistakes caught up with this team. And there was no Hail Mary or Abdullah play to save them.

In fact, the breaks started going against them. Senior day? Center Mark Pelini went out on the first snap with a high ankle injury. Kenny Bell left with a head injury after being slammed to the turf at the end of a 73-yard catch-and-run. Randy Gregory left with an injury, but returned and blocked a field goal.

But Minnesota came back with running back David Cobb on the bench with an injury. Coach Jerry Kill has built a program on the rise, a program that has a plan and a system and believes in it.

Nebraska, well, you can finish the sentence.

Steve Sipple - Lincoln Journal Star: NU's bad day means more heat for Pelini, Beck

Wonder if Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst needed aspirin after the Huskers fell to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten with their second straight loss, and second loss to the Gophers in as many years.

Eichorst knows a significant part of Nebraska's loyal fan base thinks Bo Pelini's program is in a rut. "Four losses, here we go again," is what Eichorst will hear.

He'll also hear that Pelini tried to take the bullet for Beck's awful fourth-quarter play call that basically stalled a drive that had picked up steam. With a score on that possession, the Huskers might've put away the game. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. But Bo's loyalty to his staff and players is part of his strong overall character.

Eichorst watched Nebraska lose to a top-25 team while playing without leading receiver Kenny Bell, who left the game for good during the first series with a head injury; and starting center Mark Pelini, who also left for good during the opening series because of a high-ankle sprain. Both are seniors.

Husker standout senior running back Ameer Abdullah showed the heart of a lion, gaining 98 yards on 20 carries despite his injured knee and shoulder.

Yes, there were legitimate mitigating factors.

Still, Eichorst will hear howls of displeasure from fans — some warranted, some not.

Nebraska appears on track for a seventh straight four-loss season under Pelini (although five losses looms as a possibility). The conference-title drought has officially reached 15 seasons. Bottom line, Eichorst must gauge the temperature of the fan base and guard against discernible apathy and, worse, acceptance.

Eichorst, of course, likely will remain mum until after the regular season, at least, per his policy.

Might he ultimately feel compelled to ask Pelini to shake up his staff? You have to wonder.

Chip Scoggins - Minneapolis Star Tribune: Victory shows how much progress Gophers have made under Kill
Two years ago, the Gophers came to Lincoln and were defeated before the conclusion of the national anthem. They had no chance against the Cornhuskers that day.

On Saturday, the Gophers ended the game in Victory formation after a resolute second-half effort left an unmistakable statement on the scoreboard: Minnesota 28, Nebraska 24. They weren’t going to be denied.

And now a program that stood as a symbol of ineptitude not so long ago will play at Wisconsin next week with a berth to the Big Ten championship game at stake.

Think about that for a second. Then go ahead and pinch yourself, Gophers fans.

Enjoy this team, this moment, this week. They’ve earned this.

"We’ve come a long way," senior running back Donnell Kirkwood said. "I was part of two 3-9 seasons. I’ve been a part of those seasons, and being a part of this one now, you can just see how a program develops and how guys kind of buy in."

Kill preached patience after inheriting a mess from Tim Brewster. Kill told university administrators that a turnaround won’t happen overnight. Might take seven, eight years, he said.

The Gophers still have areas in need of growth and improvement, but they sit here with a chance to win a Big Ten championship in Year 4 of Kill’s regime.

"It’s gone a lot faster than I certainly would think," he said.

The Gophers are 9-4 in their past 13 Big Ten games. They have won five conference games in a season for the first time since 2003.

They won at Michigan and at Nebraska this season. They treated Iowa like a chew toy. They made Ohio State work until the final minute to secure a win.

Say what you will about the state of the Big Ten these days, but that doesn’t diminish the strides the Gophers program has made under Kill.

Over the last decade or more I have routinely heard Gopher fans and Twin Cities media say that this program needs to get to a place where they are competitive and every few years in the hunt for a Big Ten Championship, playing meaningful games in November.  In year four, Jerry Kill has achieved this.  The Gophers will travel to Madison to face the Badgers.  Winner gets to play in the Big Ten Championship game.  Regardless if you think Minnesota actually has a shot or if they are "good enough" to beat Wisconsin, the fact remains that they are playing a game that matters to both teams on the 12th game of their schedule.
The team that Nebraska holds itself above can win the Big Ten West Division next week by beating Wisconsin. The team that Nebraska should beat annually just beat the Huskers for the second straight season.

The team that has — maybe — a handful of players that were recruited by Nebraska, now has back-to-back eight-win seasons for only the second time since 1961. Meanwhile, at Nebraska, Pelini is closing in on his seventh straight season of at least four losses.

All it will take is a loss at Iowa in the season final, or a loss in the bowl game (if Pelini makes it to the postseason) to complete this strange — but clearly fitting — Huskers trend under Pelini.

This is Pelini in a nutshell: win just enough to make them wonder what it would be like with a few more breaks, and lose just enough to make them second-guess what it would be like if they let you go.

There can be no doubt now. This loss, a week after an absolute emasculation at the hands of Wisconsin, moves Pelini to 7-17 vs. ranked teams. Dress up Pelini’s 66-31 overall record all you want; the only thing that matters is how his teams perform in big games and where the trend line is headed.

If you’re Nebraska, and you haven’t won a conference championship in Pelini’s seven years; if you can’t win big games in your conference and can’t win big non-conference games, what’s left? You either admit that your program isn’t what it used to be and that’s not all that bad, or you rip off the bandage that has hidden the festering sore and do something about it.

You hire Jerry Kill from Minnesota and watch how quickly things turn around.

Dirk Chatelain - Omaha World Herald: Football Gods now smiling elsewhere
Pelini’s defense had multiple opportunities Saturday to grab control of the game. Most notable was a fourth-and-one late in the third quarter when nickel Byerson Cockrell lost containment, allowing a 19-yard touchdown run. It was painfully easy.

Two years ago, Pelini could blame injuries for defensive collapses. Last year, Pelini could blame inexperience.

There is no viable excuse anymore. The defensive line is loaded with talent. The linebackers and defensive backs have played a ton of meaningful snaps. And yet Pelini seems completely unable to reach them.

Unable to stop a season sliding in the wrong direction.
We can debate sideline demeanor and recruiting strategies and whatever hot buttons you want. But if Pelini can’t come close to maximizing the personnel he has — if he can’t FIX problems — it’s hard to support him.

This is the first time Nebraska has lost in consecutive weeks since October 2009 (Texas Tech and Iowa State). At the time, Pelini said this:

"I believe my vision that I have for this football team, that process is well under way. I can not proclaim that it has completely taken over yet. It is a process and it’s not something that happens overnight. ...

"I do not want by any means to make it look like I’m making an excuse. I believe we’re good enough and we have the tools to win right now. I believe that in my heart and I know that. I don’t believe it. I know it."

In the five years since, Pelini’s teams have produced enough drama to fill a generation. They’ve suffered stunning defeats and celebrated jaw-dropping victories. Over and over, they’ve skirted the cliff and lived to tell about it.

Now it appears NU’s luck has dried up. The Blackshirts are lost. And Pelini’s vision is fading further and further away, as distant as Chimney Rock. Nebraska shouldn’t need the football gods to say it:

It’s someone else’s turn.