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Nebraska Showed Glimpses of What Could Be and The Morning After

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s 28-21 win over Rutgers was a glimpse into what could be. It was also a painful reminder of what Nebraska football was in 2020.

It has been a long frustrating season and it appears it might have ended on a positive note. Piling up 620 total yards of offense is impressive no matter who is the opponent. No it was not against Minnesota or Northwestern. In those games, Nebraska’s offense looked inept to be kind.

It did not look inept last night.

Nebraska’s defense was also impressive even though it came against a backup quarterback. Nebraska turned the ball over four times. I mean, Adrian Martinez turned the ball over four times. Every time Nebraska’s defense showed up and did it’s job. They gave up nine first downs and 290 total yards.

They did their job. Nebraska’s offense did their job at times. When they were clean they looked like the offense we saw at Central Florida. When they had untimely penalties and turnovers they looked like Nebraska has in 2020.

Regardless, there were three freshmen and one sophomore starting on the offensive line last night. That group produced 365 rushing yards on 58 attempts.

That’s what this program has turned into at this point. Glimpses of what could be.

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The very first play was the worst play, but also only a false alarm.

It was a 50-yard slap across the face, as Rutgers found its dangerous receiver Bo Melton inside the Nebraska 25-yard-line. Oh boy.

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The victor was dog tired.

Not just from the evening, although it was three hours of roller-coaster winding exhaustion in its own right. Rather, he appeared tired from the whole marathon, the strain that goes with running the most watched operation in the state of Nebraska for nine months amid a pandemic, while also dealing with something with more meaning than all of that – the loss of a father.

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That’s how you finish a pandemic football season, on an open-freezer Dec. 18 night in an empty stadium in the middle of New Jersey.

With smiles, hugs, a little offensive mojo and, yes, victory.

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Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time to grind our teeth. Months to chew on the turnovers and penalties and games Nebraska could’ve, should’ve, would’ve won in 2020 … but didn’t.

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Cam Taylor-Britt pops into the offensive huddle sometimes just to reassure that group the defense has their back. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander will tell his guys they should want to be on the field. If there’s a little bit of anxiety between the two sides of the ball, no one shows it. Nebraska’s defense seems fine carrying the Huskers.

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Bear Bryant won 323 football games over 38 seasons as a coach. Or, rather, he didn’t lose 323 games.

I know, that’s not the way anyone likes to view this game. That’s the thing you’re supposed to avoid according to the classic cliché. It’s better to play to win than to play not to lose, right? That’s what we’ve all been taught.

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In the second half of the ninth straight Big Ten game in as many weeks, the weight that Rutgers carried on its back during the strangest and most challenging season that I’ve ever witnessed finally broke them. Three 90 yard plus touchdown drives later for Nebraska proved that notion to be true, resulting in a season ending 28-21 defeat.