My opening blurb under the headline of last week’s article was:
“And the time for patience begins.”
Boy, has it.
When Matt Rhule was hired as coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, we knew in our gut a rebuild was coming. Rhule was not going to roll in and win 9-10 games on the power of spring and fall practice and conditioning. A .500 or slightly over record and a bowl game were likely going to be the pinnacle.
And that was before we lost the starting QB, the top two RB’s, a backup CB, a starting WR for the season as well as another WR expected to get major playing time who quit the team and a left tackle who is on the depth chart but obviously a long way from his pre-injury self. And we currently have a starting safety and LB on the shelf for the coming game.
But the Michigan game was worse than imagined. Sure the score was only slightly worse than many people were expecting, but the start - just holy shit. A ram the ball down your throat drive for six to open. Then crap luck met bad technique to sky a deflection which landed in the hands of a Wolverine big ‘un who likely has it on a mantle or dresser right now. Of course, that was followed up by Roman Wilson doing his best Larry Fitzgerald impression. (see above)
When I expect a long day ahead and get this right out of the gate?
I won’t lie. That was rough but if I have to choose, it beats another turnover at the end to giftwrap the dub for the other team. Being down 28-0 to the #2 team in the nation is depressing but not stressful.
And oddly, I did see positives. I won’t list them all here, but I did enjoy watching Heinrich Haarberg play like he belonged against the Wolverines. 14-25 for 199 yards was a solid outing for his third game and he had a streak of eight straight completions in the 1st half while the game was still in reach (okay, it really wasn’t, but score-wise.). And while he needs to throw over those lineman as well as clean some other things up, the usual punishment for a swat is the ball slamming to the turf, not popped up like a meth head’s homemade hot dog cannon shot it. He carried 5 times for 26 yards (sacks removed) and graded out highest on offense for the 2nd straight game.
Keep in mind this was a highly recruited kid - due to arm strength and crazy athleticism - who appears to basically have been ignored his first two years especially last season. It’s hard not to cheer him on. (With zero disrespect to Jeff Sims who I also am cheering hard for but has to be seen as the #2 QB even if healthy right now. That being said, I’d place a large bet he will be needed again - and I want to see the QB who only threw three picks in 188 attempts last season.)
But the question remains, how much patience do the fans have? I said during the Michigan game, there’s bad news and good news.
The BAD news: We are much, much farther from the Top 10 than the 2021 team who went 3-9 while playing six ranked teams - three in the Top 10 - and losing by one score to five of them (and by nine to Ohio State). The current group isn’t getting that close to ranked teams this year.
The GOOD news: Our division is basically trash and it’s not wild-eyed optimism to see four wins on the remaining schedule: Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan St., Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa. (Yes, Maryland’s 5-0 but check their history. finishing out 1-6 or 2-5 is in their DNA. Even thought their current coach is solid.)
Do I truly believe that will happen? I think for me “hope” is still the operative word over “believe”. Believe isn’t happening yet. At least, not until I see us unscrew and overcome whatever curse/culture/habit got instilled somewhere in the Riley years which always finds a mix of shooting ourselves in the foot, ungodly horrible luck and surgical, criminal refereeing spring up at almost every single instance in which it’s time to go grab a “W”.
But until that time, I can keep the hope faucet running on full blast. One, because “Red till I’m dead” has become more than a t-shirt - it’s a full-on, boss-level challenge down to where I sometimes finish my workouts with thoughts that if those kids are still out there banging in practice and the weight room non-stop despite how this season’s going, then the least I can do is finish my reps because I sure as hell couldn’t finish theirs.
And Two, because I checked in with Coach Eric Taylor and I decided I’d want to be one of the few who will never give up on them, that simple.
So anyway, here’s the speech and the clip. I highly recommend the clip with headphones/ear buds and volume for the extra punch of seeing shots of the family and friends and the players reacting.
We can still bowl and a 4-3 finish would be a hell of a springboard to better things.
This season is not over. This battle is not over.
“Everybody wrote us off. Everybody. And here we are at the championship game. Right now 40,000 people have also written us off. But there are some who do still believe in you, a few who’d never give up on you. When you take that field, those are the people I want in your minds. Those are the people I want in your hearts. Every man at some point is gonna lose a battle. He’s gonna fight and he’s gonna lose. But what makes him a man, is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over.”
Go Big Red