We are officially one/third of the way through the football season already (I know...don’t blink). There is plenty to ponder about the way this season has gone, and I’m not really sure how it will go in the end. One thing is for sure, it has been a giant mixed bag that makes trail mix jealous.
The problem I possess is this, fans only care about 2 types of outcomes, winning and losing. I however feel games fall into 4 categories: 1. Playing well and winning, 2. Playing badly but winning, 3. Playing well but lost, and 4. Playing badly and lost. Nebraska through its four games this season has hit all of them in my opinion. There is an incredibly fine line between what is deemed “playing well” and “playing terrible”. Many would argue scoring 14 points in a win would be a “bad win”, while giving up 42 but still winning would be a “good win”. I would argue both could fall under the same category, as at least one side of the ball wasn’t great, but it wouldn’t explain the whole picture.
I would first characterize the Minnesota game as “played well but lost”. The defense played spectacularly well despite giving up 10 points late due to costly turnovers. The offense, had it not committed 3 turnovers, played well enough to win the game because it controlled the time of possession and gained more yards (I realize that semantics mean diddly poo). Games are 60 minutes long, but for 55 of it, Nebraska played well, therefore losing at the end qualifies as my 3rd category.
The Colorado game falls under “played badly and lost”. The offense was required to put up a fair number of points, which it didn’t do, plus mix in more turnovers with a tiring defense and subsequently you get handled in a game for at least the first half you were still in it. This game to me is where ultimately nobody really shined, despite the 8 sacks, because the defense gave up 36 points and 450+ yards of total offense. The offense scoring only 7 meaningful points, as the last touchdown really didn’t matter, meant it was by far its worst performance of the season so far.
Coming home definitely helped. The Northern Illinois game falls into the “played well and won” category. A team that you should be able to beat with relative ease was just that. The introduction of Heinrich Haarberg at quarterback due to the injury to Jeff Sims meant that Nebraska had a new unknown and would have to rely on its running game. Nebraska ran for 224 yards, threw for another 158, put up 35 points, and only committed one turnover. The defense gave up 3 meaningful points and less than 150 yards of total offense. A genuinely balanced, yet dominant performance.
Last Saturday against Louisiana Tech was the “played badly but won” game. Yes, the offense improved in the second half, but it definitely didn’t feel like the way it did from the week before. The passing game took a step back and the offensive line seemed to take a step back. The defense had more missed tackles than any previous game combined with the fact they gave up the second most total yards so far. Some of that was due to the weather delay, but you still have to play hard until the game is over.
Before you think the sky is falling, this season is going up in smoke, or I’m smoking/drinking something that you want/need to have, let me just say this, there is ZERO shame in playing badly and winning. It is an art form; it is what good teams are capable of, it is a positive sign for things to come. There is nothing better as a team and fan base to complain about how a team looks WHEN IT WINS! Think I’m a maniac? (please don’t ask my family) Look across the border to the east. We all laugh and giggle at Iowa and how it looks, but who has more wins in the last 10 years? They know how to be ugly, BUT WIN. The ONE thing the fan base will ALWAYS care about. Nebraska didn’t win games like Louisiana Tech in the past, so see it as what it is, a step in the right direction.
The rest of the season will be a huge bag of all 4 categories, so we’ll have to enjoy the ups and downs, starting with next week when Michigan comes calling. This is probably the only other sure-fire game that falls under “played badly and lost” but I’ll be damned if Nebraska can’t figure out any other part of any other category. I can hope (I know...) that Nebraska pulls category one from out its butt, however I’m a realist at this point. Bowl eligibility is the main goal of the season, so “playing badly but winning” is going to be a crucial part. Go Big Red!