Last Thursday, the Matt Rhule Era began and many notes sure felt like the last era. It was a little surreal watching it with my son in a bar in Historic Downtown Durango, Colorado where the Husker gear stuck out like a sore thumb and beyond that, we seemed to be the only people interested sports at all. It got even more surreal in the 2nd quarter when Jurassic Park Trivia Night started up hosted by two drag queens and a shirtless cowboy with chaps. Come to think of it, cowboy guy may have just been hanging out but that’s a story for another time.
Well, that and the Labor Day weekend biker rally which started zooming through the streets repeatedly. Good times.
However, as the game wound down and things began happening as predictably as ever per the previous five years, the psychological gut punches and junk swats landed as solidly and painfully as ever even though we saw it all unfolding with no shock to the system. It really was like watching a crappy movie or a sickening part of a great movie again. No matter what, Han was going into carbonite freeze and Luke’s hand was getting chopped right off again.
However, after a late evening of some Deadwood re-runs and a good night’s sleep, it was time to face the facts things weren’t all THAT bad. It was the first game of an 8-year contract with a new staff who had never all worked together before. Also, listening to Al Swearengin straighten fools out just warms the heart. (Well, here’s my counter-offer to your counter-offer - GO FUCK YOURSELF!!”)
So while talking westerns, let me just throw out my own The Bad, The Good & The Ugly, mostly in that order. Yeah, I switched it up a little.
Bad - The Running Back usage. After selling Jeff Sims as a passer who runs and promising to establish a run game, he proceeded to carry 19 times or one more than the everyone else combined.
Bad - On that note - 19 carries and brutal interceptions. This felt like the Adrian Martinez Experience.
Good - Gabe Ervin was exactly as advertised by coaches. Averaging almost 8 yards per carry, he was clearly the #1 running back.
Bad - They only gave him 7 carries. They gave 9 carries to Anthony Grant who unfortunately was also as advertised - a guy who had sunk to #3 on the depth chart due to fumbling issues. Despite this and actually being outperformed in the game by Ervin, he was inserted in the 4th quarter and, almost on cue, laid one down as the Huskers were moving the ball.
Bad - Why can’t our lineman ever stay set inside the 10-yard-line???
Bad - Very predictably, the Big 10 refs picked a couple moments to surgically swing momentum an opponent’s way. This time, it was taking a clear TD away from Ervin on a review and ignoring a blatant illegal procedure on Minnesota’s only TD of the game. If they’re truly just awful and not corrupt, these things should have started evening out long ago.
Bad - P.J. Fleck was quick as always to let his players know who deserved the credit - HIM! - as he ran at them after the game and dove up for a “Hey, catch me!” video moment. Good coach but he is such an ass.
Good - It was fun at the bar as our wild cheering coincided with the trivia crowd on occasion cracking up the bartender. Also, we went nuts on Alex Bullock’s trick play TD as the drag hostess was introducing a category. She stopped for moment and went, “ Well, thanks guys.” Big laugh from the crowd. I think they decided to appreciate our psychosis.
Good - Speaking of the Bullock brothers, those two started earning their newly awarded schollys right away. John graded out the highest on defense stepping in for the injured Nick Heinrich and Alex led all receivers in yards and scored the Huskers’ only TD. What nerves?
Good - I loved seeing Heinrich Haarberg slipped in at TE for a 10 yard grab and a first down. Now set up his Black Flash 41 Reverse already.
Good - The offensive line has a ways to go, but the improvement was evident. For both lines actually. How long has it been since the Huskers owned the trenches against the always older and bigger Gophers? They did it Thursday gaining 181 yards rushing at 4.9 per carry while holding Minny to 55 and 2.9 respectively.
Good - For that matter props to the Blackshirts. Yes, they allowed too many 3rd down conversions early but didn’t break and when it was over, they allowed the fewest yards in a game in nearly 4 years.
Good - The return all kickoffs thing worked when Rahmir busted a long one - it’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see how it plays out for them.
Good - Satterfield took some heat for calling three straight passes when he did. Okay, third down seemed like a limit-the-damage move, but the deep ball on first down was wide open and Sims just couldn’t get it close. Honestly, the 2nd down pass looked open as well if the ball wasn’t tipped.
Ugly - Had to convince the bartender I wasn’t some sort of shaman twice. First, when Grant entered the game and I chirped, “What the f**k? Why are you putting the guy with fumble issues in now??” And second when we got the ball for the potential game-winning drive and the bartender perked up and said we had a chance. My morose answer was something like, “Yeah, but what’s been happening is we give it back to them and they kick a game-winning field goal.”
Ugly - The conclusion? It’s not a bail out, I’ve pretty much been in Steve Rogers “I can do this all day” mode for a few years. But the reasonable part of my brain which disappears during games has to admit the path to beating Nebraska is still as follows - stay close, don’t take big chances, minimize mistakes and then wait for our offense to make brutal errors at the worst time.
Until the time we can show it isn’t, this the way.