Rewind to last football season, late October.
Nebraska had been embarrassed by Ohio State in Columbus – 63-38 if you don’t recall, or maybe don’t care to recall – and was preparing to play Northwestern, also on the road. Husker nation was in an uproar. The forecast for the remainder of the season was dire.
Starting with Northwestern, the Huskers won six in a row to advance to the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, a rematch. The Badgers were standing in for Ohio State, which was ineligible for the championship game as well as for a bowl.
For purposes here, let’s limit last season’s reference to the six consecutive victories. What happened after that – well, as I said, let’s limit ourselves to the victories.
“The biggest thing is, just everything that we want is still out there,” said the Huskers’ Quincy Enunwa, a senior wide receiver and co-captain. “We have the same record we did last year at this time, and we shouldn’t get down on ourselves just from a loss.”
The loss, Nebraska’s second, was against Minnesota. And there’s the heart of the matter. The Gophers hadn’t defeated Nebraska since 1960, 16 consecutive losses. And the Huskers had won the last 10 games by an average of 43 points
So Husker nation is now in an uproar. The forecast for the remainder of the season is dire.
Actually, Nebraska is one-victory better than it was after the Ohio State game a year ago. The Northwestern victory gave the Huskers a 5-2 record. So Enunwa was actually referring to that point in the season.
“We can still do everything we want to accomplish this year,” he said. “We just have to make sure we learn from our mistakes. Last year, we came back (from) 5-2; we won the rest of our games and got to the Big Ten championship game. There’s no reason why we can’t do that again this year.”
Except, possibly, the perception that a 34-23 loss to Minnesota is worse than the loss at Ohio State a year ago. Minnesota rushed for 271 yards, controlled the clock, was painfully successful on first down and limited the Husker offense, directed by an almost-healthy Taylor Martinez, to 328 yards.
Martinez returned after a three-game absence because of what wasn’t a turf toe, as it turns out, but another toe and shoulder problem. Now he might not play against Northwestern because of a hip-pointer. “If we played today, Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) would start with Ron (Kellogg III) filling in,” coach Bo Pelini said during his weekly news conference on Monday.
Armstrong didn’t play at Minnesota, by the way. And neither did Kellogg.
In any case, the health of Martinez wasn’t the reason for the loss. “He didn’t look like a guy that was gimping around out there,” said Pelini. “That wasn’t our issue.”
What was? As the popular idiom goes, the devil is in the details, “just the small, small details,” redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Rose said.
“It’s always been the case as long as I’ve been coaching football,” said Pelini. “Success lies in the details. You have to understand that. You have to apply it. You have to live it.”
Case in point; on Sunday after the game, linebackers coach Ross Els asked his players to say what their check calls were while watching video of the plays Minnesota ran.
“We made ‘em perfectly fine,” Rose said. “I guess hindsight’s 20-20 but, I mean, it’s really nothing special, nothing we haven’t seen, nothing that we can’t adjust to on the fly. They were lining up in some unfamiliar sets, but they were getting back into the sets they wanted to get in.”
In the meeting room, the defense recognized what it was supposed to do. “That was pretty much it,” said Rose. “So I don’t see why we can’t translate that to on the field.”
The Huskers will translate from here on out, he said. “These next five weeks, we’re going to come out with a lot more focus and attention to detail, and we’re going to correct those things.”
Which brings us back to where we began.
“Don’t think that just because we lost the game that all of a sudden, the season is over,” Enunwa said. “Minnesota played their hearts out. They played a great game against us. There (were) just too many mistakes on our side, and obviously when you don’t play a great game, you’re going to have a loss. We just need to learn from our mistakes and come back next week with a better attitude.”