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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

What Was Different Last Week?

While we’re all still talking about the Huskers’ exciting and memorable win over Michigan State last Saturday, I’d like to share my observations about some of the things that were different about that last game in comparison to the games earlier in the season.

  • The Home Crowd

Maybe it was the pre-game Veterans’ Day salute to our men and women in uniform past and present, or the aircraft flyover, or that the crowd could smell the possibility of an upset brewing, but whatever the reason may have been, the crowd was boisterously involved in the game from the very beginning. Of course the home crowd at Memorial Stadium is always loud and proud, but last week they were even more responsive than usual – the impact of which was surely not lost on the Nebraska players. The crowd remained emotionally committed throughout the game, even to a fault when some sections booed the 3rd quarter pass interception near the Huskers’ end zone.

  • Nothing to Lose

It goes without saying that the Huskers players have given their best throughout a challenging season studded by a series of heartbreakingly-close losses. Speaking for myself, it has not been a pleasant sight to witness the emotional pain on the faces of the coaches and players at the post-game press conferences as they answered questions about what went wrong and why they lost particular games. But at no point did I sense any feeling from the coaches or players of resignation or giving up on the season. To the contrary, they always talked about starting each new week with a fresh and determined approach.

What was different last Saturday was that the players somehow raised their effort to a whole new level. To me it appeared that they played as if they had nothing to lose. Not to denigrate their effort in earlier games in any way, but they played against the Spartans like men possessed. Just to cite one example, no-one who watched the game will soon forget the performance of Wide Receiver Jordan Westerkamp with his 9 receptions for 143 yards and 1 touchdown. While he made his touchdown reception look easy, most of his other catches were made under strong pressure at the expense of his own physical safety. He came out of the game at one point after injuring himself yet returned later to make some key receptions including two long passes down the middle of the field during Nebraska’s final game-winning drive.

  • Balanced Offense

The Huskers established the running game early on thanks largely to the efforts of Imani Cross. This in turn opened up the passing game and allowed for a much more balanced offense that we have seen in some of the earlier games. Led by Cross with his 18 rushes, with 7 more from Armstrong (including two rushing touchdowns) the Huskers racked up 34 rushes for 134 yards. Meanwhile the passing game consisted of 39 pass attempts of which 24 were successful, for a total of 348 yards and 2 touchdowns. The results speak for themselves and together with ever-present threat of Armstrong using his feet to gain yards, the Spartans defense was kept off-balance for the whole night.

  • Cold Weather

I don’t know whether the cool temperature in the 40s affected the Nebraska players but it certainly had an impact on your intrepid Aussie reporter. Even though I had ingested some small portions of warming fluids before the game, I was nowhere near as well-fortified as many of the 99,094 fans who braved the windy and body-heat-sapping conditions.

  • Reaction of the Upstairs Coaches

The spacious and well-equipped Press Box is located on the 6th floor of the West Stadium, along with a number of private suites reserved for Nebraska coaches as well as coaches of the visiting team. My habit throughout the season has been to buy a ticket to the game so that I can watch the game from somewhere amongst the crowd and listen to their reactions, but I always return to the Press Box for the final few minutes. A few minutes after the game concludes, I normally see the “upstairs” Nebraska coaches leave their boxes and head towards the elevators. So far this season the post-game parade of coaches has been somewhat similar to a funeral procession as they walk slowly together in silence, solemn-faced and deep in thought.

Last Saturday I almost missed the parade of coaches because they bolted out of their boxes right after the game was over and ran down the hallway hooting and hollering in a hard-earned and well-deserved celebration of a remarkable win over the undefeated Spartans. Their mixture of joy and relief was so infectious that I almost wanted to join them.

What Was NOT Different Last Week?

While many things were different last Saturday, it’s worth noting some that had not changed.

  • Players Belief in Themselves

While the players who spoke to the media after the game were clearly happy about their historic win, they continued to express a sentiment that had been a constant presence throughout the season: namely their belief in themselves, their teammates and their coaches. They had worked hard all year and kept the faith, and now finally they were rewarded in spectacular fashion by their victory over the nation’s sixth-ranked team. A deserving reward, if ever there was one.

  • Willingness to Fight Back

The Huskers have been down during many games this year, but they have never counted themselves out. They have fought back from very difficult positions in several games this year, including scoring 29 points with a backup quarterback in the 4th quarter against Purdue two weeks ago. That same spirit was clearly evident from both the Huskers offense and defense against the Spartans as the Big Red fought back from a 12 point deficit in the final 4 minutes of the game.

While some things were different last week and others were not, we can all be assured that the remaining two weeks of the season will be even more exciting than all of the previous nine weeks combined!

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