Photo Showcase: Nebraska-Northwestern (action)
Photo Showcase: Nebraska-Northwestern (fans)
• Video Below: See NU coach Bo Pelini and others at the postgame press conference
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LINCOLN — There aren't any afternoons off in this league. Say what you will about the Big Ten. It's not very good. It's boring. On and on. But you can't just clock in and put your feet up in this corner of the football world.
Nebraska did just that on Saturday and look what happened: Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25.
Play it again, Bo.
Yes, we've seen this before. We've heard that eerie silence as 85,000 shuffle out of Memorial Stadium in shock. And why does this always happen at home?
We saw it two years ago when Iowa State kept taking what NU was giving, shrugged, and left with a momentous victory. A year ago, Texas was a team Nebraska should have lined up and beaten, especially Texas in 2010, but the Big Red came out overzealous, or flat, or whatever. Same result. Big disappointment.
So here we are again, same time, different place, with Nebraska suddenly controlling its own destiny in a place called the Big Ten Legends Division.
Control doesn't last very long around here.
Call it the annual gag. Or the yearly hiccup. But until Nebraska learns to avoid this sort of glitch, there won't be any BCS bowls or conference championships in Bo Pelini's program.
The good news is the Huskers now play in a land called the Big Ten, where, week to week, anything can happen and usually does.
Don't call this league boring. Never mind the demolition-derby offenses. Get ready for November drama. Jim Delany took Big Ten parity and spread it across two divisional races. What it lacks in aesthetics it should make up for in bloody fun.
Nebraska dropped the ball. And now it belongs to Sparty and Herky. Just like that, Michigan State controls its destiny in the Legends. Unless Iowa does. The two meet next week in Iowa City. This week's Legends Championship of the Week.
For the Huskers, there's a hope, and it couldn't be simpler: win out at Penn State, at Michigan and at home against Iowa. Then hope MSU loses at Iowa, or to the Huskers' brand new friends at Northwestern in the final week.
There's still a chance for 10-2, which is never anything to sneeze at, but if NU is sitting home watching the Big Ten title game, it will seem like an empty 10-2.
Which would make what happened here another Regret Game.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The Huskers had a possible run set up. Happy Valley will be Distraction Valley this week with the Jerry Sandusky controversy. One-dimensional Michigan looks less imposing.
But this program can't handle prosperity, or even a few thousand pats on the back.
Why did it happen? Again, there are no breathers in this league. If you didn't know that by now, it should have hit you square-up before Saturday's debacle. Minnesota looked like the breather. But the Gophers beat Iowa and pushed MSU around before falling.
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes have life, with Sparty coming to town, and now all those people wondering how much Kirk Ferentz was getting paid are now looking into Pelini's salary.
The lesson here is you gotta show up to this rodeo every week, strapped on, holding on tight to the bull.
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald can coach. His team is feisty, unafraid. The offensive scheme is good, the Wildcats can score, they can get after you. Somewhere an Iowa fan is nodding in agreement. The Wildcats beat a top 10 team on Saturday for the first time since beating No. 8 Iowa on the road two years ago.
No disrespect to Coach Pat and the lads, but it doesn't take an Evans Scholar to see what the home team did here.
The truth hurt afterwards.
"We didn't come out to play,'' said quarterback Taylor Martinez. "Maybe we overlooked Northwestern and were getting ready for Penn State."
"They outplayed us,'' safety Austin Cassidy said. "They wanted it more than we did. It's embarrassing to say that."
That's one way to put it with the countless busted coverages, tackles and breakdowns by a defense that practices in black shirts that just came out of the box. The Huskers even knocked Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa out of the game by halftime. That's when things started getting really ugly.
Many around here had never heard of Kain Colter, but nobody will ever forget him now. Yes, NU does its best work against stationary pocket passers, like Kirk Cousins. But there's no reason, none, for allowing what Colter did time and again with his feet and arm.
Look, the Wildcats score. They make you outscore their overmatched defense and secondary. That had to be the Nebraska plan this week.
But it was one of those days. Two fumbles. Superman fumbled on first-and-goal at the Northwestern 5. Superman looked fatigued, a step slow. That can happen when your offensive line doesn't show up.
Meanwhile, there were costly drops in scoring position. The Huskers wasted a breakthrough passing game by Martinez, who went 28 of 37 for 289 yards and two touchdowns and no picks.
The Wildcats were always within reach. But the closer they looked, the further away it seemed for Tim Beck's offense.
"Our offense needed to come out and play today, keep us off the field,'' Pelini said. "That didn't happen. That was the most disappointing thing. Our offensive line and our offense and the running game."
Pelini pointed a finger there, but ultimately he called it a "team loss." And he was right. That includes the coaching staff, who apparently were surprised at what they saw Saturday.
"I told our guys all week that this was a good football team, that we were going to be challenged and had to be ready,'' Pelini said. "We weren't. I saw a lack of focus out there today."
Unfortunately, it's become an annual look. We've seen this movie before. It ends in the Gator or Holiday Bowl.
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• Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
• Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference:
• Video: NU's Austin Cassidy at the postgame press conference:
• Video: NU's Tim Marlowe at the postgame press conference:
• Video: Sights and sounds from the Northwestern-Nebraska game: