LINCOLN — They were the very model of reliability, punching the clock and then the opponent each and every week.
They won 12 straight, and for many in that group, that second national title was their 25th win in a row.
So it’s with irony and honesty that, on the day the 1995 Nebraska legends are honored, we ask a simple question:
Can the Huskers win two straight?
Welcome to 2015 issues. And welcome to the matter at hand today in Northwestern-Nebraska.
Those of us excitable types declared a fresh start to this season after the Huskers’ 48-25 win at Minnesota last week.
This, after the first six games of the Mike Riley Era looked like the Hokey Pokey. Right foot in, left foot out. Turn yourself around.
It’s been seven games now, and we don’t know if Riley can win two games in a row.
Gonna find out today, right?
So much has been said and written about what Riley did or didn’t do at Oregon State. Some will have you believe that Riley is a good guy who never won a game at OSU.
OK, maybe a couple.
Before we find out if the man can win a championship, we need to know if he can take what happened last week and make it happen again. And again, please.
Look into the Oregon State media guide, and you’ll see the answer is yes.
Take out the 1997-98 Riley years in Corvallis. Those were 3-8 and 5-6 seasons. Not a lot of winning going on there.
Start in the second Riley era at OSU, in 2003. A clearer picture develops.
From 2003 to 2014, Riley had 16 streaks of at least two wins. Bravo.
In that span, he had four three-game win streaks, three of them in conference.
Riley had five winning streaks of exactly four games, all in Pac-12 play.
Then, in 2008, 2012 and 2013, Riley’s Beavers won six in a row — including at the start of the 2012 season and a 7-1 start in 2013.
OK, so they can get on a roll. But what about at the end of the season? Do his teams start hot and fade? Or do they finish strong?
Again, starting with the 2003 Riley teams, here’s what I found.
He was 1-5 twice. Four of his teams finished 2-4. Another one went 3-3.
Riley’s 2009 team finished 4-2. And he had four teams that finished 5-1.
Now, the 5-1 finishes came from teams that went 7-5, 10-4, 9-4 and 9-4. And the 4-2 finish was in 2009, an 8-5 season.
This is brilliant stuff, right?
It may not be applicable to today or this season. But what those records say is, when Riley had his better teams, they finished strong.
That bunch that left Minnesota with a win is a good team. It had more health than at any previous point in the season. It had better play-calling and execution. Blocking and tackling. The whole 10 yards.
It has a secondary that gets in the way, but if you’ve watched the last two weeks, you’ve seen better pass defense, and finally turnovers last week.
Not perfect. Not close. This secondary will probably be a weakness the rest of the season.
But this Nebraska team has strengths, so many that one weakness area should not drag it down — if the strong areas are doing their job.
Strengths: The run defense, the pass rush, the linebacker play.
Strength: Running game, when Terrell Newby does what he did last week, which doesn’t happen every week.
Strength: Explosive passing game, when quarterback Tommy Armstrong is dialing up his progressions to perfection. And his receivers flock to touchdown receptions with sonar.
Riley said it last week: This team’s identity has to be playmakers doing playmaker things. Exactly.
That begins with the big playmaker himself: Armstrong. When he’s on, like second-half Miami or Minnesota, he’s unstoppable. And, yes, I would like to see what Michigan State can do with that.
But these last five games are about Armstrong proving his consistency — again. He looked comfy and confident in the new offense out of the gate. Then came a two-game “slump” which he appeared to escape last week.
Maybe there’s a new attitude. Armstrong rode to his press conference Monday on a hands-free segway. You don’t do that unless you’re feeling good. Or unless your legs are tired from all those rushing yards.
You can never feel good with Pat Fitzgerald in the house. The Northwestern coach is a Hail Mary from being 2-0 at Memorial Stadium. The Wildcats rely on running back Justin Jackson while redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson has struggled. Their defense has been solid but has given up 78 points the last two weeks.
On paper, it’s a good matchup for Nebraska. An opportunity for momentum.
Here in 2015, two straight wins is called momentum. But you’ll take it. There’s a bowl game to be salvaged, a narrative to change.
First we’ll honor the past. With any luck, some of them might have eligibility left.
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