Nebraska Football: Epic Collapses Now The Defining Trait of Pelini’s Husker Program


photo and story by Patrick Runge

“It should not define our program. It’s one game.”

– Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck, after NU’s 59-24 loss to Wisconsin in 2014. (As quoted in the Grand Island Independent)

“It’s one game today … I never look back.”

– Nebraska head football coach Bill Callahan, after Nebraska’s 2004 season ended at 5-6, breaking NU’s 35-year streak of bowls. (As quoted in USA Today)

Nebraska fans had a sickening feeling of déjà vu on Saturday as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon racked up 408 yards on the ground—breaking the NCAA single-game rushing record in three quarters—as the Badgers scored 56 unanswered points to beat Nebraska 59-24.

The last time Nebraska faced Gordon was in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game, when Gordon torched Nebraska for 216 yards on nine (!) carries en route to a 70-31 humiliation of NU.

It seemed like a long time had passed since that debacle in Indianapolis, though. The recruiting struggles of 2010 and 2011 were behind Nebraska, and NU had the athletes to compete at the highest level. Bo Pelini, after a tumultuous offseason, had matured and put the embarrassing collapses behind him.

This was the year Nebraska turned the metaphorical corner, it seemed. In year seven of Bo Pelini’s tenure in charge of the Nebraska program, 2014 was the year Nebraska returned to the national relevance fans have ached for since 2001.

Heck, Nebraska fans were even getting ready to cheer for Miami, to help NU’s strength of schedule and bolster the Huskers’ argument to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. If there’s anything that will tell you how desperate Nebraska fans were to bask in the glow of a nationally-competitive football program, that’s it.

At 17-3, those dreams were intact. Then, Gordon ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run. And the meltdown was on. Again.

“And it’s not like it only happens to us. Look across the country. It happens.”

– Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, at his weekly press conference after the 2014 Wisconsin game (as quoted by

With all due respect, coach, no it doesn’t. No one has ever given up 408 yards to one opposing player—certainly not in only three quarters of game time. The teams at the level at which Nebraska aspires to achieve—teams that are regularly in the discussion for conference titles, and now for inclusion in the four-team College Football Playoff—don’t get humiliated on a regular basis.

How regular? Well …

2014 Wisconsin 59, Nebraska 24 (NU led 17-3)
2013 UCLA 41, Nebraska 21 (NU led 21-3)
2012 Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31
2012 Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38 (NU led 17-7)
2011 Michigan 45, Nebraska 17
2011 Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17 (NU led 7-0 and 14-7)


In case you were curious, that means in six games against marquee opponents over the past four years, Nebraska was outscored 326-148, after having leads in four of those games.

So, no. It’s not just one game, Coach Beck. Quite honestly, since 2011 collapses like the ones against Wisconsin on Saturday have pretty much been the defining characteristic of the Nebraska program.

“We’ve won a lot of football games since I’ve been here, a lot of football games. A lot of football programs across the country would die to have won the amount of football games we’ve won.”

– Pelini, defending the state of the Nebraska program in a post-game interview after the Wisconsin loss on Saturday (as quoted by ESPN)

Is it fair to define Pelini’s program by the ugly losses? Isn’t he right to point out that under Pelini Nebraska has never won fewer than nine games? Is that really fair on Pelini?

Maybe not. But fair ain’t nothing but a four-letter f-word. And fair or not, the one thing Nebraska is known for on a national stage are the six ugly, face-on-a-rake losses Nebraska has endured on a national spotlight since 2011.

It’s year seven of Pelini’s time at the helm in Lincoln. There’s no more rebuilding from the Callahan legacy. There’s no more disruption from a conference shift. There’s no more recovering from a bad recruiting cycle early in his career.

This is Pelini’s program. It’s his team, with his players and his culture. And in six of the biggest games since 2011—four of which his teams have held leads—his teams have been outscored by a combined 178 points.

So what now? While questions have been raised after Saturday’s debacle, Pelini’s job is in no serious jeopardy. If Nebraska wins its next two games—and yes, Nebraska has enough talent to win out—NU will end the season at 10-2. The state nearly came unglued when Frank Solich was fired with a far worse record than Pelini’s. So absent an epic meltdown on Pelini’s part—like we saw against Iowa last year—Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst is unlikely to consider any change at the helm.

“I believe this program is on a good track. It’s on the right track.”

– Pelini on the status of the Nebraska program, from the weekly press conference after the 2014 Wisconsin game.

In some ways, it’s a trap. Pelini’s teams have delivered good seasons, never less than nine wins. But they’ve never delivered great seasons, with a conference title or a truly marquee win for Nebraska fans to hang their collective hat on. The only time Pelini’s job was ever truly in jeopardy wasn’t for the wins and losses, but for Pelini’s immature and boorish behavior at the end of last season. Assuming he’s not foolish enough to repeat that behavior, his record is such that he’s unlikely to be fired.

So what do Nebraska fans, so desperate to see NU return to what they see as its rightful place as a major player in college football, do now?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

– Hebrews 11:1 (King James Version)

Yes, I know Nebraska football is not religion—although in this state, some may be forgiven for mistaking the two. But at this point, the principle is the same. Pelini, absent a post-Iowa presser like last year, isn’t going anywhere unless his team completely implodes. So Nebraska fans have two choices. The first is to hope Nebraska starts losing on an epic level that will force Eichorst’s hand to make a change. But that kind of toxic karma will do no good for either the fans who would engage in those dark arts or for the kids currently in the program who are putting their bodies on the line every Saturday for the Sea of Red.

The other option is to have faith—blind faith, to be sure, given Pelini’s history and his statements at the post-Wisconsin press conference that he has “no idea” why Nebraska keeps collapsing under his watch like it does—that Pelini is right about Nebraska being on the right track and on target to start winning conference and national titles.

Is it rational? Not based on the evidence of things seen.

But it’s all you’ve got left to hold on to, Husker fans.

Nebraska Football: The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Nebraska vs. Wisconsin


photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans well remember the Huskers’ last trip to Madison, which resulted in a 48-17 shellacking at the hands of the Badgers. So as they prepare for the return trip (and with echoes of Wisconsin’s 70-31 humiliation of Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten Championships still ringing in their ears), Nebraska fans will be looking for how NU can win on Saturday and stay on track for a return trip to Indianapolis.

Here are three X-factors fans should  be looking for to key a Nebraska victory on Saturday.

Ameer Abdullah

According to Steven Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said that he “anticipates” I-back Ameer Abdullah to play against Wisconsin, but said that he did not practice with the team during the week. That’s far less definitive than Pelini was earlier, when he said he anticipated Abdullah to be close to 100 percent for the Wisconsin game.

So what does that mean? The likelihood is that Abdullah is going to be limited by the knee injury that kept him out of the game against Purdue two weeks ago. How limited? That’s the big question. If he is significantly limited, then we saw a glimpse of what Nebraska’s offense looks like sans Abdullah.

If he is able to provide something close to full fitness, though (or if Pelini is playing games with Wisconsin head coach Gary Anderson), then Abdullah has the chance to be the difference in the game on Saturday.

Cethan Carter

Pelini has been optimistic that tight end Cethan Carter would be back for the Wisconsin game, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. Even though his contributions offensively have been sparse (two catches for 25 yards and one touchdown), Carter’s presence provides Nebraska with a downfield threat that no other tight end on the roster can give.

Carter’s absence (along with the injury to Kenny Bell early in the first quarter) may have been a big part of Nebraska’s offensive struggles against Michigan State. If Carter is back, Nebraska may have an unexpected weapon added to its arsenal as it travels to Madison.

Tim Beck

Against Purdue, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he made the same mistake he made against Michigan State by overloading and over-complicating the offensive game plan. Nebraska’s offense has demonstrated the ability to be very effective against elite-level athletes, putting up 41 points and 456 yards against Miami.

Wisconsin’s defense is no. 5 nationally in rush defense and no. 3 nationally in pass defense. If Nebraska is going to beat the Badgers in Madison, Beck’s game plan and preparation will have to be top notch to get NU over the hump and stay on top of the B1G West.

Stats gathered from

Nebraska Football: Five Things For the Cornhuskers To Improve During the Bye Week


photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans endured (that’s really the correct term for it) a sloppy 35-14 victory over Purdue to see NU head into its second bye week at 8-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play. But with the meat of its conference schedule ahead of it, how Nebraska performs in the final three games of the regular season will determine if NU breaks out of its four-loss rut and makes a run at a conference championship.

So what has to happen in this bye week to get Nebraska ready for its final gauntlet? Here are five things the Cornhuskers should be looking to improve.

Ameer Abdullah’s Knee

It’s not exactly rocket science to diagnose that a healthy Ameer Abdullah would do wonders for Nebraska’s chances against a suddenly-resurgent Wisconsin. According to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, Abdullah had a mild knee sprain and head coach Bo Pelini is “optimistic” about his return for Wisconsin.

Nebraska fans should hope his optimism is well founded. Imani Cross and Terrell Newby are nice replacement options, but neither is the kind of game-changer a healthy Abdullah is when on the field. And with Wisconsin in the last few weeks looking like the Badger crew we thought we would see at the start of the season, Nebraska might need that game-changer to escape Madison with a win.

Drew Brown’s Foot

True freshman Drew Brown missed a makeable field goal in each of Nebraska’s last three games, putting him at a less-than-stellar 9-of-14 in field goals for the season. In each of the contests, the misses ended up making no difference in the outcome. But that doesn’t mean the time won’t come this year where Nebraska’s hopes for a conference title will rest on a kicker’s foot.

It’s difficult to replicate game conditions and game pressures in a bye week, of course. But Nebraska will certainly go into this off week hoping to find some confidence in its placekicking game.

Tommy Armstrong’s Rapport

When you see a quarterback throw a horrific interception—or two—it’s easy to point the finger at him and ask what in the world he is seeing. But many times, a throw is made before a receiver makes a cut or a move. If the quarterback and receiver are thinking two different things—in other words, if the receiver zags when the quarterback expects him to zig—then you can end up with some pretty horrific throws into a waiting defender’s arms.

According to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Armstrong’s two interceptions against Purdue came from receivers running the wrong routes. That’s certainly possible, and Armstrong is not solely to blame for his struggles. But if Nebraska is going to survive the three-game gauntlet before it (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa) and win the Big Ten West, Armstrong and his receivers must be on the same metaphorical page.

Mark Pelini and Ryne Reeve’s Snapping

Against Michigan State, the center-quarterback exchange problem was blamed on renegade clapping by Spartans defenders, mimicking Nebraska’s snap signal. But “clap-gate” doesn’t explain the ongoing problems with the exchange against Rutgers and Purdue. Botched snaps cost Nebraska points and set up opposing scores. Against Rutgers and Purdue, those mistakes did not make a difference in the final outcome. Against better opponents, like Nebraska will be facing to end the season, those mistakes almost certainly will make a bigger difference.

According to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star, the snap issues are “mystifying” and not showing up in practice. That might make fixing the problem in the bye week challenging, but it is an issue that simply must be solved if Nebraska wants to return from Madison with a victory.

Tim Beck’s Preparation

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck gets credit for being honest, sometimes to his own detriment. According to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Beck said that he “confused” the offense by giving them too much to work on, rather than simplifying the message and making adjustments throughout the game.

Sound familiar? It’s the same mea culpa he gave after the Michigan State game to explain Nebraska’s sluggish offensive performance.

I remain a little skeptical that being over-prepared is the primary culprit for Nebraska’s offensive woes post Michigan State. Outside of Ameer Abdullah’s brilliance and a solid half of play from Tommy Armstrong against Northwestern, Nebraska’s offense has looked disjointed and out of rhythm since returning from East Lansing.

Nebraska fans certainly hope, though, that a simplification of preparation during the bye week will be the tonic for NU’s offensive struggles.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Extra Points 08/07/14


Some of the best info about Nebraska football from around the web.

The importance of explosiveness for Nebraska (Hail Varsity)

Huskers practicing with GPS trackers? (Bleacher Report)

Tom Osborne adds his weight to the “field position is crucial” argument (Omaha World-Herald)

Simpler is faster, and faster is better, says Tim Beck about Nebraska’s offense (Lincoln Journal-Star)