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After the Fire is Gone

MINNEAPOLIS — Saturday night less than 12 hours removed from Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota, a friend from Minnesota informed me he’d been thinking about making a trip to a Nebraska football game.

I hadn’t thought about Nebraska football since the end of the post game interviews; we were too busy watching UCLA get steamrolled by Oregon.

I told him that even just a few years back how Nebraska game day was unbeatable – I told him to excuse the cliche that there was a certain electricity in the air on fall Saturdays. Then without even thinking about the still-fresh loss to Minnesota, I found myself telling Eric about that charge leaving the air in Lincoln in the last two years.

Thinking back, I must have sounded like I was describing an epidemic of an apathy virus breaking out in Lincoln. Now I fear that virus may have found its way into the once-sterile walls of the Nebraska locker room.

Save for an acutal virus, it seems like it might be the only way to describe what’s happened to the Nebraska football team.

“I thought they out-physicaled us,” Bo Pelini said. “That’s the most disappointing thing I saw today…you can’t hit a guy at the line of scrimmage and the next thing you know, it’s second-and-5, second-and-4. When that happens, you’re going to have problems and that’s what happened today.”

Minnesota tallied 255 of its 430 total yards on first down against the Husker defense. I’m still not exactly sure what each coach means when he says “more physical” but when you’re opponent runs the ball 26 times on 33 first downs and gets 59 percent of its total offense on those plays, it’s hard not to use the word “physical.”

“Just who came off the ball hardest I’d say. That’s pretty much how I’d describe it- just who wanted it more. Who wanted to make the play” was the definition linebacker David Santos provided.

To me, the team with an average recruiting rank of 55th in the last five years looked like it wanted it more. That loss wasn’t a fluke or a 2009 Iowa State. Saturday afternoon, the better team won. No “if, and or but” mitigation necessary.

Perhaps the biggest sign of apathy might be the how little loss mitigation that I’ll be forced to endure this week – unlike that week after the eight-turnover loss to Iowa State. You’ think that would be the last time a Bo Pelini-coached team overlooked an opponent.

“When you go in there and just think that you can roll it out there and play, I mean nobody can do that,” Pelini said. “You have to have respect for this game. We talked about it last night. We talked about it all week. When you have the amount of errors we had, I’ve been around this game long enough to know that somewhere along the lines we have the type of focus that it takes to play great football.”

There was a time three years ago when Pelini scoffed at the notion of his team overlooking opponents in a loss. Even now that Pelini has hinted at the possibility of his team lacking respect for the opponent, I still find it hard to believe that a defense that’s given up miles of yards (literally) in the last two years doesn’t have respect for each opponent. Unless of course they deemed dominant wins over Southern Miss, Illinois and Purdue reason enough to be satisfied with themselves.

Four quarters of fire is a reasonable expectation.

“It wasn’t ever really gone, especially in the beginning,” Santos said. “The fire was there in the beginning. We just didn’t capitalize on some little things that happened to us.”

You can only hope it wasn’t a case of apathy that put the Huskers’ fire out. There seems to be a case of that going around this time of year.

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