Raising the Stakes

Over the years under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has been good with its back against the wall. That’s what Saturday night’s game was. Lose and it’s a long November.

Nebraska didn’t lose. The injury to Denard Robinson late in the second quarter affected the game drastically, but that sort of thing happens a hundred times in a season across the country. As Pelini correctly noted after the game, Nebraska was without a pretty big offensive star in that game as well.

Pelini said he expects Rex Burkhead to be back for next week’s game against Michigan State. Good timing because now we get to see what the Huskers can do when they’re out in front and that’s been a shakier proposition

This is when it helps to have a team full of seniors. Nebraska didn’t always play with the veteran savvy many expected early in the season, but this is when it should kick in. Many of these guys have played through every up-and-down of the past four years. They’ve won without making it easy on themselves and they’ve lost that way too. But to a man — from Pelini to the senior Sean Fisher to the sophomore Ameer Abdullah — they were all saying the same thing: The pressure will be even higher next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.

“Every game we win from here on out just raises the stakes more and more,” offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said after the game.

Nebraska was all-in against Michigan and won. As the calendar flips to November, the blinds are about to be raised again.

Coming into the year, most pundits circled next week’s trip to Michigan State as a relatively certain loss. That was before the Spartans dropped three games at home this season and fell out of the Big Ten race, but don’t be fooled. This game isn’t any easier for Nebraska now than it was in July. Michigan State has a big league defense and three of its losses this year came by a total of six points. The Spartans went to Wisconsin and won this week by holding the Badgers to 171 yards.

Get past that one and it’s a strong and sound Penn State team. The Nittany Lions won’t beat themselves. Nebraska will have to do it. Then there’s a Minnesota team that’s better than the one Nebraska played last year. Even Iowa fans, and maybe the coaches, don’t know what the Hawkeyes will be week-to-week but we do know they’ll get to host that game and that’s an advantage on a short week.

Right now, Nebraska would be favored in all of those games. The Huskers earned a little breathing room on Saturday, emphasis on the “little.” It’s tough to know what to buy and what to ignore when considering post-game comments but — cliched or not — at least the Huskers offered a united front on Saturday.

“We don’t look ahead,” Ameer Abdullah said. “We understand what’s at stake and what we have to do.”

Nebraska should understand. All but a handful of the players on this roster know what it’s like to have to wait around in the last week for some other team to deliver your fate.

The Huskers avoided that on Saturday and now they get to play with the big stack at the table. It’s an enviable spot to be in so now well get to see if Nebraska can win while being envied.

In the end, that’s what good teams do.