Huskers Earn a Week to Give Thanks
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Earn a Week to Give Thanks, Then ‘Give Her Hell’

November 24, 2019

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maybe Nebraska should come to Maryland more often.

On paper, the likelihood of a points-filled, big-play party and a mistake-drenched downer seemed about equal. That’s what these two teams had put on tape entering Saturday.

Instead, it was both. Nebraska got its points (54 of ‘em) and its big plays (19 of ‘em). Maryland turned it over four times the traditional way, three more on downs, and set the Huskers up with four first-half drives in Terrapin territory.

Scott Frost said the Huskers were “overdue to get some breaks.” Maryland obliged. 

It was, in short, the right game at the right time for Nebraska.

And, somehow, through all of this season’s many ups and downs, it sets up a week to be . . . thankful for?

OK, before we go there, yes, we all agree that playing for bowl eligibility was not how this season of Nebraska football was expected to go. That’s never going to be the expectation in Lincoln, and shouldn’t be.

But that’s where this team is right now, the best they can do with one (for sure) game left, which sets up a delicious all-or-nothing week ahead. Not just for what’s on the line, but who it’s on the line against.

Yes, to extract maximum enjoyment from the six guaranteed days remaining in Nebraska’s football season requires acknowledging Iowa. I know this is the least-popular pastime in the state, but the Hawkeyes have earned it.

That includes this season and head-to-head in the recent past.

Since former athletic director Shawn Eichorst made the infamous “we had to evaluate where Iowa’s at” comment as a way of explaining the firing of Bo Pelini following a season-ending win over said team in 2014, the Hawkeyes have outscored Nebraska 152-75 over four games.

With a 19-10 win over Illinois on Saturday, Iowa has now won 17 more games than the Huskers over that stretch, too. The two teams were co-favorites in the Big Ten West Division according to one informal media poll back in the summer. Nebraska’s been nowhere close to that. Iowa really hasn’t either since starting 1-2 in conference play but this year’s team is still very Iowa. It scores 23.5 points per game, allows 12.2 and has won at least eight games for the fifth consecutive season.

“I’ve had the chance to watch Iowa,” Frost said. “They’re one of the best teams in the league.”

The stakes starting to feel high, yet? It’s not just bowl eligibility, additional practices, more football and momentum at the end of a tough season.

It’s all of that against Iowa. At Memorial Stadium. On Senior Day.

While it’s tough to put too much stock in Nebraska’s ability to play the frustrating auditor’s game the Hawkeyes are so good at, there’s at least more hope than there was coming out of the second bye week. Seven days ago, Nebraska moved the ball against the second-best defense in the league but failed to report some income and got dinged for it in the form of unfinished scoring drives. (Wisconsin’s a good auditor, too.)

This week the Huskers put up a full 2 yards fewer per play than against the Badgers and turned it into 54 points. Nebraska scored on 10 of the 11 drives that crossed the Terps’ 40 and it did that without its third- and fourth-leading rusher, its second- and third-leading receiver and its only scholarship kicker. Up until the morning of the game, it was questionable if the leading rusher and receiver would play.

That all says that Maryland is bad, yes, but it says something about Nebraska as well.

“This team could’ve shut it down, turned it off, stopped caring, stopped playing hard and they’re not doing that,” Frost said. “There’s a lot of guys in that locker room that care and want it to be what everybody wants it to be. I think it says a lot about the character of the guys on our team that they can still come out and play the way they played today.”

That’s an encouraging sign for the future, Frost added. But before everyone becomes forward-looking again, there’s one more game. Resist rivalry talk if you must. At least appreciate the clarity here at the end of a muddy, muddled season.

“A win definitely clears a lot of things up,” tight end Austin Allen said. “Going into this week, we know what we’re capable of doing. We know that Iowa’s a really good team. 

“We went into their place last year and lost by a field goal, so, hopefully, home-field advantage, senior night, we can get some guys rallied and give her hell.”

Give thanks for that chance.

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