Nebraska’s 28-7 win over Maryland was perfectly mundane and that was perfectly OK. Maybe deserved considering that this was Senior Day and this was a senior class that might best be defined by its resiliency.
After a coaching change midway through their careers, a losing junior season – still just the third at Nebraska in the past 55 years — and the loss of a beloved member of this class over the summer a week before fall camp started, not to mention the numerous in-season hurdles any senior class is asked to navigate with savvy and aplomb, a by-the-books win was just what this group of 29 had earned.
Mike Riley has seen a lot of football over the years, but it was apparent he knew just how rare a group like that is.
“When you make a transition like this and you’re fortunate enough to land with a group of guys like this, we are very, very thankful for that,” he said. “My disappointment is that I only got to be around these guys for a couple of years. We’ll try to carry on with the rest of that group going forward and continue to make this better and better.”
Husker fans will, too. But at least they got about as good a good bye as could’ve been expected from a game against a Maryland team that had been outscored 121-6 in its two games before this one.
Jordan Westerkamp was Jordan Westerkamp. The senior wide receiver had a season-high eight catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. He connected with fellow senior Ryker Fyfe like the two lived together.
Fyfe made the second start of his career in place of Tommy Armstrong Jr., who was nursing a hamstring injury. The senior quarterback played beautifully, completing 62 percent of his passes, throwing no interceptions and rushing for 35 yards on two brilliant runs – a 14-yarder on fourth-and-1 that set up Nebraska’s second touchdown of the game, and a 21-yarder on the drive that produced its third – before the NCAA docks him 25 yards for the three sacks he took. (Note to the NCAA: Fix this.)
Josh Banderas led Nebraska with nine tackles. It was the senior linebacker’s sixth-straight game with at least eight tackles. He’s playing the best football of his career right now.
Michael Rose-Ivey was second on the team with six tackles on Saturday. The senior linebacker has posted 40 percent of his total tackles this season in the Huskers’ last three games. He’s playing the best football of his career right now.
Terrell Newby rushed for 98 yards on 22 carries, including a career-high three rushing touchdowns. He needs 175 yards over Nebraska’s remaining games, however many that may be, to have a 1,000-yard season, which would be at least 235 more yards than his best season to date. He’s playing the best football of his career right now.
You can keep going. Alonzo Moore had a season-high four receptions. Brandon Reilly tied his season high with four catches. It wasn’t a storybook Memorial Stadium finale for each and every Husker senior individually, but collectively it was Nebraska’s most dominant start-to-finish win of the season. A group defined by its ability to handle whatever comes, simply handled its business and that, after a bunch of close losses last year and a bunch of closer-than-expected wins this season, seemed like a fitting Lincoln finale.
“I don’t think that we rebound from a year ago and have a year like this without a really good bunch of older guys,” Riley said. “I believe that’s true.”
I believe it’s true, too. Nine wins, with at least two games to go, may have been the consensus projection for this season, or close to it, but it wasn’t a given. It wasn’t a given for most of 2016. Prior to Saturday, nine of Nebraska’s 10 games this season, minus the anomaly that was Ohio State, were a 10-point game or less. Every game but one this year really hung in the balance with 30 minutes to go. The Huskers won eight of those games.
“The No. 1 thing with this class was there was a lot of adversity we had to go through,” Westerkamp said. “To come out and have the season we’re having, it’s awesome. It’s awesome that guys were able to get through the tough times and come out here and play.”
He was talking about a lot more than narrow halftime leads or deficits, but the point holds nonetheless.
Still, this is a bottom-line business and, for some, this senior class will be a tough one to judge in any bottom-line sense. Without help from Minnesota next week, Nebraska isn’t winning the West. It’s probable that this senior class leaves without any titles under its belt.
And maybe the best testament to that group of 29 that played its last game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday is this: Given what this class has been through, that hardly seems to matter at all.
Banderas was asked about that legacy after the game.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I’ll come back in a couple of years and see if anyone remembers my name even. We’ll see.”
It was a good answer. Honest and, if anything, too humble.
I don’t see any reason this class should have to wait. Its legacy was cemented long before Saturday.