Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

In a Wide-Open West, Huskers’ Win Offers Valuable Fuel for the Immediate Future

October 01, 2022

It was rough around the edges the way a circular saw blade is—that’s sort of all a saw blade can be.

And, maybe, that’s all Nebraska can be at the moment. That would be reasonable. The Huskers are playing the rest of this 2022 season with an interim head coach. They played their first game, Saturday, with a new defensive coordinator. They hadn’t beaten a Big Ten opponent, or any Power 5 opponent, in one day short of a year.

Jagged as it looks, a saw blade is still expected to cut. There’s a singularity of purpose there. Do you get through the board or not?

After looking pretty sharp for years, but never sharp enough for at least a year, the Huskers got through the board. If you entered Saturday with one piece of wood, hoping to end the day with two, you got it.

There’s a simplicity there, a singularity of purpose, that’s worth appreciating, too.

“You’re never out of the fight. Chop wood, carry water,” was how linebacker Garrett Nelson summarized the 35-21 win over Indiana. The Husker captain was still in his pads and jersey at the podium for postgame interviews, perhaps an indication of how long the locker room celebration ran.

And that makes sense. Nebraska needed a win like this, hadn’t had a win anywhere close to this, whatever that means in the big picture.

It meant this to linebacker Luke Reimer.

“It’s a huge morale booster knowing we now can play a fourth-quarter game, a close game,” he said. “Last year we lost every close game had, and then Northwestern this year as well. It seemed like a mountain we just couldn’t climb, but today was the hugest morale booster.”

Are the Huskers or Hoosiers good? Who knows? Saturday’s game didn’t provide much irrefutable evidence either way, but Saturday at large said the Big Ten is as wide open as ever. If you had to put together power rankings right now, it’s Ohio State (as almost always), Michigan and maybe a morass of chaos after that.

Wisconsin got bludgeoned by its former head coach, Bret Bielema, and Illinois. The Illini held the Badgers to 2 yards rushing, in Madison, and are 4-1 on the year, the lone loss a bad-luck one to Indiana in the Hoosiers’ first game of the season. Purdue, home of the throw-always approach, held a Minnesota offense averaging 45 points a game entering Saturday to 10 in a Twin Cities upset. Northwestern, which hasn’t won since beating Nebraska in Ireland, lost again but did so improbably this week while forcing five turnovers on the road against Penn State.

Of the presumptive Big Ten West favorites entering the year, Wisconsin is searching on both sides of the ball. Iowa still has no offense and the defense, while still quite good, isn’t getting the bounces it needs to carry the day. Minnesota finally looked mortal, and Illinois might have the most unassailable résumé of any team in the division at this point, given that it probably shouldn’t have lost to Indiana.

All told, there’s a six-way tie at the top of the West at the end of the day, without factoring in tie-breakers, and Nebraska’s among the six at 1-1. (Wisconsin, bizarrely, is still looking for its first conference win.)

Point is, the difference between losing this Indiana game and winning it far exceeded its predictive value. Come up short, and it’s tough to keep the let’s-see-what-happens boat afloat for the Huskers’ remaining seven games.

But, because the Huskers won it, no matter how it looked, there’s at least intrigue. Nebraska heads to Rutgers next Friday. It could be a slight underdog or a slight favorite, but, either way, it looks like a tossup.

The Indiana game, despite the line ballooning to Nebraska -7, was, too. The only way for the Huskers to get out of what can only be generally described as a decade-long slide is to start winning some games where it seems like everything is equal, as sad as it might make Nebraska nostalgists to even consider the idea when it’s Indiana or Rutgers listed alongside that Husker logo.

“We’ve got seven more games,” Nelson said. “Next stop sign is Piscataway, so, see you up there.”

Nelson also laughed a couple of times during his postgame session with the media. He’s as serious, as invested, as steeped in what Nebraska football used to be, as anyone you’ll find on the team.

For those reasons, he hadn’t laughed much of late. What’s that worth?

We’ll see, but it strikes me as worth more than a 35-21 win over Indiana.

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