Better Late Than Never, Heartbreak in Madison

I’m still here Husker fans. There were a few circumstances that prevented me from doing a write up Saturday night. A late start, a Halloween party, and a trip out to the high plains all contributed to my lack of sleep and inability to write a post. Never to be deterred, here are some thoughts from Badgers 23, Huskers 17.

I love Tommy Armstrong. He’s been a tremendous leader and a steadying presence during a very turbulent time in Husker Football history. I want so much for him to have an awesome performance in a big time game, for the whole world to see. Well, it didn’t happen Saturday night. Tommy was absolutely putrid through the air. His decision making was poor, his accuracy was worse. He passed for 153 yards and under 5 yards per attempt. Ugh. The numbers don’t accurately portray just how wobbly that performance was. He consistently missed open receivers on critical plays. He was a liability. It was extremely hard to watch. I have to believe that Armstrong is the difference between winning and losing this game. It brings me pain to say that, but its 100% true. If NU was better under center, there is no way you can objectively claim that the Big Red doesn’t win this game in regulation. What does the NU offense do with a replacement level, to borrow a baseball term, QB? There is no way it can be any worse than #4 was for the better portion of the game Saturday. Tommy missed simple throws and those INTs in the first half didn’t help matters. The Huskers were in the game despite Tom, not because of him. That hurts to say. Again, I’m a big Armstrong fan, but he was horrendous Saturday night. I’m really hoping for a big bounce back performance next Saturday against the Buckeyes. I’m hoping for it, but not banking on it.

Don’t look now, but this defense is turning into a top shelf unit. Sure, Wisconsin was able to gash the Husker defense occasionally, but there was nothing consistent. The Nebraska defense was consistently stout despite being put in tough spots by the offense. I figured the defense would hold up their end and keep NU in the game, but I was extremely impressed with how they did it. The Husker LBs, in particular Josh Banderas, flew around and made plays. There were several times where Badger ball carriers were greeted with substantial malice. This defense laid the wood several times. It was beautiful. The secondary made life difficult for which ever UW QB they decided to trot out, allowing just 114 passing yards. Nate Gerry came up with 2, enormous INTs to help the Husker comeback effort. Gerry in particular was terrific Saturday night (despite getting stiff armed by Corey Clement) both against the run and in coverage. His energy and leadership are invaluable to this unit. Most encouraging, this defensive line is molding into shape. This unit is getting better each and every week. Carlos Davis, in particular is a rising star up front. #96 is a star in the making. Hats off to the job John Parella is doing with that line. This group is getting better each and every week, despite working with a skeleton crew. That fact is a nod to the quality of Parella’s work. That hire looks fantastic 8 games into the season. The rise of this defense as a whole coincided substantially with the improvement up front. Its really exciting watching this defense improve each week. Saturday night was affirmation that this defense can lead this team to greatness.

A whole lot is being made out of the officiating Saturday night. The no call on the pass interference on 3rd down in OT is obviously at the center of it. But the officiating was extremely consistent Saturday night. By consistent, I mean non existent. The refs pretty much washed their hands of the action on the field. I’ve never seen anything like it. There were 3 total penalties Saturday night. A false start and illegal formation on NU and an offsides by Wisconsin.   Yes, all pre-snap. That is incredible. THERE WASN’T A SINGLE PENALTY THAT WAS CALLED DURING THE COURSE OF PLAY!!! This isn’t some kind of screw job. That’s the way the game was being called. It’s extremely odd that no penalties were being called, but don’t you think that may have helped NU as well? Especially with a beat up O-line against that Badger pass rush? Think about it.

If you are into moral victories this game had plenty of them. Other than the Huskers, I’ve watched more Wisconsin football than any team in the country. I find their hard nosed, smart, efficient brand of football especially interesting. The Badgers are incredibly physical as well. They went toe to toe with both Michigan and Ohio State in their only 2 losses. I think they are one of the very best teams in the country.  Coming in, I thought they might absolutely manhandle the Huskers. NU hadn’t seen anyone with that kind of physicality. Nobody close, in fact. My fears were alleviated early. This game was a brawl and the Huskers were landing plenty of blows. This game should have gone NU’s way. There is no doubt. For a number of reasons, NU just couldn’t come away with it. But a big picture view is appropriate here. If you wondered about the direction of this program under Mike Riley, you learned a lot Saturday night. Camp Randall has been a house of horrors ever since joining this league. Rightfully so, its an incredibly tough place to play. Saturday, NU showed the kind of toughness that it takes to play and win on the road in this league. That is something the Huskers can take with them going forward. That kind of belief can be program altering. I think we saw it the other way under the Pelini administration. It’s clear to see that Mike Riley and company have changed the course of this program for the positive.  Although a win Saturday would have been spectacular, a macro view of that effort reveals several promising signs about the direction of this program.

Next up, a trip to Ohio Stadium for a date with the Buckeyes. A few weeks ago I chalked this up as a certain loss. But the way NU played against the Badgers, and the way OSU has been staggering around, makes it not so certain. It’s going to be a hell of a challenge for this Husker team. A win still puts them squarely in the drivers seat in the Big 10 West. Armstrong will need to be better and the NU secondary is in for a big test against JT Barret and the slew of Buckeye offensive weapons. It will be tough. I hope this team is up for the challenge. If Saturday is any indication, they will be.