The Takeaway: Nebraska

Eric Francis

Sure, Iowa just throttled Nebraska in Lincoln, 38-17. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating the Cornhuskers? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

Execution. It's Kirk Ferentz's favorite word, to say nothing of undertakers on government contracts. It's a lot of coaches' favorite word too, at least that they can say in polite company, and for good reason: no matter what the coaches call on any given play, any given game, whatever, it has to be executed by the players. That's not a thing to be taken for granted, especially at this level; when was the last time you asked 11 young men of college age to do something and it worked?

More to the point, there was one team on the field that went out and did what it wanted to do, and that was Iowa. Nebraska had basically one quarter of any competency on offense, and the other three were full-on disasters. There was the long reception called back after the receiver stepped out of bounds before the catch. There was the horrendous, easy interception on the very next play as a result of the 3rd and long. There was the interception Ron Kellogg III threw on the very next possession (on the second play, even). There's the punt that wasn't fair caught and ended up on the 1-yard line, and the very next punt that was fair caught... at the 3. People, those are all mental blunders by one team in the first half of one game, and Nebraska hardly got its act together after the break.

And Iowa just didn't make those same mistakes. Credit coaching, credit senior leadership, credit luck, credit what you want, Iowa was just operating on a higher level than Nebraska all game long. That's not all from play calls.

Then there's the remarkable stay of execution Bo Pelini got from AD Shawn Eichorst. The consensus, myself included, was that Peiini had coached his last game in Lincoln by the time the smoke cleared from his press conference. His team played terribly, he swiped his hat at a referee's face, he sniped at a sideline reporter at the half and he called an admittedly sketchy penalty "chicken shit" and dared his boss to fire him.

Eichorst did no such thing, instead publicly casting his support for his hot-tempered head coach. It's eminently possible that if Nebraska biffs its bowl game, the brass takes a renewed look around and sees a five-loss team with the most high-maintenance coach in the Big Ten (if not the nation) and decides it's not worth it. Rich Rodriguez's team laid down in its Gator Bowl appearance and Michigan axed him for it, so it's plausible. But it wouldn't make much sense, since if Eichorst wants to fire him, he could have done it right now without a problem.

Either way, Pelini's just been done the most impressive favor we've seen from an athletic director in quite some time, and if this quiets the hounds in Lincoln for a while so be it. Coaches get fired too often in this zero-sum game anyway. It's just, I've never seen a man so ready to be fired. It's amazing he didn't throw the microphones at the presser back at the reporters.

I'd be so sick of that crap if he were my school's head coach. I don't know how Nebraska fans even tolerate it. I know he's not like this every week (or really at all since 2010) but that's just embarrassing behavior from someone who's supposed to be one of the faces of a major university.

And last, for those that don't follow me on Twitter, I got to watch the game from the Nebraska press box with cinnamon rolls and chili from Runza waiting for me. It was as spur-of-the-moment as a decision by a sports media department can get, and it was handled wonderfully.

That was execution on a micro level. Macro, remember that this is Nebraska, where football is god. The stadium holds 92,000 fans and has been selling out since before most of us were born. I drove into Lincoln that day, getting into town an hour before kickoff and expecting bedlam. And well... nope! I encountered exactly zero instances of backed up traffic while driving right into a ramp that was basically in the shadow of the stadium a block or two away, parked for $15 among some eminently pleasant fans, and was in the press box by about 15 minutes later. Driving home was hampered only by a closed on-ramp to I-80—see: a temporary problem. It was swift and mostly painless.

OK, now think about trying to do the same thing in Iowa City on game day and see how that goes. It's not horrendous, but it's not good either, and the average dude like me can absolutely forget about parking that close to the stadium without a primo parking pass (and a sizable annual donation for the privilege).

Now, we're not putting this one on the athletic department. This is a matter of whole urban planning, and while Iowa has made incremental progress on that front over the last few decades, it's still an ordeal. But that's the whole point: Lincoln is so good at this game day thing, its whole layout in the area is built around getting fans to and from the stadium efficiently. That is incredibly, sincerely impressive! I was happy about that and it merits mentioning. So yeah. Wonderful execution there, Nebraska, and thank you.

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