Sunday, November 21, 2010
What we learned in the Big 12: Week 12
By David Ubben
We'll see Nebraska play angry the rest of its season. Generally, I'm not a fan of dwelling on officiating after a game. It accomplishes very little and wastes plenty of breath, a bit like screaming at a brick wall. An apology is the best you can expect from anyone who'll listen, which is a select few.
I'll make a brief exception here.
Bo Pelini was less than pleased with the officiating in Saturday's loss to Texas A&M.
There were a few questionable flags, and the roughing the passer penalty that kept Texas A&M's game-winning drive alive was an indefensible bad call. Courtney Osborne made a clean hit on Ryan Tannehill on time and below the helmet. I know Nebraska fans are also angry about the flag Ben Cotton received, but you're naive if you think that worse doesn't happen under piles every Saturday. I don't blame Cotton for retaliating, but let's not act like he's the first and only player to ever have an opponent's hand in an uncomfortable place. The cameras just caught this one. That said, the flag discrepancy (16-2, in favor of Texas A&M) doesn't tell the whole story. Both pass interference calls and the PI that officials initially flagged on Texas A&M but later waved off were the right calls, and Nebraska was flagged for just one holding penalty, football's most subjective penalty. The vast majority of the Huskers' other penalties were personal fouls, false starts or illegal procedures. Those are mental errors, not conspiring flag-tossers with a mandate from league headquarters in (gasp!) Texas.
Nebraska got the short end of this one, no doubt. It happens. Most of the close calls went the way of the Aggies. The Huskers have a right to be angry. But they also have to realize they didn't play well enough to win; good penalties, bad penalties, injuries or otherwise. All three happen in every game, and Nebraska couldn't overcome them. A mature team puts this loss behind it, and goes out and captures the goals in front of it, big goals like the Big 12 title which is still very much in Nebraska's grasp. We'll find out how mature this team is over the next two weeks (or maybe one, if it loses to Colorado.)
The Huskers were already playing with a bit of an us-against-the-world edge after the suspension of Eric Martin earlier in the year, and that will only intensify now. Also, I got in touch with my buddy over at the Big Ten blog, Adam Rittenberg, and after checking with Jim Delany & Co. at the league office in Chicago, we can report that in almost a century of Big Ten football, no call has ever been missed. So take heed, Huskers. Upon your exit to the Big Ten, you'll finally be out from underneath the tyrannical thumb of human error.
We've still got some interesting division races. Oklahoma won to stay alive, and Nebraska lost to keep Missouri alive, which means both divisions are up for grabs in the season's final weekend. That should be some solid drama. Nebraska will head back home to face a rolling Colorado team brimming with confidence and a new coach. Oklahoma State will host Oklahoma in Stillwater for a Bedlam with the most on the line for both teams in a long time. I'd expect Nebraska and Oklahoma State to hold serve at home, but would it surprise me if either went down? Not entirely.
Oklahoma's road problems don't extend to Waco. The Sooners got it done in a big way against Baylor, notching their first convincing road victory of the season with a 53-24 win. The offensive execution was there, even after an interception on Oklahoma's first drive, which is a good sign of some mental toughness. The defense held long enough for the Sooners to rack up a 53-10 lead before the Bears added a couple fourth-quarter garbage-time scores, and it forced a safety, scored a touchdown and forced three turnovers. That'll get it done. But at the end of the day, Oklahoma isn't going to impress anyone by stretching its record to 20-0 all-time against the Bears. The true test comes Saturday in Stillwater against the Big 12's most consistent team, Oklahoma State, in one of the program's biggest games ever.
Colorado is playing its best football of the season. Where did this come from? Beating Iowa State at home is one thing. Out-powering a physical Kansas State team is another. That's exactly what Colorado did, jumping out to a second-half lead on the back of Rodney Stewart and riding him to the finish line while Carson Coffman and the Wildcats had to sling it to play catch-up. Colorado is putting it all together under Brian Cabral, and now faces a monumental task, heading to Lincoln with bowl eligibility on the line for the Buffs, and the Big 12 North at stake for the Huskers.