Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Huskers close to achieving 'win-out' goal
By Brian Bennett
Bo Pelini's message to his team after an Oct. 6 loss at Ohio State won't conjure up images of Knute Rockne. His speech likely won't be mounted on the stadium wall, as Tim Tebow's 2008 post-defeat promise was at Florida.
Yet if Nebraska is able to finish this season out as expected, Pelini's words could be remembered for a long time by Huskers fans.
Things looked anything but promising for his team after Ohio State blew the doors off Big Red in a 63-38 humiliation. A Big Ten title probably seemed like a pipe dream that night.
But Pelini, a guy who constantly talks about "the process" and doesn't like to discuss big picture items during the season, offered his team a rare long view that night in the locker room at Ohio Stadium.
After an embarrassing loss to Ohio State midseason, Will Compton and the Huskers have won five games straight.
"He told us, 'Everything we want is still out there to take,'" offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles told ESPN.com. "He said, 'I know this game hurt, and it should hurt because you got embarrassed. But all we have to do is win out, and we'll control our own destiny.'"
"He told us, 'Usually I'll come in here and say our goals are still out there and we've just got to improve,'" tight end Ben Cotton told ESPN.com. "But he laid it out flat for us. He was honest. It was kind of a, look-you-in-the-eyes-straight, man-to-man statement. He was making it clear to everybody what we had to do if we wanted to win a Big Ten championship."
Pelini repeated his "win-out" mantra a few minutes later when meeting the media, saying: "We have six weeks, and we need to win the next six football games." That seemed a lofty goal at the time, as Nebraska still had to go to Northwestern and Michigan State and play Michigan and Penn State at home, and especially in the moments after the defense got shredded like never before under Pelini.
Winning out meant first getting better, and that began the next week during the team's bye week practices. Pelini didn't make a lot of changes. He just asked the team to work harder and correct mistakes.
"That's what you try to do, and we have stayed the course," he said Monday. "We didn't panic, and I think our kids have gotten better."
That didn't mean things came easy. In their first game after Ohio State, the Huskers trailed by 12 points in the fourth quarter at Northwestern and had to score twice in the final 5:55 to pull out a 29-28 victory. They also had to rally from double digit deficits in the second half to beat Michigan State and Penn State.
But somewhere along the way, this team developed a confidence in its ability to win under difficult conditions.
"We're confident that we're capable of doing the impossible until the final whistle at the end of the game," Cotton said.
The offensive production has been there all season. The defense has steadily improved since that Ohio State disaster, culminating in the starters leaving last week's game against Minnesota without allowing a point in the eventual 38-14 win. Nebraska now ranks No. 19 nationally in total defense.
"We knew we were a better team than what we showed against Ohio State," linebacker Will Compton told reporters this week. "It just sucked having to hear about how bad we did. ... We knew we could take care of ourselves, and we knew we were a good football team when we are clicking on all cylinders."
The Huskers played their most complete game of the season last week, as the offense finally started fast and limited its turnovers and other mistakes. Now the team needs one more solid effort this week at reeling Iowa, and it will clinch the Legends Division title and head to the Big Ten championship game.
And that would mean the Huskers went 6-0 in the second half of the season, fulfilling Pelini's "win-out" motto. If they bring the first conference championship back to Lincoln since 1999, those words could become part of the program's lore.
"It was a big turning point," Sirles said. "There was no looking back after that. It was move forward, guns ho, foot on the gas pedal, let's get after it."