Outland Trophy candidate Ndamukong Suh blocks a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Crazy Eight and Why the Huskers Are Moving Ahead Instead of Looking Back

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

Randy's N-Sider Archives

Crazy Eight is a simple card game where every time you think you have something good going, an eight can set you back and change the entire complexion of the outcome.

That's what happened to Nebraska Saturday when Iowa State, three days after beating the Huskers for the first time ever in volleyball, won a football game in Lincoln for the first time in 32 years.

The "Crazy Eight" for the Huskers were eight turnovers - five lost fumbles and three interceptions - for a minus eight in that critical category that influences more football outcomes than just about anything else.

"Eight turnovers? We could have gotten run out of the stadium," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. "I don't know if I've ever been around that in my coaching career. You can't win a football game like that."

No you can't. Just ask Oklahoma, which lost six of nine fumbles, taking down one of the best Sooner teams in history in the same stadium 31 years ago.

The last of those nine fumbles came when Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims fumbled on Nebraska's three-yard line with 3:27 remaining in the game. "I just fumbled," Sims said. "What can I say?"

Indeed, what can you say when eight crazy turnovers put you behind the eight-ball in a season that seemed so promising just two weeks earlier?

Pelini Poised in Recounting the Game

One thing you can say is Pelini kept his composure every single second with the media after the game.

Asked if he'd been seeing a lot of turnovers in practice, he said simply: "No, I have not."

Asked how he addressed turnovers at half, he said the same way the Huskers address the issue every day. "We didn't handle the ball or protect the football," he said. "It's a classic example where we were our own worst enemy today."

Dropped balls and poor execution did the Huskers in. "We had a chance to have a boatload of points on the board, and we put the ball on the ground," Pelini said. "We were lucky to be in the football game."

That's the paradox. Never in its 120 years of football has Nebraska finished as poorly as minus-eight in the turnover category. Yet the Huskers were never out of the game until Zac Lee's pass was intercepted with 91 seconds remaining.

Think about that. As cruel as that irony is, it may be the one bright spot in an otherwise dark day. Yes, Nebraska could have had - and probably should have had - another 28 points without the four turnovers inside Iowa State's five-yard line.

On its second and third turnovers, Nebraska lost the ball in the end zone, resulting in touchbacks. The fourth turnover happened at the ISU one-yard line and the fifth turnover came at the Cyclone five-yard line.

Worst case scenario, the Huskers lose 28 points in the process, not to mention losing the opportunity each and every time to use the nation's best kicker for a chip-shot field goal, even if the Cyclones would come up with four consecutive goal line stands.

"It's hard to kick a field goal when you don't keep possession of the ball," one longtime Nebraska writer muttered as he watched the clock wind down at the finish.

The day's most disheartening statistic might have been this: The loss ended a streak of 126 straight victories by Nebraska when holding the opposition to 10 points or fewer. Those of us who kept thinking the game would end with the same 10-9 score that Nebraska beat Kansas in Osborne's first season as head coach were left speechless when we didn't get to see Alex Henery even get the chance to make it happen.

Moving Ahead With a Certain Resolve

Simply put, the Huskers, to a man, know they beat themselves more than the Cyclones beat them, and that point is made with all due respect to Iowa State.

That's why the Huskers are moving ahead to Baylor instead of looking back at a game they let get away. They know that football is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.

Tom Osborne, a Hall of Fame coach who lost his share of heartbreakers, would handle a setback like this in the only way he knew how . . . come back to work on Monday with a strictly enforced grading system and an all-out effort to fix the problems that are fixable.

Bo Pelini and his staff will respond exactly the same way, and the player who will be leading the charge might just be the best player in country . . . Ndamukong Suh.

Nebraska's All-America defensive tackle and Outland Trophy candidate took on a small army of Cyclone linemen and still made eight tackles, including one sack and one stop for a loss, giving him at least one tackle for a loss in 17 of Nebraska's last 18 games, including the last 11 straight.

Suh blocked an extra point in the second quarter, and he blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter - his fourth and fifth career blocked kicks.

Suh Continues to Support the Offense

The best thing about Suh, besides his drive and determination, is his unrelenting support of his offensive teammates.

"We know our offense is still potent and will be potent again," he said. "They just need to work out some kinks."

Reporters asked Nebraska's head coach how he rated Lee's performance. "I thought he played well. He was 20-of-37," Pelini said. "I don't think we played well around Zac. I thought he was the least of our problems today."

Pressed about his decision to go with Lee over freshman Cody Green, Pelini said Lee is more prepared. "Cody Green is not quite ready," he said. "He's getting there, but Zac was ready. It's not a difficult decision for me."

Asked if Nebraska's offensive problems are causing frustration, Suh said: "No. You just have to roll with the punches. That's the name of the game."

The next punch and the next game is Baylor in Waco, and if the Huskers can clear that hurdle, Nebraska's goals could remain intact.

"This is a bad hiccup to take," Suh said. "It's something we definitely have to deal with and something we can still move forward from. In the North, we still have Kansas State, Colorado and Kansas. We can take care of business. We need to get ready for this Baylor team, go down there and hopefully pull out a win and come back home and move forward."

Respond to Randy 

Voices from Husker Nation

Thanks for the perspective. You're right on the mark. As much as we think we can control every aspect of life, with experience, we know this is not true. Bad things happen to good people and good teams. That's why we work on what we can and accept what we can't. And therein lies humility ... a trait in short supply, but perhaps the most important. The worst thing we can do right now is put on more pressure. That is a prescription for the wrong problem. Tom Vance

This is a good team waiting to happen. Stick with it players and coaches. With proper response, the worse that can happen is you will be wiser for life. Many fans and pundits could learn the same lesson. Meanwhile, we are traveling to Lincoln for the OU home game for the first time in 38 years (1971). And we are looking forward to an exceptional game. George Grutsch, Missoula, Montana

In 1991, everyone was complaining that the program was slipping, and we were in for troubled times.  Heck, some people were even calling for Tom Osborne's head back then, believe it or not. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Omaha World-Herald that was published. I stated that sometimes a person, or a team, finds more character when things are bad than when things go well. I know that Tom Osborne and the team back then relied on its character, and I believe this is a defining moment in this particular team's history as well. We will probably NEVER see another game like that Iowa State game again (of course, we hope we don't).  But we cannot give up on this team. They can still salvage the season with some important wins, and more importantly, set the stage for next year and the following years to come. Yes, it was frustrating, for both the fans and the team, but let's stay together in our belief that we will rebound from this and be better for it. Tom Gunlicks, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Thanks for a great piece of reading, and great responses from Husker Nation. From the western part of the state, I viewed this game as the strangest game I have ever witnessed, and I have not missed a game in 25 straight years. There are many positives that I witnessed during the game, however.  I looked at the offensive line as a major improvement from a few years ago, and, of course, the defensive product on the field was very "Blackshirt-worthy".  When this offense matches the defensive intensity, man, watch out.  Some new offensive names made quite an impression on me, especially "Tray" Robinson and Brandon Kinnie. We will get back to glory, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we run the table the rest of the regular season. Thanks to all of Husker Nation for the continuing support! Geoff Gillen

Let me make a point for people with short memories. Two years ago, Nebraska's games sometimes were over before they even started. We were getting steamrolled. Two years later, with many of the same athletes, we think we can beat anybody. Keep that in perspective. Measure progress like everyone else does in the real world ... realistically. Don't give up hope after one of the most bizarre games in Memorial Stadium history. There's a silver lining in that Iowa State game somewhere, and Bo Pelini is just the right coach to find it. Let's run the table and give the Longhorns a good run for their money in their own back yard in the Big 12 Championship game. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California

I agree with the comments of Ri Edwards of Yuba City, California. Zac Lee has done just what he was asked, but dropped passes and fumbles are killing us. I think this team is on the right track and just needs a big dose of discipline, concentration and execution to make good things happen. We are so CLOSE, and we need to show MORE SUPPORT and CHEER LOUDER and show this team that we are STILL WITH THEM! GO BIG RED!! Rick Peabody

I am a lifelong fan now living in Texas. I attended the Texas Tech game and just wanted to clarify my take on the booing. This was not directed at the team but at the officials as they walked off the field. It is just unfortunate the team was leaving at the opposite end at the same time. The media most certainly distorted this into saying we were booing our team ... Not So! As far as the Iowa State game yesterday, I am definitely disappointed, but I am sure no more so than the team. I don't think any of us has ever seen so many errors and such great play by the defense to keep us in the game to the very end. I am looking forward to my trip to Waco next weekend to support the team on the road, and I know I will see a good football game. I hope you will share some of what I say with the coaches and team members. GO BIG RED! Jeanne Cosentino, Plano, Texas (member, North Texans for Nebraska, first-year season ticket holder)

I was disappointed with our performance on Saturday. But this is our team, and we need to encourage them. Maybe they can start carrying a football everywhere they go on campus and let the student body try to knock it out of their hands. I remember this problem years ago, and we survived ... and we shall again. We are NEBRASKA, and we're alive and kicking!! GO HUSKERS!! Alice Fisher, Sycamore, Illinois

Most of my friends are Nebraska football fans, and we think one of the reasons we had so many errors against Iowa State is because our players wanted it so much, they might have wanted it too much. Many of their mistakes were the result of extra effort, not carelessness. Maybe they were pressing. Maybe, if they just relax a bit and not put so much pressure on themselves, they'll turn this whole thing around. That's what we want, what we hope and what we expect. Charles Davis, Omaha, Nebraska

I feel compassion for the entire team after what they experienced against Iowa State, but my heart really goes out to Roy Helu Jr. He's a warrior who has given Nebraska everything he has, and then some. Let's hope the coaches give him the grace he deserves. He will rise up to every challenge in front of him, and he will elevate us to where we want to be. Godspeed to you, Roy, and to all of your teammates and coaches. David Williams, Charlotte, North Carolina


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