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All Points West: Huskers win hearts and minds at Holiday Bowl
January 01, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
The Huskers made a huge national statement despite Bo Pelini’s dismissal after the last regular season game against Iowa almost a month ago. And the verdict was … Nebraska proved it is still a viable and formidable program in a 45-42 loss to the USC Trojans in Saturday’s Holiday Bowl.

Wide Receiver Kenny ‘Fear the Fro’ Bell was seen wearing white tape on his right forearm marked with ‘PELINI’ written in Sharpie ink. Tight End Jake Cotton, interim head coach Barney Cotton’s son, used red tape to spell out ‘BO’ on the back of his helmet. The show of support surrounded the mixed feelings about Pelini being fired and within a week replaced by former Oregon State Beavers HC Mike Riley.

The news, weeks old, lingered and everyone except the Huskers played it up as an excuse in a possible lopsided affair.

Seeing against that kind of outcome, the Huskers led by seniors Bell, Ameer Abdullah, Zaire Anderson, Corey Cooper, Mike Moudy and Josh Mitchell played the final game of their NU careers in the shoot-out loss in San Diego, despite its likeness as a home game for Southern Cal. College, sports analysts said the game would be a romp in the Trojans’ favor and not worth TV’s prime time.

Nebraska proved them wrong with nothing on the line except pride. The team was given fatherly encouragement by Cotton who maintained a Tom Osborne-like calm on the sidelines. Heading into the fourth quarter, down three scores, players were perhaps buoyed by Cotton’s confidence and telling his players they could win.

A jet sweep featuring the future of Big Red De’Mornay Pierson-El skimmed the line but made the error of turning up field too soon – a youthful mistake that turned the ball over on downs. In the next series, the Black Shirts did their job and put Big Red back in business. On the move again, NU coaches saw there was time against a fading Trojan defense. With just one second left on the clock, QB Tommy Armstrong heaved a Hail Mary about 10 yards short of the end zone and nowhere near a Nebraska receiver.

Fans may have been disappointed with the loss but not with the valiant effort.

A three-point difference was almost redemption with all the media knocks in the weeks leading up to the meeting at Qualcomm. Maybe the naysaying was fuel for the Huskers but ESPN, which telecast the game, went too far in compounding poor journalism by the Omaha World-Herald of comments made by Pelini at a private meeting with the team just days following his dismissal.

Yes, Bo could have tamped down the profanity in his speech to young men but at the same time, emotions were running high. His revealing graphic description of NU’s AD Shawn Eichorst’s lack of leadership was no surprise but probably gave a much needed insider’s view to the coach-AD relationship in Division I – a symptomatic disconnect which probably exists at more than just Nebraska’s proud program.

ESPN continually made pronouncements of a program in disarray but made no references to how Nebraska had kept pace with the Trojans at halftime, almost gushing about how USC continues to climb out of the black hole of NCAA sanctions with high-level recruits. By the game’s finish, these same announcers reluctantly ate their words, summing up Nebraska’s efforts as having heart.

By the way, did anyone notice Barney getting a little hot under the collar on the sidelines? This is what coaches do in bowl games that don’t matter. The bowl games amount to little more than post season scrimmages with millions of dollars at stake in which none of the players will see any of the profit. When collegians start collecting paychecks, athletes like Abdullah will be the most deserving.

A big Husker fan salute goes out to the tough undersized I-back who broke numerous collegiate records all season long, garnering accolades and the admiration of coaches and peers alike. Though he will probably receive the pay he deserves at the next level, I’m sure he believes the bigger reward was earning a place in Husker history and many a fan’s heart, mine included.

As Husker Nation awaits the transition of Riley’s official takeover of the head coaching spot, the spring game can’t come too soon. Until then, here are a few things to keep in mind:

My astute colleague, loyal Husker fan, and former Gering High School classmate Scott Popp, from his perch at Gering’s Union Bar, pointed out that USC’s strength and conditioning coach will be joining the new Huskers coaching regime. How will our players fare? The Trojans were gassed and their fourth quarter collapses seemed reminiscent of the season’s close losses to Utah and crosstown rival UCLA. At this level, parity considered, teams can’t afford a lack of conditioning. Playing a complete game becomes a must.

Lastly, let’s consider the nine wins and player development. Whether or not Nebraska brings aboard immediate impact players with recruits and walk-ons and sees that as the key to racking up 10 wins and thusly, conference titles, the true measure will always be effort – this includes by coaches. Look for quality wins against BYU and Miami next season. Meanwhile, fans can bask in the promising performance in this year’s finale.
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