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TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

Did that feel just a little like old times Saturday?
While Nebraska’s victory over Kansas was not for a conference or national title – or, even, a berth in the national polls – it was, nonetheless, an important W for a rebounding program.
The Huskers may just have turned the corner Saturday. If not, they certainly peeked around it for a glimpse at what the future holds.
In a season of encouraging ups and disheartening downs, Saturday’s thriller was probably the high-water mark to date. Yes, even better than the near-miss at Texas Tech, which has since proven its mettle by climbing to #2 nationally.
No, this KU team was not a juggernaut. Afterall, the Jayhawks are just 6-4 – the same record as Nebraska. The Huskers may not even have played as well as they did in the Lubbock heartbreaker.
But, make no mistake, Kansas is still a well-coached squad, one year removed from an Orange Bowl title, and this was the team that drove the final nails in Bill Callahan’s coffin – and the soul of Husker Nation – with its 76-point barrage in Lawrence a year ago.
This was a key juncture in Bo Pelini’s initial season at the Husker helm. Coming off the disaster at Oklahoma, Nebraska was faced with picking up the pieces of its understandably shaky confidence and still needing a win to qualify for bowl status.
We found out Saturday that, if nothing else, the Huskers have learned the secret of resiliency under Pelini. More than a few demons were stuffed in the closet at Memorial Stadium – at least for one week.
It’s a testament to Big Red coaches and players that, arguably, their two best performances this season (Tech & KU) came in games immediately following their two biggest stinkers (Mizzou & OU).
Now, for the next step – consistency.
Judging by the maddening trend of turnovers, inopportune penalties and assignment errors leading to opponent’s big plays, that could still be a year away. However, if we continue to see progress through the remainder of the campaign, 2008 will be chalked up as a success.
Even Pelini is learning and adapting during his rookie season. Bo has been lauded for bringing passion back to the Husker program, but after some sideline and press conference meltdowns (most noticeably during the Oklahoma debacle), there were rumblings that his legendary temper could become a detriment.
To his credit, the Husker pilot identified the problem, addressed it last week and made a concerted effort Saturday to change his sideline demeanor. It was likely not a coincidence that NU did not add to its season total of personal fouls (17) against the Jayhawks.
Passion and intensity are required in football, but need to be properly channeled. It’s tough enough to win in the Big 12 without the burden of unnecessary 15-yard penalties. And, yes, teams tend to follow the lead of their coaches.
Bo will have his outbursts in the future. That’s who Bo is. However, I expect him to pick his battles more prudently. That can, indeed, be a winning formula, ala one Bob Devaney.
So, check another item off the first-year list in the Pelini Era. Fight. Passion. Resiliency. Composure. Pride. Bowl Game. It’s all coming together nicely down the stretch.
Ah, but that stretch is not finished. These next two games are every bit as important as last Saturday. Bo acknowledged last week that a goal had been set upon returning from Norman to sweep the final three games of the regular-season schedule. An 8-4 record. A decent mid-level bowl. Tangible proof of progress.
But, a slip against one or both of two sub-.500 opponents – Kansas State and/or Colorado – and, suddenly, those warm and fuzzy feelings cool considerably.
It shouldn’t happen. Nebraska should take care of business and earn a probable Sun Bowl berth (or, maybe, Insight or Alamo, whatever). The first small step in returning to the mountaintop.
Lose one of those though? Let’s just say, no matter how cool Bo would be able to remain to the public face, that fiery side would undoubtably be unleashed on the Husker practice field.
I think Nebraska players have that figured out by now. Just a little more incentive for a strong stretch run.