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TIMEOUT by Joe Flanagan

Huskers have classwork to finish

Well, the first quarter is in the books and its time to add up your grade.
Let’s see, first quiz … a B+, not bad. Okay, quiz number two … A-, an improvement, good work!
Now, first major test … looks like … an incomplete?
Now, that’s unfortunate. It appeared you were going to have a very good mark at the quarter point, one that would have really helped your class ranking and given you confidence for the rest of the year as the curriculum continues to get more difficult.
However, as you know, you must always finish your work … if you don’t hand in the completed product, you can’t receive the A or B – or W – that you were really after.

The Nebraska Huskers find themselves on the wrong end of that hard lesson this week, having snatched a victory from their own grasp Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Is there a more gut-wrenching loss in sports than one you cause yourself?
You know the details. Most of you watched the implausible unfold live and, if you missed it, have seen the lowlights replayed. It’s likely you’ve read, ad nauseum, explanations, excuses, questions, answers, quotes and opinions in the aftermath of one of the most difficult NU losses in recent memory.
We’re not going to rehash it all here.
There’s nothing to be gained now from teeth-gnashing, hand-wringing and second-guessing. It’s in the gradebook as an L. Nebraska’s record is 2-1. It’s in ink and final. Time to move on.
That’s the only approach Coach Bo Pelini, his staff and Husker players can take if they hope to strive toward their ultimate goals. And, yes, most of those goals are out there and still within reach.
No, Nebraska isn’t going to go 14-0. And a national championship isn’t likely in 2009. However, those weren’t really realistic aims at the outset anyway.
The initial goal in Pelini’s “Husker Resurrection Project 101” is a Big 12 championship. And the first step toward that is a Big 12 North title. Some combination of those would earn the Husker mentor a solid grade in the B+ to A- range. That wouldn’t be too bad for sophomore year.
Despite Saturday’s agonizing outcome, there’s certainly reason for optimism.
The performance in Blacksburg showed, once again, the tremendous progress made in the Husker labratory since Pelini took charge. It didn’t add up to a W, but it was a sign that W’s aren’t far away in these types of contests.
The Huskers now need to use their third quiz of the season Saturday vs. UL-Lafayette to advantage and prepare for the season’s next major test Oct.8 in Columbia, MO. That match-up with the Mizzou Tigers is what you call a big game. A big, big game. A really, really big game.
And, if there’s one thing Pelini has shown in his coaching career, it’s a knack for resiliency.
The Huskers bounced back from debacles against Missouri and Oklahoma last year with several of their best performances of the season. You might also remember Bo rallying the troops to an Alamo Bowl victory as interim coach after the messy Frank Solich firing. And he’s done it elsewhere, as well. During Pelini’s stint as LSU defensive coordinator, the Tigers gave up 50 points in an embarrasing 3 OT loss to Arkansas, only to rebound one week later to score a 21-14 decision over Tennessee in the SEC Championship game and, ultimately, win a national title with a Sugar Bowl victory over Ohio State.
A win last Saturday could have – should have – given the Huskers a boost in their climb back to national prominence. It didn’t happen. An even bigger boost can be gained by reaching the Big 12 Championship game. That can still happen.
Pelini has two of the best players in the nation – Ndamukong Suh and Roy Helu, Jr. The young LBs were more steady Saturday. The receiving corps has talent … unfulfilled potential. Zac Lee should ultimately benefit from his “baptism under fire” in Blacksburg.
There are still mysteries too. What to make of an inconsistent, often-undisciplined offensive line? How will NU’s secondary perform against a true passing threat? When will mental breakdowns and assignment errors at key junctures become clutch, game-winning performances?
It’s up to Professor Pelini and his students to build on the postives and find answers to the questions. Tests with Tigers, Bears, Red Raiders and Jayhawks loom.
Despite the disappointment, Saturday’s loss simply made the remainder of 2009 that much more intriguing.