Bo Pelini returned to college football in 2003. And in eight seasons, just once has his defense finished outside the top 13 nationally in yards allowed. That’s incredible.
Starting in ’03, Bo’s defenses rank like this: 13th, 11th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 55th, 7th and 11th. (The outlier, of course, was 2008, Bo’s first year as NU’s head coach.)
Nebraska’s defense may be really good this year, but I’m guessing the rankings won’t reflect it. Why? Because of this number:
Through two games, that’s how many snaps Nebraska’s defense has been on the field. Of the top 60 defenses in the country, no defense has played more snaps. (Syracuse and Southern Mississippi are tied with NU at 148.)
Was Saturday night against Fresno State (when the Blackshirts played 81 snaps) an aberration or the new normal?
We’ll find out, but I do think the defensive workload will increase this year. NU’s offense is quick-strike or quick-fail. That means a lot of snaps for the Blackshirts, which leads to a lot of yards.
The Huskers are 45th in total defense after two games. That ranking should drop as the season progresses, but I expect the Blackshirts to be outside the top-20 at season’s end.
That’s unfamiliar territory for Pelini.
>> Twenty years ago, No. 4 Washington came to Lincoln to meet ninth-ranked Nebraska.
With 1 minute left in the third quarter, the Huskers led 21-9. Over the next 10 minutes, UW scored four touchdowns. Three months later, it shared a national championship with Miami.
It got me thinking… What are the most unpredictable fourth quarters (good or bad) in Husker history (since 1970)? The games that — after three quarters — looked like wins, only to turn the wrong direction. Or vice versa.
My top-5 bad fourth quarters:
5B: 2007. Texas. People forget about this game because it came during the worst season of the past 50 years. And because it was the least painful of all the Texas losses. Nebraska was a huge underdog, but led 17-9 at the end of three quarters. The Horns couldn’t do anything offensively against a risk-taking Cosgrove defense. Then Jammal Charles went crazy. He finished with 290 yards, and a stunning 216 of those yards came in the fourth quarter.
5A: 2003. Missouri. The undefeated Huskers led 24-14 entering the fourth quarter. But a Brad Smith 39-yard touchdown run sparked a furious rally. A fake field goal on the next drive (one of the gutsiest calls of Gary Pinkel’s career) gave Mizzou the lead. It added two more touchdowns to complete a 27-0 fourth quarter.
4: 1991. Washington.
3: 1976. Oklahoma. 17-7 entering the fourth. Then trick plays turned the tide. The last was a hook-and-lateral to Elvis Peacock in the final minute, setting up OU’s game-winning score. This game was the birth of Sooner Magic.
2: 1986. Oklahoma. A decade later, same story. NU led 17-7 with one quarter to play. The Huskers still led 17-10 with 2 minutes left. Then Jamelle Holieway and Keith Jackson orchestrated an incredible 94-yard drive to tie the game. OU got the ball back and Holieway hit Jackson down the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal.
1: 1990. Colorado. No. 3 Nebraska led ninth-ranked CU 12-0 entering the fourth. Four Eric Bieniemy touchdowns later, CU won 27-12. (A strikingly similar result to the Washington game, which would come 10 months later.) NU would’ve been No. 1 in the country had it beat the Buffs. Instead, it collapsed, losing its last two games to Oklahoma and Georgia Tech. The winter of 1991 was the nadir for Tom Osborne’s 25-year career.
And my good five fourth quarters:
5: 1979. Iowa. The Huskers trailed 21-7 in the third quarter, and still 21-14 entering the fourth. Their starting quarterback, Jeff Quinn, and starting I-back, I.M. Hipp, were both injured. The Hawkeyes were on the verge of one of the program’s greatest-ever wins. But Tim Hager and Jarvis Redwine led the Big Red’s 10-point rally.
4: 1987. South Carolina. Sterling Sharpe and the Gamecocks led Nebraska 21-13 entering the fourth. But an 18-play, 96-yard drive shifted momentum to the Huskers. Keith Jones scored twice in the final frame and No. 2 Nebraska held on, 30-21.
3: 2002. Texas A&M. Nebraska trailed the Aggies 31-14 midway through the third quarter. It looked like another blowout for the three-loss Huskers. The score was still 31-21 entering the fourth. Then David Horne scored twice in three minutes, giving NU the lead. Nebraska’s defense didn’t budge the rest of the way (surprisingly). In a nightmare season, this night was one of the bright spots.
2: 2009. Missouri. In the the midst of a monsoon, Nebraska fell behind 12-0. Things were hopeless. Then came the fourth, when NU opened the floodgates, scoring four touchdowns (just as Mizzou did in 2003). The final: 27-12 (notice, also, the parallel to the 1990 Colorado loss). The score wasn’t even the most important part of the evening. This will be remembered as Ndamukong Suh’s breakout performance on national TV.
1: 1995. Miami. OK, it wasn’t exactly over when NU entered the fourth quarter trailing 17-9. But a rally was very unlikely, considering Nebraska’s history at the Orange Bowl. You know what happened: Tommie Frazier’s option magic, Warren Sapp hands on his knees, two Cory Schlesinger touchdowns, Frank Costa’s (often forgotten) overthrown deep ball against broken coverage in the final minutes, and, of course, Tom Osborne riding high off the field 11 years after his most crushing defeat. Nebraska fans will never experience another fourth quarter sweeter than this one.
Did I forget a shocking fourth quarter? Let me know.
>> A very opinionated column from Matt Hayes on the Heisman, Boise State’s sanctions, Urban Meyer, Gary Pinkel and other college football topics.
>> A very clever column by Andy Staples comparing top-25 teams to classic movies. Check out where Nebraska is.
>> Of course, your daily column ripping Texas.
>> Don’t forget: Tonight. 6 p.m. 1620 The Zone. Matt Schick and I talk Husker football. Even better, come see us perform live, at the Loose Moose on 120th and Fort. Cool sports bar. Great food. Free giveaways. And, of course, a chance to shake Schick’s hand.