Mud, guts, and the Gator Bowl

Wednesday's Gator Bowl victory was chicken soup for every Nebraska fan's soul. Admit it, the 24-19 drama left you feeling warm and fuzzy on a snowy day.

Beating Georgia out of the SEC certainly helped put the 2013 season in better light. With the defense's ugly start to the season, Bo Pelini's embarrassing tirades and the rash of injuries, the last few months had their dirty moments — like Ameer Abdullah's mud-caked jersey in the Gator Bowl.

But, oh, there's been some good times, too:
— The clutch Hail Mary catch against Northwestern by a mustachioed freshman from a husky, third-string, walk-on quarterback.
— The clinching field goal in overtime at Penn State by a journeyman kicker.
— The option pitch by some guy named Tommy in the Big House to sink Michigan.

So many times this year, the Huskers — players and coaches alike — have had their backs against the wall. And, each time, instead of running a halfback dive and resigning to punt, they've battled with their injury-ridden bodies.

When I look to put a wrap on NU's year, I see a call that was made in the third quarter against the Bulldogs as something very symbolic.

On second down deep in Nebraska's own territory, Tommy Armstrong fumbled a shotgun snap and narrowly avoided a sack when he recovered the ball and landed his forearm just inside the goal line.

It looked like on third down that the Huskers were lined up to just run a sneak and give space for a punt. But then the referee blew his whistle, indicating that a review had been issued on NU's snafu the previous play.

That quick pause allowed the offense to think things over. I'm guessing Bo and offensive coordinator Tim Beck uttered the words, "Why not?" into their headsets.

Because the offense went back out there on third-and-14 with twin receivers to one side. Armstrong took the snap, dropped back eight yards in his end zone and found his target streaking down the sideline for a shocking touchdown.

Add Quincy Enunwa's record-breaking score — it's the longest play in school history — to one of those good moments. The offense, on its heels, didn't give up.

That call took guts, and that's something I've seen the Huskers display this year, especially in all those moments mentioned before. Those took some luck, too, but that's just part of the game.

Is 9-4, though, something to be proud of? I know, to some fans, that the latest season was a disappointment.

I'd like to argue against that. The season started with quite possibly the youngest defense in school history getting carved up by Cowboys and Jackrabbits. That's the same defense that tackled soundly and made big plays against Georgia.

The season started with hope that Nebraska's four-year starting quarterback would be padding stats and leading one of the nation's top offenses to a conference championship. It ended with the hope that a first-year signal caller will only improve after a 7-1 start to his blossoming career.

Measuring success by win-loss records alone is only skimming what really happened in 2013 for the Huskers. But, for what it's worth, that's six-straight seasons of nine or more wins.

Only Oregon and Alabama share the same elite company.

I think something special is being built right now. Under Pelini, this is a program that pushes when its back is against the wall.

In a few years, perhaps we'll see why the 2013 Nebraska football season was, indeed, a success. 

To read more, see Thursday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

Copyright © 2014