Neeley: Still a cause for concern at Nebraska

LINCOLN — A Hail Mary may be the answered prayer Nebraska football needed in 2013.
Nebraska was left for dead against Northwestern in Lincoln Saturday — all but done.

Heck, Nebraska faces a rocky road the rest of the way, but, for now, they celebrate a miracle catch by Jordan Westerkamp off the arm of Ron Kellogg to seal 27-24 win over the Wildcats on the game's last play – a catch on a tip ball in the end zone 49 yards from the line of scrimmage.

The jury's still out, but the catch may have saved Bo Pelini's bacon.

Nebraska football was staring over a cliff when a Northwestern interception set up what appeared to be the game-winning field goal.

Is it enough for Pelini to stave off the critics? Probably not. It will take four-quarter football the rest of the way for Nebraska to stay relevant.

Something still feels terribly wrong with Nebraska football.

It really has come to this — Nebraska needs wins against .500 teams for a confidence boost.
Nebraska struggled to gain the upper hand in the second half, though its defense stepped up against a banged-up offense and set the tone for the game-ending dramatics. Save for an interception return for a touchdown by defensive end Avery Moss to tie the game at 21-21 in the third quarter, we'd be writing about another bad loss for Nebraska.

You can make excuses, and perhaps there are many reasons why Husker football seems to be wounded animal. Six years into Pelini's tenure, Nebraska shouldn't have to be fighting for its season at home to 4-4 Northwestern.

That's what it was all about Saturday in Lincoln and Nebraska struggled to make plays when it needed them — until what will be known as "The Catch II" in the annals of Husker history.
There continues to be zero identity for this team on either side of the ball.

At 6-2 and 3-1 in the conference, Nebraska is indeed at the same place it was in 2012. But the mountain seems a bit higher, the margin for error a little thinner. Heck, it may even take more miracles to end up in the conference championship game again in 2013.

Times are tough with an all-American offensive lineman, a four-year starter at quarterback on the shelf and the defense in the hands of a bunch of young guys. Somehow these so-called automatic games have morphed into games Nebraska NEEDS to win.

Again, let's give credit where it is due – Northwestern played hard and deserved to win.
Where in the world does Nebraska football go from here?

Can Big Red continue on this path much longer before its national reputation is permanently damaged?

Maybe we've already passed that point, but Saturday night this team had reason to celebrate.

If you think back to when Tom Osborne hired Pelini to calm the Husker waters, it felt like Christmas to Nebraska fans. Pelini had just come off a national championship win as LSU's defensive coordinator and there was a sense that the wayward son had returned to Lincoln.

In retrospect, it's easier to see that perhaps Pelini never was meant to be a long-term hire. After all, Osborne was taking a bigger chance than meets the eye on an unproven head-coaching commodity, but a guy with big potential.

Instead, we have a coach whose team lives on the edge.

As we continued to watch inconsistent play on both sides of the ball Saturday, we can almost write the script for the rest of the 2013 season.

Hard to have an ounce of confidence in this team winning more than one game the rest of the way. Then again, crazier things have happened, as Ron Kellogg and Jordan Westerkamp proved Saturday.

How does this team find a way to win at Michigan, at home against Michigan State, at Penn State and home against Iowa?

I'm not going to sit here and pretend to know the answers, but what I do know is this program has been a shell of its traditional self since Frank Solich was booted.

When was the last time we saw a Nebraska team wear down a quality opponent and flat out take control in the second half?

How about wearing down an average opponent?

Nope, the state of this program includes digging down deep to come back against a struggling Northwestern team in Lincoln.

Like I said, something feels terribly wrong with this program.

Yet, everything was so crazy right against the Wildcats.

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

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