EVANSTON, Ill. — Bo Pelini met with the media after Saturday's game — clearly humbled and relieved — then walked down a narrow corridor in the bowels of charming Ryan Field.

A man stopped the fifth-year Nebraska coach and asked if he would pause for a photo. Bo obliged.

"Good job, coach," another man in red said.

This scene easily could've been much different — much less civil.

This discussion easily could've been entirely different — it could've been downright ugly.

Pelini, in the wake of Nebraska's 29-28 comeback win against Northwestern, was receiving slaps on the back, at least in a figurative sense.

Let's be real. Many of those praising Pelini no doubt were calling for his head after Northwestern took a 28-16 lead with 8 1/2 minutes left in one of the more memorable games in Husker history.

Memorable because of the wild mood swings — what seemed destined to be a debilitating loss becoming a remarkable triumph that could propel Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) down the stretch if it could just get out of its own way.

Wild mood swings? We've come to expect them from Pelini's teams. But this was ridiculous.

The Huskers survived, the win glossing over much of the ugliness — two muffed punts, the typical spate of inexplicable penalties, the inability to convert third-and-short, and general sloppiness — that preceded the stirring rally.

To be fair, Pelini and his troops did a slew of good things to pull out a victory that could be regarded as a season saver because of the negativity that would have enveloped the program had Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) held on.

I know the negativity was as real as the stadium's dark-green grass, because it was all over social media before the big comeback. The win keeps the wolves from Pelini's doorstep, most of them anyway. 

Pelini's best moment Saturday might have occurred when he gave a figurative high-five to the Nebraska fans who took over basically half of the stadium in one of those incredible displays of spirit and support that only a few select programs enjoy. It's a spirit that largely defines the Husker program.

I don't think Nebraska wins this game without that support. The positive energy was palpable.

Thing is, Nebraska fans deserve much better than their team gave them for most of the day.

"Our crowd was phenomenal," Pelini said. "Obviously, I couldn't talk to every (fan), but I tried coming off the field. I thought they gave us great energy. They stuck behind us.

"You know, at times it felt like a home game."

Nebraska fans filled — I'm guessing on this — about 85-90 percent of the east grandstand behind the Husker bench. The south end-zone seats were seemingly 95 percent red. All told, I figure about half the crowd of 47,330 was Big Red loyalists. After all these years, it still amazes me.

"It's one of the special things about being here," said Pelini, and I hope he means that wholeheartedly. "The fans travel, and they had a big-time impact on that game."

Nebraska needed all the help it could get. That is somewhat troubling considering the amount of energy and resources the university pours into football compared to Northwestern.

This game, coupled with the Wildcats' win in Lincoln last season, reinforces the notion the Huskers are merely part of the Big Ten scrum, another team battling week to week to stay alive in its divisional race.

Nebraska's merely another team crossing its fingers much of the time, as was the case on the Husker sideline with 70 seconds left. Northwestern junior Jeff Budzien, his team trailing 29-28, saw his 53-yard field-goal attempt sail wide-right.

"The kick was so close — from my vantage point I couldn't tell if it went in or not," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "So, the last couple minutes, until we actually came into the locker room off the field, was a little bit surreal.

"I don't think it quite set in what we did. We felt pretty dead in the water at 28-16."

So many Huskers deserve credit, mostly Taylor Martinez, who caught fire on the final two scoring drives. He was 10-for-13 for 140 yards. Talk about guts and maturity.

Nebraska's defense, maligned for its inability to slow running quarterbacks, held Kain Colter to 35 yards on 14 carries. The Wildcats mustered just 301 yards of total offense.

Meanwhile, Nebraska piled up 543 yards, despite — as offensive coordinator Tim Beck pointed out — losing two possessions on the muffed punts.

In the end, as Nebraska rallied in those scintillating final moments that make sports so wonderful, there were deafening roars from Husker fans. Roars of utter euphoria. Roars that easily drowned out the wolves that had been nipping at Pelini's heels.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.