Despair eluded, victory secured, the time had arrived for one of those on-field interviews that can sometimes prove more awkward than beneficial.
But Bo Pelini landed a good one-liner on this occasion, probably summing up how Husker fans felt when he proclaimed the game was “good for TV, bad for the heart.”
Certainly Nebraska’s 29-28 win over Northwestern was not how coaches and players would have drawn it up going into the game.
Bad for the heart, but good for momentum?
A one-week reprieve from the howling wolves or the catalyst to a late-season run?
Nebraska’s offense, fresh off those two clutch fourth-quarter drives to snag victory, is intent on making it the latter with Michigan coming to town Saturday.
“We’re going to have to roll with it,” said junior offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles. “When you get something like that going on as far as the confidence building, I think Taylor (Martinez) has confidence, the offense has confidence. We can do this. When we put something together, we’re a pretty good offense.”
The Huskers showed shining examples of what it can be when not turning it over or committing illegal formation penalties late in Saturday’s win, moving it steadily down the field behind Martinez, who shook off two near interceptions to complete 10 of his final 11 passes and deliver victory.
But now offensive coordinator Tim Beck wants to see his unit play with the kind of consistency that produces such results for four quarters.
“I told (the team) our expectations are they got to play the whole game like that,’” Beck said. “They showed resolve, they showed focus. Everybody executed. Everybody made blocks, we made throws, we made catches. … There’s no excuse why we can’t do that every time and that’s our expectations for them.”
But here comes the biggest test of this fall term: steering clear of those mental miscues and sloppiness this upcoming weekend, in what is clearly the most critical game of the season in Nebraska’s pursuit of winning the Big Ten.
It's also against a foe that dominated the day when the two met a year ago.
Nebraska’s offense struggled to find any rhythm a year ago against Michigan, gaining just 260 yards and 11 first downs. The Huskers converted only 3 of 13 third downs, which helped the Wolverines hold almost a 23-minute, time-of-possession advantage.
"I feel like I'll find out a lot about our offense …” said sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah. “It's going to show a lot. We've shown some good statistical numbers this year. We've been pretty consistent, other than a lot of turnovers. I just want to see our offense go to the next level and play that perfect, clean game."
Some will build this week’s game into a quarterback showdown — Taylor Martinez versus Denard Robinson.
It's always that way, isn't it?
But Martinez isn’t into that comparison game.
“It's my offense versus their defense and our defense versus his offense, so you can't really compare,” said Martinez, coming off a 342-yard passing performance.
Sirles, in particular, was heavy on praise for Martinez, who he said stepped up vocally with the Huskers down 28-16 against Northwestern, demanding respect of teammates and getting it on those two touchdown drives.
“And I think we really came closer as a team, and closer as an offense,” Sirles said.
If the offensive line does its job, Sirles says Martinez can do what he did in the fourth quarter this past Saturday.
“He’s a pretty dang good quarterback when you keep him clean. It’s hard for anybody to be a good quarterback when they’re rattled in the backfield, when they’re getting hit all the time. I think if we can keep him clean, he’s going to make his reads and he’s pretty dang good.”
Senior tight end Kyler Reed says confidence has never been an issue with this offense, which ranks first in the Big Ten in scoring offense (41.6 points a game) and total offense (512.4 yards per game).
It’s just those mistakes — a penalty here, a penalty there, leaving the ball on the turf — that have kept it from reaching its ceiling.
And Reed felt Michigan’s defense, led by former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, had a strong game plan last year, especially having success when bringing pressure on third downs and confusing the Huskers.
“I think we got a game better game plan this year, just talking with Coach Beck,” Reed said. “Kind of got them down, kind of understanding more what they want to do on defense. … They’re physical and they’re fast and they fly around. We got to match their intensity.”
Of course, Beck wasn’t about to unveil any secrets on Monday, including the tempo his offense might play at with the dynamic Robinson standing on the other side.
Put the pedal down or slow it up and control that ball more than last year?
“I think a lot depends on the rhythm of the game. Is it going to be a game where we need to do that or is it going to be a game where we need to outscore? You don’t know,” Beck said.
“Whatever it is, you have to find ways to win. If it’s score a lot of points, it’s score a lot of points. If it’s find ways at the end of the game to score two touchdowns, it’s that. Whatever we feel as a football team we need do to win the game, that’s the bottom line. There’s no egos involved. We just want the W.”