Nebraska coach Bill Callahan’s foresight paid off handsomely in Wednesday night’s Alamo Bowl. After Michigan grabbed a 28-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Nebraska didn’t panic. Indeed, all the Huskers had to do was think back to the video they watched at the team hotel Wednesday afternoon before boarding buses to the Alamodome.
Callahan showed his players the fourth quarter of Michigan’s regular season-ending loss to Ohio State in which the Buckeyes rallied from a 21-12 fourth-quarter deficit to prevail 25-21.
The Huskers came back to win 32-28.
“We just saw pretty much how (Michigan) wore down toward the fourth quarter,” said Nebraska I-back Cody Glenn, crediting the Huskers’ conditioning. “We just wanted to make sure we took the game into the fourth quarter because in the fourth quarter, Michigan tended to let up a little bit. We knew that was one of their weaknesses.“
Callahan said he showed the video so his players understood what to expect from Michigan “at crunch time.“
“We really felt that if we took them into the fourth quarter, we would have a real shot to beat them late in the game, and that’s exactly what happened.“
NO HURRY: Callahan said he feels no need to rush to fill the full-time position on his coaching staff that opened Tuesday when Scott Downing accepted the head coaching job at Division I-AA Northern Colorado. In fact, Callahan said, he may not fill the position until the 2006 recruiting class is wrapped up in early February. “I’m going to take my time,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of guys in mind.” Downing, 49, served as recruiting coordinator while also coaching tight ends and kickers, but Callahan was uncertain if Downing’s replacement would inherit those exact duties. “We can juggle this position a lot of different ways,” Callahan said. Because only seven of 10 full-time coaches are allowed on the road recruiting at one time, having one fewer assistant available doesn’t necessarily put the Huskers at a disadvantage, Callahan said. He did say it’ll be a challenge to replace Downing’s knowledge of the Nebraska high school scene, one of Downing’s areas of emphasis.
“That’s a real factor for us because the in-state (recruiting) is such a priority,” callahan said. “There’s a lot of dialogue going on between us on the staff and how we’re going to handle the in-state recruiting. There are a lot of ways we can go. I just want a little time so we can think about it and put the best people in place and in position to do a good job in-state.“
CONFUSION: Although there was plenty of chatter in the weeks leading to the Alamo Bowl that true freshman Leon Jackson might contribute as a wide receiver, the converted free safety never entered the game as a regular-down player. In fact, Jackson said, he’s uncertain if his December move to wideout is permanent at this point. “I’m probably the most confused person on the team right now because I don’t know if I’m going to be on defense or offense, but most likely, I’m going to be on offense,” he said.
A standout two-way player at Pasco (Wash.) High, Jackson started his NU career at running back before moving to safety in preseason camp. “You never now, I might be back on the Blackshirts, but I’m going to go at offense first and see what I can do,” Jackson said. “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just go to defense.“
WHO’S THAT?: The list of injured special-teams players became too long to count as the Alamo Bowl progressed, Nebraska special teams coordinator Bill Busch said. Joey Robison. Tyler Fisher. Brandon Rigoni. Tierre Green. All went down with injuries at various points.
“You’re looking at four of your mainstays,” Busch said. “We had guys play on the kickoff team who had never played on it.” The most extreme example probably was Hunter Teafatiller, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound freshman tight end from Kingsburg, Calif., who joined the squad in August as a walk-on. “He was in on the last kickoff, and he’d never been in a game for a kickoff before.” Yes, it was scary, Busch said, considering NU led by four points at the time. “We had six or seven position changes on the kickoff team,” he said. “Our kids just really rallied up. So it was fun.“
IGNORING PAIN: NU senior strongside linebacker Adam Ickes forced a fourth-quarter fumble and finished with six tackles. Not bad for a player who was battling a variety of injuries. “We were just trying to get him through this game,” Busch said. “He’s got a groin injury, a bad shoulder, he’s got everything.” Typically a special-teams stalwart, Ickes was limited in those duties because of his condition and because he played a vast majority of the regular downs at linebacker.
JUST SAY NO: Glenn, a true freshman, looks forward to battling for the starting I-back job during spring drills. How about playing a little fullback, too?
“I’m not really a fullback and I don’t really like playing it,” Glenn said. “I’ve got a play or two coming out of the fullback position, but I don’t really like playing it, so probably not.“
HERIAN’S RETURN: Callahan looks forward to senior tight end Matt Herian — sidelined all season with a broken leg suffered in October of 2004 — returning in the spring to bolster the offense. Herian practiced this past month, albeit on a limited basis.
“Hopefully Matt will respond,” Callahan said. “I thought he responded favorably during (recent practices), although we didn’t bang him. We never really put him through the physical contact of a practice. He was running routes and doing things of that nature, but we’re going to have to build our depth at tight end.”
ALL DAY LONG: Several players expressed pride in winning three straight games following a 40-15 loss Nov. 5 at Kansas. It was a loss that some pundits thought might break the Huskers’ will. “We kind of adopted the theme of all-day fighters this season,” junior safety Andrew Shanle said. “The Kansas loss was very disappointing, but I mean everyone is proud of the way we stuck together. Even when we were down, it was just a great feeling that we could come together and do something like (winning the Alamo Bowl).“
—Steven M. Sipple