The Bo and Joe Show didn’t go so well for much of Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini spent ample time in the faces of various officials.
Husker quarterback Joe Ganz suddenly and unexpectedly morphed into an average Joe in the first half. He overthrew at least one open receiver. He threw behind another. On at least a couple occasions, he didn’t see receivers running wide-open.
Meanwhile, Baylor and fleet quarterback Robert Griffin surged to a three-point halftime lead.
The Bears punched hard. But the new-and-improved Huskers punched back harder in the second half, with Ganz and a determined defense spearheading a 32-20 triumph that represented another indicator of growth in Pelini’s Big Red reclamation project.
Although Nebraska played poorly for much of the first half, the Huskers didn’t panic. Nor did they wilt. Yes, that’s progress. You can see the program’s growth and maturation occurring before your eyes. You also can hear it in what Pelini says and on this day, what he didn’t say.
After Nebraska repeatedly shot itself in the foot during the first half, you figured Pelini might transfer the energy he used barking at officials to his players. Oh, how they would feel the boss’s wrath. Wrong. A funny thing happened on the way to the Huskers improving to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big 12.
Pelini hardly said anything to his team at halftime.
“He just said, ‘Let’s go,’” said Nebraska senior linebacker Cody Glenn, who committed two costly first-half penalties.
“Then Phil Dillard got up and said, ‘Hey, this team shouldn’t even be on the same field with us. We are Nebraska. We should be able to beat anybody,’” Glenn said.
The thing is, this obviously isn’t the powerful Nebraska of the 1990s. Not even close. This is Nebraska growing, maturing and learning to find its way after the debacle that was the 2007 season. The Huskers on Saturday found their way through a storm of mental mistakes and missed tackles. Griffin reeled off big runs, but NU kept chasing and hitting harder and harder as the game progressed.
Nebraska’s leaders ultimately stepped up, and now Big Red is one win from bowl eligibility — which would represent another crucial step for Pelini’s program.
How else is Nebraska different from its glory days of the 1990s?
Well, Tom Osborne wasn’t exactly known for getting in the faces of officials.
“Coach Pelini, he’s got your back,” Glenn said. “When the referees make a mistake, he’s getting down their throats. If he doesn’t say anything, they’re going to keep making the same mistakes.”
However, you wonder if Pelini’s rants eventually will become counterproductive. Maybe calls will begin to consistently go against Nebraska, as was the case on Baylor’s second-quarter punt that clearly appeared to deflect off the foot of a Baylor player. Even after the replay, the officials got it wrong.
Pelini was angry Saturday because he felt officials weren’t giving Nebraska’s defense a fair chance to match up personnel against Baylor’s offense, which constantly ran players on and off the field. It led to disorganization by the Husker defense on many occasions.
Yet Nebraska hung tough. That’s growth. That’s progress. We all know how poorly the Huskers responded to adversity last season.
“It’s tough to be your best every week,” Ganz said. “Obviously, that’s something to strive for. But you’re going to find yourself in games like this. It’s how we respond, and I thought we responded well.“
Ganz finished 32-for-46 for 336 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He threw for 234 yards and two TDs in the second half, both to fellow senior Nate Swift.
In the second half, “We were able to throw the ball down the field a little more,” Ganz said. “We were dialing up more vertical passes.”
Plus, Nebraska threw more frequently on first and second down.
“It’s easier to find a rhythm when you’re not just throwing it on third down,” Ganz said. “The play calling in the second half worked to my advantage. It allowed me to get in a rhythm and make short, quick throws and then be able to put the ball down the field, too.”
Ganz and Pelini are hard-core competitors. Killers. This team obviously reflects their personalities. They’re fiery, yet also like to have fun.
Hence Ganz’s postgame ribbing of Swift, who made 11 catches to pass Husker icon Johnny Rodgers as the school’s career receptions leader.
“I told Nate, ‘Every ball that gets thrown to him, I want five bucks. If I throw the record-breaker, it’s a hundred,’” Ganz cracked.
No word if any money’s been exchanged. But Ganz was money in the second half. So was Nebraska’s defense. The coaching staff’s toughness and positive energy obviously are having an impact. Indeed, shout it to the heavens, Big Red fans, or to the nearest official.
Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or email@example.com.