EVANSTON, Ill. — One down, five to go.
It's that simple. No, really. That's how you need to look at this Nebraska football season from now until the Huskers run out of fumbles or games. Whichever comes first.
Bo Pelini promised good things would happen if Nebraska won out. He didn't say how it would happen.
Nobody here cared, at least they shouldn't have, as Pelini walked off the Ryan Field turf late Saturday afternoon to the chants of “Bo! Bo! Bo!”
Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28. How did that happen?
The Big Red should have won big. The Big Red should have lost by 12. They tried to beat themselves. They ended up beating the Wildcats in a thriller and notched the first leg of the six-game gauntlet Pelini laid down.
On a colorful, crisp fall day just off of Lake Michigan, Nebraska showed the patient is still alive. But he is definitely going to need some blood pressure medicine to make it to the finish line.
Stop me if you've heard this before.
With 8:31 left, the Huskers were down 28-16. By then, they had already lost three fumbles. And committed eight penalties for 62 yards.
They faced third-and-10 at their 34 after Northwestern had dropped would-be interceptions on back-to-back plays.
Taylor Martinez then completed 9 of 10 passes to lead NU to touchdowns on the final two possessions.
And Northwestern missed a 53-yard field goal that would have won it.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you outlast yourself.
“We overcame a lot today,” Pelini said. “It seems like we can't get out of our own way.”
Hmm. Where have we heard that before?
“I'll take the win,” Pelini said. “I'll take this win every time.”
There's the punch line. There's the moral to this crazy season, right there in a nutty nutshell.
Take the win. Move on to Michigan next week. Take that one if it comes. Move on.
The identity of this 2012 season is taking shape. It's not pretty. It's downright ugly.
It's not acceptable by Nebraska standards, but those are quickly becoming your father's or your older brother's Nebraska standards.
Today's Nebraska isn't nearly as efficient as the old one. The Huskers don't use special teams to their advantage. They don't win by executing better than the other guy. They were doggone happy to escape Northwestern with a win.
That's the mark of this program now. And though Pelini and his assistants and players afterward said they would work on getting things cleaned up, it came off as more of a hope than a promise.
We've heard this before. Frankly, you should probably expect the sloppiness trend to continue. The maddening things like Daimion Stafford's personal foul after NU recovered a fumbled punt, the illegal formations for the tackles not lining up correctly. That's who they are. If it's not one thing, it's always the other.
Of course, you the Husker Fan argue that the coaches are paid to get those matters fixed. There you go again, making sense. But at this point in the season, it's hard to change these leopards and their stripes.
The point is, don't worry about style. Go with scoreboard. Take the win. Always, take the win.
Now, if Nebraska was in, say, the Big 12 this season, then there would be Hades to pay. But this is the Big Ten, baby. They might be able to hang in this thing on guts.
Guts. There's your theme for the rest of the season. That's something to savor, right?
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The Huskers showed a ton of guts in the last eight minutes. Poise. Even better, short memories.
They made play after play after play those last two possessions. Martinez was a new quarterback, flinging arrows around the field with precision. After rumbling and bumbling and stumbling all game, the Huskers couldn't miss.
Why can't that happen all the time? Stop it. You know better than to ask that question.
Nebraska takes after its quarterback, Martinez. Earlier this week, he shunned responsibility for some of his mistakes. People said he wasn't a leader. Then he goes and leads a comeback that ties the all-time fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
You take the bad with the good with this team, and hope that there's more good than bad at the end of the proverbial day.
“It's not like we turned it on in the fourth quarter,” said defensive end Cam Meredith, who was part of a great defensive effort on Northwestern's Kain Colter. “It's not that we started. It's that we never stopped. Say what you want about us, but we don't quit. We play hard. We're going to keep coming.”
Maybe it was just harder to do against Ohio State's Braxton Miller. But Miller isn't on the remaining schedule. There are five teams they can beat, and five teams who can beat them.
But what's clear is that the Huskers are going to have to overcome 10 opponents in the next five weeks. Five other guys, and themselves.
The officials, and the fans' blood pressure, figure to get a workout.
“If we earn it, if we can get better, I firmly believe we can win 'em all,” Pelini said.
At this point, better to not make any promises.
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>> Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the Northwestern game:
>> Video: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez after the Northwestern game:
>> Video: Nebraska linebacker Will Compton after the Northwestern game:
>> Video: Jon Nyatawa's postgame analysis: