Published Monday, December 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm / Updated at 11:14 pm
Shatel: Nebraska can't afford another sorry game

ORLANDO, Fla. — In the spirit of the day, here's a New Year's resolution for Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini.

No apologies this year.

Being a Nebraska Cornhusker in 2013 should mean never having to say you're sorry.

No more red faces by the Big Red. No more games that get away. No fundamental breakdowns of tackling or gap integrity or bad angles to the point where the team looks like a totaled car in a ditch.

Mostly, no more games where the head coach has to apologize to the fan base. The sentiment is appreciated. The frequency of it is not.

Yeah, these are modest goals for a program entering the sixth year under Pelini. But that's where the program stands. They do a lot of things right. And then occasionally they really let themselves go.

It's one thing if a head coach was knocking on the door, and just didn't have the password, didn't know how to make the plays to get in. A fan base could live with that. For a while.

But when the coach is up on that podium after a loss apologizing for embarrassing the fan base, and it seems like a replay, that tends to bring attention to the head coach.

And that head coach has a new boss in 2013.

Which brings us to today's Capital One Bowl between Nebraska and Georgia.

This is not to infer that Pelini is on any sort of hot seat today. He's not. But Bo needs to change the conversation.

Georgia provides an opportunity to do that. This is a Bulldog team with a lot of talent, NFL stuff, but nothing too different from the South Carolina team that the Huskers pushed here last year before they, um, let themselves go again.

The Dawgs have their own image issues. It's all relative, but in the mighty SEC, Georgia is known as that team that will figure out how to mess it up. Coach Mark Richt is the guy who can't get over the hump, even though, technically, he's won two SEC championships. Go figure.

Pelini would love that resume. Again, it's all relative. While Nebraska was getting run out of the Big Ten title game, Georgia came five yards and a couple of plays short of making the national championship game.

The Bulldogs didn't make the plays again. But the fact that they were on the doorstep of the BCS title game would make this Pelini's best win if he can get it.

A close loss wouldn't feel so bad, either.

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Those are Nebraska's options today. A victory wouldn't catapult the Huskers to national relevance or anything, but it would be a heck of a feel-good feather to put in the old ball cap heading to a promising 2013.

A game where NU plays hard, plays well but falls short to a better Georgia team? Husker fans would take that, too.

There's a third option here that absolutely, positively cannot happen. Don't even think it.

Any scenario where Georgia smashes NU in the face and the Huskers don't respond, aren't sharp and generally look like they don't belong.

What would it mean? You know. Big ratings for local radio talk shows. Low ratings for the staff.

An off-season on fire. People calling for the coach to be fired. Any coach.

Bowl mojo can be overrated. Seniors leave. Spring arrives. You're looking ahead, not behind. But Nebraska football is at the point where it needs something positive to happen.

Moreover, it doesn't need anything negative to happen.

Tuesday's game has been called the Bounce Back Bowl. Who wants it more? The team that had its heart broken or the team that had its heart trounced?

I'll give a slight edge there to Nebraska. Generally, it's easier to fire up the engine when your manhood has been called out by the entire state and shown repeatedly by the Big Ten Network.

But Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is from nearby Tampa, Fla. He's a junior, but it's never too early to put on a show for NFL types. The Bulldogs have a bunch of NFL talent, and that can go either way, mentally, in a game like this.

For a team that aspires to SEC standards, beating Nebraska in a bowl game can't rank high on the totem pole. But if Georgia comes out firing, the Huskers will have their hands full. Especially up front, on both fronts.

The battered Blackshirts have incentive to clean up their name, but they'll likely need help from Tim Beck and associates, whether it be running the ball on a Georgia team that has allowed chunks of run yards, or hurrying up the old pace and wearing them down.

If Taylor Martinez plays a clean game (cleaner than usual) and Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah are running hard and wild, the Big Red will be in this one. And might even win their first bowl since blasting Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, back when Pelini was a budding genius.

That would kick off the new year and silence the critics. With no apologies necessary.

Contact the writer:


>> This week's edition of "The Big Red Today Show":

>> NU coach Bo Pelini speaks to the media on Monday, Dec. 31:

>> UGA coach Mark Richt speaks to the media on Monday, Dec. 31:

>> Monday's Husker pep rally in Orlando, Fla.:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.



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