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November 29, 2013

Game Rewind: Friday was a dark one indeed

The day after Thanksgiving is referred to "Black Friday" for all the shopping deals and the ways they make people act crazy. But the term may take on a new meaning for the football program after its showing Friday afternoon.

The Huskers were beaten up on their own field on Senior Day. They had a number of moments to get back in the game, but were bitten by a host of familiar plagues - turnovers, punt return failures and penalties, not to mention a bizarre fake punt that backfired in the worst possible way. The defense gamely tried to overcome the mistakes made by the offense and special teams, and both Ron Kellogg and Ameer Abdullah gutted their way through a number of crushing hits. But in the end, it wasn't enough.

The loss and the way it went down leave Bo Pelini's future very much in doubt. After the game, Pelini was defensive during his press conference and the coordinators were both in a very somber mood. Nothing is certain as of now, but that could change at any time. Under that cloud, the Huskers now await to hear where they will be sent for a bowl game, and who will be with them when they get there.

On with the rewind…

Five defining moments

The failed fake punt: Facing a fourth-and-three situation from his own 32-yard line, Pelini called for Sam Foltz to run the ball. The redshirt freshman was dropped for an eight-yard loss, and Iowa scored on the next play to extend its lead to 24-10. The call was confusing because Iowa called a timeout prior to the play and had much of its first-team defense on the field expecting a fake. Any momentum the Huskers had went right out the window.

Zaire Anderson's pass interference penalty and Pelini's ensuing tirade: Nebraska trailed just 14-10 when Anderson was called for pass interference as he tackled the intended receiver. The pass was thrown high and may well have been uncatchable, which incited Pelini. He began chewing out the nearest official, swinging his hat and nearly hitting the referee in the process. That drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, moving the Hawkyes from the Nebraska 42-yard line to the 15. The drive ended with a field goal.

Abdullah's fumble: For all of his excellence, Abdullah has fumbled five times this season, and they always seem to come at the worst times. This one was no different. Down 24-17, Nebraska had just scored and forced Iowa into a three-and-out, getting the ball in great position at its own 40. But a Hawkeye linebacker slammed into the running back, who coughed up the ball. Iowa scored two plays later to go up by 14 and make a comeback a long shot.

Quincy Enunwa's touchdown catch: Down 24-10, the Huskers put together a convincing drive to start the fourth quarter. Kellogg found Enunwa for a 15-yard touchdown, his conference-leading tenth scoring grab of the season. Nebraska was never able to complete the comeback, but this touchdown at least gave it hope.

Jordan Westerkamp's punt return mistakes: Nebraska has struggled mightily all year with punt returns, but Friday was one of its worst days. First, Westerkamp allowed a punt to bounce and roll down to the one-yard line. Later he fair caught a punt standing at his own three. These mistakes put the offense, which was having a difficult enough time getting anything going, in terrible spots and helped swing the field position game in Iowa's favor.

Game balls

Michael Rose: The redshirt freshman was all over the field Friday, piling up a career-high 16 tackles, the most by any Husker in a single game this year. Four of those went for a loss.

Vincent Valentine: With Thad Randle sidelined with an injury, the mountainous redshirt freshman got to show what he could do. Valentine finished with five tackles, two of which went for a loss, and picked up a sack on a play where he literally ran over his blocker to envelop the quarterback.

By the numbers

1: Team in the country (Texas Tech) that has fumbled more times than Nebraska's 30. The Huskers had two against Iowa, losing one.

85: Rushing yards by Abdullah, just the second time this year that he's been held under 100 yards rushing in a game.

70: Punt return yards for Nebraska this season, good for 103rd in the country.

They said it

"I'm proud of him. He's done a great job with our players. Our players play hard for him and we're behind him 100 percent. I think our program is headed in the right direction and I admire him for his values and what he knows and believes is important in the world. I think our players have learned valuable life lessons beside winning and losing. That'll hang with them a lot longer."

-Offensive coordinator Tim Beck on what Pelini means to him

"I don't think it affected us too much, but you know people listen to those things. Consciously, it still affects everybody. You don't know what your future is and you don't know who is going to be coaching you. We try to keep our heads on straight so we don't listen to everything and just go out and play."

-Valentine on whether all the speculation surrounding Pelini's future affected the players

"Turnovers, man. It's the same story, different week. We have to get it fixed, and it's the players. Players have to get it figured out. It's gotten to the point where there's not much more the coaches can do for us. They coach us high and tight. We run the drills. We do it over and over and over again, and we turn the rock over."

- Wide receiver Kenny Bell on how the game got away

Biggest question/concern: Will Pelini and his staff be retained?

This topic will be bandied around much in the coming hours. One way or the other, it seems athletic director Shawn Eichorst and chancellor Harvey Perlman will make a decision quickly. If the pair does want to go in a different direction (and there is no evidence one way or the other at this time), this was exactly the type of performance that will make that decision easier. The Huskers made the same mistakes they always do and lost to a less-talented team at home. Take into account Pelini's on-field antics and swearing at the press conference, and Perlman and Eichorst have all the ammunition they need if they want to pull the trigger.





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