October 19, 2008

Huskers take huge step in win over Iowa State

Saturday's game against Iowa State was a must-win for Nebraska on so many levels.

It was a must-win for the Huskers' confidence after three straight losses. For their first win in Big 12 Conference play. For their first win over a BCS school. For any real chance at going to a bowl game.

There's no question the Huskers needed a win, and they got it in a 35-7 drubbing of the Cyclones. It wasn't the prettiest win, but it was still a major step forward for a team that hadn't tasted victory in more than a month.

"We came out of this football game better than we came in, and that is progress," head coach Bo Pelini said. "As I told the players, we have a long way to go. (But) the players feel themselves getting better. It is an everyday thing. Every day we walk out onto the field it provides with an opportunity to get better.

"We cannot waste an opportunity. Our players are coming to work. They see the necessity of getting better. If we just stay with it, we can finish this season well."

With nearly 550 yards of total offense and a defense that held ISU to just seven points and 45 yards of offense in the first half, the certainly didn't waste their opportunity on Saturday.

A week after coming one pass short of knocking off then-No. 7 Texas Tech in overtime, Nebraska appeared to be playing with a rejuvenated sense of confidence it definitely lacked two weeks ago in a 52-17 loss to Missouri.

The penalties were minimal, the defense was stingy and aggressive and the offense was able to put points on the board in a variety of ways. It wasn't a perfect game by any means, as they lost three of their five fumbles in the game, but it was about as close as the Huskers have come to it all season.

All last week, coaches and players alike raved about the level of intensity and focus the team had in practice. On Saturday, that carried over from the practice field into game day.

"I thought we needed a game like this just for confidence," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "With all the inexperience we have, we needed a confidence builder like this. I knew we were going to have a game like this. I did, because the week of preparation was so good. It translates on game day. If we keep approaching the preparation like we have the past couple of weeks, we can be pretty darn good."

Carl Pelini said since the loss to Missouri, Nebraska has been able to steadily find out what kind of team it has and what exactly it has to work with. During the past three weeks, Pelini said the coaching staff has been able to identify NU's strengths, and each day they are getting better at knowing how to use them.

"I think we're growing up as a team," Carl Pelini said. "I think some of the discussions that came out of that Missouri game were a jumping-off point for us on both sides of the ball. Now we're beginning to find our identity. Now we just have to keep getting better at it."

After the game, many of the players talked about how they could sense the team growing together throughout the past two weeks, even after last week's heart-breaking loss. For them, Saturday was just an example of what happens when a team rallies around each other with one common goal in mind.

"Even if you don't know much about football, you can tell the difference in this team and hw much we fight and have each other's back," junior linebacker Phillip Dillard said. "Guys are starting to get it and come along. The guys are starting to play as one."

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