Two weekends ago, it seemed as if the sky over the Cornhusker State was ready to fall after the Nebraska football team’s loss at Minnesota. A week later in Lincoln, Neb., all seemed right again for the Huskers fan base.
In a highlight-reel ending at Memorial Stadium, Jordan Westerkamp caught Ron Kellogg III’s tipped Hail Mary pass in the end zone with no time left in regulation, which gave Nebraska a 27-24 win over Northwestern.
That, combined with Michigan’s 29-6 loss at No. 18 Michigan State, put the Huskers in sole possession of second place in the Legends Division, a half game ahead of Minnesota and one game ahead of the Wolverines.
Yet when Nebraska coach Bo Pelini looked back at Westerkamp’s play, his perspective was a metaphor for his approach to a season that has felt like a roller-coaster ride for the Huskers.
Stay the course. Don’t get too caught up in the moment.
“I heard the play was under review,” Pelini said. “It was, first thing’s first, let’s make that sure nothing happened that I wasn't aware of, and keeping control until we saw exactly what happened.
“It was a crazy game last weekend. The kids are excited, but we’ve put that behind us.”
The Wolverines (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) and the Huskers (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) meet Saturday at Michigan Stadium in a game that will have implications on the division standings — and likely on where either team could play in a postseason bowl game.
Michigan is fourth in the six-team Legends Division, behind Michigan State (5-0), Nebraska, and Minnesota (3-2). UM tight end Devin Funchess has a tempered perspective on the importance of Saturday.
“We have our own destiny and future,” Funchess said. “It’s in our hands.
"We just have to go out, win this next game at home, keep the home winning streak up and win for the seniors.”
One can draw historical parallels between Michigan and Nebraska. Each program has produced some of college football’s iconic figures: former head coach and United States representative Tom Osborne is akin to a folk hero in Nebraska, while Fielding Yost —the former Michigan head coach and athletic director — spent a season as the Huskers’ football coach in 1898.
Michigan claims Hall of Fame head coach Bo Schembechler, as well as Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson.
Each has a passionate fan base, though Funchess points out that Michigan has more wins in its program’s history.
Each has had a certain cloud that’s hung over the program at one point or another this season.
In mid-September, the Web site Deadspin.com published audio clips of a profanity-laced tirade by Pelini in between a postgame press conference and a Husker Sports Network interview, recorded following a 2011 win over Ohio State and published after Nebraska’s 41-21 loss to UCLA.
In addition to issuing a statement of apology, Pelini was frank about the situation on a Big Ten teleconference following the release of the recording.
"I've said it over and over since I've been here that we have great fans, but I'm like anybody else,'' Pelini said in September. "You say things in an emotional moment under certain circumstances and like anybody else, you're human, you make mistakes, you apologize for your mistakes and you move on.
"That's all you can do in this situation."
Pelini, a a Youngstown native and an Ohio State graduate, insists that his team has maintained its poise, in spite of a season that’s has brought its ups and downs.
“You can't ride the highs and lows,” he said. “We take a very black-and-white approach. This is where we are, this is where we want to be, stay the course, stay with the process. The highs and lows, the ride of emotions, you have to get past all that and stay the course throughout the whole season.
“We've been able to rebound from difficult things that happened. We’ve done a good job most of the time of staying the course, even when things are good. You have to have a consistent approach.”