LINCOLN — This is why they play the games.
There is no way this battered and sick Iowa State football team should have come into Lincoln and beaten Nebraska.
Not without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud or starting running back Alexander Robinson, who is the leading rusher in the Big 12 Conference.
Both sat out with injuries, plus ISU coach Paul Rhoads said he had players throwing up in the locker room because of illness.
“You come into a stadium like this and you play without the Big 12’s leading rusher, you play without your starting quarterback, not to mention a lengthy list of individual football players who were sick,” Rhoads said. “We had fevers throughout the week. We had guys miss practice throughout the week. We had guys puking in buckets before the game, at the hotel, at halftime. To extend that kind of effort is just a fabulous, phenomenal effort, and I couldn’t be prouder of our football team.”
That effort, combined with eight Husker turnovers, led to a strange 9-7 Cyclone win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“They’ve got an outstanding defense,” Rhoads said of the Huskers. “Are you kidding me? Eight turnovers I think we gained, and the final score of this game was 9-7. Anybody else that had that kind of turnover advantage would’ve won by 30 or 40 points.
“Credit Nebraska. They’ve got an unbelievable defensive football team, and the coaching staff that got them to hang around.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said just about the same thing.
“We were lucky to be in the football game,” Pelini said. “Eight turnovers? We could’ve got run out of this stadium. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around that in my coaching career.
“It’s pretty obvious. You can’t win a football game like that.”
No you can’t. Pelini said they will look at some personnel changes, although he indicated Zac Lee was still the No. 1 quarterback.
“We’ll take a look at everything, take a hard look at the film and keep working and keep trying to get better,” Pelini said. “It’s the only way I know how to do it.”
Two weeks ago after the Huskers had survived with a 27-12 victory at Missouri, most Nebraska fans marked the next two games down as wins. It didn’t turn out that way.
Texas Tech and Iowa State came into Memorial Stadium and both left with victories. The Huskers aren’t used to losing at home, let alone two in a row.
They will try to break that home losing streak Nov. 7 when the best 4-3 team in the country — Oklahoma — comes to town. But of more immediate concern is a trip next week to Waco, Texas, to play the Baylor Bears.
Baylor, a team that was pounded by Oklahoma State Saturday, isn’t the same team without quarterback Robert Griffin, who will miss the rest of the season after a knee injury.
But right now, there is no such thing as an automatic win on the Husker schedule.
NU defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who blocked an extra point and a field goal attempt against ISU, said the Huskers’ goals are still there.
“I still believe our goals are still intact,” Suh said. “It’s a bad hiccup to take, but it’s something that we’ve got to deal with, something that we can still move forward from.”
Winning the Big 12 North is one of the Huskers’ main goals. To have a chance to do that, they have to start winning immediately.
Suh said he’s going to do everything he can and play as hard as he can to get the Huskers back on track.
“I’m going to keep playing and if somebody’s not up to that level, I’m going to keep pushing them along and get them to that level, but for the most part, I feel that everybody on defense is playing up to that level,” Suh said. “Everybody is playing as hard as they can. It’s mental mistakes that are being made, not physical.”
Those mental mistakes are as much of the game as the physical ones.
“It’s football,” Pelini said. “You’ve got to respect the game. What did I say going into this season? We’ve got to take care of us. We haven’t done that yet. We haven’t executed to the level to play good football and that starts with me. I’m the head guy and I take full responsibility for it.”
In any event, the Huskers aren’t going to give up now. When the going gets tough, well, you know the rest.
“I expect our men to be fighters,” NU offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. “Men fight, and I believe we have some men on this team. Men fight. I mean what’s the alternative? There are two things people do. They fight or they flee. Those are the two things you do.
“I expect everybody to come to work fighting.”
No doubt Suh will be one of those players who comes out fighting, and he will say what needs to be said of someone isn’t fighting right alongside with him.
“More or less, it’s my nature to pull a guy aside and do it like that, but if I feel it’s needed for me to speak up and say something for the team, I’ll do it,” Suh said. “I’ve done it before in the past so it’s not a problem for me to do so at all.”
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.