Best of Nebraska’s 2019 year

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Since the Huskers aren’t going bowling for the third year in a row, it’s time to put a bow on this season and look ahead to 2020, when once again optimism will run high.
Looking back, given the fact that many predicted Nebraska would win the West division (with one publication actually listing Big Red as a dark horse to get to the playoffs), this year’s 5-7 overall record left Husker Nation with yet another bitter pill to swallow. It already feels like it’s going to be a terribly long off-season.
So looking back, there were lots of fun moments, some disappointing stretches and a few jaw-dropping instances where Scott Frost’s team just didn’t have it in them to compete. Here are a few as I remember:
Best half of football: No doubt the first two quarters in Boulder against Colorado. A dominating Blackshirt performance and a stellar offensive showing gave the Huskers a 17-0 lead at intermission, outgaining the Buffs 266 to 84. The first half at Maryland was good, too, but hey, it was Maryland.
Best performer: Freshman phenom Wan’Dale Robinson lived up to his hype and then some, exploding onto the college football scene as a legitimate threat to go the distance on every play. His explosiveness is just what Frost is looking for, and his toughness is unmatched. Let’s hope he’s the beginning of a pattern in Lincoln, and let’s hope he becomes a team leader in 2020.
Best senior performer: Even though he was on campus for just a couple months prior to playing for the Huskers, I’m giving this award to Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels. He became an instant leader in the locker room, an instant favorite with the media, and without his stout play in the middle, Nebraska’s defense would have been even worse. That’s a scary thought.
Best freshman who still redshirted: This one is a no-brainer. Quarterback Luke McCaffery played brilliantly each time he saw the field. Against Indiana he threw a 24-yard touchdown to Kanawai Noa and against Iowa he tossed a pin-point 39-yard touchdown toss to JD Spielman as fans chanted “Luke.” At Maryland he even played a little wide receiver, catching a difficult 12-yard pass from Adrian Martinez. I think he’s going to be special.
Most shocking moment: Ohio State’s first half explosion against the Huskers in Lincoln proved to be the most surprising of the entire season. The atmosphere was electric at kickoff following an appearance by College GameDay earlier that day in the parking lot just outside the stadium, but one of the most talented teams in recent memory to visit Memorial Stadium put a hurt on the Blackshirts, rolling up nearly 600 yards of total offense. Unlike two seasons ago, Husker faithful stayed pretty much to the end, or at least until the middle of the fourth quarter, but the end result was just as disappointing.
Most improved blocker: I’m going to sound a little biased but I’m going with Aurora’s own Austin Allen. Time and time again he won the one-on-one matchups, especially during the second half of the season. His work in the weight room is certainly paying off. The next step for Big Red is to utilize him more in the passing game, especially in the red zone where he can use his height to his advantage.
Most thrilling moment: A walk-off 24-yard field goal by walk-on placekicker Lane McCallum gave the Huskers a rare home win over Northwestern. Those kinds of games don’t come around too often, especially in Nebraska’s favor, and it’s always nice getting a win over Pat Fitzgerald.
Most disappointing ending: I’m going with Black Friday’s Iowa game here, not that it was any more disappointing than Colorado or Purdue, but because of the mere fact that it kept the Huskers out of a bowl game. And the way the Blackshirts played in the second half, only to give up back-to-back 22-yard passing plays on Iowa’s winning field goal drive, made for a miserable finish as Husker fans filed out of Memorial Stadium into the darkness for the final time this season.
Best comeback: No doubt it’s at Illinois where the Huskers were down 14-0 midway through the first quarter and trailed by 14 late in the third. Big Red outscored the home team 15-3 during the final 15 minutes and at least offensively, played one of their best games of the season. It also marked Frost’s first win on the road.
Best “wow did he just do that?’ moment: You’ll have to go back and look at the tape, but Wan’Dale’s pass reception in the second quarter against Illinois was it, turning what looked like a short gain into a 27-yard touchdown scamper, the freshman bursting away from two defenders as he caught the ball, then juking a third just a second later on his way down the right sideline to the end zone. Truly magical. Husker fans want more.
Most optimistic thought heading into next season: Even though Nebraska will play another difficult schedule next season, Husker fans will look forward to what basically amounts to an entire offense returning. The depth will be better, the knowledge will be better and hopefully, the play will be better. That should be enough to get Big Red to a bowl game next December.
Baby steps, remember.
DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at advertising@hamilton.net.

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