||Tuesday, January 1
Huskers ready to show CU loss a fluke
By Wayne Drehs
PASADENA, Calif. -- For Nebraska free safety Dion Booker, the number is still almost impossible to grasp.
Even now, more than a month and a half after the fact, Booker still can't comprehend the fact that the vaunted Nebraska defense surrendered 62 points to Colorado.
"It really didn't even hit me until the next day," Booker said. "But when it truly started to sink in, I was crushed. I was in total disarray. I never thought I would see the day when any team, even if it was a group loaded with NFL All-Stars, put 62 points on us. It blows me away. I still have a hard time even saying that number."
That number was the most points a Nebraska team had ever allowed. Just as demoralizing was the way Colorado dominated, lining up and physically manhandling the normally tough-as-nails Huskers. Essentially, Colorado force fed the Huskers a taste of their own medicine. Which doesn't happen in Lincoln. They're not used to getting smacked around like Rutgers.
Which makes Thursday's Rose Bowl presented by AT&T all the more interesting. All week, the Huskers have been told they don't belong. That they don't deserve to be national champions. And that the high-octane Miami offense is going to light up the Nebraska D.
The Huskers are the underdogs. And Thursday is their chance to prove all the critics wrong.
"We have a big chip on our shoulders," junior cornerback DeJuan Groce said. "All this negative feedback and negative talk, it's on the defense. And I can't tell you how badly we want to get on the field and prove that the Colorado disaster was a fluke. Because that's what it was."
That's how Miami appears to be treating it as well. Hurricane coaches have said that although they've peeked at the Colorado game tape, nitpicking a handful of things they hope to exploit, they're hardly building the game plan around it.
"You watch that tape with a grain of salt," said Miami offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. "We all know that's an aberration. That's not Nebraska."
Against Colorado, Nebraska missed tackles, blew coverages and forgot their assignments. Normally, the Huskers say they have about ten defensive breakdowns in a game. Against Colorado, there were two and three on individual plays.
And it showed. The 62 points was more than Nebraska had allowed in each of its first eight games combined. Colorado amassed 582 total yards, including 380 on the ground. Running back Chris Brown rushed for 198 yards on 24 carries. He scored a record six touchdowns. And he was a backup.
"More than anything, I felt like we let down the Blackshirts that were here before us," senior linebacker Jamie Burrow said. "That's certainly not the legacy that I wanted to leave behind."
The Huskers insist that they were not physically dominated by Colorado and that the majority of their errors were mental mistakes. It's been 41 days since that game and everything, they say, has been corrected.
They've also fixed their bruised psyche.
"Without question, the most important part of this rebuilding has been dealing with the emotions and maintaining our confidence," Booker said. "From a mental point of view, so many things went wrong, so many things fell apart. You have to find a way to get that edge back."
The process has been aided by encouraging phone calls from numerous former Husker Blackshirts, including Mike Brown, Ralph Brown and Carlos Polk. Each of them has called to voice their support.
"Mike's a pretty militant, straight-forward guy," senior cornerback Keyuo Craver said. "And he was like, 'Man, you guys got your asses kicked. But forget about it. Don't let it get your spirit down. You still have one more chance.'"
And it can't come soon enough.
"It's time for all the talking to stop and the game to start," Groce said. "And anybody who doesn't want to believe in us, that's fine. Just watch the game. That's all I say. Watch the game."
But he knows better than to be so greedy. What with all he's been through this year, Brown is simply happy to be a part of the Rose Bowl.
Rock bottom for Brown came on June 16, when he was charged with misdemeanor assault for an altercation with his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. Brown pleaded no contest, paid a fine, and was suspended for the season-opener against TCU.
When he returned, he had a field goal blocked and redshirt freshman Sandro De Angelis was handed the kicking duties. A week later against Rice, Brown's only attempt came when he booted a PAT on Nebraska's sixth touchdown.
But the next Saturday against Missouri, DeAngelis missed a PAT and had a field goal blocked, while Brown booted a 35-yarder. He's been the starter since.
"We did not want to have it be a situation where we were bouncing back and forth with a kicker," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "Josh hit a hot streak there early on and basically has taken over the position."
Since regaining his starting job, Brown hasn't been perfect, making 9-of-12 field goal attempts and 27-of-30 PATs. But it sure beats sitting on the bench. And he appreciates things a little bit more
"It's that much sweeter. It really is," Brown said. "It's like when you work so hard for something you never want to spend your money because you earned it. You know what you put in to get it."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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