Published Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm / Updated at 10:32 pm
FOOTBALL
Barfknecht: Growth by Armstrong, Husker defense deliver big win for Bo

It's time for a Big Ten football flyover, with the first stop at Nebraska.

Sportswriters often roll their eyes when coaches use a phrase like “keep chopping wood” as a message to players — and fans — that if you stick with the plan, good things will happen.

The Huskers' 17-13 win at Michigan was the ultimate “keep chopping wood” game.

On a style-points-be-damned kind of day, Nebraska stayed in character and persevered against turnovers and the crowd and injuries and doubt to deliver Bo Pelini his prettiest win in a couple of seasons.

One of the real joys of covering college athletics is watching kids ages 18 to 22 — yes, they are kids — grow up as they face joy and sorrow, triumph and tribulation.

You see a freshman like quarterback Tommy Armstrong go from wide-eyed in Game 1 to wily-eyed in Game 9 while silencing a crowd of 110,000 in one of the nation's football cathedrals.

You see in running back Ameer Abdullah the result of three years of focus and physical labor in a game-saving pass reception against Northwestern and a game-winning touchdown against Michigan.

You see what happens to a fuzzy-faced defense when their coaches show enough trust in them to attack, and how that spark of confidence set a fire. (It also helps to have a fire-starter like end Randy Gregory, my Big Ten defensive newcomer of the year).

Now, Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) gets a shot at controlling the Legends Division in this week's home matchup with No. 14 Michigan State (8-1, 5-0).

And the message-board and coffee-shop athletic directors, who were ready to hit the ejection button on Pelini, aren't sure what to think.

To me, his status remains in limbo. But as I noted two weeks ago in a column, not all the results are in, nor have all precincts — specifically the chancellor and the athletic director — been heard from.

Other thoughts from Nebraska-Michigan:

» Jeremiah Sirles, it stinks that you could finish your career on crutches. Folks in Memorial Stadium had better give you a long ovation on Senior Day for always being a standup guy. As many questions as you've faced, you're in line for a sportswriter gig. But you can find a better-paying deal than that.

» First quarter, Nebraska has third-and-3 at the Michigan 5. So the Huskers sub out the nation's fifth-leading rusher (Abdullah) and run the ball with someone else. Why? The play gained 1 yard, forcing a field goal.

» Northern Illinois is ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Nebraska, Michigan, USC and Notre Dame aren't. Talk about climate change.

Michigan

The mystery of the day is how UM offensive coordinator Al Borges obtained a copy of Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis' sleep-inducing playbook for the Nebraska game.

Maybe a bigger mystery is why Borges kept using it. Hey, Al, that outside zone run on first down? It didn't work at Michigan State. It didn't work against Nebraska. And it ain't working anywhere else this season, either.

The Wolverines are three-point underdogs this week at winless-in-the-league Northwestern. How the mighty have fallen.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes, despite an open date, likely are exhausted from watching football and cheering for Oklahoma to beat Baylor (didn't happen), Stanford to beat Oregon (did happen) and LSU to beat Alabama (could have happened but didn't).

Those results leave Ohio State, which moved up to No. 3 in both polls Sunday, out of the BCS championship game as of now. And with No. 4 Baylor close behind and playing a much stronger finishing schedule, OSU will need to keep rooting for help from others.

Minnesota

Winning a fourth straight Big Ten game for the first time in 40 years got Gophers coach Jerry Kill so excited that gophersports.com caught him dancing with the players afterward.

“I thought some things were sacred in the locker room,'' he joked.

Keep dancing, Jerry. Minnesota is in the Top 25 (coaches poll) for the first time in five years. And there is a legitimate path to the Legends Division title with three weeks to go.

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the game:



Video: Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong after the game:



Video: Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah after the game:



Video: Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory after the game:



Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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