In some ways a day like today never happened for Tom Osborne in 1997.
At that time Osborne shocked everyone before the Orange Bowl when he announced his retirement. He never got to have that final moment in the sun at Memorial Stadium.
That's why it was only fitting that the man who brought this state so much got to have that final moment where 85,000 Husker fans could thank him for everything he has done. Everyone from Barry Switzer to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave their praise and thanks to Osborne on Saturday.
It was special. The fact that head coach Bo Pelini had Osborne lead his team out on the field was special. It needed to happen and I'm glad Pelini recognized that.
"I asked coach to do it. He was reluctant to do it, and I thought it was the way it should be," Pelini said. "I told him, I said 'It would mean a lot to me, to the football team, and I think that's the way it should be.' Not just for us, but I think the fans wanted to see him walk out of there one last time. I think it's obvious why that should happen."
If anything Saturday's pregame festivities with Osborne and Senior Day helped the Huskers have the best start we've seen them have all season.
In some ways Saturday's 38-14 win over Minnesota felt like one of Osborne's dominating performances from the 90's. NU imposed their will on the Gophers early and often to jump out to commanding 24-0 lead at halftime.
Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell told me after the game he recognized the importance of Osborne's final moments in the stadium and the team wanted to send him out the right way.
"It was just an amazing feeling," Bell said. "Just historically, everything he's done for us as a university and just personally. As 18-22 year old young men, he's done so much to influence our lives that we were really thankful to have him lead us onto the field. That's a big deal, because the Tunnel Walk, that's a sacred thing, and to have such an iconic person lead you out onto the field, it was a great feeling."
Saturday was also special for running backs coach Ron Brown, who is the only member on Pelini's staff that coached under Osborne.
"I haven't gotten emotional a lot about things, but I did," Brown said. "I saw him at halftime and I said, 'Thanks for giving me a chance. You didn't need to take a young, Ivy League guy who didn't have any prior association with anything at Nebraska. You didn't need to take that chance.' But he did. We went through a lot together and he's been a lifelong friend. We haven't always agreed, but most of the time we have. I thank the Lord for him.
"It broke me a little bit seeing him come out with the team early on and I realized I was blessed to have the opportunity to be with him. He was there for the birth of my children and he's kind of seen me grow up a bit. I'll miss him a lot."
On to the post game breakdown and grade out .
What I saw on Saturday
***Nebraska made this look like it was supposed to looks, which is much easier said than done today in college football. I thought the second quarter is when NU started to impose their will. The Huskers outgained the Gophers 174-6 and had 12 first downs compared to Minnesota's one.
***NU better make room in the record books for Bell. On Saturday Bell had arguably the best game of his career with nine catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Bell has a great chance to be the Huskers first 1,000 yard receiver in school history and he should be named first team All-Big Ten.
***Props to sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah, who broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark on Saturday with his 79 yards on 18 carries. It was by no means Abdullah's best game, but he gutted out yardage when Minnesota did their best to load the box with eight and nine defenders.
***Quarterback Taylor Martinez got some major props from Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill on Saturday for his ability to read and recognize the Gopher defense at the line of scrimmage. Kill said Martinez has taken major steps from where he was a year ago.
***The Blackshirts set the early tone for the defense by stuffing the Gophers on an early third-and-1 from the 38. They followed that up by stuffing them on a third-and-2. Any momentum Minnesota hoped to gain on offense was completely shot after being stuffed on consecutive third-and-shorts.
***Defensively somebody from Nebraska's secondary deserves to be named first team All-Conference. The question is who do you give it to? Ciante Evans and Daimion Stafford both seem worthy right now and I wouldn't be surprised if Stanley Jean-Baptiste receives some consideration for second team. Nebraska's pass defense ranks as one of the best in the country and they need to be rewarded for that on the all-conference teams.
The final grades
Rushing offense: B-
Minnesota really loaded up the box and did their best to make Martinez throw the football. The only problem was that game plan didn't work so well. The Huskers finished with a season-low 133 yards rushing, but when somebody commits nine people to stop the run it's going to be hard to get very many yards. It's only the second time this season NU has failed to rush for 200 yards.
Passing offense: A+
Martinez arguably had his best passing game of the season finishing 21-of-29 for 308 yards and two touchdowns. His decision making was outstanding and Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner all made plays on the ball in one-on-one situations. Martinez also showed good pocket awareness and stepped up multiple times to find wide open receivers down the field.
Rushing defense: A+
Minnesota finished with just 87 yard rushing, but 44 of them came in the fourth quarter when Nebraska's starters were already out of the game. The Gophers were dominated up front by the Husker front seven, as they averaged just 3 yards a carry on 39 attempts.
Passing defense: A+
It was a long day at the office for Minnesota freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, who finished just 8-of-23 with 59 yards and two interceptions. The passing defense continues to be one of the biggest strengths for this football team.
Special teams: B
Kicker/punter Brett Maher had a solid day connecting on his only field goal attempt and averaging 42.7 yards on six punts. He also put six of his seven kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks. Nebraska managed to get just three punt returns for a total of 7 yards on 11 punts from the Gophers. NU continues to let too many punts hit the ground.
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.