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JOHN MABRY COLUMN: Blowouts difficult to coach

In the days leading up to the Nebraska-Baylor game, there was a lot of talk about looking ahead.

I, for one, was not looking ahead to Oklahoma during Saturday's Bear bash. I was looking at my watch.

Let's face it, folks. NU's 59-0 victory was about as exciting as a Bush-Gore debate. I'm not sure it kept the interest of even the wealthiest 1 percent of fans at Memorial Stadium, those with diversions aplenty in skybox land.

But for Coach Frank Solich, this was far from a no-brainer. In some ways you could argue that coaching a 59-point rout is as difficult as managing a nailbiter.

In tight games, such as NU's overtime win at Notre Dame, you know who you want on the field. In those battles, it's all about play-calling. In games that get out of hand early, it's all about name-calling.

When do you start calling the names of third- and fourth- and fifth-stringers - those players who do most of their sweating when the stands are empty?

How do you make sure the No. 1s get the work they need to stay sharp while giving the most-backed-up backups something to tell the grandkids?

Solich and his staff get high marks here for getting everyone into the act against Baylor. Lil' Red was about the only Husker who didn't get the call from the coach.

Of the 132 players who dressed out, 115 can say they played football for the University of Nebraska on Saturday.

For the Eric Crouches and Carlos Polks of the world, it's no big thing. But for the Nick Gragerts and Mic Boettners, it's everything.

And while a lot of fans might not think twice about who's in the game when the score is 52-0 at halftime, Solich knows what it means for a freshman fullback from Shelby, say, like Curt Tomasevicz, to carry the ball just once in a game at Memorial Stadium.

"There's a lot that goes into this kind of game," Solich said. "You always try to make sure that you have momentum throughout the game (while) doing the right thing for your players in terms of trying to give everyone some playing time."

The next challenge is trying to let the reserves have some fun without making fun of your opponent. How does it look if you're calling play-action passes from Brett Lindstrom to Jake McKee in the fourth quarter of a 59-0 game?

"There's a fine line there," Solich said. "You put the ball up in the second half, and you have some success with that, it's probably not the right thing to do."

Especially when an old friend is in pain on the other sideline. The toughest thing of all for Solich had to be watching former Husker assistant Kevin Steele get flat-out embarrassed in his old neighborhood.

A handshake usually does the trick when coaches meet after a game, but Solich took the time to give Steele more than the obligatory 'nice job' at midfield Saturday.

"We've all been in games where things don't go as planned or as you want them to go," Solich said. "I understand that, and Kevin understands that."

Those with an understanding of how the BCS rankings work know that points come before pals when the computer starts digesting numbers this week. A 59-0 win looks pretty tame when you consider NU was on a 152-point pace after one quarter.

Had Solich kept the starters in a little longer, the Huskers could have easily hit 70 or beyond, but enough was enough.

"The BCS hasn't crossed my mind up to this point," he said. "Maybe it has to cross my mind now. But up to this point, it hasn't and didn't enter into this game."

So, what's my point?

That it ain't easy winnin' easy. Reach John Mabry at 473-7320 or jmabry@journalstar.com.

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