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Watson: Huskers have good things going on


Terry Douglass
The Grand Island Independent
Posted Oct 25, 2008 @ 09:12 PM


What transpired Saturday at Memorial Stadium added to the mounting evidence that all the flowery talk coming out of the Nebraska camp is more than just spin.

At least that's how Cornhuskers' offensive coordinator Shawn Watson sees it.

"This is a really good thing going on right now," Watson said following Nebraska's 32-20 come-from-behind victory over Baylor. "We've just got to keep things headed in the right direction."

Unlike head coach Bo Pelini, who wasn't around to experience what went on during the Huskers' 5-7 season last year, Watson was. Now in his third season with the program, Watson seems uniquely qualified to comment on the state of a Nebraska team that improved to 5-3 on the season heading into next Saturday night's contest at No. 4-ranked Oklahoma.

Slowly, but surely, Watson said he's seeing players grow and confidence developing. That's something, especially considering that the Huskers endured a long bowl-less offseason after losing six of their final seven games in 2007.

"This is a team that, after the season we went through last year, there was some confidence that we had to rebuild  --  plus relationships, trust, patience  --  all those things that make a team a team," Watson said. "We have developed that as the season has worn on. We have become a pretty consistent group of guys. There's no panic in this team right now."

That was apparent against Baylor. While still no world-beaters, these are definitely not your father's Bad-News Bears. Behind the scary-good athletic abilities of quarterback Robert Griffin, the traditional South Division bottom-feeders led Nebraska 20-17 at halftime.

But while Watson and the rest of the coaching staff might not have liked everything they were seeing on the field, they had to like what they heard at halftime. Seniors stepped forward, spoke up and helped will the Huskers to rally from a halftime deficit to win for the first time since 2003  --  a span of 22 games.

Watson credited numerous seniors  --  Joe Ganz, Marlon Lucky, Nate Swift, Todd Peterson, Lydon Murtha, Matt Slauson, Mike Huff  --  for the way they've taken ownership of the program. And not just Saturday, but all season long.

"Those guys have all stepped up big and been a big part of who we are this year," Watson said. "Ever since we've kind of been transitioning ourselves to what we're doing right now, those guys have stepped up and made play after play after play.

"A lot of it has to do with the character of the guys. … The seniors have all stepped up."

Watson said he thinks that many players  --  seniors and otherwise  --  have followed the lead of their head coach. Now, they're running with it on their own.

"Bo has done a beautiful job of leading them because he has talked about leaving a legacy for us to build our program on and they're doing that," Watson said. "They're really doing an excellent job of leading us, so that's been a beautiful thing that's happened with our players and our team."

After home losses to Virginia Tech and Missouri dropped Nebraska to 3-2 with a road trip to Texas Tech looming, Watson said he's seen remarkably resiliency from the Huskers.

"They have been really, really persistent in finding their way through difficulty and adversity and that happens when a team starts coming together," Watson said. "When ’it' starts happening, that ’it' I'm talking about is chemistry.

"That's what I'm enjoying the most about coaching this team and being around these guys every day. I mean, you can feel it. It's in this building."

While it goes down in the history books as just another Nebraska victory over Baylor, truth is, Saturday could've been a very deflating day for Husker Nation. With things seemingly on the upward swing and bowl eligibility in sight, losing at home to the Bears could've dealt this team a crushing blow.

But good teams find ways to win. Sure, it was Baylor, but it seems Nebraska is taking steps toward climbing into that category of "good" teams in the Big 12. This week, the Huskers won without their A-game.

"It's tough to be your best every week," Ganz said. "Obviously, that's something you strive for, but you're going to find yourself in games like this and it's just how we respond, and I thought we responded well."

Indeed they did. The Huskers made several key defensive stops while pitching a second-half shutout and the offense capitalized, especially on third down, converting 11-of-17 opportunities. Meanwhile, NU's defense helped make Baylor 0-for-10 on third down.

Watson said what the coaches will like about the Baylor game is that the players found a way to win, but yet made enough mistakes to stay humble. On offense, for example, Nebraska wound up with 497 yards, but the players apparently weren't satisfied.

"We're doing some really cool things that we're excited about as a staff and I think the players are excited about, so it's working," Watson said. "But again, we're sitting here with 500 yards of offense and, man, we're disappointed in a lot of things because we could've been better.

"We left some points on the field again because we could've been better."

Again following Pelini's lead, it seems these Huskers are never 100 percent happy.

"We're relentlessly going to pursue perfection," Watson said. "That's our purpose right now because we have a chance to be really good, but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot on occasions, but again, that's why we come to work on Monday."

While the Huskers will be a decided underdog against the Sooners, Missouri's recent stumbles and Saturday's Kansas loss have left Nebraska right in the thick of the Big 12 Conference's North Division race. Not that Watson claims to notice.

"The beautiful thing about this team and this staff is that we're one-week-at-a-time guys," Watson said. "If you don't take care of business in this league week to week, game to game, you're going to get lost in the shuffle real, real fast."

Terry Douglass is sports editor for The Independent.


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