Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini is aging quickly. While his team continues to hang onto its lead in the Big Ten Legends Division, it's only by a hair.
After coming back from a 24-14 deficit in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game with Michigan State, the coach is glad to escape with the win, but he would rather his team take the lead with more than six seconds to go next week.
"I wish we could make it easier on us," Pelini said. "I'm aging quick. I'm 44-years old, but I don't know how old I am now after the last couple weeks."
The Huskers' 28-24 win against the Spartans was their third win involving a double digit second half comeback this season. Previously, Nebraska overcame a 17 point deficit to beat Wisconsin and a 12 point deficit to beat Northwestern.
Coming into this weekend's game in East Lansing, the Huskers expected a tough test from their divisional opponents, especially versus the Spartan defense.
"That was about as much of a heavyweight fight as you could have imagined," wide receivers coach Rich Fisher said. "That's what we talked about. We knew what that defense was about. They were a good defensive football team."
Faced with that tough Michigan State defense, the Huskers struggled to score in the second half. Midway through the fourth quarter, Nebraska found itself down ten. After failing to score in the third quarter, the Huskers put themselves in an all too familiar situation with the clock winding down.
They had to turn the tide. They had to make something happen if they wanted to win and keep their Big Ten destiny in their own hands.
When the Huskers came back once again, even offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he was amazed by the way the Huskers responded with their backs up against the wall. He said he was proud of the way his team responded to the pressure.
"My message to the team before the game was just that," he said. "Keep swinging for four quarters until the clock says zero, zero, zero. You have to keep fighting because we have endured a lot. We've endured injuries. I mean, one of the best players in our program hasn't played a quarter offensively. We've had sickness and injuries throughout our football team, and they just keep fighting, battling, and believing all the way down to the end."
As the Huskers move ever closer to playing in the Big Ten title game, each win is enormous, and running backs coach Ron Brown says a renewed focus has his players locking in on their goal.
"These kids have learned a lot about who God is and who they are, and the coaches have hung in there with them," Brown said. "We've been through a lot in the last five years. We've lost a number of games in situations like the one we were in tonight, ten points down. We might have lost a number of those games a year ago, two years ago, but this year we are stepping up and at least finishing."
Brown says the Huskers matured significantly in the offseason. He says they are mentally stronger and more able to handle late game pressure because of this.
"These kids have been able to search inside because that is where the game is won," he said. "It's not just in the outward circumstances. It's who you are inside and your ability to keep your poise."
The Huskers have been able to keep their poise a few times this season, but they will likely be required to do so again. Fisher has confidence the team.
"When the pressure is on, that's the time to get it done," the coach said. "And that's when we are hot."