Close, but no cigar.
Well, maybe Nebraska deserves a least a piece of the cigar.
Or the whole thing, really.
Trailing 33-10 in the fourth quarter, the Huskers looked like they hadn’t learned any lessons taught to them in recent big games.
Yet another opportunity in a big game, and yet another embarrassing, tail-between-legs defeat.
It was Ohio State in 2012, UCLA in 2013 and Wisconsin in 2014 all over again, except this time, people were trying to figure out who to blame.
There was no fight, heart, or will to win.
The body language early in that fourth quarter wasn’t good, either. Shoulders were slumped over, heads were in hands, and mouth guards were obliterated on as players milled over the reality of a 1-2 start. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, no matter how hard he was playing, had just thrown one of his three interceptions, and Miami had the ball deep in NU territory.
The game was over, and the emptied-out Sun Life Stadium agreed.
Both sets of fans filed for the exits. Those in red figured it was the same ole’ story. Those in orange thought, “hey, our guys might have a chance to be something this year.”
But for whatever reason, everything changed midway through that fourth quarter.
Armstrong single-handedly took, what was shaping up to be an early-tenure disaster for coach Mike Riley, and turned it into something the Huskers could actually build on moving forward.
If he wasn’t making timely throws (he only completed 21 of his 45 attempts), he was Houdini-ing his way to the first-down marker on the ground.
Trailing by 23 with only nine minutes to work with, Armstrong led an improbable comeback that featured three touchdowns and a pair of successful two-point conversions that would eventually get the game to overtime tied at 33.
But some things are too good to be true, aren’t they?
Armstrong gave Miami an escape route after throwing his third and final pick on the first play of OT, and the Hurricanes left with a game-winning field goal. In a way, it was Michigan State in 2014 all over again: an improbable, fourth-quarter comeback that ultimately ends because Armstrong had to throw one too many passes.
The junior headed toward the sidelines and repeatedly pounded the turf, uttering words illegal to print.
Coming this close and getting nothing? You’d be frustrated, too.
But perhaps all of this was a sign.
Down by 23, it’d be easy to give up. It’d be easy to sit at 1-2 and chalk it up to a ‘rebuild,’ or even a ‘transition.’
Yet, coach Mike Riley showed an intangible that may be something to build on moving forward.
Riley’s now the head coach of the first Nebraska team to start 1-2 in 34 years. Heck, not even Bill Callahan did that.
But at the same time, these Huskers could be 3-0 just as easily as they’re 1-2. With a bit of luck, these guys are probably ranked inside the top-25. Instead, both losses have come on the last play of the game.
Nevertheless, they’re in good hands. Riley needs time as much as anything as he tries to piece all of this together. And in some ways, a heartbreaking loss on the road in Miami is more beneficial than a blowout win against Nobody U.
Nebraska still has some very difficult games on its horizon. The Huskers still host Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern, while having to play Minnesota on the road.
What would that feel like had Nebraska lost by four or five touchdowns?
And what does it feel like after watching the events of Saturday night unfold?
Thanks to the resilience of Armstrong, Riley and everyone on that Nebraska sideline, things may not be so bleak for Nebraska after all.
This time, it’s not necessarily the same ole’ story; rather, it’s a peek into just how competitive and fun Riley’s Huskers can be.
And as for that cigar, enjoy it. It’s South Beach, and it’s probably Cuban.
You’ve earned it, Huskers. It might make the flight home a bit more enjoyable.