There's something about Youngstown, Ohio. It doesn't take any s--- off anybody. The attitude is woven into the fabric of the town. It's a tough, proud, not particularly appealing town.
Just don't tell that to any of the residents because you're likely to get a reaction similar to that of Bo Pelini Saturday night. Nebraska's coach raged. He yelled at officials. He yelled at his own players. He gritted his teeth while his team got flagged for 16 penalties in a crushing 9-6 loss at Texas A&M.
"I'm not talking about the penalties," said Pelini, a proud native of Youngstown. "You all watched the game."
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|1. Boise State|
|8. Ohio State|
|9. Oklahoma State|
|10. Michigan State|
|13. Virginia Tech|
|16. Texas A&M|
|17. South Carolina|
|21. Florida State|
|23. NC State|
|24. West Virginia|
|25. Northern Illinois|
The inference being that we could see for ourselves how Nebraska was jobbed. Maybe. Depends on your definition of "jobbed." It's obvious, though, that Pelini did plenty of talking about the penalties during the game. He chased down Big 12 referee Greg Burks after the gun. There were some questionable calls. Check that, there were some disgusting calls. There is a video circulating that appears to show Texas A&M's Tony Jerod-Eddie grabbing the junk of Husker tight end Ben Cotton. Cotton retaliated by trying to horse-kick Jerod-Eddie. Cotton got the penalty.
Pelini should be mad, just not in Saturday's public-meltdown kind of way. The penalty differential was, um, interesting -- 16 against Nebraska, two against A&M. But that's all it was: questionable. Any conspiracy theories about retaliation against Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten should die right here, right now. The officials had nothing to do with another injury to Taylor Martinez. Nebraska went backwards 145 yards because of the penalties and still almost won.
Meanwhile, the coach could be seen mouthing some harsh comments to the gutty Martinez. Chasing down Burks was reminiscent of his reaction 11 months ago in the Big 12 title game. That contest ended with the flying Pelini Brothers freaking out after Nebraska's 13-12 loss to Texas. Brother/defensive coordinator Carl Pelini was quoted as saying as he pointed to the Longhorns, "you should be ashamed to accept that trophy."
Except the officials got it right that night almost a year ago. Eventually, that game's result became the foundation for Nebraska's farewell season in the Big 12. The whole season, it seemed, revolved around beating Texas on Oct. 16. It was about getting even and it was childish. The 20-13 loss looks worse every day for Nebraska.
And Pelini's conduct, bordering on embarrassing, is becoming an issue. There is a quiet confidence (arrogance?) around Husker Nation that everything will be better in the Big Ten. More millions, "classier" league. More competent officials? Everybody thinks their conference's officials are the worst. First let's see if the Big Ten has figured out conference expansion. It sure has hell hasn't figured out how to expand a stadium.
Note to Bo: If you think Kyle Field was nuts Saturday night -- and it was -- get ready for some of the cribs in your new conference. There's this place called The Shoe at Ohio State. You may be familiar with it. You played in it under John Cooper and Earle Bruce. Buckeye fans liked you then. They won't going forward. Oh, The Big House at Michigan can be intimidating too -- under the right conditions.
Steps have been taken to improve officiating. Overall, replay has been a success. Crews are being blended from different regions and conferences to avoid the appearance of affiliation with a single conference. There is a national coordinator of officials, Dave Parry, formerly of the Big Ten. Blaming officials also is one of the weakest excuses in sports.
Here's a suggestion: Score ... more ... points.
Pelini needs to clean up his act. At least publicly. There is a thing called decorum. There's also a fine line between being fiery and a boor.
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In this Year of the Comeback, it can be argued that Nebraska hasn't come back. Not yet. Not fully. There is still a sense of vulnerability. You want to talk comebacks? Texas A&M won before its largest crowd ever, the 12th Man making Kyle Field, for a night, the toughest place to play in the country. Five weeks ago the Aggies were dead at 3-3. They've won five in a row and a 9-3 season, with a share of the Big 12 South title, seems possible. N.C. State is a win away from playing for the ACC title. Virginia Tech won its ninth in a row after that embarrassing 0-2 start that included a loss to James Madison. Even the Irish are fighting again. Notre Dame has a defense and is bowl eligible.
Suddenly, the success of Nebraska's entire season comes down to Friday. The Huskers must beat Colorado to win the division or risk having Missouri sneak in the back door by beating Kansas on Saturday. The one-time slam dunk of the Buffs suddenly looks like a contested three-pointer. CU is rallying around interim coach Brian Cabral. Nebraska's offense is clearly a shadow of itself without a healthy Martinez.
But back to Youngstown ... Yes, it is a rough-edged town but other notables from the city have rounded off those rough edges. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has that chip-on-his shoulder Youngstown attitude. But he learned long ago to be more presidential as a head coach. Same for his brothers -- Arizona head coach Mike and Florida State defensive coordinator Mark.
Sometimes it seems that Pelini is going to spontaneously combust. Good teams overcome adversity. Penalty-prone teams create that adversity. You can debate the validity of the calls Saturday against the Huskers but only five other teams nationally average more penalty yards per game. Last season wasn't much better. Nebraska finished among the bottom 20 in that category. That's a heck of a conspiracy to job the Huskers all season, all the time.
Sure, there were extenuating circumstances Saturday. For a night at least, A&M's Wrecking Crew defense returned. Martinez was injured. But this is a Nebraska team that scored 51 on Oklahoma State four weeks ago. It blew out Missouri in the first quarter of a 31-17 win in a Big 12 North showdown. Martinez set the school rushing record for quarterbacks against Kansas State. Nebraska embarrassed Washington.
It's hard to be a disciplined team when the leader is freaking out. You will have to be satisfied, Husker Nation, that there will almost certainly be repercussions, either publicly or privately, regarding Saturday's officiating. Now, that roughing-the-passer penalty on Nebraska's Courtney Osborne was questionable. But that's all it was -- questionable.
Just like Bo Pelini's conduct.