By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
The 2010 UNO football season began with questions. Who will start at quarterback? Can the defense improve on its dismal performance from the year before? How far can Levi Terrell go after leading the MIAA with 159.6 yards per game on the ground the previous season?
In what would end up being the final season of UNO football, the Mavs failed to turn those questions into answers and, ultimately, into wins.
John Teigland started at quarterback for most of the year, taking a few games to get comfortable under center. Just as he established himself as the clear starter, he suffered an injury in the third quarter of a Oct. 16 win against Fort Hays State.
The sophomore missed the rest of the game, and the following week, UNO lost 34-31 at then-No. 9 Central Missouri. Junior Jon Daniels filled in admirably, but it was apparent that Teigland would be the odds on favorite to start next season. And then he decided to leave the program.
The defense was as bad, if not worse, than the year before. Statistically, they took a huge step backwards, allowing an average of 32.9 points per game compared to 24.8 the year before.
It took the Mavs four games before they were able to give up less than 32 points in a game. In five wins, the defensive averaged 28.8 points against. In six losses, they surrendered an average of 36.3 points.
The UNO offense often found itself forced to score to make up for a dismal defense. Still there were some bright spots that emerged.
Freshman Shaquil Barrett emerged as a difference-maker at linebacker, piling up 82 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Barrett was also a part of a special teams unit that blocked 11 kicks or punts. Barrett blocked two himself.
Cornerback Bryan Shepherd had an up and down season. He looked lost early on, and too often, the opposing quarterback recognized his inabilities.
Eventually, Shepherd would show that while he might be a work in progress, he has the kind of potential that demands playing time.
Granted, some of that is because opposing offenses completed several passes to the man he was covering. But as the year progressed, Shepherd became more reliable. He finished the season with six pass breakups, two interceptions and a fumble return for a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, Levi Terrell wasn’t fortunate enough to have an entire season. In 2009, Terrell emerged as one of the conference’s best running backs, piling up 1,182 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in only eight games.
With the graduation of quarterback Greg Wunderlich, Terrell was expected to carry the load for the Maverick offense. Unfortunately, Terrell suffered a hamstring injury in fall camp that limited him to 73 fewer carries than the last year.
He still led the team with 960 rushing yards and 96 yards per game. But many of those statistics were inflated by the 226 yard, three-touchdown performance he had in the final game of the season.
UNO found an able replacement in James Franklin III. It’s unfortunate that we barely got to see the two running backs together, healthy at the same time.
The entire 2010 season seemed to be struck with bad luck. Starting kicker Greg Zuerlein was forced to take a medical redshirt due to injury and the UNO kicking game was never the same again.
The coaching staff tried kicking directionally, squib kicking and anything else that wouldn’t hurt them in terms of field position. Regardless of how hard they tried, the other team usually turned the experiment into a disaster.
In addition, there was no longer a reliable leg for field goals. What may have been a field goal attempt in 2009 often turned into a punt or fourth-down gamble in 2010.
Three of UNO’s losses came by a combined total of 10 points. In the opening game on Sept. 4, UNO lost to Kearney in the fourth quarter surrendering the lead with 7:28 remaining.
The Mavs built a 31-7 lead against Central Missouri before the Mules capped a frantic fourth quarter, comeback with four seconds left and won 34-31.
Two weeks later, UNO scored with 1:39 remaining to take a 14-10 lead on Missouri Western.They watched as the Griffons answered with just 16 seconds remaining. As if those weren’t enough signs of bad luck, the University decided to drop the program five months later.
While the 5-6 record may not indicate it, there was some hope for next season.
The multitude of freshmen that were able to see playing time could have sparked the program in a more positive direction. While learning and growing together, they probably could have done better. But as fate would have it, we’ll never know.