Living and Dying in L.A.

10 Sep

To my followers, family, Facebook friends, and anybody else who ends up here:

Thanks for stopping by!  I appreciate you taking the time read this.  But I’d greatly appreciate it if you read this fine article on HuskerMax.com, as I earn a fraction of a penny per page view – and I’m hoping to earn enough this year to buy my wife a steak dinner – and I’m guessing she’d rather go to Misty’s over Steak ‘n Shake.

Sincerely,

FeitCanWrite

I am a fan of the Kansas City Royals, and have been since the early 80s.

Being a Royals fan is not easy.  It’s not romanticized like being a Red Sox fan was before their World Series wins, there isn’t the “loveable losers” national camaraderie of Cubs fans, and it definitely isn’t the first class, all-inclusive experience of being a Yankees fan.  Being a Royals fan is not easy, and remaining emotionally invested in a team that is mathematically eliminated by July 4 is hard work.

That said, I still enjoy watching them play.  Thanks to Fox Sports Midwest, the vast majority of their games are televised, so I’m able to watch a lot of their games throughout the year.  Even with the influx of young talent in the organization, I still expect them to lose most of their games – going close to 30 years since the last playoff appearance will do that to you – so when they win it is exciting and fun.

On the flip side, being a Nebraska fan can be fairly easy.  Every August, you expect to win 9 – 10 games, challenge for the conference title, and end up in a decent bowl game.  Sure it is not as easy as it was in the 80’s or 90’s, but it sure beats supporting Iowa, Missouri, or any number of teams that are up and down.

But I feel like my two teams are starting to slowly trade courses.  The Royals have good young talent, and if the rotation improves, they should be a trendy pick to win the rather pedestrian AL Central next year.  The Huskers also have good talent, but they seem to find themselves plagued by the same questionable fundamentals, mental breakdowns, and inability to make the key play that have been trademarks of the Royals organization for years.  Despite playing in a weak conference, not too many people believed NU could win the division – and that was before the season started.

As much as I would love to see my Royals get back to the World Series – or even finish about .500 – I want my Huskers to remain relevant even more.  But games like this where Nebraska allows gigantic amounts of yards, and looks terrible in the process, do not help the cause.  The season is still young, but I’m not sure there are enough games left to remove the stink of this performance.

So what did we learn?

There will be no National Championship for Nebraska this year.  Every Husker fan knows that guy who can tell you exactly what needs to happen for Nebraska to end up in the Championship game – which teams need to lose, how much NU would need to win by, which voters would have to boost NU in their poll, every little detail.  Year in and year out, that guy keeps the faith (and the complex scenarios) going until the season ends – or Nebraska picks up their second loss.

This year, that guy is packing it in early.  While it is definitely possible for a team to get to the title game with one loss, Nebraska won’t be that team.  Even if Nebraska wins out (anybody want to make that bet?) they still won’t make it to Miami for the BCS Championship game.  There is no way that a team that will enter Week 3 unranked, and plays in a conference that looks like a national punch line can do enough to get back into the conversation.  NU would need to prove itself better than the #2 SEC team to the media, computers, and general public – and there is no way that will happen.

Despite what you may hear or read, the season is not over.  The 2012 season remains a very good opportunity for Nebraska to break their conference championship drought.  The B1G (Nebraska included) is somewhere between not very good and downright pathetic.  But here’s the thing:  10 years from now, few people will remember that it was a down year for the league.  They’ll just remember who won.  If (and that is a rather large “if”) Nebraska can win the Legends division they would have an excellent chance to beat whomever comes stumbling out of the Leaders division.  Obviously it will take some drastic improvement as well as a bit of luck, but it can definitely happen.

Taylor Martinez can still run.  Admit it – you were loving life when Martinez went right up the gut for a 92 yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter.  A quarterback to can throw for 350 yards and five TDs one week and score on a 92 yard run the next?  That is a deadly combination, and is another thing to make opposing defensive coordinators lose sleep.

So what don’t we know?

How much (and how quickly) can the defense improve?  I think we can all agree that there are some serious issues on defense – more than I care to list out, frankly.  I don’t know if this group can reach Blackshirt status this year.  Heck, I’m not sure if they can make it through the year without giving up 40 points or 500+ yards to somebody.  So what can be done?  Do we see some new faces next week?  Existing faces in new places?  Does the system get simplified?  Tweaked?  Switched entirely?  Or can Bo, Papuchis, and the defensive staff turn lemons in to lemonade?  I wish I could provide some suggestions here (aside from lots and lots of tackling drills) but I’m as lost as the defense appears to be.

What happened to the offense?  In the first half, Tim Beck called a pretty darn good game:  333 yards of offense and 24 points.  But in the second half, things fell apart:  106 yards of offense, six points, and a safety.  Were UCLA’s halftime adjustments that good?  I think it was a combination of Beck getting into a play calling rut (“I’m going to keep pounding this square peg through the round hole!”), an inability by the offensive line to block UCLA’s pressure, and an offensive unit that felt the pressure of having to compensate for the defense.  I don’t know if it would have made a huge difference, but I’d like to see how things would have played out if Beck would have called some screen passes, draws, or other plays to take advantage of UCLA’s pass rush.

What is going on with Brett Maher?  Let’s start with the positives:  Maher boomed a 64 yard punt and finished with a no-so-bad 39.3 yard average on his seven punts.  Plus he made three field goals – including a huge 54 yarder going into halftime.   (What was more impressive on that kick – how the ball curved inside the upright, or that Maher made it after Jim Mora tried to rattle and ice him with back to back timeouts?  A great, confidence building kick.

But now the negatives:  Maher’s first kick was a punt that traveled 13 yards.  He missed another field goal (a rather makeable 37 yarder) that would have kept Nebraska within a touchdown on their final drive.  Thanks to UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn (two missed field goals) Maher wasn’t the worst kicker on the field Saturday, but the Threat Index is now at Orange.

Where are my Keys?

At the beginning of the season, I laid out three simple keys for Nebraska to have a strong season:  1) Win the turnover battle, 2) Own 3rd Down, 3) Limit penalties.  Throughout the year, I’ll be tracking Nebraska’s progress:

Penalties Penalty Yds. 3rd Down Conv.   (NU) 3rd Down Conv. (Opp) Turnover Margin
So. Miss 2 30 80.0% 50.0% 1
UCLA 7 60 9.1% 45.0% -1
2012 Per Game 4.5 45 50.0% 47.1% 0
2011 Per Game 7.2 57.3 42.3% 40.2% -1

I could save myself a couple of thousand words (and the heartburn of reliving this game) and sum up the loss with one sentence:

Nebraska did not convert a third down until start of the 4th Quarter, and they did not pick one up after that.

Thank you.  Good night.  Drive home safely.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Ameer Abdullah.  Rex who?  Ameer ran for 119 yards and two scores, showing speed, power, and determination.  Additionally, he did a good job picking up blitzers the linemen missed.  Another benefit of having Ameer starting is it opens up a spot on the kickoff return unit for Jamal Turner.  No disrespect to Abdullah (who is easily the most proven return man on the team) but I feel like Turner could be special returning kicks.
  2. Jason Ankrah.  I have been rather critical of Ankrah’s play in the past, so I want to be sure to recognize him for a good game.  His forced fumble was the sort of playmaking ability this defense is sorely missing.  I hated to see him whiff on a couple of opportunities to tackle a player for a loss, but he was far from alone in that category.  I hope he can keep improving, as this defense needs him.
  3. Taylor Martinez (first half version).  Yeah, I’m cherry-picking a little bit with the first half qualifier.  But in the first 30 minutes Martinez did more than enough to lead his team to victory:  13 of 17 passing (that’s 76%, for those of you who are keeping track) for 149 yards, 7 rushes for 101 yards and a TD, several excellently executed zone read plays.  All of this as he leads the team to 24 points in a half.  I’ll take my chances with this quarterback any day.
  4. Will Compton.  Admittedly, it is still early in the season, but I’m finding Compton to be a fitting example of the 2012 Blackshirts:  talented, experienced, and more than capable for making plays (12 tackles and a sack, in Compton’s case).  Yet, for all the positives, they are overcome by what they cannot do well (in Compton’s case, cover a tight end or running back).
  5. Nebraska Fans in L.A.  I haven’t seen an estimate yet on how many Nebraska fans were in Pasadena for the game, but there was enough red on TV that it looked like a game played 150 miles from Lincoln, not 1,500.  Kudos to the Husker fans that made the trip from Nebraska, and all of the west coast Huskers who turned out to support the team.  Hopefully your passion was not lost on any California recruits watching the game.

Honorable Mention:  Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, my buddy Grell for enduring a loss on his birthday.

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Tackling.  One of my absolute favorite moments as a Husker fan was “The Run” – Tommie Frazier’s 75 yard run in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl where Jim Nantz asked the immortal question: “How many tackles can one man break?”  On Saturday, I got to experience what it must have been like for a Florida fan during that play.  Except instead of Tommie Frazier it was random UCLA Bruins, and instead of one epic touchdown it was seemingly every single play.  Memo to Daimion Stafford:  I love how you have the ability to bring the big hit, but how about instead of trying to drill somebody with your shoulder, use your arms and wrap up, okay?
  2. Offensive Line.  I know UCLA was blitzing, stunting, and sending pressure all night long.  But there was way too much standing around watching  Martinez or Abdullah get tackled for a loss.  Martinez had a very ugly second half, but I think a part of it goes on the line’s shoulders as he didn’t have a lot of time to find open receivers.  You can say what you want about Beck’s decision to run a fullback dive on a crucial 3rd and 1 in the 4th quarter (I didn’t hate it), but if the line blocks that play adequately, the drive carries on instead of ending in a missed field goal.  That play, along with the Martinez safety, belong squarely on the shoulders of the O line.
  3. Taylor Martinez (second half version).  And now the flip side.  Taylor’s second half numbers:  4 of 14 passing (29%) for 30 yards and an interception, 6 rushes for 11 yards, and several “what is he doing?” moments.  All of this as he leads the team to six points (and a safety) in a half.  This is the Martinez that keeps several talk radio shows in business and once made Brion Carnes the most popular man in Nebraska.
  4. Sean Fisher.  I was about to file a missing person’s report when I spotted him late in the 4th quarter.  I don’t know why he isn’t playing:  if he stays off the field against spread formations, if he’s not 100% healthy, or if took a later flight to L.A. and got delayed in Denver.  Regardless, I’d like to see him contribute more.  I’d like to think he’d be as good in coverage of backs and tight ends as Compton or Alonzo Whaley.  I also feel he could provide a decent pass rush if they lined him up at defensive end (or at least better than what we have now).  But mostly, I hate watching the defense struggle when there is somebody like Fisher who looks like he should be a difference making player on the sidelines.
  5. Fox Sports.  Fox showed that they are a relative newcomer to primetime college football.  The studio show was not good – Erin Andrews, you are no Chris Fowler.  The crew had their fair share of player name mispronunciations and screw ups (Theo Randle?) to make you wonder if they even bothered to pick up the media guide.  And their lack of knowledge of the game and situation was shocking (when a team is down 9 late in the game, they do not need a touchdown.  They can kick a field goal and try for the touchdown on their next possession.  I’m positive the sideline reporter’s main qualifications were being pretty and annoyingly perky.  The only saving grace is they did not use a dedicated Bo Pelini Reaction Cam (which was probably a rookie mistake, as it likely would have yielded some good footage).
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One Response to “Living and Dying in L.A.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Code Red Wolves « Feit Can Write - September 18, 2012

    […] week ago, many people (myself included) were fretting over the direction and state of the Nebraska program after the ugly UCLA loss.  The […]

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