Thrown Under the Columbus

15 Oct

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 apologize for the delay in getting this out, but after Saturday’s blowout loss, I needed to take a few days to step back from all things Husker:  no newspapers, no message boards, no blogs, no Twitter, no sports radio, no reading the comments on various Facebook posts.  Just detach, let go, and pretty much convince myself that this game never happened.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that.  Nebraska did get embarrassed on national TV (again), the fan base is up in arms (again), and many people are questioning the job security of Bo Pelini and his staff (again).  But since this loss feels like a big ugly scab, I’m not going to spend a lot of time picking at it, and reliving all of the nightmarish misery.  I’ll try to keep it brief.

This is the kind of loss that makes you question everything.  Coaching, talent, game planning, execution, recruiting, program direction, and much, much more.  But if you’re looking for me to say that somebody should be fired, you’re in the wrong spot.  This game was a horrible, ugly, painful loss, but I’m not convinced that firing coach(es) is a recipe to make things better.

So what did we learn?

Nebraska picked a horrible time to get rolled.  Let’s look at the worst possible scenario for a 25 point loss:  Nationally televised?  Check.  Highly viewed primetime game?  Check.  Conference game against highly ranked team?  Check.  Game deep in the heart of a fertile recruiting ground?  Check.  Already fragile confidence?  Check.  Heading into a bye week so the media, message boards, and radio shows can feed off of your negativity?  Check.  Granted, there are very few good times to get blown out, but it’s hard to imagine too many worse scenarios.

The “Can’t Defend A Mobile QB” reputation will continue to live on.  And with games coming up against Northwestern, Michigan, and Minnesota, expect this to be a central theme in the second half of the season.  And I’m not sure when (if ever) Bo can shake the mobile QB stigma.

Games like this provide more questions than answers.  An admittedly cheap way of saying that I didn’t learn anything else from this loss.

So what don’t we know?

Is it the scheme or is it the players operating the scheme?  Why do mobile QBs like Braxton Miller have such success against Nebraska defenses?  Is the Pelini/Papuchis scheme flawed, or are the players not capable of executing the plan (physically and/or mentally)?  Good question.  If I could answer that, I could quit my day job and earn six figures coaching on Bo’s staff.

Personally, I lean towards the latter.  As the 2008 and 2009 defenses showed, talented players can help make Bo look like a defensive genius.  Of course, this leads us to the other side of this chicken and the egg argument – many fans expect a good coach to recognize the talent he has, and put his guys in positions to be successful.  Or to put it another way – don’t pull a Callahan and try to make Joe Dailey be Rich Gannon.  If Nebraska doesn’t have a horses to run what Bo wants, draw up something to maximize what we do have.

Can Nebraska win a road game in a hostile Big Ten stadium?  Granted, the sample size is very small, but the early results are not very positive.  Big losses at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State.  A very close win over a Penn State program (and fan base) that was clearly distracted and rattled by the Sandusky scandal and Paterno firing.  The other road win is at Minnesota, which was the Big Ten equivalent of playing at Kansas in 1980s – a bad team, a stadium 3/4 full, and lots of Husker fans.  NU went 9-3 on the road in the Big XII under Pelini, which is encouraging with road trips to Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa likely to determine the fate of Nebraska’s season.

Now what?  Despite what you may hear or read, all is not lost for NU’s season.  Nebraska won’t see Ohio State again this year (and maybe not again until 2017).  Michigan State looked surprisingly mortal against Indiana, Iowa is still Iowa, and NU gets two weeks to prepare for the other NU.  After demolishing Purdue, Michigan has established themselves as the team to beat in the Legends division, but that game is at home which gives NU a fighting chance.  Whomever wins the Legends should have a pretty easy path to Pasadena against whomever comes stumbling out of the Leaders division.  In other words, chin up, Husker fan.

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
Arkansas St. 4 34 76.9% 37.5% -2
Idaho St. 9 104 45.5% 13.3% 0
Wisconsin 6 70 38.5% 26.7% -1
Ohio St. 9 75 35.7% 45.5% -3
2012 Per Game 6.2 62.2 49.4% 36.3% -6
2011 Per Game 7.2 57.3 42.3% 40.2% -1

Those numbers tell the story.  You may not always give up 63 points with numbers like that, but you are not putting yourself in a good position to win either.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Kenny Bell.  Five receptions for 133 yards.  He continues to be a big play threat (possibly the biggest on the team?) as well as a very good blocking receiver.
  2. Jamal Turner.  He lives!  Three receptions, and he was targeted on some other throws too.  I’d like to see him get his first touchdown as I think that will make him a more consistent and dynamic performer.
  3. Eric Martin.  The stats show he had a team high 9 tackles and 2 sacks, but I’m not sold on him as a run stopper.
  4. Brett Maher.  A steady performance from a guy who has run hot and cold.  I’ll give him a pass on his whiffed tackle on the OSU punt return – if our defenders can’t tackle, why should we expect a kicker to do it?
  5. Tommie Frazier.  A pat on the back for Tommie during what has to be a rough year.  First he gets inexplicably snubbed by the College Football Hall of Fame (again).  Now he goes to Columbus and finally gets to the see Heisman Trophy that he (and everybody else) knows he won in 1995.

Honorable Mention:  Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Left tackles.  Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles had a very long and rough night.  Martinez’s fumble is on their tab.
  2. Offensive Line.  Take away Burkhead’s 73 yard run, and Nebraska’s O Line paved the way for 150 yards (on 45 attempts, a 3.3 yard average), gave up four sacks, and committed a bunch of critical penalties.  I believe that when the O Line play is shaky, Martinez’s bad habits (and bad decision-making) become magnified as he feels rattled and hurried.  And we all know how that ends up.
  3. Tackling.  I appreciate that Braxton Miller is a fast and talented athlete with an array of shifty moves.  But I’m not sure he is as good as the defense makes him look.  Wrap up.
  4. Defensive effort.  I wasn’t real pleased with Ohio State’s final touchdown in the waning second of the game.  Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with Urban Meyer running a play instead of taking a knee (Tom Osborne didn’t utilize the Victory formation very often).  And I don’t have a problem with a backup RB taking what appeared to be an inside handoff and bouncing it outside.  He takes his lumps in practice and deserves his chance at the end zone.  But I do have a big problem with the lack of effort shown by the defense on the final score.  Sure, in the grand scheme of things, 63 points isn’t much different from 56, but I do not like to see Nebraska players give up and quit.  It brings back too many ugly memories of 2007.
  5. Daddy’s language.  I watched the game at home with my family.  I’m quite proud of how my soon to be four-year old daughter does with the Huskers.  She cheers, gets excited, signals for touchdowns, and says “Go Huskers!” in a cute voice that makes my heart melt.  She’s also at the age where she repeats a lot of things – especially when Daddy says “Dammit” as Braxton Miller breaks a long run.  I’m spending the off week practicing my “dadgummit” and “rats” so she doesn’t get kicked out of daycare.
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