Georgia on My Mind

8 Jan

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

It has been said that bowl games originally served as vacation inspiration.  Fans of teams in cold weather states should take a trip over the holidays to watch their beloved school play a game in some warm and sunny city (Pasadena, Miami, San Diego, Tempe, etc.).  Along the way, the idea got all twisted and confused as decidedly non-exotic vacation destinations like Boise, Shreveport, and Detroit also got bowl games.  But it is tough to argue with spending a week or two in sunny Florida – unless you’re in Jacksonville during what appeared to be the rainy season.

Despite the relatively poor weather, it appeared as if the Huskers had a good trip.  Players were rewarded for a good (but not great) season, the seniors got one last chance to play with the “N” on their helmets, and most importantly, the team got an extra few weeks of practice that can only help their chances in 2014.  Being able to beat a ranked team from the SEC?  That is a just a cherry on top.

There are some who say that bowl wins don’t matter, but I disagree.  This was a good win, for reasons we’ll dig into below.  Besides, it is good to return to the days when Nebraska was regularly beating the SEC in bowl games.  Hopefully next time it will be as meaningful as the victories over LSU, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee that helped Nebraska win four of their five national championships.

So what did we learn?

Husker Nation’s glass will be half full until the Red/White Scrimmage, if not August 30.  There is nothing like a bowl win to raise the mood of the fan base and their opinion of the program – especially when that win is over a ranked team from the big, bad SEC.  The Huskers’ win ensures that the discussions around the team will be more positive than negative, which has a huge impact on the collective mood of the state.

Don’t believe me?  Just think of the doom and gloom being proclaimed from the radio hosts, message boards, bloggers, and print media writers if Nebraska had blown that lead against Georgia.  What would your opinion of Pelini and the his program be if he lost his fourth straight bowl game, finished 8-5, and had a team that melted down late in the fourth quarter?  Exactly.  I know the popular narrative is that bowl wins don’t really matter, but I disagree.  This was a big win for Pelini and the Huskers.

Nebraska reached nine wins for the sixth straight year.  I know there are some of you who don’t care about the nine win mark, and think it is either an overrated figure or a minimum standard of excellence.  But I truly believe that for a program like Nebraska, nine wins matters.  You can look at the four losses (and the manner in which those four games were lost), but there is a consistency and stability in winning nine games a year that should not be overlooked.

Avoiding turnovers, big penalties, and other costly mistakes seems like a good way to beat ranked opponents.  Nebraska did a very good job of not beating themselves.  Nebraska had six penalties, but only one (the personal foul on Leroy Alexander) greatly extended a drive or truly hurt Nebraska.  The other flags were either overcome or did not really make a difference.  There was just one turnover, a Tommy Armstrong interception late in the third quarter.  And while that pick was converted into a touchdown, it was not a crushing blow like other turnovers were this season.  Despite the rainy conditions and sloppy field, Nebraska was smart with the ball and did not make the same types of mistakes that seem to pop up in big games.

Admittedly, I’m being rather sarcastic here.  But so often it feels like Nebraska must not only beat the other team, but overcome their own foolish mistakes as well.  Just think where this season could have gone if Nebraska could have avoided turnovers and miscues in their four losses.

So what don’t we know?

Does Ameer Abdullah stay or does he go?  This is a question I first raised after the Michigan game – do we need to worry about Ameer Abdullah turning pro?  Let me start by being crystal clear:  I want Ameer to come back.  I hope he comes back.  Nebraska will be a much better team if he comes back.  But I fully expect him to go.

Why?  Look at it from a risk/reward proposition:  what can Abdullah gain by coming back for his senior year?  Or more appropriately, what can he show that he hasn’t already shown?  He’s proven that he can rush for 100+ yards against excellent defenses.  He’s proven he can play hurt.  He’s proven he can be a workhorse back.  Other than displaying better ball security, and maybe being more a threat in the passing game, there isn’t much else that Abdullah can show NFL teams.

Now, what can Abdullah lose by coming back?  Clearly the biggest risk is injury.  Ask Alfonso Dennard, Jared Crick, Taylor Martinez, and Rex Burkhead about senior year injuries and how they impacted their draft stock.  Aside from injuries, maybe Abdullah has a bad year fumbling the ball.  Or maybe the NU quarterbacks struggle and opposing defenses load up the box, which hurts Abdullah’s numbers.  Or maybe the 2015 draft class is deeper with running backs than the 2014 class.  Bottom line, aside from a truly legendary senior season (1,500+ yards, 20 TDs, ❤ fumbles, national awards finalist) I don’t see how Abdullah can greatly improve upon his draft stock by coming back.

Is there another Husker season with more highlight reel plays?  Think about what you consider the greatest plays in school history.  You’ve got Johnny Rodgers tearing ’em loose from their shoes, Mike Rozier’s run against UCLAEric Crouch going 95 against Mizzou, and maybe a -rooskie or two.

Then, there are the universally known plays.  The Kick.  The Hit.  The Run.  But despite some solid contenders (Black 41 Flash Reverse and Matt Davison’s flea-kicker), no play has made a legitimate claim to The Catch.  That is, until the 2013 season.  There is Kenny Bell’s leaping, twisting, one-handed circus catch and touchdown.  Quincy Enunwa catching the longest possible touchdown of all time*.  And, of course, the Hail Mary.

*A couple of random thoughts on that 99 yarder.  First off, wow.  How I didn’t punch a hole in my buddy Tony’s ceiling jumping up and down, I’ll never know.  Secondly, I agree with Matt Davison’s assertion that “an assist should go to the replay official” as Beck and Pelini probably decided to go for it during the review of Armstrong’s sack.  Finally, Georgia clearly failed in scouting the Huskers.  This was the third straight game where Nebraska has thrown deep out of their own end zone.  Against Penn State, they got a pass interference call.  Against Iowa, Kellogg’s throw was incomplete.  Against Georgia?  As they say, the third time is the charm.  It’s on Georgia’s defensive coaches for not knowing the home run throw was coming.

Personally, I’ll consider RKIII to Westerkamp as “The Catch” (or “The Westerkatch”, if you prefer), but I’ll listen to arguments for Enunwa and Bell too.  Regardless, how cool was it that three of the greatest receptions in school history happened this year?

How much of a quarterback controversy will there be?  Clearly, Tommy Armstrong, Jr. has a decided advantage to keep his starting job during the spring and summer practices.  But I don’t think he is a lock to start the season – especially if Johnny Stanton is as good as the recruitniks say he is.  Armstrong shows a lot of potential, but sometimes his performances (such as his 6-14 passing day against Georgia) don’t reflect his abilities.

I suspect that Pelini will keep the job open as long as possible, if for no other reason to try and foster competition between the two QBs which should hopefully make them both better.  Also, it wouldn’t shock me if the Husker press and radio hosts play up the QB battle to drive interest during the spring and summer months.

How Full Is Your Glass?

Given the divide I’m seeing between the “Pelini Apologists” and the “Bo Bashers”, I’d like to provide a stat, quote, observation, or factoid that best illustrates the position of these two diverse groups.

Glass Half Full:  Nebraska goes into 2014 with a sixth straight nine win season, fresh off a victory of an SEC team, and should be a favorite to win the Big 10 West.  The program is clearly headed in the right direction.

Glass Half Empty:  Take away the miracle breaks that helped Nebraska win games against Northwestern (Hail Mary), Georgia (inches away from a safety before the long TD pass), Michigan (an ill-advised option pitch that turned into a score), Penn State (a missed PAT), or Wyoming (an onside kick that went out of bounds), and NU easily could have finished the season with seven or eight losses.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Josh Mitchell.  He’s a little guy but he makes big plays.  His fumble recovery gave Nebraska early momentum and his interception helped boost NU’s confidence.  Plus, how refreshing was it to see Nebraska on the good side of a muffed punt?
  2. Quincy Enunwa.  A year ago if I had told you a Nebraska WR would break Johnny Rodgers’s record for TD receptions and get invited to the NFL combine, would you have guessed that player to be Quincy Enunwa?  Me neither, and I’ve been a fan of Q for years.
  3. Pat Smith.  Nebraska is driving in the second quarter.  On 3rd and 6, a sure touchdown pass is dropped by Jamal Turner, setting up fourth down from the Georgia 29.  Do you try a 46 yard field goal or go for it on fourth and long?  Better question – do you trust your kicker and his leg?  Now, flash back to the 2007 Cotton Bowl:  late in the game, Nebraska faced 4th and 11 from the Auburn 30.  Instead of trying a 47 yard field goal that would have tied the game, Bill Callahan, likely knowing the limitations of Jordan Congdon’s right leg, went for it.  Zac Taylor’s pass was incomplete, and Auburn won by three.  Back in the Gator Bowl, Pelini opted to kick, and Smith made the 46 yarder with relative ease.  Those extra three points were the difference between Georgia needing a touchdown on their final drive versus beating NU with a short field goal.  Kickers like Smith (and Brett Maher, Alex Henery, and others) are a huge asset.
  4. Tim Beck.  Nebraska didn’t have the greatest offensive day, but I loved the wrinkles Beck put in for this game.  At the top of the list is the jet sweep motion the Huskers ran most of the day.  It clearly had an impact on how Georgia’s defense reacted to Abdullah’s runs up the middle, and provided a good option for a change of pace run by the Husker receivers.
  5. Andrew Green and Corey Cooper.  Both safeties deserve recognition for how well they played.  Both Green and Cooper arguably played their finest games as Huskers, making several big tackles.

Honorable Mention:  Thad Randle, Offensive line, Ameer Abdullah, Jason Ankrah, David Santos, Randy Gregory

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Field Position.  I loved what Georgia did on kickoffs.  They kicked the ball to Nebraska at about the 5, ensuring that they would not take a touchback.  Then, their coverage closed down any running lanes keeping Nebraska’s return men from advancing the ball outside the 25.  On five kickoff returns, Nebraska averaged just 18 yards, with an average starting field position of the 20 yard line.  With the new kickoff rules, if you’re not getting it to the 25, you are giving away yards.  And anytime you talk about field position, you have to mention punt returns (or the complete lack thereof).  Credit Jordan Westerkamp for cleanly fielding every punt on a rainy day, but Nebraska cannot give away yardage like this.
  2. Michael Rose.  Rose had a pretty tough day at linebacker, struggling to keep coverage on backs and tight ends.  I know Georgia was using some picks that probably should have been flagged, but I’m hopeful that Rose can learn from the experience and continue to develop into a force in the middle.
  3. Terrell Newby.  I was disappointed that Newby dropped that shuttle pass in the fourth quarter as it could have been a huge play (on a related note, credit to Beck for a great play call).  My guess is Newby isn’t thrilled with the limited playing time he received this year, but I hope he understands that when he has opportunities like this he must take advantage and show what he can do.  Should Abdullah go pro, the door will be wide open for playing time and Newby needs to be ready to step up.
  4. Jamal Turner.  A lot of what I said about Newby applies here.  I know Turner has been battling injuries for most of the season, but it is tough to see a sure touchdown get dropped.  There is a lot of talent at receiver, and Tim Beck and Rich Fisher won’t hesitate to play unheralded guys like Sam Burtch over thoroughbreds like Turner and Tariq Allen – especially if they have confidence that the walk-ons will get it done.
  5. Big Ten Bowls.  The Big Ten really needs to dramatically shake up their bowl roster.  The idea of a “January 1 bowl” doesn’t mean what it used to, and the conference puts itself at a disadvantage playing three games at essentially the same time in the same state.  Mix it up and get a connection with a bowl in a different recruiting hot bed (San Diego, anyone?) or recognize that you’ll get more eyeballs being the only game on December 27 than you will being one of four games at noon on January 1.  Frankly, I think that as long as the Big Ten has a tie with the Rose Bowl they don’t really care about anything else.

[COLOR=#FF0000][I]Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog ([URL=”http://www.feitcanwrite.com”%5Dwww.feitcanwrite.com%5B/URL%5D). Follow him on [URL=”http://www.twitter.com/feitcanwrite”%5D%5BU%5DTwitter%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D or on [URL=”http://www.facebook.com/feitcanwrite”%5D%5BU%5DFacebook%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D.

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