Take it on the Run

5 Oct

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

You say you’re coming home but you won’t say when
But I can feel it coming
If you leave tonight keep running
And you need never look back again

You take it on the run baby
If that’s the way you want it baby
Then I don’t want you around
I don’t believe it
Not for a minute
You’re under the gun so you take it on the run

Saturday was a rare date night for me and my beautiful wife.  With Grandma watching the kiddos, we caught the second half of the game from a neighborhood bar before heading downtown for dinner and drinks.  After the Illinois game’s painful final minute, I tried to put a gut-wrenching loss out of my mind.  I switched the radio from the postgame hot take shows to a classic rock station.  The first song to come on was REO Speedwagon’s “Take it on the Run”, the chorus of which goes like this:

You take it on the run baby
If that’s the way you want it baby
Then I don’t want you around
I don’t believe it
Not for a minute
You’re under the gun so you take it on the run

Needless to say, I just turned the radio off and focused on having a fun night with my wife.

In the Saturday Omaha World-Herald, Sam McKewon said “The National Weather Service is predicting winds between 15 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 26.  It’s reminiscent of the 2004 game at Iowa State.  Will the Huskers commit to the ground game in a wind tunnel?”

The answer was decidedly no.  Despite some success on the ground (187 yards and 5.5  yard per carry average), Nebraska still seemed determined to win the game with Joe Dailey…er…Tommy Armstrong, who completed just 32% of his passes.  And despite all of the deep balls that fell harmlessly to the Memorial Stadium turf, all of the drops, and balls thrown behind receivers, Nebraska was in position to win the game with under a minute to go.

Run the ball one more time, milk the clock, and dare Illinois and their struggling QB (20-39 at that point) to go 75 yards in 15 seconds with no timeouts.

You’re under the gun so you take it on the run.

Right?

Wrong.

So what did we learn?

On a windy day, you should ALWAYS have the wind at your back for the fourth.  Everyone is focusing on the 3rd & 7 incomplete pass as why NU lost this game.  However, I think a more critical error happened earlier in the game.  Illinois won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Prior to the 3rd quarter starting, the Illini obviously chose to take the ball, leaving NU with the choice of which end zone to defend.  In other words, the Huskers were able to choose if they should have the wind* at their back for the 3rd or 4th quarter.  For some reason, they chose to play into the wind in the fourth quarter.

*Did you know it was windy in Champaign on Saturday?  When I re-watched the game on Sunday, I tried to keep track of how many times the BTN crew said “wind” or “windy”.  I ended up with 34.  Thirty-four.  Granted, some of that is attributable to a BTN crew that…how should I say this politely…is not very good.  But even without Eric Collins and Chuck Long giving you weather on the 8’s, the wind was an obvious factor.  On Saturday, zero points were scored going into the wind.

After the disastrous 3rd & 7, NU could have attempted a 45 yard field goal to ice the game, which is inside Drew Brown’s range.  Except, apparently, when going into the wind.  But if you put the wind at his back, I guarantee NU tries the kick, and probably makes it.

If nothing else, having the wind in your face makes Illinois’s two fourth quarter scoring drives much harder.

Nebraska will likely have a new starter at I-Back against Wisconsin.  Terrell Newby started the game at I-Back, and finished with 15 yards on five carries, and two receptions for 11 yards.  But on the first drive of the second quarter, freshman Devine Ozigbo was in the game and quickly established himself as the top man in the NU backfield.  Ozigbo (is it too soon to call him “Ziggy”?) played with a decisiveness that Newby hasn’t shown since the South Alabama game.

I still like Newby, and think he can be a good back, but I think that Ozigbo should give the first series next week.

Nebraska should also have a new captain for Wisconsin.  After the game, there were multiple reports that senior left tackle – and team captain – Alex Lewis was blowing kisses to the crowd and saying “I’m sorry we suck.”

Unacceptable.

I was willing to defend Lewis for his Facebook rant after the Miami game.  Yeah, it wasn’t very smart, but to me it felt like he was suffering over the loss (and his role in that loss) and lashed out.  Besides, I generally subscribe to the notion that college athletes should get one free pass when idiots old enough to be their dads or uncles are attacking them on social media.

But this is different.

This is one of the biggest gut punch, let down losses from a program that has come to specialize in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  I’m not saying that every player should go off the field crying and hanging their head, but being so incredibly flippant, disrespectful, and seemingly not caring at all is shocking.  It would be upsetting from a 3rd string nobody who hasn’t played in weeks, but from a senior co-captain who played every offensive snap…well, it is beyond any explanation or excuse I can imagine.

Here’s where I’ll leave this:  If Lewis does not speak at the Monday press conference and address this with sincerity and honesty, I do not want him representing Nebraska as a captain – and maybe not as a player.  Given how he did not face the media after Miami, I’ll be shocked if he talks this week.  I’d give his captaincy position to somebody like Andy Janovich, who does not seem likely to disrespect his teammates, coaches, or the program.

So what don’t we know?

What happened on that 3rd down play?  In the postgame interview, Mike Riley said the play was a bootleg run, a designed quarterback keeper with no pass option.  The actual play suggested a designed pass, as three Huskers went out on routes, and Armstrong threw the ball towards Ozigbo.  This play, which will live in Husker infamy, clearly should never have happened.  Here are my thoughts on what went down:

  • I believe Langsdorf and Riley did not call a pass.  Riley has been a coach for 30+ years, and is the son of a football coach.  Say what you will about the Pac 10/12 style, but you’ll be hard pressed to convince me that he felt a pass was a better (or smarter) play than a simple handoff.  Riley’s reaction after the play feels more like “I can’t believe he threw it” instead of “I can’t believe that didn’t work”.
  • I believe Armstrong felt it was a pass.  As much as Armstrong’s offseason workout with Brett Favre make it easy for analysts to call Armstrong a gun-slinging risk taker, I doubt he went rouge on the biggest play of the game.
  • With 10 seconds left on the play clock, BTN showed an assistant (Mark Banker, I believe) coming up to Riley and pointing to something off to their left (possibly the play clock).  When I saw that live, I briefly thought Riley would call timeout and discuss the play.  In hindsight, that would have been a very wise choice.

Why didn’t they punt?  Okay, so something inexplicably stupid and demoralizing has just happened.  But what came next was equally as dumb.  Armstrong threw incomplete towards Andy Janovich along the line of scrimmage.  The play took just four seconds off the clock.

I get that trying a 45 yard field goal into the wind may not have been a good option, but why Riley and Langsdorf chose to run a play instead of having Sam Foltz punt is beyond me.  Foltz was in the running for the game’s MVP from NU’s first possession.   He averaged 46.9 yards on his nine punts, and put three inside the 20, with a fourth hitting inside the five before bouncing into the end zone.  In the third quarter, Foltz executed a perfect corner kick lobbing it up for Chris Jones to catch on the sideline inside the two yard line.

Best case scenario, your all conference punter comes through again and pins the Illini inside the 10 yard line.  Even if his punt goes for a touchback, you still move Illinois back another eight yards and likely take more than four seconds off the clock (which is how much expired on the incomplete pass to Janovich).

Look:  I have been driving the Jano bandwagon for a long, long time, but even I would not call a flat pass to him on 4th & 7.  If I somehow felt that my best chance at winning was to convert the fourth down, I’d do one of two things:

a) Run the option.  Let Armstrong do what the majority of Husker fans think he does best:  make a play with his feet or read the defense to pitch to his running back.

b) Throw to the end zone.  Why not?  Despite their struggles on Saturday, the receivers are still the strength of the offense.  Let Westerkamp, Morgan, Pierson-El, Reilly, or Carter make a play – or see if you can get bailed out with a defensive penalty.

Were Tommy Armstrong’s passing struggles due to the wind, dropped passes, the game plan, or some combination?  One of the knocks on Armstrong throughout his career has been that he can get rattled when things go poorly.  And this game went poorly for Armstrong.  He was 10-31 passing for 105 yards – 55 of which came on a YOLO throw to Cethan Carter.

The wind affected many of his throws – most evident on his overthrow of a wide open Westerkamp in the second quarter.  He also had some drops by his receivers.  On the first play of the game, Armstrong threw deep for Brandon Reilly.  The ball hit him in the hands, but it was dropped.

You also may have noticed that the first two examples were both deep balls.  One could (and probably should) question why Armstrong threw so many deep balls on a windy day.  Is that your coordinator taking what the defense gives you or is it a coordinator trying to force a square peg into a round hole?

I think it was a combination.  If Reilly holds onto that first throw, that changes the tone of the game from the start. Clearly, the wind was a factor, but so was a game plan that was heavy on deep balls but light on short routes to your best receivers.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Chris Weber.  Nebraska’s best two linebackers are out, but it doesn’t faze Weber.  He led the defense with 17 tackles, including three big tackles for loss.  (Raise your hand if you had Weber and A.J. Natter combining for a key stop on 4th and 1).  Weber’s strong play has him vying for a spot on the Walk-On All Star team.
  2. Sam Foltz.  On a day when the offense struggled, he was a huge weapon flipping the field, pinning Illinois deep, and winning the field position battle.  Normally, nine punts is too many, but I wish he would have kicked one more.  I believe he plants it out of bounds at the five and NU hangs on to win.
  3. Maliek Collins.  Big Mo played his best game of the season.  He regularly blew up the Illini O Line.  His penetration on the 4th and 1 at the 10 yard line kept the Illini guard from pulling and allowed Weber and Natter to make a big stop.  Collins also got his first sack and shared a second with Freedom Akinmoladun (who deserves some credit for Collins not facing as many double teams as he usually does).
  4. Devine Ozigbo.  Mikale who?  The true freshman played beyond his years leading the team with 70 yards on seven carries.  He showed the burst, decisiveness, and acceleration that have been missing from the I-Back position.  He also made a tough catch in traffic on a screen pass.  Ozigbo picked a great time to step up.
  5. Andy Janovich.  For a while, it looked like Jano was going to be in the top spot again as his tough runs – and big third down conversions – were going to put this game away.  I like how this team is using the fullback in big moments.

Honorable Mention:  Kevin Maurice, Dedrick Young, Cethan Carter, the Cornhusker Marching Band making up 5% of the crowd, welcome back DPE.

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Clock Management.  Three times in five games clock management has been an issue.  Twice, it has cost NU a victory.  It cannot happen a third time.
  2. Squib kick.  Why did Drew Brown do an onside/dribbler kick after his first field goal?  Yes, there was only 11 seconds left in the half, but why give Illinois any opportunity to do anything besides taking a knee?  Brown has the leg and the wind was at his back.  Let him boom it into the end zone and go to halftime up 10.
  3. Big Ten refs.  To say that the refs had a bad day is an understatement.  Most notably was the 10 minute delay in the third quarter when nobody knew what down it was.  That it almost resulted in a 5th down is an embarrassment to the league.  It’s worth noting that NU lost a timeout in the fiasco – which could have been used to try to ice the Illinois kicker before the final PAT.  It’s also worth noting that Illinois essentially got a free time out when the refs went back to review a catch AFTER they had run another play.  That the following play was the 50 yard bomb down to the NU 7 is insult to injury.  You could probably make a case about the first pass interference penalty too, but once they got down inside the 10 the game was over.
  4. Line blocking.  Too many times there were multiple linemen standing and watching while Armstrong, Ozigbo, or Newby were getting hit in the backfield.  The two middle screens to Cethan Carter could have been much bigger plays if the linemen out there had bothered to block anybody.
  5. Empty Seats.  The official attendance was 40,138.  Wikipedia says their Memorial Stadium holds just under 61,000 fans, making the stadium 2/3 full on Saturday.  The only way that stadium was 2/3 full is if 10,000 fans dressed up like empty bleachers or spent the entire game in the concourse.  If teams like Illinois and Purdue aren’t going to show up for their own home games, can we just pay to have them in Lincoln like we did with Southern Miss a few years ago?

[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.

[/I][/COLOR][HR][/HR]

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: