Tag Archives: Huskers

Northern Illinois Reaction and Recap

19 Sep

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*   *   *

How do you sum up one of the most shocking losses in school history?

How do you accurately account for all of the things that went wrong?

How does a loss like this impact the big picture – for Mike Riley, Shawn Eichorst, and the program as a whole?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I’m still processing it.  So I’m going to pass on any sweeping proclamations, knee jerk reactions, scalding hot takes, or calls for anybody to be fired.

For now.

So what did we learn?

This is going to be a long year.  Think back on the time between the end of the Spring Game and the start of the season.  It was one of quietest and most drama free summers of recent memory.  The vast majority of the news was positive – big name commitments,  positive reviews about Bob Diaco’s defense, and several glowing reviews of Tanner Lee’s skill and potential.  Some folks refer to the summer months as the “Kool Aid Season”, and this year’s batch was as sweet and delicious as it had been in years.

And then the season started.

We’re just three weeks in, and have already endured two painful losses and a very close call, several key injuries, a defense that can allow yards (and points) by the bushel, an offense that is maddeningly inconsistent, and a coaching staff that seems to make a questionable decision every week.

Off the field that has a been a controversy about a coordinator not talking to the press after a game, a controversy about potentially losing the Black Friday game, angst over a contract extension signed a few months ago, and coaching seats that get hotter by the hour.  The athletic director – who prefers to stay out of the spotlight – has spoken publicly twice this week.  Fans are becoming divided on the future of the program.  And it’s technically still summer.

Let’s say Nebraska wins eight of their last nine games.  Even in what appears to be a best-case scenario, it still seems likely that the drama and division will continue to grow.

The offensive line is not good.  Nebraska finished with a total of 85 yards on 36 carries – an average of just 2.4 yards.  Tanner Lee was sacked three times, hurried on seven other plays, and finished with one of the weirdest stat lines you’ll see:  7 carries for -18 yards and 2 touchdowns.

In addition, three of Nebraska’s five penalties were against the offensive line.  I’d love to know which lineman graded out the highest, because I honestly have no clue who played the best – or, the least worst, if you prefer.

The defense came to play.  One of the biggest questions from the Oregon game was if the second half shutout was a fluke, Oregon taking their foot off the gas, or a turning point for Bob Diaco’s defense.

While not conclusive, the Blackshirts made a strong statement against NIU, holding them to just 116 yards (and zero offensive points) through three quarters.  Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t get the big stop they needed after Nebraska took the lead.  Northern Illinois flew 75 yards down the field in 2:28 to regain the lead.  But the defense certainly held their own.  The key – as with everything on this team – is consistency.

So what don’t we know?

Where are the substitutions on the offensive line?   I know Mike Cavanaugh prefers to keep the same five linemen on the field throughout the game, as he feels collective unit benefits from the continuity.  In theory, I agree with this approach.

But in real life, the approach raises more questions than answers.  How do you develop players and build depth?  When a player is clearly struggling to handle what the defense is throwing at him, doesn’t his presence weaken the entire unit?  And then there are injuries…

During the game, center Cole Conrad left briefly with an injury.  He returned shortly after, but could be seen limping in the fourth quarter.  Right tackle Matt Farniok apparently broke a bone in his wrist at some point during the game.  Yet, both played almost the entire game.

I’ve made my peace with Conrad, a former walk-on, starting over other highly touted recruits.  If he’s truly the best man for the job, he should play.  But the equation changes when a guy is hurt.  Is Cavanaugh telling us that a starter at, say, 80% health is still preferable over his backup?  If so, that raises some serious questions about depth and player development – especially of former four-star recruits.  If not, doesn’t that put more of a burden on the rest of the offense to compensate for an injured teammate?

Is DeMornay Pierson-El the best option at punt return?  Wow, that is sentence I never thought I would type.  But there is a part of me that wonders if that role is based more on what he did in 2014, than on what he’s done since.  Here are the numbers:

2014:  34 returns; 17.5 yards per return, three touchdowns.
2015, 2016, first three games of 2017:  32 returns; 7.2 yards per return, zero touchdowns.

In fairness, the 2015 and 2016 version of Pierson-El had to battle multiple injuries, as well as punt return schemes designed by Bruce Read.

But his senior season as a returner has not gotten off to a great start.  Against Oregon, he broke a cardinal rule by fair catching a ball inside his own 10.  Later, he appeared upset with himself after calling for a fair catch late in the game with his team needing a spark.  Against Northern Illinois, he fielded a ball at the 7, fumbled a return, and appeared to be pressing.  His best return of the day was negated by a penalty.

I have nothing but respect for DPE, his abilities, his potential, and how he has come back from injuries that may have ended the careers of other players.  But I have a nagging feeling that if it wasn’t for a special season before those injuries, somebody else would be returning punts for NU.

How do we account for Tanner Lee’s struggles?   On the season, Lee is completing just 52.5% of his passes, with a upside-down TD:INT ratio of 5:7. None of this matches up with the expectations Husker fans had going into the season.  So what is going on?

To my eye, there are many factors at play.  From biggest to smallest, I would point towards:

  • A porous offensive line.  Lee has been sacked six times in three games, and has faced constant pressure.  Lee appears to get flustered by pressure, which leads to bad throws and interceptions.
  • Drops by his receivers.  I haven’t found a good source to count drops and “shoulda caught its” by backs and receivers, but it certainly feels like there have been several – and often at critical moments.
  • Over-aggressiveness.  Lee has a strong arm and the potential for pin-point accuracy. In the Arkansas State game, he had a couple of passes that went through a narrow window.  Against Oregon and Northern Illinois, those passes were knocked down or intercepted.  Additionally, Lee appears reluctant to throw the ball away when under pressure.
  • Mechanics.  I’m no QB coach, but it appears to my untrained eye that Lee occasionally throws off his back foot.  I’ve also noticed a tendency to stare down a primary target.

There are probably others that I’m missing, but those seem to be the biggest culprits.  The good news is, these are all things that can be corrected.

 

5 Players I Loved

  1. Caleb Lightbourn.  It certainly felt like a day where the punter should be the MVP, and Lightbourn delivered.  He averaged over 47 yards on six kicks, which played a big role in the shutout the defense pitched for three quarters.
  2. Antonio Reed.  Going solely off the stat sheet, one would think Reed played a pretty decent game (second on the team with 5 tackles, including one for loss).  But the stat sheet doesn’t tell you that Reed, who is battling injury, was essentially playing with one hand.  His recognition of Northern Illinois’ trick play prevented a big play.
  3. J.D. Spielman.  I really like this kid.  He made big plays in the passing game.  He had an impressive 50 yard kickoff return.  And he had the presence of mind to get Tyjon Lindsey to take a touchback after bobbling the opening kickoff.
  4. Khalil and Carlos Davis.  The twin defensive lineman made a big impact on the Northern Illinois offense.  Carlos had five tackles and part of a sack, and Khalil played his best game as a Husker with a half sack, another TFL, forced fumble, and a deflected pass.  The defense needs pressure on the quarterback and the twins delivered.
  5. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE had one of his best games as a receiver, racking up 101 yards on eight catches.  It’s great to see him making big plays.

Honorable Mention:   Former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson carrying the American flag, Mikale Wilbon, yards after catch by the receivers, Tanner Lee scoring two rushing TDs, Stanley Morgan Jr., biased announcer Les Miles, all of the fans who held their balloons through halftime until NU scored.

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Offensive Line.  Yes, this is the third time I’ve called out the line in this piece.  But I believe it is warranted.  Any discussion about benching Lee is worthless until we see what he does with good protection.
  2. Tanner Lee.  That said, Lee needs to make some better decisions.  Throw it away or check it down to a back.  Stop forcing passes unless your receiver is the only one who can catch it.
  3. Receiver drops.  And speaking of the receivers, there were some very savage drops and passes that probably should have been caught.  It would be easy to point at some of the bigger moments – Spielman dropping a sure thing on 3rd and short; Connor Ketter short arming a wide open touchdown – and point to the inexperience of the players involved.  But if that is the case, the QB (and/or offensive coordinator) should not be putting those guys in that position.
  4. Lamar Jackson.  The young cornerback is here for two unfortunate plays.  The first was his attempt to shove a NIU receiver out of bounds after a catch.  The problem was the receiver was 4-5 yards in bounds, so the shove didn’t accomplish anything.  The second is an unsportsmanlike penalty that resulted from his frustrations boiling over.
  5. Memorial Stadium atmosphere.  11 am games suck.  We all acknowledge this.  The crowd is late to arrive, and slow to provide any sort of home field advantage.  On Saturday, it was obvious by halftime that the team was in trouble and could use a jolt.  Going into the fourth quarter, it was almost painfully silent.  Nebraska needs to do something to spark the crowd.  As my buddy Nate observed, “Wisconsin has ‘Jump Around’, and we have the Hy-Vee tailgate of the game”.  Nebraska can – and should – do better.

[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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Ah, Duck

15 Sep

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

*   *   *

So….that didn’t exactly go as planned, did it?

The good news, if you want to see it, is in the big picture this loss doesn’t really hurt Nebraska.

Nebraska wasn’t ranked, so the loss just puts them lower in the “Others receiving votes” wasteland.  Only the most rabidly passionate fans believed Nebraska would make it to the College Football Playoff, so I think we all can accept that is not going to happen this year.  The big prize for the year – a West Division title, and a shot at that elusive conference championship – is still in play.

I know it is jarring to consider Nebraska in these terms, but this is where the team is.  No amount of complaining, denial, or anger is going to change that.  And with that uplifting lede, let’s dive in….

So what did we learn?

Nebraska’s offense must do a better job of helping the defense.  As you know, Oregon scored six first half touchdowns.  While you may choose to blame Bob Diaco’s defense for that, I’m here to tell you that Danny Langsdorf’s offense didn’t exactly help the situation.  Take a look at what the offense did in their drives following Oregon scores:

1st half drives following Oregon Touchdowns
Plays Yards Result Time of Poss
1 0 INT 00:12
3 3 Punt 01:35
4 75 TD 01:34
3 4 Punt 02:33
3 -5 INT 00:53
3 7 Punt 00:39
17 84   07:26

I’m not suggesting that Nebraska must answer every single score with a score of their own.  But I wonder if Langsdorf shares that opinion.  It certainly appears as if his reaction to the other team scoring is to try to score, and quick.  Heck, even the lone touchdown drive covered 75 yards in just four plays.

I can understand feeling like the offense needs to score every time out, but I also see value in a slower, grind it out drive that gives the defense a chance to catch their breath and make adjustments, slow momentum, and establish a field position edge.  It may not be as exciting as a quick strike answer, but in the long run it may be more effective.

There was improvement in the defense.  Aside from the obvious improvement from the first half (42 points) to the second half (0 points), there were some signs of growth from the Arkansas State opener.  In one of Oregon’s first quarter drives, they ran the bubble screen that Arkansas State used to gain a billion yards.  That play was stuffed for no gain, and Oregon mostly stayed away from it.  I saw some good examples of the defense “rallying” to the ball.  On one play, I counted seven defenders surrounding a ball carrier on the sideline.

Obviously, there is still much improvement needed – finding a way to pressure the quarterback would be a great place to start – but there were some positives to take away.

Mike Riley’s teams do not quit.   Raise your hand if at halftime you thought Oregon was going to hang 70 on Nebraska, and beat them by 50.  But the Huskers came out after half and did their best to save face.

And while I suspect my counterparts in Oregon are railing on the Ducks for taking their foot off the gas too soon / playing too conservatively in the second half, I think the second half result was more about the Huskers continuing to fight hard than Oregon coasting in.

I’m in no way suggesting that we as fans should be pleased with “only” losing by seven points.  Nor am I trying to carve a moral victory trophy out of the giant turd the Huskers dropped in the first half.  As poorly as NU played in the first half, they probably deserved an Ohio State style ass kicking.  That they refused to let it happen tells me a lot.

So what don’t we know?

How will Diaco’s defense look against a non-spread team?   We’re still way to early in the season for sweeping generalizations, but the early results suggest that pass-happy spread teams are bad for the Blackshirts.

This is another spot where the second half shutout can be encouraging to Nebraska fans.  Very few of the teams remaining on Nebraska’s schedule will throw it as much as Arkansas State and Oregon did – especially in the West division.

Where was the screen game?  In basketball, when a shooter is off, they often are able to get back on track with some easy shots like layups or free throws.  When Tanner Lee was struggling with accuracy, and Oregon’s pressure was getting more aggressive, it seemed like some short passes to the running backs might be a good way to get him going.  Instead, only one ball was caught by a back – a four yard gain by Mikale Wilbon.

Will there be a hangover?   This week’s game against Northern Illinois has the potential to be really good – or really bad.  Between any lingering effects from a frustrating loss, the sluggish nature of 11 am kickoffs, and a team looking ahead to the conference season, Northern Illinois could put a scare into the Huskers – especially if the defense continues to struggle.

Or, the Huskers, coming off a strong and focused week of practice, jump out early and put the game away early in the 3rd quarter; allowing the reserves to get some snaps.  I know which one I pick.

 

5 Players I Loved

  1. Tre Bryant.  A fourth quarter knee injury kept him from fully living up to the “All Day Tre” moniker, but 107 yards on 20 carries provided some much needed offensive balance in a game where NU threw 41 times.
  2. Luke Gifford.  Gifford is one of those players who just has a knack for the ball, and seems to always be around the action.  There were not a lot of bright spots in the defense’s performance, but Gifford was one of them.
  3. Stanley Morgan, Jr.  On Nebraska’s first drive of the second half, Tanner Lee proved that Stanley is his favorite target, as four straight throws went towards #8.  The last two accounted for a huge 4th down conversion and a statement touchdown.  Morgan added another touchdown catch on the next NU drive, and finished with team highs in catches (7) and yards (103), becoming the first Husker to open a season with 100 yard receiving games.
  4. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE was just behind Morgan for receptions (4) and yards (67), including a highlight reel grab over the top of an Oregon defender.  His catch on the first drive lit the spark for a big second half.
  5. Nebraska fans.  Did you see all of the red?  For a fan base well known for showing up on the road, that was an impressive performance.  It was fitting that Saturday’s game was the anniversary of the legendary Nebraska takeover of Notre Dame’s stadium.  Kudos to all who made the trip.

Honorable Mention:   Eric Lee, Jerald Foster, Caleb Lightbourn, Aaron Williams, Matt Farniok, Matt Farniok’s hair, JD Spielman, Luke McNitt, Oregon’s duck stomping cancer logo

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Pass rush.  Want to know how Justin Herbert managed to be 21-25 for 313 yards and 3 TDs – in the first half! – on Saturday?  The stat sheet has the answer:  zero sacks, zero QB hurries, and clear passing lanes.  That puts the defensive backs in a situation where they need near perfect coverage, which for a young and inexperienced group, does not end well.  How little was Herbert pressured?  If Autzen Stadium had a grass field, Herbert’s uniform would have ended up as brightly white as it started.
  2. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  If I could describe Nebraska’s day in one word, it would be inconsistent.  And nobody personified that inconsistency more than Pierson-El.  His first touch was a punt that he fair caught at the five.  95 yards later, he made that crazy, over-the-top catch.  In the second quarter, he had a false start penalty that turned a drive-extending 4th and 1 into a punt.  Speaking of punts, you could see DPE immediately regretting his decision to fair catch a 4th quarter punt, with NU in big need of a spark.
  3. Stanley Morgan, Jr.  On Nebraska’s first offensive play, Lee found Morgan 20 yards down field and put the wall in a great position for the catch.  Instead, the ball bounced off Morgan’s hands, his face mask, and into the arms of a Duck defender.  Above, we talked about Stan’s big day – 7 catches for 103 and 2 TDs.  But his first half was a very forgettable one catch for five yards.
  4. Tanner Lee.  Let’s be fair:  prior to Saturday, Lee’s last road start was November 21, 2015, at SMU, in front of what had to be a raucous crowd of 14,954.  So I think we can understand somewhat if nerves played a role in a day with four interceptions and a completion percentage under 50%.  While interceptions 1 and 4 were not Lee’s fault, no one will argue that Lee struggled throughout most of the game.
  5. Destro helmets.  By now, the shock factor from anything Oregon wears should be long gone.  But whenever they wear a shiny chrome helmet, as they did on Saturday, I cannot help but think of Destro from the G.I. Joe cartoons of my childhood.  And in finding that Destro image, I realized that almost every Oregon uniform is a homage to a one of the many great G.I. Joe characters.

 

An (Arkansas) State of Panic?

8 Sep

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

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Telltale signs suggest Nebraska football will travel bumpy road – a rebuttal

30 Aug

Thanks for reading! As you probably know, I get a couple of pennies per page view if you read this content over at HuskerMax. If you would be so kind, click here to be magically transported to my page on HuskerMax.  If not, no worries – you can hand me a penny or two the next time you see me.

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Husker Hot Takes – Offseason Edition

29 Aug

Thanks for reading! As you probably know, I get a couple of pennies per page view if you read this content over at HuskerMax. If you would be so kind, click here to be magically transported to my page on HuskerMax.  If not, no worries – you can hand me a penny or two the next time you see me.

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A Completely Inaccurate Huskers Preview

26 Jun
By now, you’ve probably read that steaming garbage pile of a “preview” from Bilo Football, and have seen him double down on his completely ridiculous assertions.
Instead of pondering the deeper questions (Are all of his previews this wildly inaccurate?  Was this serious, or just for clicks/ buzz?  How easy is it to get membership in the National Football Foundation or Football Writers Association?  Can we revoke his CFB Hall of Fame vote?), or trying to do a line-by-line fact check, let’s go a different direction:  satirical parody.
You can click on on the More button to read it here, but since I’m honest and up front about hustling my content for clicks, I’d appreciate you reading this on Huskermax.

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B1G Friday Night Lights?

2 Nov

Jim Delany has announced that Big Ten schools will play six games on Friday nights, starting in 2017.  The Chicago Tribune broke the story, and their report has good information on what is known so far.

As for what is unknown, here are my thoughts and best guesses:

This is a perk / nasty side effect of the ginormous TV deals the league signed with ESPN and Fox.  What, you thought the networks were going to shell out all of that money and not ask for more?  That’s precious.  Consider these Friday night games a cost of doing business.

What games make the Friday night slot?  All we know so far is three of the games will be league match-ups and the other three will be non-conference games.  I doubt that the marquee match-ups move away from a prime Saturday time slot.  ESPN doesn’t gain anything by moving Ohio State – Nebraska from a Saturday night to Friday.  The same could probably be said for most of the league’s 2:30 games.

If I had to guess, the Friday slots will be primarily filled by the “Beth Mowins rejects” – the mid-level league games that would normally end up on ESPN at 11 am.  Think Indiana – Northwestern or Rutgers – Maryland.

Should Nebraska participate?  In the Tribune report, Teddy Greenstein notes that Michigan has refused to participate in Friday games – home or away.  I would suspect other schools may have similar agreements – or at least veto power before dates and times are announced.  The Tribune also reported that the conference will be “reluctant to ask schools with giant seating capacities to host” Friday games.  NU certainly fits that bill.

From a NU perspective, it’s hard to see hosting the average Friday night game being that enticing – especially now that NU has to publicly work to maintain the sellout streak.  And as always, there are recruiting implications to consider.  I imagine it would be tough to get a lot of recruits to campus on a Friday night.  My guess is with the right circumstances – such as the Friday of Labor Day weekend, or their annual Black Friday game – Nebraska could be convinced to host a Friday night game.

Will Nebraska participate?  Probably.  Nebraska is new enough where they may choose to play nice, and not take a hard-line like Michigan.  I can definitely see Nebraska being willing to play a Friday game on the road.  For the sake of calling my shot, I’ll predict that Nebraska’s game at Illinois next fall will be NU’s Friday debut.

As a Husker fan, how will this impact me?  Honestly, it’s too soon to tell.  From what I’m seeing, you should expect at least one of Nebraska’s games in the next three years to move to Friday.  My guess that it will be a road game that most of us would not attend in person.  For those with busy social calendars, fans of high school teams, or those not home from work, it will create some tough choices.  But my guess is the random Friday game will be an unexpected treat, opening up a weekend to do other things.

This also means one extra Saturday in the fall where you don’t have to worry about a wedding interfering with Game Day – and that is always a win.

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