Pregame Thoughts

January 3rd, 2012

This week of preparation and hype has been everything that you would want from a Bowl Game.  Warm weather in a great location?  Check.  A cross-sectional matchup between two teams that rarely play each other? Check.  Traditional events like amusement parks, shopping sprees, and banquets?  Check.  Let’s just hope the quality of play lives up to the excitement and potential.

I would be a little surprised if there were a ton of points scored.  By the Bowl Game, there are lots of reels of tape to study and the Offenses have had a lot of time off.  Usually quality Defenses have an advantage in Bowl Games…I said quality.  That doesn’t include Baylor or Washington.

One key is keeping Gamecock QB, Connor Shaw, from making plays with his feet.  The former high school option quarterback has adapted his game to Steve Spurrier’s offense.  He’s passed for 1218 yards and run for 483 yards.  His real strength lies in his leadership and stability.  He certainly isn’t the best athlete that NU has to stop, but he may be the most important.

Watch the matchup between Alfonzo Dennard and Alshon Jeffery.  Jeffery is a big time, big play receiver who will play on Sundays.  Dennard has taken on some great receivers one-on-one this year and can raise his NFL stock even more with a big day.  Jeffery has 6’4” and 229 pounds.  Dennard is only 5’10” but packs a lot of muscle on his 205lb frame.

The Gamecocks have lost three straight Bowl games and have vowed that they have learned from their mistakes.  The Huskers embarrassing performance last year in the Holiday Bowl vs Washington increases their desire to end this season right.

Prior to every Bowl, it’s fun to see what wrinkles have been put in by the Offenses.  Nebraska has done a lot of different things this year so I would be surprised if there is anything to different from what we have seen this year.  With the strength of the Carolina Defense being the front, especially the DE’s, I would think that it will be difficult to get the edge on straight-forward run plays.  Some formation and scheme-trickery might have to be used to create some openings.  The one advantage that NU might have is that although SC has seen some great athletes in the SEC, the Offensive diversity is not widespread.  The key will be to have the ball enough to get into an Offensive rhythm…we did that in the second half against Ohio State and Michigan St, we DIDN’T vs Wisconsin and Michigan.

Winning Bowl Games is about which team prepares better and which team really WANTS it more than the other.  The difficult thing is that most of us don’t have the luxury of watching the practices and preparation.  It’s a crapshoot and a guessing game.

Under the category of “What I’d Love to See:

Jamal Turner getting some touches in the open field.

Rex with 25 touches in a variety of ways…catches, Wildcat, toss sweeps, inside zones.

Kenny Bell running behind the athletic SC Secondary.

No turnovers and good decisions with the football from T Martinez.

Two interceptions from the Blackshirts.

A Defensive Front that is flying to the ball and making plays.

Of course, a win over a well-respected SEC team.

I think that athletically, we are at a disadvantage.  I’m not sure we are the best team but that certainly doesn’t mean we can’t win.  As usual, the team that makes the least mistakes and makes the most plays usually wins.

Break Over… Bowl Time!

December 27th, 2011

I know the kids are still out of school and some of you might not be working quite as hard as usual this week, but when it comes to football, THE BREAK IS OVER.  The Huskers are in beautiful Orlando at the bowl site and it’s time to get ready for Bowl Extravaganza.  We’ll clean up some old  business and comment on some new business, and get this Bowl prep-week going.  Away we go…

Good luck to Carl Pelini as he takes his talents down to South Beach or thereabouts.  Our friend Marvin Sanders with be running his Defense.   Ross Watson (Shawn’s son) will get his first real paying gig, and there might be another familiar name or two that pops up on that staff.  Along with Ohio and Liberty (where Turner G ended up), Florida Atlantic will now be on the radar of many of us.  I think Carl will win there, which could lead him to bigger and better things.  The time was right for him to move on to a Head Coaching job.

Welcome to Rick Kaczenski, hired away from Iowa Univ to coach the D-Line.  He sure looks like a great fit…played at Notre Dame, lots of Big 10 coaching experience, successful recruiting experience in Ohio-Pennsylvania-South Florida, and a history of developing players.  I look forward to meeting him and watching him make this program better.

Not surprisingly, Coach JP will take over the Defensive Coordinator position.  All of the people who wanted a “splash” hire names Stoops or Zook don’t understand the chemistry and systems that have to be in place to complete a successful staff.  This is Bo Pelini’s Defense.  Just because the Blackshirts weren’t up to the normal standards doesn’t mean that wholesale changes are needed.  It is very difficult to integrate a former head coach into the staff as a subordinate piece of the puzzle.  Sometimes a “big name” disrupts more than he fixes.

Ross Els has come a long way, huh?  From Hastings College to Special Teams Coordinator at UNL is a nice advancement.  Ross can coach and organize and the spotlight will be on him heavily from this point on.  The way that the Huskers handle their Special Teams though included all of the assistants so even though he will be the primary organizer, he will have a braintrust around him.

Finally, the Recruiting Coordinator spot has not been announced as of yet.  John Papuchis did an exceptional job of this as well as we have seen Nebraska get into the homes of some very special high school players over the last couple of years.  This class, although small, has a chance to be very special when it comes to quality…depending on how the last month or so shake out.  Recruiting is always a drama but the job of the Coordinator is to organize, identify talent, and get players on campus to visit.  I’m  not sure anyone has done a better job of that than JP so there are some big shoes to fill.

Tuesday was the first Bowl practice and on the injury front, things look a little better.  Ben Cotton was back although he was sporting a big brace for his arm.  Brent Qvale and Brandon Thompson were back practicing at Guards, a spot that looked like a MASH unit a month ago.  Khiry Cooper, who hadn’t practiced since PSU, was running around as well.  On the down side, Aurora native Andrew Rodriquez did not make the trip to Orlando as his foot injury hasn’t healed enough to play.   I’m sure that Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead haven’t been this healthy in a long time either.  I guess that is one good thing to having so much time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game.

Quote from Bo, “ We want the players to enjoy themselves, but know why you came.  We’re down here to win a football game.”  Has any coach in bowl game history ever said, “You know what, this is a vacation…winning doesn’t matter.  This is a nice, fun time for our team and coaches.”  Although some are very true, MANY clichés come out during bowl preparation.  Let me go ahead and give you some more that I’m sure you’ll see  before Jan 2nd.

“This team has great character and leadership and we want to end this season right.”

“We are playing this game for the Seniors and for what they have given to the program.”

“We are playing a great opponent, but it’s not about them, it’s about us and execution.”

“This is a business trip.  We are here to enjoy ourselves, but our main goal is to win.”

Bowl Game Blog #1 in the books…it sure is nice to be playing in Florida in January, huh?

The Best… Ever?

December 1st, 2011

I’m not a fan of “best ever” arguments. When it comes to comparing players or teams I just think it’s too difficult because eras and times are so different.  Can you really compare Jack to Tiger, Unitas to Manning, or Cousy to Stockton (youngsters might need to Google that reference)???  In the game of football, comparing athletes from different decades is especially tough.  Athletes have gotten stronger and faster.  Responsibilities have changed.  The game has become more specialized and complex.  Not necessarily better, but different.

Take a look at the top statistical LBs in Husker history-

1. Barrett Ruud

2. Jerry Murtaugh

3. Lee Kunz

4. Clete Pillen

6. Steve Damkroger

7. Ed Stewart

8. Marc Munford

9. Jim Wightman

10. Mike Knox

A real dilemma occurred when someone asked me if I thought LaVonte David was the best Linebacker in Nebraska Football history.  Here are my thoughts…

Can you imagine Jerry Murtaugh or Mike Knox covering a Running Back on a wheel pattern out of the background?  Clete Pillen, one of my all time favorites, and Steve Damkroger would have struggled mightily to cover an inside receiver in the Spread Offense.  Lee Kunz, Marc Munford, and Jim Wightman could run but were also outmatched when it came to matching skill players in the open field.  Ed Stewart was more versatile than most on the list, but just didn’t combine the total package of blitzing, pass coverage and inside gap responsibility.  Barrett Ruud, the top Tackler on the list, was constantly around the ball and has obviously had a very good pro career, but his over-all playmaking ability lacks behind Lavonte Davids.  While his play was consistent, when it comes to number of big time play in big time games and situations, he falls behind #4.

If you look over the entire body of work, THAT is where it gets tough to compare.  LaVonte David was a two year player coming out of a JUCO.  How do you judge overall productivity when some of the players on the list played at Nebraska two more years?  This turns into a quality versus quantity argument and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer.

My opinion is that NO Linebacker over a two year period was better than LaVonte David.  He blitzed from the inside and out.  He filled A and B gaps.  He covered slot receivers on crossing patterns.  He stuck to running backs out of the backfield.  He chased running/mobile QBs  all over the field.  He intercepted passes.  He caused fumbles.  He made huge 3rd and 4th down tackles after taking on blockers.  He ran sideline to sideline to chase the ball.   WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???

He is #1 on my list…argument anyone?

Not Yet A “Rivalry”

November 28th, 2011

I don’t care what Hy-Vee or the Marketing Group at the Big 10 Headquarters say, you can not artificially create a Rival.  Rival Games require time, big wins, tough losses, controversial endings, and the kind of nastiness that occurs over many meetings.  There may be some natural geographic advantages to Iowa vs Nebraska and there certainly is some uniqueness to the “day after Thanksgiving” spot but Huskers vs Hawkeyes will take some time to compete with Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, or other traditional holiday classics.  For right now, let’s just enjoy the successful end to the 2011 regular season and the first of many Farmagedon Matchups.  This one might not have been a classic, but it sure felt good to win.

I know this isn’t a surprise to anyone, but the stars of this game were the same guys who have led NU all year.  I ‘ll go into more details later in the week involving my  man-crush on him, but what LaVonte David has done for the Huskers the past two seasons is nothing but spectacular.  Once again, LD was all over the field…8 tackles, a sack, 2 pass break ups, caused fumble and subsequent recovery, plus covering RBs-TEs-Recs ALL over the field.  Seemingly every week he makes a play that would make ANY highlight reel.  Meanwhile on the Offensive side of the ball, it was Rex being Rex.  Superman had 160yds on 38 carries.  He constantly is making those little cuts and jukes followed by slashing power where the play always seems to end in another yard or two.  I can’t say enough about him and his effort.  He was simply…Rex.

The amount of injuries that this team has withstood would’ve crumbled many teams.  There are so many guys hurting that the training budget might be looking for a “Sugar Daddy”.  On the first play from scrimmage, Baker Steinkuhler and Terrance Moore went down.  Taylor Martinez tweeked an ankle in the 1st Q, which hampered his mobility.  Rex B couldn’t find a part of his body that wasn’t injured but his foot would’ve kept lesser players on the sideline.  Eric Martin couldn’t play because of injury.  Ben Cotton was relegated to cheerleader in a shoulder sling beside future NFL-er Jared Crick.  Offensive Tackles, Marcel Jones and Yoshi Hardrick were both helped off the field during the game.  Every team has injuries, but this sort bad luck has been above and beyond normal.  Again, a ton of credit has to be given to this team and its resiliency.  Many squads and programs would have folded the tent on the season.

After the first couple of punts, I wondered who had kidnapped Brett Maher.  He bounced back from a 16 yarder (that clocked an unsuspecting security guard on the melon) to booming several field-position changing kicks later in the game.  Plus, he remained perfect for FGs inside of 50 yards…16 for 16 now.

How nice is it to have a speedy receiver who can make a play?  It’s even better when he is a redshirt frosh.  Kenny Bell caught 5 for 93 and a spectacular diving 3rd down grab.  Even though he has dropped some balls and made some mistakes, he has kept battling.  Don’t worry, Kenny, I also see you improving on that whole blocking thing too.  There were several times when he flat out locked up Cornerbacks in the running game.  I see Jamal Turner learning from Bell’s attitude, effort, and demeanor and those two becoming real weapons next season.

While talking about attitude and effort, I have to comment on Brandon Kinnie.  We have been critical of his drops and productivity throughout the year.  I know the season wasn’t quite what he had imagined, but throughout, his Leadership and encouragement toward the younger players has been inspiring.  When Quincy Enunwa caught a 3rd down hitch to move the chains, there was BK right there yelling and cheering from the sideline.  THAT kind of character means a lot.  It’s easy to be a Leader when things are going well for you and the team.  It’s not so easy when things are tough.

There are certain players who quietly have been a big part of good things this season.  Ciante Evans has improved while learning the Nickel and inside spot…he will be very valuable in the next couple years.  It’s been a long time since we have had a “thumper”  like T Legate.  I LOVED the collisions that he had with those Iowa Linebackers.  Andrew Green took some early lumps at Corner this year, but has learned a bunch.  He finished with 6 tackles and has really looked like a more confident athlete the past few weeks.

Kyler Reed caught his first TD of the year on a very well designed “dump/pop” pass off the QB follow-play action.  Two plays earlier, Tim Beck had Martinez had run a QB keep with the sole purpose of setting up the TE pass over the LB after the fake.  There really wasn’t a ton of multiple looks to the Offense as injuries affected the plan.  There was more 5 receiver/0 backs than we have seen but there was a steady diet of old-time I Formation multiple TEs with short sided toss plays, ISOs, and G-Power plays to the outside.  You could see that Beck wanted to try to attack the Flank of the Hawkeye Defense with Jet Sweeps and Outside Speed runs.  Again, Option was a bigger part of the plan until Taylor M dinged his ankle.

GOOD NUMBERS –

88 – # of Rushing Yards by the Hawkeyes.  A key part of shutting Iowa down.

2/12 – 3rd down conversions for Iowa…kind of looked like NU last week vs Michigan

37:47 – Another reversal from last week as NU hung on to the ball, sustained drives, and controlled the Line of Scrimmage.

38 – Record setting # of carries Rex had in the game.  Did you remember that Cory Ross had that record vs Michigan St in an Alamo Bowl.

4 for 29 – Catches and Yard from Marvin McNutt, who will play on Sundays.  Credit “Fonz” Dennard for shutting him down.

Quotes –

“Our team was very upset w/ ourselves for the way we played in that Mich game.  Just because we didn’t play our best football, no one on our team made an excuse.  No one pointed a finger.  Everybody, on a short week, came back and approached it the right way. “ —- Bo Pelini

“That was a group of warriors today.  We’re a beat up football team.  We have a lot of guys that were hurt, a lot of guys that had to play a ton of snaps because of other guys being hurt.” —Pelini

9 win season!  Is that “good enough”?  Should we be happy with just 9 wins?  More on that later in the week, but for now.  Congratulations to the Seniors who have been through more than any other group when it comes to facing adversity and change.  Their character is solid, they do things the right way, they have proudly battled through every bit of adversity.

Michigan Misery

November 21st, 2011

THAT was bad!  I’m not sure anyone expected things to go that poorly in Ann Arbor.  This was a TEAM loss.  It started with Special Teams and was contagious from there.  The end result was embarrassing, disappointing, and flat out bad.  Ok, now what?

You want to throw Coaches under the bus?  Go ahead.  You want to quit?  Feel free.  You want to act like you are more disappointed than the players & coaches?  Go for it.  All I know is that this is College Football and here comes another game.  Here comes another challenge and whining about it, crying about it, pointing fingers at people is NOT the way to get this thing better by Friday.

Is there any good news?  Maybe, maybe not.  There are a lot of  you that don’t think there is any.  Possibly, you are ready to be a “fan” of another team.  You are tired of disappointments and tired of losing.  OK then, stop reading and click on to another Link or another Blog that likes to identify problems (the easy part) but not offer any real suggestions other than “fire everybody” or “cut them all”.  Meanwhile, the rest of us have to take a look at that mess that was NU vs Mich 2011.

Talk about ugly numbers.  How about these?

3 -  Fumbles Lost.  All deep in our own territory and all leading to Michigan scores.

4 -  Number of Personal Fouls on the Huskers.  Were they all correct calls?  No!  Do they need to be eliminated anyway?  Yes!

3 -  Successful 3rd Down conversions by NU.  The problem wasn’t just 3rd down though.  Poor early down success, penalties, and poor blocking led to lots of 3rd and longs.

10 – Rex Burkhead’s carries.  I’m not criticizing Tim Beck because when you run so few Offensive plays, it’s tough to get any tempo or rhythm to the play calling.

54 – Total number of Offensive plays ran by the Huskers.  Bad pitches, penalties, dropped passes, poor protection by the O-Line all contributed to the mess.

18:39 – How much time NU had the ball compared to 41:13 for Michigan.  No wonder the Defense was tired in the 4th Q.

The Special Teams play, which had been stellar most of the season was a disaster.  Two fumbled KO’s (one of the worst Turnovers in Fball) happened twice by two different Returners.  There was a dropped snap which led to a blocked punt then led to a MU touchdown.  A fake field goal, one which NU practiced against worked.  A personal foul on a Punt & a block in the back on  KO Return cost NU valuable field position.  A very questionable Roughing the Punter penalty after NU had finally picked up some momentum in the 4th Q was a killer.  A poor call by the official, but still another mistake.  Execution was bad.  Focus was bad.  Special Teams was a big factor in this loss.

If LaVonte David doesn’t win the Butkus Award, there should be an investigation.  I’m not sure there has been a better LB at NU…ever.  Saturday was a perfect example…17 tackles, blitzing, chasing receivers, filling holes, running down Denard Robinson…he is something else.

Terrance Moore played inspired football on the day of his father’s funeral.  His tipped pass, interception, attempted pitch was one of the few Defensive highlights.

The Offensive highlights were few, but the 3 yd Touchdown play in the 3rd Q was maybe the coolest play from scrimmage I’ve ever seen.  It was a Zone Read handoff from Martinez to Burkhead who then option-pitched the ball off the unblocked force man to Abdullah.  Urban Meyer who has studied about every play and option imaginable who dumbfounded and impressed in the broadcast booth.   The other nice twist was the Diamond Set Zone Fake play-action to BK for the opening TD.  Tim Beck has some creativity…you gotta give him that.

Does anyone have any ideas of how to keep receivers from dropping the ball?  Kyler Reed, Tim Marlowe, Kenny Bell, and Quincy Enunwa all had ball catching-fumbling issues.  Ouch and Yuck!!!

Michigan did a nice job of disguising who was going to run and who was dropping into coverage.  With so many passing downs, UM had a lot of opportunities to dial up different looks.  There aren’t very many teams who can overcome 3rd and 11, 7, 15, 25, 5, 6, 10, 4, 7, and 8…those were the failed 3rd down distances.

Ok people,  purge yourself of the debacle in the Big House.  Don’t look now but Iowa is coming to town and rumor has it that their fans could REALLY be a pain in the butt for 364 days if the Corn doesn’t win.  Who am I kidding, their fans will be a pain no matter what happens on Friday.  As bad as 8-3 sounds to most of us, 8-4 in the regular season is just yucky.  All I know is that the character of this team and this staff is really going to be tested this week.  Short week, tons of injuries, the hope of a Division or League title gone…I hope the team is more resilient than the “Fans”.  I hope, I hope, I hope.

Penn State – What a Week

November 14th, 2011

Remember when the biggest thing on Nebraskan’s minds when they heard “Penn State” was the fact that a couple of blown calls cost us a National Championship in the early 80’s?  Remember when PSU’s slogan “Winning with Honor” didn’t  bring about skepticism and disgust?  Remember when you thought that a football game was the most important thing that could take place at University Park on a Saturday afternoon?  Yeah, I remember those times too…what a difference a week makes.  Never again will Joe Paterno be associated with just being the winningest coach in Div 1 and never again will Penn St football be looked upon the same way.  Is that fair?  I’m not sure.  I have no idea what is fair at this point.

I do know that I wanted to watch Penn State and Nebraska play on Saturday afternoon and try to forget about all of the garbage and nonsense that I’d heard over the past week.  I wanted blocking and tackling and play-calling to help me push aside thoughts of horrific acts against children.   I realized as I saw the pregame prayer led by one of my personal heroes, Ron Brown, that I needed perspective…I needed clarity…and I needed a reminder of what we can control and what we can’t.  I was reminded that sometimes it takes horrible things to bring people together.  That moment when I saw players and coaches kneeling together to listen to a man deliver a message while talking to God, I  felt a comfort and a peace that I had been missing since the onslaught of terrible accusations against a monster of a man, a University, and a legendary Head Coach.   Thank you, Ron Brown and GOOD people who reminded us that God is in control even during chaotic times.

On to football…

Nebraska found a way to deal with distractions and did just enough to win against an inspired and brave Nittany Lions.  This was Big 10 football at it’s finest with 15 punts, 11/32 3rd Down Conversions, and  almost identical Team stats.

The key to being a great coach is knowing your team…it’s strengths/weaknesses, what they can do and how much is too much.   It was obvious that the NU Offensive Coaches felt that just lining up and trying to run through this PSU team was a bad idea.  There must have been 15 or so different Offensive sets i.e.  Wildcat with Rex, Rex under center at QB, Taylor M at I-back as the pitch man as well as at Split End, Empty Backfields, Traditional I Formation, Diamond Formation, moving Kyler Reed out wide to take advantage of his strength vs Cornerbacks, Zone Read, Option, Screen Passes, Option Passes…I could go on and on.  Remember, Tim Beck can’t control dropped passes, missed blocks, or botched assignments, which have been the problems when this Offense stalls.  The diversity and play-calling have been such an improvement over the past few years.

Speaking of dropped passes…I hate them.  I loathe them and for the life of me, can’t understand how they can keep happening.  Nothing fixes the “drops” more than hard-work and repetitions before practice, during practice, and after practice.  It is concentration, focus, and muscle memory.  The only way I know how to fix them is hard work.

I’m not sure what the Taylor Martinez critics are currently saying (I don’t listen to the haters or the lovers).  All I know is that #3 has developed a TON over the past year and a half.  His decision-making and leadership makes all the difference in the world.  I don’t want to hear about his passing mechanics…I don’t care if he throws it underhanded.  He has been getting the ball to the right place and keeping it away from the guys in the other jerseys.  He is never going to be Johnny Unitas…all he needs is to be the best Taylor Martinez he can be.  Keep working, keep battling, keep developing.  I like to think that having Joe Ganz around him is helping.

LaVonte David is a STUD!  I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.  That play he made on 4th and 1 in the 4th Q was All-American like.

When PSU receiver Curtis Drake caught a ball off of another receiver for a 31 yd gain in the 1st Q, I was thinking that it might not be our day.  Glad we didn’t lose because of that.

It’s nice to see Kyler Reed back in the mix…he is a tough matchup.  I’m not sure how hurt Ben Cotton is but our TE corps are a bit thin.  Jake Long did a nice job filling in but it sure would be nice to have Ben and Kyler both healthy next week.  Speaking of hurting…to get through the game with only two legitimate Offensive Guards is tough.  Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi pulled yeomen’s duty by taking all 74 snaps.  Our Defensive Line was also thin as Chase Rome was still hurting but Moore, Meredith, and Martin combined for 14 tackles and played very well in a tough and physical battle.  November football in the Big 10 means that there are very few players who aren’t dinged or banged up.

Will Compton made 13 tackles and even though he wasn’t perfect, he played well in a style that fits his strengths.  By the way, re-watch the 4th & 1 play late (where L. David makes the stop).  Will C. ran a “gut blitz” and was absolutely tackled before he could make the play.  The officials swallowed their whistles on that one or else just flat out missed it.

Not since watching 8 man football have I seen a QB pitch the ball and then lead block in the hole for a TD.  One more play to add to the Rex Burkhead “He is Amazing” file.

A game ball goes to Brett Maher and his punting.  The former Bearcat averaged 45 yds on eight punts.  One went 61 yds and five landed inside the PSU 20 yd line.  Field position in these kind of games is essential!

I loved the call but hated the result on our big turnover in the 4th Q when Rex and Tyler Legate lost the ball.   We had run G-Option with Rex at QB with some success and the Linebackers were flowing so the call was a G-Trap to the FB.  I could definitely see the logic behind the formation and call.  Unfortunately, the PSU lineman anticipated the snap and shot the correct gap. The OT didn’t get his head across and we fumbled.  Sometimes the difference in a great call/great play and a turnover is a very small amount.

I would love to talk to the Offensive staff about the decision in the 4th Q to continue with the hurry-up tempo even though ahead two scores.  The fast tempo has led to us wearing down defenses and the philosophy is engrained in the team BUT taking that play clock down to the wire might have milked enough time so PSU couldn’t have gotten the ball back their last two drives.  I can argue both ways and did so with myself during the game.  Hindsight is always 20/20.  Again, we were very close to “closing the deal” several times, but didn’t get it done.

Whew!  That was a GREAT win in a very tough environment!  Now it’s on to another legendary Stadium versus the winningest program in College Football History.  This Big 10 road doesn’t get any easier…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Blindsided!

November 7th, 2011

I didn’t see this one coming.  Things seemed to be coming together for this Husker team and then POOF, it all disappeared versus a hard-nosed team of smart guys that just flat outplayed us.  This one hurt.  Many people said, “welcome to the Big 10” after a sound beating by Wisconsin, but this felt to me like a real Big 10 upset game.  Over the years, seemingly unexplainable things happened to Big 10 favorites.  I used to laugh when Michigan, Ohio State, or Iowa got upset by a team that had no business beating them.  Not any longer…this time it was us…and this one is going to leave a mark.

Some writers are making a big deal out of Nebraska losing a home game to an unranked opponent for the 5th straight season.  I don’t think this is an indictment of Bo Pelini as much as a statement as to how the College game has changed.  That kind of stuff hardly ever happened but every week, goofy things take play in the world of College Football.  More upsets, more parity, more fun for underdogs.

I hate to say it, but it certainly looked like the motivated Wildcats had more energy, more passion, and certainly less to lose from the start of this game.  It’s hard to believe with everything that they had to play for that this Husker team could “lay an egg” as Eric Martin said.  Blame it on youth, blame it on a “trap game”, blame it on the coaches, but every player has to evaluate their performance and what happened on Saturday.  Coaches talked about practice this week and how it wasn’t bad.  To me, It comes down to players making plays and everyone doing their job better.  There is not one player or one coach to blame for the performance, but there is plenty of blame to go around as it was a TEAM loss.

In the first half, the Offense moved the ball, but just couldn’t get over the hump.  Key fumbles by Rex Burkhead and Quincy Enunwa were killers as it felt like everyone was just waiting for the dam to break.  In the second half, the Defense was the issue as they could not get off the field.  Did anyone ever think that “mighty” Northwestern could chunk it at us running the ball?  Multiple receivers and motions kept NU from putting more than 6 in the box  (1 of which was Peso Lance Thorell).  The D-Line has been depleted with injuries, which certainly contributed to the problem.  Jared Crick out. Chase Rome out. Thad Randle out.  Terrence Moore hurting.  Throw in the hurry-up Offense by the Wildcats and there were up-front issues that led to bad things.  With 8:48 left, things looked okay.  Nebraska had pulled to w/in 3 and had some momentum.  What happened?  A 13 play, 7 minute drive that made me and most others in red want to throw up.

Northwestern averaged 16 yds a completion.  Coverages were blown, eyes were in the wrong place, players were a step slow.  Things were bad enough that Carl Pelini didn’t even talk to the media afterwards.  I seriously was concerned that his head was going to explode.

The Northwestern players talked about how “fun” it was to come into Memorial Stadium.  If I was coaching a visiting team, one of the keys would be to do everything possible to get out to an early lead because this front-running crowd has NO IDEA how to cheer a team that is not winning.  If I had a belt sander, I would get rid of the “best fans in America” etchings on the stadium.  I would replace it with the “best fans for showing up in red and cheering when their team is ahead and being loyal when things are going well”.  That might be a separate Blog topic.

By the way, lost in this ugly game was the performance of Taylor Martinez.  28 for 37 w/ four drops.  289 yds, 2 TD and no INTs.  He also rushed for 53 yds.  Nope, you can’t blame him for this one…he was on the money, a lot.

How little faith does Bo and Tim Beck have in NU’s short yardage Offense?  Several times we were about at midfield with a 4th and short and we played the field position game.  I’m not disputing the decision but there are issues on Offense when so little faith is placed on our ability to get a yard or two versus Northwestern.  In the 3rd Q, on a 4th and 2 we do go for it and Burkhead loses three yards.  Short yardage Offense has been a struggle all year.

Poor Lance Thorell.  Few people care about his 15 tackles and his good plays…he is the whipping boy for people who are looking for a scapegoat on Defense.  He was put in some tough situations and got beat a few times.  The crossing route that he jumped vs Michigan State hurt him and then when he jumped it a couple times, he got beat on a pivot route.  I still love the kid and his heart…keep battlin’.

Baker Steinkuhler played maybe his best game as a Husker.  Unfortunately, his fellow Defensive Linemen weren’t helping out much.  You know it was killing J Crick watching that mess, especially when it was his day,  hosted by the fine people of Cozad, Ne.

There is no doubt the Rex B is wore down.  Even Superman needs a break now and then.  People fall in love with freshman and there is no doubt that Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, and Ameer Abdullah all have bright futures.  Believe me, if Coach Brown thought that the team would be better with them in the game more and getting more touches, he would do it.  Hindsight is 50/50 and maybe he wishes there were times when he would give Rex a break, but going with what you know and saddling up your horse is usually the route that veteran coaches take.  This is the time of year where freshmen tend to get a little worn down mentally.  They aren’t used to practicing this hard and long…it’s kind of like Rookies in the NBA or NFL.  Bottom line, somebody has to step up to the challenge and give Rex a break.

Wow, it doesn’t get any easier from here on out.  Penn State in “Not So Happy Valley”.  The last time the Huskers visited there, they came home embarrassed.  It’s not like the Nittany Lions have looked unstoppable, but it’s never easy to get to that place and it’s equally hard to win there.  I guess we’ll see what this team is made of…I’m afraid I found out what a lot of “fans” are made of.  I’d rather depend on the Team.

Big Home Win

October 31st, 2011

Now, THAT was fun to watch, huh?  A rejuvenated Husker Defense and  Tough/Multiple Offense was just what the Husker Nation needed to go from being too negative to being too positive.  That’s what it’s like here in Nebraska where the fan base and media are like a roller coaster.  Fortunately, the Coaching Staff and Players are sticking to the process and continuing to grind away.  That is what it takes, especially in this new world of Big 10 Football.

If a tone can be set on one play, the opening kickoff did just that.  Eric Martin blasts a blocker leaves him limp on the field.  Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt badly, but the tone and stage was set for a tough, physical battle.  Speaking of EMart, his two sacks were a sight to behold after the Front Four had struggled so much getting pressure this year.

How about Lance (Loomis Legend) Thorell making the defensive play of the game?  Great read and reaction on the first big 3rd Down play of the game.  Thorell, as the Peso, also had 4 unassisted tackles.

I get tired of constantly talking about how good Rex Burkhead is…but I’ll keep saying it.  He is the best 3.5 yd back in College Football.  His ability to get a first down when he seems to have NO ROOM is uncanny.  You have to watch in slow motion to see all of his little shakes and steps that get positive yards.  Oh yeah, how about carrying 35x for 130 plus coming back after leg cramps to catch a HUGE td pass?  He does it all.  He is sick.  Ok, I’m done talking about him…until next week.

Sparties hadn’t lost a Conference game in 364 days.  They had spanked the Buckeyes, Wolverines, and Badgers in a brutal October schedule.  Kudos to them for their performance this year, but much credit has to go to this Husker team and the way they dominated this team.  There wasn’t much talk of this “bully” Defense and the toughness of the Spartans after the game.  They were humbled and classy in defeat.

The Fonz is back!  Alfonzo just flat out shut down BJ Cunningham.  Having a lock-down, physical corner makes such a difference in the secondary.  Speaking of the Secondary, Bo talked about their preparation and great practice this week.  The fact that they matched up so well with the Mich St patterns is a testament to the Coaches.  We’ve heard it when they struggled…we heard it after the game…reading keys and execution is a MUST.  It happened Saturday.

Andrew Green got the call over Stanley Jean-Baptiste this week.  Who knows who is going to get the call next?  Again, competition and practice performance are so important and make a difference.

Daimion Stafford played very well over the top at Safety, but missed his chance for a pick-6 in the 2nd Q.  He was already on his way to a 90 yd TD sprint when he realized that he forgot something important…the ball.

The physicality advantage came through again when Brandon Kinnie stoned a Defender on a crack-back block.  Dennard ran right through a knock out/blind side shot in the 4th Q.  Our Receivers can block and even if they draw a penalty or two (which they did), it is worth it in the end.  The old Ron Brown coaching style has been transferred to Coach Fisher and I am noticing.  Yes, you can have big play receivers who still are physical.

Let’s talk Taylor.  Think about the transformation of Martinez in the short time he has been here.  He used to be a one-trick pony who would get a crack and outrun everyone to the end zone.  Once teams have seen that on film and adjusted, that piece has been taken away from him game.  On Saturday, he was a manager of the game who made audibles, took care of the ball (for the most part), and made good decisions.  He doesn’t have to be great for this Offense to be good.  Right now, we are better being multiple, saddling up Rex, running play action passes, and getting him 10 or so carries a game (which increase the chances of him scrambling or breaking a few for big yards.  Probably the biggest sign of growth was the discipline of the Offense in using the hard count.  Twice the Mich St Defense jumped offsides and TMart recognized it and went for the big pass (having nothing to lose).  It’s a small thing but a good sign.

All the people and the pundits who talked about the lack of changes in the NU Offense after a couple weeks just weren’t paying attention.  This Tim Beck philosophy is nothing like a Shawn Watson plan.  It’s different.  It takes a while to evolve.  It just looks better and better each week.  The interesting thing is that all cries for an Identity are exactly coming true.  The Offense is becoming multiple but does have the physical ideals that HAVE to be in place to be successful.  Two big, time consuming drives in the 3rd Q were evidence of progress.  The success came through a variety of plays…Rex power, Option, short passes vs Corners who were bailing out, QB keepers, “Wildcat and Diamond” formations, a screen pass etc…it was a thing of beauty to people like myself who love diversity.

I loved two calls by Beck.  In the 2nd Q, we run Wildcat with Rex but hand off to Tim Marlow on a sweep.  It broke away from a pattern, it was well blocked, and few people expected the steady Marlowe to be the benefactor of the hand off.  The second great call was on a 3rd and 10 play in the 2nd Q.  Instead of asking Martinez to drop back and make multiple reads (like at Wisc), Beck dialed up a middle/jailbreak screen to K Bell (who is still fast)…1st down and NU is on its way to a 24-3 lead.

How about the “Radar” look with the Front Four all up and moving before the snap.  Sometimes just a little tweak give the opposing blockers a little trouble.  Nice work Carl.

For all of the Will Compton criticizers (me included), the kid played a great game and it was nice to see him not only in the right place, but making the play once he got there.

It wasn’t all good.  Nothing is more frustrating when the Offense has a 1st and Goal (especially from the 3) and it has to settle for a Field Goal.  Give credit to the MSU Front as it stiffened inside on three straight runs.  Hindsight says an Option would have been nice, but that same Option led to problems on the Goal line vs Minnesota.  With Red Zone Offense, the basic rule is that if it works,  it’s a great call and if it doesn’t, it was a bad call.  Bottom line is that good execution trumps play calling every time.

Quote of the Day from Lance Thorell – “Every day I come in and I work my tail off…when things don’t go your way, you can’t get all mad and quit on yourself.  You’ve just got to keep working day in and day out, and that’s what I’ve done.”    Words that we ALL can live by.

Kirk Cousins is a good QB.  He was also 11 of 27 for 86 yards.  His poor statistics weren’t all his fault as the lack of success by MSU on early downs really hurt them.  There were a lot of 3rd and longs for the Spartans. A credit to him is that when receivers weren’t open (which they weren’t most of the time), he didn’t throw it to the wrong team.

William Gholston is a MAN.  The MSU DT had a hand in 15 tackles and was a load.  He won some battles but obviously lost the war.  Jerel Worth is another HUGE man who will play on Sundays for a while.  The fast tempo of NU’s Offense as well as the physicality seemed to have worn down their great Defensive front.  There is a trend that NU has been the better team in the 2nd Half.  Include some nice halftime adjustments and I like what I see in quarters 3 and 4.

OK – now what?  A home game vs a team that we should beat.  Don’t look ahead Husker Fans…remember the goal.  Be 1-0 this week.

Gopher review

October 24th, 2011

This one had that old time feeling.  Road Trip, Invade the Stadium, Make Some Noise, Start Fast, Win, Load Up, and Move On.  Nobody is going to mistake Minnesota for a tough opponent and everyone would REALLY be panicked if it hadn’t been a dominant performance.  I would characterize the game as business-like.  That’s not a bad thing at all.

Three new starters on Defense – Lance Thorell in the Nickel, Stanley Jean-Baptiste at Corner, and Chase Rome replacing the Crickster at DT.  You’d think at this point the lineup would be more solidified, but that is Pelini Defense.  The reward good competition in Practice and adjust playing time according to the game plan in place.

I really liked the diversity and versatility of the Offense in the 1st half.  More and more sets are making their way into the Offensive look.  This week we had I-Formation, Double Wing Motion (Georgia Tech look), Pistol Run Game and Dropback out of it, Diamond  Reads and Gives, 3 TE Motion Power, Shotgun, Multiple Receivers.  Not all of it was smooth but Defensive Coordinators are having more and more to prepare for when looking at NU on tape.

Kenny Bell is still fast and looks really good running in the open field.  Part of the reason his 82 yd TD  was a success was because we are getting to be a pretty good Toss Sweep team, especially w/ Rex.  I love the threat of Reverse in slowing the LBs down and holding the backside tight.

Screen Passes slow down the Pass Rush.  I would hate to think we used them all up this week as we just might need to slow Michigan State from pinning their ears back, especially in passing situations.  Brandon Kinnie is sure to take some abuse from his buddies for getting  “State Troopered” (caught from behind) at the two.

1st and Goal from the 2 yd line CAN’T end in a Field Goal.  Poor blocking and execution in that tight can drive Coaches crazy.  Yuck!

Austin Cassidy passed me on the career scoring list with his second TD of his career…don’t worry, I don’t hold grudges.  You know, I’m only 387 pts off of #1.

I hate seeing Receivers drop balls.  There were three that were on the money and a couple that were potential big plays.  I doubt that Jamal Turner is going to drop too many in his career.  Tim Marlowe made one of the all-time great catches with a one-handed, ball-behind him play.  That one was special.

Speaking of Special…Rex Burkhead had 23 carries for 117 yds, but he had a 3 yd run for a first down where he had no business getting back to the line of scrimmage.  He had another 10 yd run where he stiff armed a tackler, made a sneaky little cut, and had a three step burst that you just can’t teach.  All the kid does is run for 1st downs.

Glad that Brett Maher’s “off-game” came when it wasn’t that key.  I have a feeling he is going to be very important over the next five games.

I’m willing to bet that Chase Rome doesn’t cheap shot someone again in his career.  He got a face full of Bo after he blasted a guy after the whistle on Austin Cassidy’s TD return.  Besides getting screamed at, he had to sit in “timeout” on the bench for a while before he returned to the game later.

Did anyone notice that our QB was wearing gloves on both hands during the game?  I always wondered why more QBs didn’t wear those to help them grip the ball or to hang on to it when getting hit.  There are certainly some cold games in the future and doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.  If receivers don’t have the “dropsies”, he is 16 for 22 for about 220…that’s pretty good even if it was against Minnesota.  I don’t care if he throws it underhand, we just need completions and yards.

It’s a good Road Trip when eight guys carry the ball and eight guys catch it.

The Defensive puzzle looked better this week with fewer mistakes and missed assignments.  Besides LaVonte David, I’m not really sure who is a real Playmaker.  Of course Dennard could be, but he doesn’t get tested much and doesn’t get many chances to make too many plays.  We are going to need some big Defensive plays this week from anyone and everyone.

THIS week became very special after that HUGE win by Sparty in East Lanning on Saturday against Wisconsin.  I’m not sure that there is another team that feels more destined or more “meant to be” than the Green and White right now.  Hope the preparation is good…I bet there will be some focus in Practice this week.

Midweek Minnesota

October 19th, 2011

As I mentioned last week, this is an important week for the Huskers.  Forget the fact that Minnesota hasn’t played well in a long time.  Forget the fact that the Huskers are heavy favorites.  Also, forget all of the “on any given day” clichés.  This week is about improving as a Team.  The game is another opportunity to get better and be 1-0 for the week…the main goal.  Sometimes, I enjoy the games more than DON’T have all of the hype and hoopla attached to it (sorry ESPN GameDay).  As I’ve grown older, I come to appreciate the process more than the outcome.  Yes, there is a process in place.

It sounds like practices have been long, intense, and physical since our last game vs Ohio St.  I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way.  Except at LB, the overall depth and competition makes for great practice battles for playing time.   We are still looking for someone to break out of the pack in the Secondary as so many Corners are battling for time.  There are also some very athletic safeties who are not getting game reps other than Special Teams.  I always tell Fans not to give up on certain players…just because someone isn’t starting after a couple of years, it doesn’t mean that he is a “bust”.  Again, the words PROCESS and PROGRESS comes into play.

The “hot” players right now are Stanley Pierre-Baptiste, the converted receiver who is long and big, and Kenny Bell, who has always been known for his hair and his speed.  Lately, we are noticing that he can cut block too.

Speaking of the cut…it’s been a couple weeks since I have mentioned how much I love the cut block from receivers and fullbacks so I will get on my soapbox again.  LOVE seeing Defenders on the ground and the HATE it.

The Kickoff Return Game has improved a ton this year and so much of the credit goes to Ameer Abdullah and his bursts.  Don’t forget the fact that blockers like Alonzo Whaley, Kevin Thomsen, Tim Marlowe, Tyler Legate, and others are getting their job done.  The Punt Returns have improved as well.  The field position makes a HUGE difference when it comes to starting and finishing a drive.

Frosh Cornerback Josh Mitchell said he weighed 138 lbs when he arrived in Lincoln???  Now, he says he weighs around 160 with a goal of someday getting to 180.  Those numbers are crazy…I’m all for speed, but that has to be tough trying to be physical with big receivers at that size, let alone playing run support.  Mitchell, who started vs Washington is one of the guys who has road the roller coaster of emotions and playing time this year.

The Man vs Zone Blocking Scheme Debate is on again as O-Linemen talked about making a switch at halftime in the Ohio State game.  All I know is that there are very successful teams who have done both…there are many ways to make things work.  Whatever was done vs OSU…let’s keep doing it.  To me, the main difference is the responsibility of the OL when they do not have a man on them.  The ability to get moving and pull to the perimeter or get up field on a Linebacker is important.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows that there are some guys who are better on the move than others.  Knowing your players and what scheme is best for them is key…AND the ability to adjust when things aren’t going as well.

We will use a bunch of Nickel and Dime this week which means Blatchford and Thorrell will get some clock.  Save me all of the “there are much better athletes than them who should be playing” talk.  Again, the Coaches are going to play who they feel will give them the best chance to win.  Period.  Is it our hope that the best athletes ALSO know their scheme and responsibilities the best?  Yes!  Does that always happen?  No!  Will watch these two players from Ponca and Loomis and see how they fair in the Nickel.

Finally.  We are a one-loss team.  We are right where the majority of people thought (and hoped) we would be at this point form a record standpoint.  Do we need to get better?  Yes!  Speculating how the rest of the season is going to go at this point is futile and mindless.  Beat the Gophers…then prepare in a way that will give yourself a chance to beat Michigan St and so on and so on.  That is the message.  Be 1-0 THIS WEEK.

A Husker break

October 17th, 2011

A Bye week in the middle of the season is a good thing. Players can heal a little. Coaches can get on the road and see some recruits play. Fans? Well, Fans struggle with weeks off. There are obviously some good games to watch so we’ll still comment, opinionize, and pontificate. Oh, and I know “opinionize” is not a real word…but it should be and that’s the beauty of having your own Blog.

Any chance that there are any Faith Healers out there that can lay their hands on Jerod Crick’s torn pec?

I’m certainly not a fan of people (especially Media) who talk about us two weeks off because we are playing the hapless Minnesota Fighting Woodchucks next. You just don’t approach athletics that way. You get better or you get worse and you aren’t playing an opponent, you are playing yourself. Practices are important (no matter what columnists think) and these next two weeks are important for the Huskers’ success over the last half of the season.

Ok, let’s give the Husker talk a break and look at the rest of the world today.

Who should we root for in the big Mich/Mich St game? Strategically, I think it’s best for the Spartans to win since we play them at home while playing the Wolverines in the Big House. The last few years, it was an easy choice for me because of RichRod (usually cheered against him). Now, it’s tough to cheer against those cool helmets and fight song.

KState undefeated??? Good for them. I don’t like the majority of their fans (except for a few nice ones that live around here) but you just have to respect Bill Snyder. Enjoy it while you can ‘Cats…Oklahoma, Okie State, Texas A&M are a comin’.

ASU’s QB is huge. Are they for real? I guess we will see if they can challenge the Ducks on their pond. I’m guessing no…but I’ve been wrong before. They both DO have trendy uniforms though.

Two upcoming Husker opponents are playing in Iowa City as 2-3 Northwestern plays 3-2 Iowa. Even though I don’t like purple very much as a color, I usually cheer for the smart kids from Northwestern, especially when they are playing the Hawkeyes. A Hurry-up Offense with Dan Persa pulling the trigger could give the Iowa defense some trouble.

I will cheer for Ohio St vs undefeated Illinois because I still like the Ohio State program and feel a little bad for them after their collapse last week. Besides, I have no feelings for Illinois. I kinda forget about them actually. AJ Jenkins, the wide receiver from Illinois, is pretty good with 7 TDs averaging 47 yds. That is some big-play ability.

Maybe the real Game of the Week is taking place about a mile away from my house. UNK vs Colorado-Pueblo. Great Offense vs Great Defense. #4 vs #11. Should be fun. Hope the Touchdown ROTC artillery goes off a lot, although I might be dozing in my favorite chair and it sometimes wakes me up. It IS a bye-week, ya know.

Post Ohio State

October 10th, 2011

Wow.  What a Turnaround!

At approximately 8:45pm Saturday night, I was about as disappointed as I have ever been as a Husker Fan.  Remember, long before I was a Blogger, before I ever coached a game, and certainly prior to playing, I was a Fan. 

I grew up listening to Husker games on the radio, idolizing players like Junior Miller, Jimmy Williams, Todd Brown and others. In all my years of following NU, NEVER had I been so unable to understand the lack of fire, continual breakdowns, and inconsistency that was shown in the first Half and in the beginning of the 3rd Quarter. 

So many questions…so few answers.  What’s worse is that I had given up hope.  I know you always hear the “Don’t give up” clichés but I just didn’t see what would change this game and possibly the season.  The questions I jotted down in my notes at Half-Time were things like, “What now?”,  “How are the Coaches going to keep from losing the Team?” and “What can you change after the sixth week of the season when you so believe what you are doing/teaching is right?”.   

What a  Comeback! And it all started with 8:15 left in the 3rd Q with a great player making a great play.  Thanks LaVonte David.  What followed was the Greatest Comeback in the History of Husker Football.

The Omaha World Herald headline was “Magic Act”.  What???  We’ll discuss TMart later, but you HAVE to start off any discussion of the game with Rex Burkhead?  He is beyond a “good football player”…he is the heart and soul of this team.   His  119 yds rushing and 59 yds receiving don’t even begin to describe his value.  That little jump cut/move his made right after catching the dump off pass from Martinez was something else.  He played fullback, blocked, caught the ball, and played the Wildcat back.  One buddy wondered if he could snap the ball to himself, pass it to himself, and then block for himself too.  Another very masculine guy said, “Hate to say it, but if I met Rex face-to-face right now, I’d want to make out with him.”  Just a heads-up on your next trip to Kearney, Rex.

Say what you want to about Taylor Martinez and his decision-making, passing mechanics, or interview skills (and I know you will anyway)…the kid played well.  There’s something to be said for the way his teammates have stood up for him.  There has never been a tougher time to be Taylor Martinez, especially in the Fishbowl that is Husker Football.  With the social media access to every piece of personal lives at people’s fingertips and  the desire of certain Media types to stir up issues and create controversy,  I’m not sure anyone truly knows what it is like to be in that kind of spotlight.  I don’t envy him, that’s for sure.

I can’t imagine how frustrated the Defensive staff was after the first half.  Time and time again there was bad technique, eyes in the wrong place, leverage lost.  And it’s not the same players or even positions!  Nebraska might set an NCAA record for number of Secondary players played in a season.  At Corner alone, Dennard, Green, Evans, Mitchell, Cooper, Jean-Baptiste have all played important roles at different times and Coaches are STILL looking for the right combinations.  When a former Wide Receiver who has played Defense for only 3 weeks (Jean-Baptiste) makes a key interception that leads to the winning score, you know there is some searching going on.

On OSU’s 63yd TD run, our D-End lost leverage on a basic zone block, the LB and Safety overran the play, the Corner didn’t close down, and a hole you could drive a bus through led to an easy TD.  Four players in four different positions broke down.  None of them doing what they are coached.  On OSU’s TE screen  for a TD, they caught us in a perfect play vs the Defense called. Then the CB who appeared to be in man to man was fooled by the TE blocking and took his eyes off his responsibility.  That’s all it took for him to get blocked and away Mr  Stoneburner (great name) went.  Again, mistake equals Touchdown.  It is the coach’s job to get the players in the right spots and to drill them in practice.  BUT when players make mental mistakes and also miss tackles again and again, it HAS to be frustrating for coaches…I know some fans were frustrated.

By the way, I have nothing to say to “Fans” who boo players.  You can cross your arms and pout.  You can whine and moan to your Husker buddy sitting next to you.  BUT Booing?  No words.  Wait…I guess I did have something to say.

I’ve been calling the new set the Diamond (Oklahoma term)…now I find out that it’s called the Bone and it was good.  The biggest plays came off of the the Zone Read look and there was a huge gap for Martinez to run through.  That was followed up by another run fake and two receivers (Enunwa and Green) running free in the secondary.  Touchdown!  It’s a tough set to defend and there are still more options off of the look. 

The check-downs to Rex B in the passing game were a huge improvement.  There is nothing better for this Offense than Rex one-on-one vs a defender, it’s an easy throw, and it reduces the risk of the ball going to players in the wrong colored jersey.  Burkhead went from not catching a pass all season to catching five in one game.  Early on, there weren’t very many yards to be had in the passing game, but the 36 yd TD  throw to Enunwa (who is strong), a 17 yarder to Khiry Cooper (remember him?) and a 20 yarder to Kenny Bell (who is fast) really helped get the ball down the field.  I still held my breath a little in the drop-back game. 

The MVP’s of the game in my opinion were Rex Burkhead and LaVonte David.  Can the turf be a secondary MVP for spraining Braxton Miller’s ankle?  That was a huge play that was bad luck for the Buckeyes.  I’m not saying the comeback couldn’t have happened if the injury hadn’t occurred, but poor backup QB, Joe Bauserman.  He struggled mightily and the Defensive game plan was certainly simpler without a mobile QB to defend.

Anyone think Luke Fickell will still be the Head Coach of THE Ohio St University next year?  I feel bad for him stepping into that mess.  He seems like a good guy who was a great Coordinator.  He never asked for all of the off-field trouble that he inherited. 

What a great time for a bye week.  Husker Fans can catch their breath, relish in a great Comeback, and of course come up with some more ways to criticize players and Coaches when they lose and adore them when they win.  What, isn’t that what they are supposed to do?

Coaching thoughts

October 5th, 2011

Now’s your chance!  I want to hear your ideas.  All of you who are interviewing for substitute coaching positions now have your chance.  Tell me what you would do in practice to make this team better.  I promise I will pass on all of the ideas.  I won’t promise they will make it to  Bo Pelini or Tim Beck’s desk though.    

So let’s say its Monday…you’ve watched and graded the film and now you have to make some changes to prepare for the biggest game of the season in Ohio State.  What’s that?  You say that it’s not even close to the biggest game because OSU is not that good, Tressel is gone, and several players are still suspended???  You failed the first pop quiz of Coaching 101.  The next game is ALWAYS the biggest game of the season. 

This game is huge NOT because it is THE Ohio State University, alma mater of Mark (Bo) Pelini…it is huge because you get to see how your young team reacts to getting beat.  You have a chance to see who your real leaders are.  You get to see what kids will respond to some “tough love”.   

This game is monstrous because EVERYONE judges you on your last game and the perception among the ignorant public  is that this team is soft, undisciplined, and led by a guy who is too emotional and a QB who makes poor decisions when things get tough. 

The fans who have never been in the stadium other than to let their balloons go, eat a Vals slice…fans who cheer victories and complain about losses are saying that our season is over.  Talking Heads on the Networks are writing this squad off as a team that flinched…a team that didn’t respond.  I guess we will see.

I’m guessing that one of the reasons the 1’s went against the 1’s for 60 minutes on Tuesday was that the coaches on this team know only one way to get better.   You evaluate, you adjust, you work harder, you see who is tougher, and then you do it again.  Good coaches know that one game (win or lose) does not make a season and the true mark of a real TEAM is how they handle adversity and how much they improve.  And you know what?  Sometimes as a coach you make mistakes just like sometimes players screw up. 

Evaluate, Adjust, Work Harder, and Get Better…I can’t wait til Saturday.

Monday Quarterback

October 3rd, 2011

Nothing is worse than hearing “I told you so” unless it’s hearing people give their “expert analysis” when they have never been in the area/stadium themselves. I always say that identifying a problem is easy…solving the problem is much tougher. Fortunately the ability of the Huskers to fight back from Saturday night’s loss does not depend on us non-experts trying to solve the issues that led to the disappointing performance. We will leave that up to the real experts who are on the staff. Things will get better…they’d better get better. The mental health of Husker Nation depends on it.

Their quarterback was better than ours. Russell Wilson was as good as it gets. He was on the money down the field…he sidestepped blitzers…he scrambled out of trouble…he made plays with his arm and legs. Wilson was 14-20 for 255 and 2 TDs while managing the Offense to perfection. He makes a very good team great and has people in Madison talking about more than cheese and beer.

Our quarterback made some good plays, but when he makes a mistake, it tends to be a big one. Let’s forget about his passing mechanics and focus more on his decision-making process. I know that the decisions he makes in practice are better than on Saturdays, otherwise he wouldn’t be asked to drop back and go through a passing progression. This leaves quite a conundrum for Tim Beck. His style is to attack and he doesn’t want to stifle athleticism, but at the same time, we can’t win against good teams with us not throwing the ball down the field. The defensive game plan for the Badgers was to rush four or five, keep Taylor in the pocket, and push him towards bad decisions. It worked! Don’t forget though that Martinez made some good plays and throws as well. His consistency is the issue and believe me, they are working on it.

Quit talking about Brion Carnes. I know the most popular guy on campus is usually the backup, but don’t think for a minute that there is anyone on the roster better than Martinez. To the reporter who asked Beck if he had thought about pulling Taylor during the game…dumb question.

If you don’t think that Tim Beck is the right guy for the job, you aren’t paying attention. Is he making mistakes? Yep. Does he hold himself accountable? Yep. His best quote, “I did some bonehead things too. Obviously, we’re not a drop-back-and-throw-every-down-team. That’s not who we are. We tried to do that for a little bit. That’s as much me as anyone else.” The things that look good in practice are not looking good in games…Beck will learn and adjust.

Enough of that Offense-stuff. The bigger concern is the Defense and their weakness for giving up big plays. The most concerning thing is that it seems that different guys are making mistakes at different times. It’s newbies, it’s Seniors, it’s Linebackers, it’s the Secondary. Carl Pelini has to be scratching his head as he is not seeing any progress and play action seems to be befuddling to his Defensive Backs right now. Wisconsin’s balance was a big factor in the success against our Defense. In the first half, they ran the ball 20 times and threw it 16. That is a tough thing to defend when done so well. Making plays on the ball and tackling from the Linebackers HAS to improve for this Defense to get to any sort of level of good. The key to the success of the Pelini Defense is playing technique and doing your job. Giving up big players destroys everything that is trying to be accomplished. They will keep looking for the right combination and I know that nobodies’ job is safe this week.

Rex Burkhead might just have to be saddled up and ridden for a while. When things got ugly late in the 2nd Q, he was not a factor in the Offense and he is the most consistent performer for this team. We are continuing to see flashes of brilliance from Jamal Turner who might need to see the ball more and more. The kid is fun with the ball in his hands.

Don’t look now, but Penalties and Turnovers were a big part of the story. 9 Penalties for 80 yards is bad. Two 2nd Q penalties led to two 3 & outs in the crucial period of the game. A holding call also killed the Huskers’ second series in the 3rd Q.

This young team is at a stage that all teams face…handling adversity, fighting back, making a stand. You can use any cliché you want but the bottom line is that this is a key week to see the character and leadership emerge. I will be just as interested in seeing how the home crowd reacts. Will some fair-weather, pouting, complaining fans that wear Red decide that they will support, encourage, and be loud? We saw on Saturday what a home atmosphere can do for a team. This will be a good chance for Fans to also show what they are made of Saturday night versus the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Go Big Red.

Pregame thoughts

September 30th, 2011
-  I’m not really a “I care about uniforms” guy.  I like cool uniforms and honestly admire some of the trendy threads of some of the College teams this year, but does it matter?  Nope!  20 different combinations have not helped Maryland this year.  Wyoming’s multiples didn’t do much for them last week.  The people who are geeked up about whether Nebraska is wearing a new uniform or a new helmet or a new anything might be disappointed.  It ain’t the clothes, it’s what’s inside the clothes that matter.  Especially on Game Days.  Of course this comes from a guy who doesn’t even let his 11-12 yr old team wear any decals on their helmets.  Old school, baby! 
 
-  I love the X’s and O’s of a good College Football Game and we will see lots of that this Saturday night.  Nebraska needs to go bigger vs Wisconsin’s Offense.  Nebraska needs to scheme a way to get pressure on QB, Russell Wilson.  The Badgers has to figure out a way to NOT let Taylor Martinez get a North/South seam.  How will Tim Beck attack Wisconsin’s Secondary…with verticals or play-action crossers?  How many defenders will the Badgers commit to the Rex Burkhead Wildcat…cuz you know he will be able to throw or run some option out of it.  One thing is for sure, the last guy with the chalk wins on the board, but the team that can execute wins in the stadium.  
 
-  My theory on “fans” who are convinced that Nebraska is going to get blown out is this.  If they tell everyone that we are going to get killed and we do, they will make themselves feel better by saying “I told you so” to everyone they know.  If Nebraska wins, they will be happy and won’t care if they are wrong.  Plus, the whole state will be so thrilled that nobody will remember who the pessimists were anyway. 
 
-  One claim to fame is that the Wisconsin band is the best in the Conference AND the country.  Who cares?  The 5th Quarter is a fun party but bragging about the band actually started when the Badgers couldn’t win a football game to save their lives (pre-Barry Alvarez).  Now they can brag about their team…the band is just a small bonus. 
 
-  Did Coach Brown really say that it was going to be “a bloodbath” and it could look “like the Civil War after each play”???  I love that guy.  I hope our players play as well as he coaches.  
 
-  Watch #44 Chris Borland play Linebacker for the Badgers.  That goofy looking guy is a STUD!  Being 5′11″ and 245lb does not seem like an intimidating thing but the guy finds the football and if the Huskers are going to run the ball, they will have to get him blocked.  
 
-  What’s the over/under number for Husker fans in Madison this weekend?  I’m guessing that there will be enough black in the stands that Burt Mushbarger will have to wax poetic about it for several minutes.  Man, I wish that my satellite dish wasn’t behind the radio waves so I could listen to announcers other than him.  Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not his real name.  Where is Keith Jackson when you need him???
 
Happy Friday, everyone!!!  Go Big Red…and Black.