Thursday, October 30, 2014

Congratulations to Kansas City Royals Fans

I'm not a Royals fan by any means; I'm a Cub fan.  But they are a regional team, so I've always kept an eye on them. Under the late Ewing Kauffman, the Royals were perennial contenders, but under David Glass, not so much. Glass, the former Wal-Mart executive, chose to run the organization the way he ran the discount store chain. It might have been profitable for him as an owner, but certainly not for Royals fans. "Always the low price" works when you are buying laundry detergent and toothpaste.

It doesn't really work that well in baseball.  Unless you have a really sharp baseball mind locating enough young talent to stock a major league team, cheap can't work in baseball.  And it didn't for most of the Glass era.  Oh sure, young players emerged from the Royals system...only to have the likes of Johnny Damon, Kevin Appier, and Carlos Beltran sold off to teams like the New York Yankees, for fear of having to pay them what they are deserved.

And Royals fans suffered.  And casual observers like me scoffed.  Said that the Royals would never be good as long as David Glass owned the franchise.

Sure, under Dayton Moore, the farm system has exploded with talent.  The former Omaha Royals AAA farm team have even won a couple of PCL league championships, but I've always been skeptical that it would ever translate to the major league level. Figured that the Royals would sell the talent off before they ever spent enough time in Kansas City to win.

Well, I was wrong.  They stormed through September then went on a rampage in October.  Made it to the World Series and nearly pulled the damn thing off. Royals fans are hurting now.  I know the feeling.  I felt it on January 2, 1984 after Nebraska's two-point conversion in the Orange Bowl came up short.  I really felt it on January 2, 1994 after Byron Bennett's field goal sailed wide left in that same Orange Bowl stadium.  It's a sucker punch to the gut like nothing you've ever felt when the team you love comes so close to the pinnacle, only to fail in the final moment.

Will the Royals bounce back next year?  I have no idea; I'm not sure how long Kansas City will keep this current pack of players around and whether they'll pay them to stay around.  It's not my call and not my area of expertise.

But at some point, Royals fans will grow to appreciate this magical run - even if it came up short.  Trust me, as a Cub fan who's felt the pain of missing out on the World Series in 1984, 1989, and 2003...it's better to lose the World Series than not make the World Series.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Abdullah & Blackshirts Are Enough for Huskers to Defeat Rutgers

A thing of beauty it was not, especially on offense. Nebraska's 42-28 victory over Rutgers probably created  more questions than it answered about the Huskers. What did we learn?

Well, Ameer Abdullah is good. Really good. But we already knew that.

The Nebraska defensive line is becoming dominant. Take that second quarter where Rutgers simply couldn't handle Maliek Collins and Kevin Williams.

What are we growing concerned about?

Start with the offensive line, which was inconsistent at best. And awful at times. Penalties, bad snaps, muddled blocking. Substitutions didn't help this week either.

Tommy Armstrong was off most of the day, and awful in the second half. Overthrowing open receivers, locking onto recievers that were covered. All the things we've worried about all year were there and not getting better. And that interception was simply horrible; Kenny Bell was out of bounds before the pass was even thrown. At times, Tommy Armstrong is more YOLO than Taylor Martinez ever was.

What was more concerning was the play calling late in the 2nd quarter, as Tim Beck took the ball out of Ameer Abdullah's hands and couldn't resist letting Armstrong throw the ball. And badly. 

Don't blame the receivers. Alonzo Moore had a couple of drops, but those were unnecessarily difficult catches. There's no need to have to leap and dive when the receiver is that open.

As for Rutgers, they were completely bambozzled. I have no idea what Kyle  Flood and Ralph Friedgen were thinking when they decided to go shotgun from their own 2 yard line with only a minute to go before halftime. That boneheaded decision resulted in Gary Nova, his quarterback, getting his knee brutally twisted. If we hear he's out for the year with a torn ACL, you shouldn't be surprised.

The Husker secondary was rather inconsistent, especially early on. That 71 yard touchdown catch by Leonte Carroo was a cluster by nearly everybody in the back seven. It's clear that David Santos isn't 100%, so that's part of it. But it was a keystone Kops/Yakety Sax moment out there.

After the game on his radio show, you could tell that Bo Pelini was not happy with his team's performance. I can see why. The Huskers could get away with this performance against Rutgers. They won't against Wisconsin. And maybe not against Minnesota and the improving Purdue Boilermakers.

Yes, Nebraska is 7-1 and that's a good thing. Problem is that Nebraska didn't play like a 7-1 team today. A critical November awaits, and today's game was no way to head into it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

So Doug McDermott Hates Nebraska

During last night's Nebraska game at Northwestern, former Creighton basketball star Doug McDermott appeared on the Ryan Field jumbotron wearing a Northwestern shirt.  And if any Jaysker was still confused about where McDermott's loyalties were, he answered them on Twitter shortly thereafter by posting a picture of former Jays goon Grant Gibbs tackling Terran Petteway at the end of last season's basketball game.
Was McDermott wrong to do so?  Not really.  He has no allegiance to the University of Nebraska; he was born and raised in Iowa, and attended Creighton.  And now, his NBA career is starting in the city of Chicago, which is where Northwestern is located.   And he's gone out of his way to align himself with the other sports franchises in the Windy City:


So now he's a fan of Northwestern as well. Fine for him.  That's where he's making his money now.  He owes absolutely nothing to the University of Nebraska.  Might be a little awkward for the 10,000+ Jaysker fans who pull out their blue sweatervests in December, but that's their problem.

But by that same argument, it also reinforces my dislike of Creighton.  I have no ties to the school; my dentist graduated from UNMC.  I'm a fan of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an alum of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.  And just because I live in Omaha doesn't mean that I have to support Creighton.

After all, Doug McDermott made it perfectly clear that you don't have to be a fan of Nebraska just because you lived here.

In a Tale of Two Halves, Nebraska Dominates Northwestern in the 2nd Half

The first half of the 2014 Nebraska/Northwestern game was much like the previous three: a close game where Nebraska wasn't playing particularly well and Northwestern held a slim lead. Arguably, it was much like Nebraska's game against Michigan State two weeks' earlier.  The stat sheet told the story:

Ameer Abdullah: 9 carries, 39 yards
Tommy Armstrong: 8 for 16 passing for 132 yards and 6 carries for 34 yards
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson: 15 carries, 99 yards
Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian: 13 for 23 passing for 148 yards.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Abdullah couldn't get out of the backfield, thanks in large measure to some less-than-stellar offensive line blocking, while Armstrong was erratic with several of his throws. The defense was schizophrenic, it seemed.  Three drives where Northwestern went three-and-out, three more where they went eight or more plays and scored, and a fourth where it seemed the Wildcats were destined to score until Siemian decided to throw into triple coverage. Nebraska linebacker Trevor Roach was the poster boy for inconsistency: ten tackles to dominate the game in the first quarter, then finding himself out of position and missing tackles in the second before he was eventually benched in favor of Josh Banderas.

Just before halftime, we did get a nice outburst from De'Mornay Pierson-El as he caught a 46 yard pass in stride from Tommy Armstrong before Pierson-El and Armstrong switched roles.  Pierson-El, a former high school quarterback, took a reverse pitch from Abdullah and looped a pass to a wide open Armstrong to tie the game at 14.  But the quick strike left enough time for the Wildcats to drive the field and kick a field goal to give Northwestern a 17-14 halftime lead.

The second half was a completely different experience as Northwestern was held to just 28 yards of offense and three first downs.  Siemian completed just five of 19 passes for 25 yards while Jackson rushed seven times for 30 yards.  Siemian lost 37 yards on four sacks, so his net contribution in the second half was -12 yards.  All thanks to the Blackshirts, and specifically backup defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who replaced Vincent Valentine who left with an injured elbow.

The Husker offense also turned it around in the second half:  Armstrong completed 10 of 13 passes for 89 yards while Abdullah rushed 14 times for 107 yards. It all started up front, and specifically by calling on second stringers on the offensive line.  Chongo Kondolo, Ryne Reeves, and Givens Price all took over the right side of the line, with Mike Moudy sliding over to left guard to spell the suddenly ineffective Jake Cotton.  Nebraska took the lead in the third quarter and salted it away in the fourth.

The 38-17 victory probably doesn't reflect how close the game was most of the way; it was 21-17 at the start of the fourth.  But Abdullah finally got untracked in that final quarter, and Nebraska really coasted down the stretch.

What are our takeaways from this game? Nebraska's only as good as their offensive line plays. I suspect that when Rutgers comes in, you'll see some new starters on the line. Pierson-El is becoming an offensive weapon as well as Tim Beck keeps finding ways to get him the ball.  And we saw depth on the defensive line as Kevin Williams and Jack Gangwish made huge plays in the second half to take over the game.

But we also saw bad tackling on defense, Randy Gregory being helped off the field multiple times, and a revolving door at middle linebacker.  And an inconsistent offense.  The good Nebraska is good enough to get the Huskers back to Indianapolis; the bad Nebraska is bad enough to finish the season 0-5.  Even Purdue is a threat to win now that they've switched to Austin Appleby at quarterback.

Never a dull moment for the Huskers.  But that's the way college football is nowadays.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Real Question: Do Husker Fans Like or Dislike Bo Pelini's Policy on the Blackshirts?

This morning at CornNation, Derek Hernandez asked whether the Blackshirts are dead at Nebraska.

The quick answer is:  No. (shakes head) No.  (shakes head)  No. (shakes head)
 So far, most CornNation users are avoiding the Trollbait. Some, more strongly (NSFW language) than others.

Most Husker fans know by now that Bo Pelini doesn't view the Blackshirts as an entitlement, but rather as a reward:  they are something that the defense earns. If Nebraska had somehow won at Michigan State, we probably would have seen them awarded afterwards. The defense certainly played well enough, I believe, to earn them in that game.

That Bo Pelini is handling the Blackshirts differently does NOT mean that Bo Pelini is killing the Blackshirt tradition. He's changing it.  But he's not getting rid of it.  Last August, I toured the facilities as part of the Husker Football 202 program and I assure you, references to the Blackshirts are EVERYWHERE inside of North Stadium.  If Bo Pelini were trying to get rid of the Blackshirts, he certainly would not have Blackshirt mentions everywhere inside the complex.

There is a question here that's probably worth asking though.  It's not whether whether the Blackshirt tradition is dead or not.  (That's uninformed at best and pure trollbait at it's worst.)  Rather, it's whether Husker fans like Pelini's policy on the Blackshirts?

Yes, the past tradition was that the starters on defense got the Blackshirts before the season started. And that worked for the first 40 years or so.  Something changed though, and since Hernandez brought the subject up, I'll respond.
What if that devil Bill Callahan pulled something like this?
Well, gee... actually he did.  Didn't stop Kevin Cosgrove from sporting the black, even though the defense didn't in 2007.  (But hey, don't let actual facts get in the way of a good tirade against Bo Pelini. Oh wait, here comes another "four losses" debate in response. Nevermind.)

I think that is the source of why most Nebraska fans aren't up in arms over when the Blackshirts are awarded.  Hernandez even acknowledges it:
"Blackshirts are earned on the field," Pelini said.
Husker fans remember how bad the defense was under Callahan, and most don't mind that Pelini makes the players earn it each season. Not all fans, mind you. Deep down, it really comes down to your core feelings on Pelini.  If you like Pelini, you probably like Pelini's policy.  If you don't like Pelini, this is just one more thing that Pelini is doing to destroy Nebraska football.

Some members of the media used to always ask Pelini about the Blackshirts, though now, they've let up on the question.  I suspect they are tired of it as well.  Evidence shows that Pelini will hand them out at some point, and when it happens, we'll hear about it then.

And hopefully, it's next week. Because it would mean that Nebraska's defense treated the city of Chicago to an exhibition of great defense on Saturday night.

And isn't that what Husker fans REALLY want?



Friday, October 10, 2014

CenturyLink, Please Fix My Internet

I've been rather quiet this week, and it's not because I'm happy or even satisfied with Nebraska's game last weekend with Michigan State. (And don't get me started about UNO's exhibition hockey game against the Canadian NAIT team.)

My reason is more basic; I've spent the week moving into a new home. Just about everything has been moved.

Except for my internet service. CenturyLink moved the phone and Ptism TV service on Tuesday. But the internet didn't work. After fighting with it most of the afternoon, the CenturyLink technicians realized that the service had been disconnected from my account. So they told me that I had to add it back in with their customer support office. Which I did, and I was told it would be back on Wednesday.

But nothing happened all day. Wednesday evening, I called CenturyLink and was informed that the order was complete and if it wasn't working, it was something for tech support to resolve. Tech support identified an issue with how our service was provisioned and that he was forwarding it onto the team that configures that. After a lengthy wait for the other team without a response, we agreed that the tech could call me back once it was resolved.

No such call was relieved. Just before going to bed, I did notice that the internet light wasn't blinking red anymore.

It still didn't work Thursday morning, so I called CenturyLink again...and now was told that the install wasn't scheduled until Monday. And that I would have to wait.

Tried a couple of other CenturyLink phone numbers. Same response. I've even called CenturyLink's executive offices in Denver. No response.

So I called Cox, the other phone/internet/TV provider in Omaha out of desperation. My history with Cox isn't good: high prices that you are locked into after the initial period has expired. But I'm starting to get desperate.

And got what I expected. Higher prices for less service... And they'd be even slower to get me online.

So rather than risk the rest of my service getting screwed up, I'm sticking with CenturyLink.

Very grudgingly. And on a lot of faith that CenturyLink is actually going to fix things on Monday that were supposed to have been done three days ago.

Or really because I'm not able to spend a day to allow Cox to rewire my house next week. 

Frankly, I'm not sure either company really deserves my business. But it's kind of hard for me to go without these services.

So now it's back into my "come of silence"... Thanks to CenturyLink.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Huskers Miraculous Comeback Bounces Away at the End

Well, that got interesting all of a sudden.

Michigan State watched plenty of film of Nebraska and knew that to stop Nebraska, you had to stop Ameer Abdullah. But unlike Fresno State and McNeese State, the Spartans didn't need to stack the box. Just commit the linebackers, and more importantly, completely discombobulate the Nebraska offensive line.

How bad was it?
If it weren't so sad, it would be funny.  Certainly the rest of the college football world laughed at it.

And despite all that ineptitude, Nebraska somehow managed to get back into the game and nearly pull off the incredible comeback.

Tim Beck has taken a lot of criticism in the past for giving up on the run; tonight, he deserves criticism for sticking with the run as long as he did. It was clear that Nebraska wasn't going to be able to run the ball and that they needed to loosen up the defense deeper.  And when Nebraska did that in the second half, the offense started to move the ball a bit.  Screen passes weren't going to loosen things up.

Defensively, the Nebraska defense did what they could, save for two busted plays. Vincent Valentine gets his noggin' into Connor Cook's face on the second play of the game, with the ball deflecting to Randy Gregory.  You'd think that Nebraska would have the lead early, but Nebraska's offensive impotence scuttled that.

On Thursday in my preview, I worried the most about Cook, Tony Lippett, and Jeremy Langford. Nebraska did a decent job keeping Cook in check most of the night, as he only completed 38% of his passes...but when he did find Lippett early on, it was deadly after Daniel Davie had to leave the game. Out went Jonathan Rose after getting seared by Lippett, and in came true freshman Josh Kalu at corner who played really well.

So did Trevor Roach, in relief of Josh Banderas who continues to struggle.  When Michael Rose tore his ACL in August, I wasn't too concerned because I figured Banderas would be fine to cover for him. Well, he's not.  Zaire Anderson, David Santos, and Trevor Roach all have played better this season.  But that's a pretty good threesome to work with moving forward the rest of this season.

Want to take a moral victory over this game? I wouldn't. Nebraska nearly pulled it out of the fire, and while that speaks volumes about the moral fiber of the program, the scoreboard still reads 27-22.  The defense is progressing nicely, but the offense is simply too inconsistent.  It starts up front, and progresses to quarterback.  Tommy Armstrong was simply too erratic tonight; he doesn't look off his primary receiver, and when he's pressured, he throws off his back foot leading to underthrows.  And more than once, he overthrew a wide open Ameer Abdullah who could have made a huge gain.

It's a bad loss for Nebraska.  It doesn't eliminate them from the Big Ten race, and considering the number of upsets, it doesn't completely eliminate them from the college football playoff either.  Though as we learned today, it's rather silly to worry about the playoff two months ahead of time as we should realize that upsets are a given in college football.  So forget about that for the time being, and simply worry about beating the resurgent Northwestern Wildcats in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Does a Nebraska Win Mean the Huskers are Relevant Nationally? Or that Michigan State is Overrated?

A lot of people didn't think Nebraska would be 5-0 at this point in the season. I don't know if it's "most" or "some", but a sizable group of people had penciled in losses for the Huskers to either Miami or Fresno State. Not sure exactly why; I wasn't one of those people.  Frankly, I don't think there is a team on Nebraska's schedule they can't beat this season.

Including Michigan State.

No doubt in my mind that the Spartans are the best team Nebraska will face before the end of the regular season.  But I also harken back to last November, where five turnovers by freshmen - most, if not all, unforced by the vaunted Spartan defense -were the difference in the game. Nebraska outplayed Michigan State on offense and on defense.  Did Nebraska give the game away?  Bo Pelini won't say so, but when you go -5 on turnovers, you are going to lose. And lose badly on the scoreboard.  Certainly more than 13 points, if the two teams are otherwise even.
Now, Michigan State has been quite impressive offensively. But I have to take those numbers with a grain of salt; when you compare the opponents for both teams, I don't think Michigan State has defeated a team anywhere near as good as Miami.

Or McNeese State, for that matter.

There are elements of Oregon's offense in what Nebraska does, and that clearly gave the Spartans fits in Eugene last month.  But while Nebraska runs the ball MUCH better than Oregon, Marcus Mariota is in a completely different universe than Tommy Armstrong. Michigan State's defense isn't nearly as stout as they were last season, and Nebraska was able to run the ball effectively last year with a banged-up offensive line.

It's less of a question to me whether Nebraska can score on Michigan State than it is whether the Huskers can stop the Spartans on offense.  There are three players Nebraska must concentrate on:

Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, and Tony Lippett.

Nebraska's defensive line has been pretty good this season, and the setup is perfect for Randy Gregory to have his Ndamukong Suh/Missouri moment.  We've got national television and rainy weather in the forecast. And if you've seen Gregory in action the last two weeks, you know just how dominant he can be.  (Check out some of the photos that CornNation's David McGee took of Gregory being mugged and held by Illinois last week.)

But can Cook get the ball out to Lippett before Gregory sends him to the turf? That's the question, and it'll be incumbent on Josh Mitchell to lock up Lippett to give Gregory time to pressure Cook. Safety help will be important, because I'm less concerned about the other receivers as I am about Lippett making a play.  Cook will force the ball to Lippett, and you want Mitchell to have the freedom to go for the interception.

Last season, Nebraska had problems throwing the ball in the direction of Darqueze Dennard, so Kenny Bell dropped into the slot and ate Kurtis Drummond's lunch the rest of the way.  Dennard is gone, but Drummond is back.  That's another matchup that Nebraska can exploit.

Nobody expects Nebraska to win, except possibly Husker fans. That's fine.  If Nebraska does come away with the win, what does that say?  Husker fans want to view it as win that allows Nebraska to be relevant in the national conversation.  My fear is that some national writers will view it as another failure by the Big Ten.  They are already convinced Nebraska isn't great, so clearly Michigan State was overrated, since they lost to Nebraska.

But it's premature to talk about that much. Doesn't matter what is being said or going to be said...it all comes down to the Huskers winning on Saturday night.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Illinois Has No Solution for Huskers' I-Backs as Abdullah Tops 200 Once Again

Saturday morning on KZOT radio (1180 AM in Omaha), I caught former Husker offensive lineman Matt Vrzal telling former Husker linebacker Jay Foreman that if Ameer Abdullah rushed for seven or more yards on his first carry, Nebraska would be fine against Illinois.

Abdullah rushed for 21.  And the track meet was on.  Illinois dropped nine men into the box...didn't matter. Abdullah ate the Illini alive.  It wasn't just Abdullah either... Imani Cross rushed for 109 as well.  It shouldn't have been a huge surprise as the Illini struggled in victories against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, and Texas State.  So despite their 3-1 record, my only concern was whether Nebraska would suffer a post-Miami let down (or perhaps glancing ahead to next week's game against Michigan State)...and that didn't happen, for the most part.

The passing game wasn't very good today, though it didn't need to to either. Tommy Armstrong missed his first three passes of the game, including a very ugly interception off the scramble.  He still locks in on his primary target.  But I also see why some people love Armstrong...like that 63 yard perfectly thrown bomb to Kenny Bell midway through the second quarter.  Simply can't throw a football better.  He was fairly effective running the ball as well, though his best run came late in the fourth quarter on a scramble in garbage time.

Defensively, Nebraska had yet another slow start as the opponent drove the field and scored on their opening possession.  Blown assignments and sloppy tackling once again.  After that, the Husker defense was pretty much fine as Randy Gregory (3 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries) and Greg McMullen (1 sack, 3 hurries) were fairly dominant. (Or at least I thought they were... it was really tough to tell who was out there with the adidas Red Rising uniforms so my recollections could very much be wrong.)

Zaire Anderson was the surprise starter in the middle and had a whale of a game; he looked really comfortable at times out there. But for much of the game, Nebraska went with seven defensive backs and no linebackers on the field (unless you want to count Gregory as a 'backer).  But in retrospect, it's tough to take much out of this game.  Illinois was without their starting quarterback, as Wes Lunt sat (apparently due to an injury suffered last week).  But the bottom line is that I've seen nothing this season to suggest that even with Lunt, Illinois is very good in the first three quarters of any game.

Now it's onto East Lansing and Michigan State.  Last time we saw the Spartans, we watched Nebraska outplay Michigan State - if it weren't for five freshmen turnovers.  Michigan State went on to surprise folks by winning the Big Ten title game convincingly and then upset Stanford in the Rose Bowl.  Now the Spartans have been rolling this season against inferior competition, though they did scare Oregon on the road in the first half.

Can Nebraska win in East Lansing?  Well, they did two years ago.  They should have won in Lincoln last year as well.  But what Nebraska can't do is continue to make some of the same mistakes they have been making this season.  Tommy Armstrong must play like he did last week against Miami and less like today's first half or the McNeese State game.  Abdullah isn't likely to rush for 200 for a third straight week, and the Spartans will do a much better job of tackling than the Illini did.

Defensively, Nebraska must break their streak of coming out slow and depending on Pelini to make adjustments to resync the defense. It'll help if Josh Mitchell is able to go and isn't limited by the hip injury that he suffered late in the game.  It'll also help if Randy Gregory and his defensive linemates are able to continue to be as disruptive as they've been as of late.

But Michigan State has improved more than Nebraska has since last November.  The Spartans are a legitimate top ten team; Nebraska hasn't been able to crack the top twenty. But this game is Nebraska's chance to catch the nation's attention. Win, and the Huskers are 6-0 and in the driver's seat for the Big Ten's west division...and maybe more.

Maybe more... maybe much more.  But only if they can find a way to win.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Abdullah Overpowers Thug U

Going into the matchup between the Huskers and the Miami Hurricanes, the biggest questions many Husker fans had was whether Nebraska could run the ball effectively against a Miami team that had been fairly stout against the run...and whether Tim Beck could contain his impulse to turn to the passing game and lean on the ground game.

Well, mission accomplished on both fronts. Ameer Abdullah treated Husker fans to one of the most amazing performances in Nebraska football history. Roy Helu's 310 yard performance in 2010 is the school record, but featured three long runs where the offensive line (and the threat of Taylor Martinez) created a wide open field for Helu.

This game was all Abdullah.  The offensive line opened up some small holes, and Ameer did all the rest. Miami tried to arm tackle the Heisman candidate, only to have Ameer bounce off, change direction, and find more green space.  There were no big plays; Abdullah's long run of the night was just 26 yards.  It was simply a consistent pounding of the ball. Miami eventually could assume the ball was headed for Abdullah, but they were powerless to stop him.

That made it easy for Beck to ground the Nebraska offense, even though Tommy Armstrong was having a fine night throwing the ball. No 50% completion percentage for Armstrong; he completed 69% of his passes. There simply wasn't a need to throw when the offense was clicking on the ground.  Nebraska only needed to punt once all evening long, which tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Nebraska offense.

Defensively, it was a mixed bag.  Miami was able to exploit Bo Pelini's desire to customize his personnel on the field by keeping the 'Canes offense on the sideline until the last possible moment.  It worked early as Miami threw against Nebraska's three linebacker sets and ran against Pelini's nickel and dime defenses.  Then Miami couldn't get the play off and took two delay-of-game penalties to put the 'Canes in a hole.

We saw David Santos step up his game after his batted-punt-safety the week earlier. A key first half interception to thwart a Miami scoring threat and leading the team with 10 tackles. The other linebackers struggled, starting with Josh Banderas who consistently missed tackles plus committed a bad facemask penalty. In came senior Trevor Roach who didn't play much better until he forced a third quarter fumble that Josh Mitchell returned for a touchdown.

The defensive line didn't generate as much pressure as I'd like to have seen against a freshman quarterback. Some of that is because Miami spread the field much of the night. Some of that is because Miami took it upon themselves to try to get Randy Gregory out of the game. Miami has been known as Thug U for their on-and-off-the-field actions over the years, and cemented that reputation in the eyes of Husker fans with their tactics on the field.  Miami fans will respond by suggesting that Nebraska players started the shoving, but that's in reaction to the cheap shots Miami was taking.

Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to see a replay of the roughing the passer penalty on Vincent Valentine that negated a Nathan Gerry interception.  I'll have to take the word of those who did get a chance to view the replay instead:
That's when emotions boiled over and the game started to get out of control.  I'm shocked that nobody was ejected from the game...including any from Nebraska.  The reality of football is while the officials may not see the instigators, they always see the retaliation.  But the chippiness was so bad that at some point, the referees needed to get control of the game...something they failed miserably to do.

Nebraska now enters Big Ten play 4-0.  Some fans didn't think that was possible, and had already penciled in a 3-1 or even 2-2 start for the Big Red. Instead, Nebraska seems to be headed for marquee prime-time performance against Michigan State...likely on ABC with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. But don't overlook Illinois next week in a way-too-late 8 pm kickoff.  Ignore the fact that Illinois has needed three fourth quarter comebacks against inferior foes to get to 3-1; Indiana embarrassed themselves by losing to Bowling Green last week only to bounce back and beat Missouri on the road.

After two horrible weeks previously, the Big Ten went 12-1 this weekend against other conferences, including 4-1 against Power-Five foes.  Nebraska's victory might have been against the biggest name, but Indiana's was against a ranked SEEEEEEEEEEEC opponent.
But hey...it's good to be 4-0.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tomahawk Nation is Wrong: Jameis Winston Was Offensive. Period.

Bud Elliott of SB Nation's Tomahawk Nation tried last night to paint a "sane and rational" perspective of the latest Jameis Winston incident.  Of course, he's writing for a Florida State fan site, which clearly slants his perspective.  But the following statement that he highlighted is so, so wrong, it needs to be called out.
Illegal? No. Wrong? Maybe. Offensive? To some. A bad decision? Absolutely.
He's right, in that it's not illegal and a bad decision by the Florida State quarterback.

But it was wrong to jump up on a table in the campus union and yell what he did.  (Warning, offensive language.)

Why?  Because it's patently offensive. Not to some... but to most people.

Was he likely just repeating an internet meme?  Clearly...but that still doesn't make it OK or make it any less offensive.

So let's stop with the "poor Jameis Winston" lament, Florida State fans. He's the one who made a spectacle of himself in public by jumping up on a table and yelling something that offensive.  Would we be talking about it if weren't Jameis Winston?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it's not like the Heisman winner doesn't have enough baggage. Crab legs.  Allegations of sexual assault.  Saying outrageous things at the Manning's passing camp this summer.  The list could go on and on.

Will Jameis Winston turn pro after this season?  Probably.  But don't think for a second that the NFL won't heavily scrutinize Winston after the way this season has started. The NFL is learning a very hard lesson that character counts.  It doesn't matter how talented you are on the field.  I don't see any NFL team being too eager to bring in a quarterback like Winston, barring some sort of sudden turnaround in his behavior. Someone might take a chance on him, and try to see if they can somehow reform him.

And that's something that Florida State should be trying to do.  But a "first half" suspension against Clemson isn't going to do that.  Not when the 'Noles will give Winston a chance to make up any ill-effects in the second half.

If anything, it might even enbolden Winston, as the likely consequence is that he'll learn that Florida State needs him more than they are concerned about his repeated transgressions.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Huskers vs. 'Canes May Be a Must-Not-Lose Game for the Big Ten

Somehow, the Big Ten conference found a way in week three to actually do worse than the conference did in week 2.  In the second week, Michigan State losing to Oregon wasn't so bad, except how the Ducks boat-raced Sparty in the second half.   Ohio State losing to Virginia Tech was bad, and Michigan getting shut out by Notre Dame was awful.  But last week, TCU crushed Minnesota and Indiana somehow found a way to lose to Bowling Green.  Two weeks after losing badly to division 1-AA North Dakota State at home, Iowa State traveled to Iowa City to defeat the Hawkeyes.

How bad is the Big Ten this season?  1-10 in games against Power-5 conference teams.  The only victory is Rutgers beating Mike Leach's awful Washington State squad.  This weekend, there are a few more chances for the Big Ten to mitigate the damage a little.

Iowa travels to Pitt, and considering the Hawkeyes issues, it's tough to see Iowa winning unless they have a huge emotional rebound this week.  Michigan hosts Utah, and it's one of those games a Michigan loss hurts the conference more than a Michigan victory helps.  I suspect that Maryland will beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, but again, a victory won't mean much either.

But the big game of the weekend in the Big Ten is Miami finally coming to Lincoln to play the Huskers after so many Orange Bowl meetings in the 80's and 90's. Neither team is at the level they once were, which means that a Husker victory won't change anybody's opinions of the Big Ten.

But a Nebraska loss is just more evidence that the Big Ten isn't even remotely competitive with the rest of college football....and that makes this a huge game for the Big Ten.  If the Huskers win, they are 4-0 with a Power-5 victory and setting up some hope that if Nebraska can win in East Lansing two weeks later, the Big Ten might have a team that could be considered in the college football playoff discussion.  Sparty's loss to Oregon will no doubt hurt their ability to be selected, but an undefeated Big Ten team probably can't be ignored.

And right now, only Nebraska and Penn State are capable of doing that.  The Big Ten desperately needs to have somebody - ANYBODY - carry the big blue B1G banner this season.  Michigan State is that team currently, but that loss to Oregon makes Sparty an afterthought nationally.  Somebody new has to emerge, and Nebraska might be the Big Ten's best candidate to do it. People will eventually forget the McNeese State escape, because everybody is going to have to have an off week at some point.

But can Nebraska realistically go undefeated?  Yes, I hear you Pellllini haters.  We haven't forgotten about the four losses each season, but that's the past.  Look at the schedule which sets up nicely for the Huskers. Nebraska has shown they can win in East Lansing, and also showed they were better than Sparty last year in Lincoln, except for freshmen holding onto the football.  Iowa has serious issues, meaning that it's likely that the Big Ten west comes down to Nebraska and Wisconsin in Madison.

Yes, Nebraska can easily lose this Saturday to the 'Canes...then to Sparty and Wisconsin.  Or they could win.  And that hope that Nebraska can somehow manage to run the table and win some games has to give Jim Delaney hope that the Big Ten might be able to have one relevant team in January.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

UNO Hockey Gets One Game Televised on CBS Sports Network

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald has learned that the CBS Sports Network will televise eleven NCHC hockey games this upcoming season.  (h/t: Eric Burton)

Only one UNO game is included...and it's a home game against North Dakota, who will be televised six times.  (That's over half of the CBS schedule...)

The CBS schedule:

Jan. 9 — Notre Dame at Western Michigan
Jan. 10 — Minnesota Duluth at North Dakota
Jan. 23 — Colorado College at North Dakota
Jan. 30 — North Dakota at UNOFeb. 6 — Denver at Colorado College
Feb. 13 — St. Cloud State at Minnesota Duluth
Feb. 20 — North Dakota at Western Michigan
Feb. 20 — Denver at Colorado College
Feb. 27 — St. Cloud State at North Dakota
March 6 — North Dakota at Miami
March 6 — Denver at St. Cloud State

Needless to say, that's very disappointing for UNO fans hoping to get a road game televised. I understand why CBS wanted so many North Dakota games; Sioux fans will give them their best ratings.  Not sure why the NCHC allowed CBS to stack the schedule that way.

But one home game?  UNO and Miami clearly drew the short end of the straw from CBS.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nebraska Big Plays Keep Husker Fans Up All Night Against Fresno State

When the first reports emerged Saturday evening that Nebraska was wearing the infamous "Surrender Whites" uniforms in Fresno, it sent Husker fans into a minor panic.  Since first resurrecting the look in 1990, Nebraska is 2-10 wearing white pants with a white jersey, a look that really only works for Penn State. (Kansas City looks bad in them as well, FWIW.) Despite that bad history of the style, it was simply a response to Fresno's all-red uniforms to ensure that the Huskers could identify each other on the field.

But it was pretty clear early on that this was not going to be like many of those past all-white debacles. Even before CBS Sports Network could switch from the end of the Wake Forest/Utah State game, the Huskers were already up 7-0 with a 70 yard touchdown pass to Jordan Westerkamp. And less than a minute later after Fresno's opening drive went nowhere, Ameer Abdullah busted off tackle for 57 yards for another score...and the rout was on.

Or so it seemed. The Husker offense really only sustained a drive at the start of the second quarter with a 10 play drive that resulted in a field goal. And after Fresno State got a field goal after a 14 play drive just before halftime, the Bulldogs actually had an 11-8 edge in first downs at halftime.  It was a big lead, but it was mostly a result of big plays.

De'Mornay Pierson-El's 86 yard punt return was a sight for sore eyes, especially after Nebraska's massive failure trying to return punts last season. But Pierson-El isn't the only freshman leading the charge on punt returns; keep an eye on Joshua Kalu, who had a mean block on the play.

The mind-numbing play of the game was David Santos spiking a quick-kicked punt into the end zone. Luckily, it went out the back of the end zone before Fresno could fall on the muffed punt...limiting the damage to a safety for a muffed punt. On KOZN's Big Red Overreaction, Damon Benning speculated that Santos may have been thinking that it was a deep pass instead of a punt, and thought he was batting the ball away.

After halftime, Nebraska got more consistent with a nice touchdown drive to open the half. Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell did somehow break off a Marv Seiler-like (Iowa State 1992) 66 yard touchdown run, but that was about all the Bulldogs had on offense. One can only wonder whether Duke transfer Brandon Connette, a scratch because of a hand injury suffered last week, would have made a difference with his mobility.  I suspect that Connette might have made the game a little closer, but Fresno simply has too many issues this season to have been a threat against the Huskers.

Despite putting up a big 55-19 victory, there were concerning things on offense once again this week.  Fresno took a page from McNeese State and tried to crash the line to stuff the Nebraska running backs.  On a couple of instances where Nebraska's offensive line could clear out a little crease, Abdullah and later Imani Cross made Fresno pay.  More often, it led to an inconsistent offensive approach. For the second week in a row, Armstrong failed to check down to Abdullah, who was wide open.  Those missed opportunities didn't hurt Nebraska against Fresno State, but they might against Miami or Michigan State.  (Memo to Tim Beck:  Ryker Fyfe checked down to Terrell Newby in garbage time.  Might want to review that in the quarterback meetings this week.)

Defensively, I liked a lot of what I saw.  Good push from the defensive line, even though Randy Gregory's upset tummy was limiting his snaps in the first half. Vincent Valentine had three solo tackles for loss to lead the Huskers, and we are starting to see the potential of Marcus Newby (another freshman) in the passing game.  True freshman Joshua Kalu led the Big Red with six tackles. (Who would have thought that before the game) Josh Banderas made a few plays in the first half as well.  On the negative side, Josh Mitchell got burned a few times by Fresno's Josh Harper, the son of former Nebraska legend Willie Harper. But Harper was a thousand yard receiver last year who'll be playing on Sundays next fall.

I know a lot of people expected this game to be closer, if not actually a squeaker.  I suspect that was mostly because of the late kickoff in ridiculously hot weather conditions. It certainly shouldn't have been the opponent, who's now been blown out the first three weeks of the season.  Yes, they have a 13 game home winning streak...but they lost a quarterback who's starting as a rookie and two thousand yard receivers.  And the Fresno defense was horrific last season, especially against the pass.

Bottom line:  it was a solid, but imperfect victory that was done in difficult circumstances.  The heat and the late start are things that are nearly impossible for Nebraska to emulate in Lincoln.  In fact, I wonder if the Huskers wouldn't be better off spending the night in Fresno and getting a good night's sleep, then fly home in the afternoon. I've flown the red eye a few times, and frankly, it has the opportunity to mess you up for a few days.

But the circumstances (heat and a big lead) allowed Nebraska to play a lot of youngsters, many of whom looked really good.  Besides Joshua Kalu and Marcus Newby, sophomore Lane Hovey provided a second quarter spark and shows us what kind of depth Nebraska has in their receiving corps.  That's something that certainly should give Nebraska fans a lot of optimism.

Once they get over the bleary eyes from a game that ended at 1:21 am in Nebraska.  Time to head to bed.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Political Talk: Dave Heineman's Track Record Makes Him Laughably Unqualified to Lead the University of Nebraska

I had to chuckle when Nebraska's "Worst. Governor. Ever." decided to publicly announce his candidacy to be the next president of the University of Nebraska.  Like most everything else Dave Heineman has been associated with, he couldn't even handle the announcement ceremony right, raising an ethics complaint for using state government resources to pursue a new job.

That's the laughable part.  What's not so funny is the ongoing saga of failed Heineman choices.  Lorelee Byrd, David Phipps. His "reform" of the child welfare system. Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy.  And now this year, the saga of the department of corrections miscalculating prison terms and Sheehy's replacement as Lt. Governor, Lavon Heidemann.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad to see yet another Heineman appointee involved in a controversy. After it happens over and over again, it's clear that Heineman's track record is laughably awful when selecting people to key positions. Thankfully, he'll be out of the governor's office in January.

But what about the presidency of the University of Nebraska? With UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman (age 72) and UNO chancellor John Christensen (age 65) at retirement age, the next University president could be in position to appoint replacements in the next few years. Is that something you want Dave Heineman involved with?

Seriously.  It's pretty clear that Dave Heineman isn't very good at hiring people to key positions. Why anybody would consider naming Heineman to another job where he'll have to make similar choices is simply inexplicable.

Monday, September 08, 2014

So You Want To Compare Ray Rice to Lawrence Phillips?

When TMZ released the elevator video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice repeatedly assaulting then-fiance Janay Palmer, it confirmed everything that we should have expected to have occurred last February. The NFL and the Ravens tried to minimize the case all spring and summer, suspending Rice for just two games initially.  But the new video eliminates any doubt as to what happened that night, and forced the Ravens and the NFL to put Rice's football career on ice.

That's led people to compare Rice to former Nebraska I-back Lawrence Phillips, who infamously drug an ex-girlfriend down the stairs in 1995.
Back then, Tom Osborne was roundly criticized for playing Lawrence Phillips, even though Phillips was, in fact, suspended for half of the season (six games). It led to the infamous ambush by Bernard Goldberg that riled the entire state against CBS, who was Goldberg's employer at that time.  At that time, the national perception was that Osborne didn't punish Phillips at all, and that Phillips played because Osborne wanted to win "at all costs."

Clearly, both parts of that argument are false.  There was a six game suspension, and as Florida learned, Nebraska didn't need Lawrence Phillips to win a title in 1995.  (I still chuckle at David Letterman's "Nebraska just scored again" joke the next night on CBS's Late Night.)

What Osborne should have been criticized for was suspending for ONLY six games.  It should have been a permanent dismissal from the team.  I understand Osborne's motives in the case; he hoped that by giving Phillips an opportunity to return, he could somehow reform Phillips.  Sadly, that never happened, and Osborne now regrets that decision.  But a six game suspension was not sufficient for what Phillips did.  I felt that way in 1995; I never cheered for Phillips upon his return.  That ban should have been permanent.

So if you are going to compare Ray Rice to Lawrence Phillips, fine. Since we don't have any video evidence of the Phillips assault, we can't say which attack was worse.  We don't need to:  both are horrible and inexcusable.  Lawrence Phillips should have never played football again.

Ray Rice shouldn't play football again either.