Saturday, October 22, 2016

Huskers Struggle Again With Purdue

I thought Mike Riley had learned the lessons of 2015, but then the nightmare of 2015's most horrific, most inexplicable loss resurrected itself. Seven losses in 2015 seemed to make it crystal clear to Mike Riley that in order to succeed at Nebraska, he must run the ball. And run the ball is what Nebraska did to win seven straight games.

But against Purdue?  The worst rush defense in the Big Ten and nearly the worst in college football?  It didn't happen.  Why not?

Some of it was a "could not," though that wasn't quite as apparent until after the game appeared to be heading towards an ugly repeat of 2015. It actually started as a "didn't want to".  Here are the halftime stats:

12 rushes.  18 passes.  Purdue lead 14-10.

Meanwhile, the Blackshirts were turning Purdue's David Blough into Drew Brees. Again. 16 of 20 passes for 231 yards.

If it was an experiment to prove that last year's problems were all "buy-in," then consider the theory completely disproved:
One difference between last year and this year was that Nebraska couldn't really run the ball well in this year's game. Which is hard to understand, given that Purdue's best defensive lineman, Jake Replogle, didn't play due to injury. To my uneducated eye, it's because Riley, Danny Langsdorf and Mike Cavanaugh elected to stick with Nebraska's two injured offensive tackles. Earlier this season, Nick Gates seemed to be playing at an all-conference level, but then injured his ankle last week.  He kept playing against Indiana, albeit poorly, then missed almost the entire week of practice.  He went the whole way against Purdue despite doing his best imitation of a Memorial Stadium turnstile in the second half. David Knevel was hurting even more, and finally was replaced by Cole Conrad. The only possible explanation is that Cavanaugh was more convinced that not only was an injured and ineffective Gates was better than inserting Christian Gaylord or Corey Whittaker into the game, it was also worth the risk that playing Gates would lengthen his recovery time.  (Not that we don't have some important games coming up the next couple of weeks.)

Or maybe it's just Cavanaugh's stubborn refusal to substitute on the offensive line.

Defensive adjustments helped in the second half, as Blough only completed nine of 23 passes for 78 yards. Tommy Armstrong was much more efficient through the air, and Terrell Newby found a few holes. Nebraska came back and won ugly.


Don't get me wrong:  7-0 is a hell of an improvement over last season.  But now reality is staring Husker fans right in their face, because Nebraska won't be able to be competitive with either Wisconsin or Ohio State playing the way they have been as of late. The thing is, Husker fans know that this team is capable of playing at a much higher level, because they've seen it sporadically all season long.  Sporadically won't work the next two weeks.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Huskers Survive and Advance Against Hoosiers

Survive and Advance. Survive and Advance.

Nebraska broke out to a quick 10-0 lead while Clemson and North Carolina State ran long on ABC. Only problem... ABC didn't tell fans to turn to ESPN2 at kickoff, and then switched the game off of ESPN2 several minutes before ABC picked up the broadcast.  So all we saw was Brandon Reilly's miracle deflection catch on a replay.  A couple of minutes later, Chris Jones picked off a Richard Lagow pass to give the Huskers a 17-0 lead. Cruising, right?

Well, that was the end of that.  Nebraska's offense went into it's typical second and third quarter slump, and Indiana slowly worked their way back into the game.  Bruce Read's special teams were a debacle once again, as the Huskers were completely discombobulated on that punt.  Nebraska left a huge hole up the middle, and the protectors had no idea which of the half-dozen rushers they should try to nobody did.  Easy block for a safety. Add in a substitution penalty on an extra point, and you've got yet more evidence that Nebraska's $450,000 investment in special teams is a complete waste of money.

Nebraska's offensive line struggled...really struggled. Yes, David Knevel only lasted one play, but everybody struggled.  Nick Gates had his worst game ever as a Husker, and the rest of the line was a mess. Bad pass protection led to too many YOLO desperation heaves by Tommy Armstrong that were just a mess.

But at the same time, there were Husker Heroes that emerged.  The entire secondary played really, really well.  So did the defensive line, even if the referees weren't willing to throw a flag.  Terrell Newby gutted out 102 yards and made key run after key run as really Nebraska's only I-back.  Devine Ozigbo tried to play in the second half, but apparently couldn't go.  Mikale Wilbon, I assume, was also out with injury.  That left only Tre Bryant to spell Newby. Bryant looks like a solid blocking back, but he can't continue to average 7 inches a carry if he's going to see any more playing time.

This is going to be heretical to many fans...but Nebraska's best tight end is Sam Cotton. I know fans have been tempted by Cethan Carter's potential for years, but he continues to just be too inconsistent.  Maybe fans would like Cotton better if his name was Jones or Smith.

But let's credit Indiana's Tom Allen for a stout Hoosier defense; during Kevin Wilson's time in Bloomington, Indiana football has looked like old-style WAC football where defense was optional.  But Indiana's defense is becoming legit.

Good win?  Absolutely.  But Nebraska will need to find some healthy bodies and get some offensive issues fixed in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Will Dean Blais Be The First Casualty of UNO's Baxter Arena Debacle?

Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald had an ominous conversation with UNO hockey coach Dean Blais, who all but said that his time is up at UNO. He's clearly not happy with what's happening at UNO, and isn't confident in the direction of the school.

“It’s good here,” Blais said. “But a real big loss for me is John Christensen. He and his wife are two of the biggest fans we have, and supported hockey to the max.

 “He had your back. As a coach, nothing is more important than knowing the chancellor, the guy in charge, has your back. That will be important.

“It’s like Bo Pelini over in Lincoln, the chancellor didn’t have his back.”
Ohhh, he said the "B" word, which will certainly ruffle more than a few feathers around here. Lack of support from the chancellor was the ultimate end to Frank Solich, and once Tom Osborne wasn't around to stand behind Bo Pelini, Pelini was gone as well. It's no secret that neither coach was particularly well liked by Harvey Perlman, and that's something that Bo Pelini referenced when he was hired at Youngstown State.

It's clear that UNO's Baxter Arena isn't meeting the promises that were used to justify it's construction in the first place. Instead of solving UNO's financial problems, it's magnifying them. And the repercussions are simply not good. Trev Alberts is dealing with a $600,000 budget cut to help deal with the unanticipated extra expenses of maintaining an arena 365 days a year.  That's $600,000 that's not available to do the other things that UNO needs to do to field a national contender hockey program.  Full cost of attendance scholarships? Not happening, and not happening any time soon.

The uncertainty over what UNO can do - and will have to do - as a result of the debacle that is Baxter Arena's financials that clouds the future of UNO hockey.  And that has Dean Blais looking longingly towards the golf course and fishing hole, and that's making a bad situation even worse.  Who would succeed Blais?  It's certainly not somebody on the current staff.  Would UNO be forced to return Mike Kemp behind the bench?  Not that Kemper is a bad coach...but he's already wearing too many hats as arena manager and assistant athletic director.  Mike Hastings?  Could UNO afford him now?  And would he want to jump into the UNO situation?

Sad to say that the future of the program looks almost as bleak as it did 10 years ago. If only the solution were as simple as cancelling a vice-chancellor's subscription to SiriusXM...

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Huskers Grit a Victory Over Illinois

Nebraska opened the game against Illinois with a long touchdown drive; the first score on an opening drive in 2016, and I thought the Huskers were well on their way to a dominating victory.  Perhaps what Gary Sharp called for earlier this week on KOZN-1620 AM radio: "A Fifty-burger."

Except it never materialized. Nebraska consistently moved the ball, albeit in small chunks all day, but trailed after halftime thanks to a couple of turnovers. The defense was surprisingly leaky against an Illinois team that could only rush for three yards two weeks ago against Western Michigan.  Online chatter from the media suggested that Nebraska's linebackers were the reason, and from my perspective, senior Josh Banderas found himself out of position on Kendrick Foster's 31 yard touchdown run and Nathan Eckhard's 26 yard catch that set up Illinois' game tying field goal in the 2nd quarter.  We didn't see much of Banderas after that today.  For what it's worth, I saw both Michael Rose-Ivey and Dedrick Young both make a few plays.

I'm not quite sure what to make of Nebraska's offensive line play today.  On short yardage situations, the Huskers generated enough push to drive Illinois back three yards consistently...but until late, the Huskers couldn't generate anything more than a 4 or 5 yard gain.  Through the end of the third quarter, the Huskers rushed 31 times for 89 yards.  That's not going to cut it in Big Ten play.  Dauwane Smoot wreaked havoc all game long from defensive tackle.  David Knevel got pulled at right tackle in the second quarter, but to be honest, Cole Conrad wasn't better by any means.

But the one thing I took away from this game was that Nebraska stayed with the run and resisted the temptation to go to the air. I was reminded of last year's Iowa game where Riley panicked as the game went on.  Tommy Armstrong threw 45 passes, four of which turned into interceptions, and Nebraska lost to Iowa. Nebraska wore down Illinois in the fourth quarter on the ground, which is something that Michigan State proved could be done a week later in the Big Ten title game.

It's a win, but a costly win. The injuries to Jordan Westerkamp and Cethan Carter could be very serious; I don't expect them back anytime soon.  As luck would have it, Nebraska has a bye week next week, which is very good news for a 5-0 team.  Nebraska might be able to survive the next two games playing this way, but the reality is that Nebraska can't afford to wait until the fourth quarter to get things going under the lights in a month.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Huskers Survive Red Zone Miscues In Front of the Sea of Red in Chicago

It seems that whenever Nebraska plays Northwestern, weird things seem to happen.  In some respects, the 2016 game resembled the 2012 game in that Nebraska's domination on the stat sheet wasn't reflected on the scoreboard. In 2012, it was costly turnovers and ill-timed penalties; in 2016, it was fumbles inside the one yard line. In fact, I'd argue that Terrell Newby's fumble changed the entire tone of the game.  If he's down at the one yard line, it's not unreasonable to think that Nebraska punches it into the end zone on the next play.  That would be 75 yards in four or five plays and a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the game. Instead, Nebraska's momentum complete deflates, and the Huskers only gain another 32 yards the rest of the first quarter.

As a long time believer in Mikale Wilbon, I was pleased to see him see even more playing time against Northwestern.  In fact, he surely was Nebraska's most effective I-back in the second half.  I don't think he's going to start next week, but if he runs the ball like he did in the Windy City in future weeks, he'll be starting games before too long. He's definitely earned more playing time next week.

Tommy Armstrong continues his impressive run this season; maybe his completion rate hasn't improved, but his turnover rate has. And more importantly, he's making plays with his legs and proving the importance of a dual-threat quarterback in today's age in college football. I'm not sure he had a lot of help from his offensive line today, though.

Nebraska's defense had their worst performance of the year, in my opinion.  Justin Jackson got his 4 yards per carry average that he put up against MAC and 1-AA competition, and Clayton Thorson once again made NU look silly.  Thorson had a net loss of negative two yards rushing this season prior to facing the Huskers and was completing under 50% of his passes...but the Huskers let him go 42 yards untouched and complete 65% of his passes. Can we please put the whole #LockDownU notion under a lockdown?

Good win?  Absolutely! Every win is a good win, and there's nothing to apologize about being 4-0.  Especially after last season, when Nebraska seemed to be magnetically attracted to the banana peel. But let's put those wins in perspective: Nebraska's four opponents have only won three games against division 1-A opponents this season.   2-2 Oregon has beaten Virginia and lost to Colorado.  2-2 Wyoming beat Northern Illinois and 1-3 Northwestern beat Duke. 1-3 Fresno State, like Oregon and Wyoming, has a 1-AA victory on their resume.

Taking a nervous look towards that matchup with undefeated Wisconsin in a month?  Yeah, I'm getting more and more concerned about that one.  But let's not worry too much about that yet; the Huskers found ways to lose to Illinois and Purdue last season, and redeeming those losses comes up first.
A lot is going to be said over the next week about Michael Rose-Ivey kneeling during the national anthem, joining the protest originated by Colin Kaepernick a month ago. Some will undoubtedly be outraged by the "disrespect" being shown to the flag. That's a fair opinion. Some will even call for Rose-Ivey to be punished in some manner for his actions.

That's not a fair opinion.

In fact, that's an even bigger disrespect of our flag and our nation. Silencing people who have dissenting opinions of the actions of government is something we expect in North Korea, not the United States of America. If you truly believe that America is the greatest and most free country in the entire world, then certainly Michael Rose-Ivey has the right to kneel during the national anthem as a symbol of protest.  And when you consider that just this week that a police officer in Tulsa was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing an unarmed black man a week ago, Rose-Ivey has a right to be concerned.

In fact, I applaud Rose-Ivey for taking a stand that's not going to be popular in this state. We're free in this country to disagree with Rose-Ivey's position. The court system will determine a resolution to the situation, but if we're truly the land of the free, then Rose-Ivey is free to be concerned that a police officer may have made a tragic mistake. Disrespectful?  Not nearly as disrespectful as yelling "you lie" at the President of the United States during a speech to Congress.  (Especially when the facts show otherwise.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Huskers Clear Their Throat Again After Successful Duck Hunt

Husker fans have anxiously awaited this matchup with the Oregon Ducks ever since it was announced, and while this edition of the Ducks isn't quite the same caliber as they were a couple of years ago, Oregon is still a potent offensive team. But when Royce Freeman left early in the first quarter, Oregon was no longer elite on offense, merely good.

Meanwhile, the Huskers offense was rather stagnant in the first half, thanks to a gameplan that thought that the Huskers could run the ball right down the Ducks throat. The Ducks struggled this season stopping the run, so it made sense...but Oregon sold out on stopping the run, and the up-the-middle runs weren't working.

What was working? The runs out of the shotgun, especially with Terrell Newby, who averaged 7 yards a carry in the first half. It's something the coaches realized at halftime, and the Huskers dominated the third quarter...until the Huskers folded on 3rd and 27. Hard to believe that the Ducks not only got the first down, but took it to the house.

And when Oregon followed that with a 98 yard drive, things looked pretty bleak.  Buy that's when Tommy Armstrong delivered with the game on the line. First hitting Jordan Westercamp for a fourth down completion, and then scrambling for the game winner.

That's an aspect of Nebraska football I'm going to miss over the next few years, as Mike Riley is now recruiting pro-style throwers at quarterback. Color me skeptical that this is a good move in the modern era of football, but that's the's going to be the future of the Huskers.

Still, Oregon had a chance to score , and looked to be threatening until they were flagged for holding again. Between the Freeman injury, the penalties and Oregon's obsession with the 2 point conversion, the Ducks had plenty of opportunities to win this game, but didn't. It was fitting that Michael Rose-Ivey got the final stop after playing a whale of a game.

It wasn't the greatest game; both teams have plenty of things to improve on. But as Husker fans learned last season,appreciate every win. Iowa showed last season that football teams just need to find ways to win each game to have a great season.

The Huskers made enough plays today, and are 3-0. Maybe not a pretty 3-0, but 3-0 looks a helluvva lot better than 1-2 like last season started.

Just win, baby. Just win.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Turnovers Turn Tight Game into Blowout Husker Victory over Wyoming

For three quarters, the Nebraska-Wyoming game seemed to live up to my prediction that the game would be closer than the Vegas point spread.  Wyoming had just cut the Huskers lead to 24-17, and seemed to have the momentum after instant replay correctly ruled that a deep pass from Tommy Armstrong to Brandon Reilly had slipped out of Reilly's hands and onto the ground ever so briefly. My Twitter feed showed fans at home didn't see it, but the HuskerVision screens found a replay that showed the ball on the ground.  And even before the officials had a chance to announce the call was being overturned, both teams began walking back to the other end of the field.

Nebraska did score on that drive at the start of the fourth quarter, and then Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen became a turnover machine.  How bad?  Four turnovers on Wyoming's next nine offensive plays...and suddenly, a 24-17 nailbiter was now a 52-17 blowout.

As a self-proclaimed "run the ball" guy, I wasn't terribly pleased with Nebraska's game plan in this game, as I think the Huskers were too quick to give up on the running game.  Or at least the coaches were too quick to give up on the I-backs.  Granted, Devine Ozigbo wasn't terribly effective all day, but Terrell Newby looked OK on his four carries. And let's be clear:  four was also the number of I-back runs in each quarter of the first half.

Was that offensive approach all that effective?  Well, Nebraska led 14-10 at halftime; debate that if you wish.
I would point out that in that decisive fourth quarter, Nebraska ran the ball 17 times and only threw six passes, but most of those runs came in garbage time.  It wasn't offense that won this game, it was defense.

I've been fairly impressed with John Parrella's new defensive line, though to be honest, this group hasn't been really tested yet.  They will be next week by the Oregon Ducks.  Nebraska won't be able to wait for the fourth quarter to put the game away against Oregon.

Monday, September 05, 2016

UNO's Baxter Arena: First Year Results Hemorrhages Crimson Ink

Sunday's Omaha World-Herald shone light on the first year financial results, and the results were the opposite of what supporters expected going in.
The university-owned arena recently ended its first fiscal year $1.5 million in the red, forcing campus officials to infuse $1.4 million in university funds into the operation to help cover construction bond payments.
The disappointing results aren’t just a first-year blip. It’s expected that $1.5 million in university dollars will need to be tapped to balance this year’s books, with $1 million kicked in by UNO and $500,000 committed by NU central administration in Lincoln.
Sounds bad? It's actually worse.
The athletic department had been counting on roughly a half million dollars in arena profits to help fund its own operations, dollars that did not materialize. That shortfall and myriad other budget issues left athletics with a $1.8 million budget deficit of its own.
Not a surprise to me, mind you. I thought the numbers didn't add up before one spade of dirt was turned over, and turns out, my suspicions were correct. But that doesn't help things one bit.  The money has been spent; the building is built.  There's no turning back.

UNO can't undo this mistake.

The Monday Morning Quarterback can say that UNO hockey should have stayed downtown at the CenturyLink Center with basketball remaining at the Ralston Arena. Baxter Arena has been a lose-lose proposition for everyone: the other arenas have fewer events, and UNO's athletic budget is exposing the reality that the expenses of owning a building 365 days a year are much higher than renting a building for the 20-25 days a year they actually need it.

Doesn't matter now.  They built it, and now must deal with the results.  The University of Nebraska system, which signed off on the bad idea, is now on the hook to cover the losses. Hopefully UNO won't lose any more sports in the aftermath.  I suspect that any plans for UNO to build a baseball field are now dead, which is a shame, because they deserve a better facility than what they've got out at Boys Town.  Maybe UNO could find an agreement with another high school; I know that Millard North has a better looking facility than Boys Town.  I suspect Westside might also have a decent field.  Maybe UNO and MECA could swallow their egos and find a way to compromise so that UNO could use TD Ameritrade Park on a part-time basis. (Imagine UNO and Creighton working on joint scheduling to bring opponents to town to play games with just one road trip.)

You know what would help UNO even more?  Winning hockey games in March... and April.

One thing is clear:  the Omaha metro area is done building arenas and ballparks for many, many years to come.  This area has overbuilt, and has double what the region actually needs and can support.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Huskers Run the Dadgummed Ball, Honor Foltz, and Beat Fresno State Going Away

Probably the best way to describe the start of Nebraska's 2016 season was "wet".  When Sam Foltz's young nephews led the Huskers out of the locker room on the Tunnel Walk, tears were flowing throughout Memorial Stadium. I think this might be the first time I didn't clap along to Sirius; I couldn't.  Even the sky was crying.

And all of that emotion might explain Nebraska's uneven performance in the first half.  Nebraska looked OK at times running the ball, though it was inconsistent in the first half. And they ran the ball primarily. Last season, I argued that in losses, Nebraska didn't run the ball enough.  Against Fresno State, you could make an argument they ran the ball too much:  51 runs and 13 passes, a 80/20 ratio.  That's probably an overreaction too far the other direction, but considering that the Bulldogs were 116th in the nation in rush defense, it wasn't exactly a bad choice.

Especially when you consider that Nebraska went turnover free.

Defensively, there were quite a few things to like, especially up front. I liked the play of the defensive line, especially senior Ross Dzuris with three tackles for loss.  I suspect that if the officials had been interested, they could have called a half dozen or so holding penalties on Fresno.  The officials did throw the flag with targeting calls against Luke Gifford and Aaron Williams.  Of the two, I still believe Williams' hit was closer to targeting than Gifford's, though the official review apparently "confirmed" Gifford's penalty and overturned Williams'.  It wasn't until I saw a BTN replay after returning home that I see what Gifford got called for, but I still think it's a very questionable call.  Gifford led with his arms, hitting Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil on the upper arm, with the helmets colliding as Virgil started to fall.  Is targeting now any helmet-to-helmet contact?  That seemed to be the decision of this crew.

It's a first game, so you have to expect some unevenness, especially when you consider the emotional impact of the loss of Sam Foltz.  The Huskers finished the game strong in the second half, and that really should be the takeaway. But let's put it in this perspective: I suspect that Fresno State will be the weakest opponent Nebraska will face in 2016.  I expect Wyoming and Maryland to be much improved in 2016, and Nebraska went 1-5 against the other schools in the Big Ten's west division.

I mean, Nebraska did beat South Alabama 48-9 last season.  This was definitely a better win than that, and hopefully something to build on.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bankruptcy Looms Around Sarpy County's Ballpark Boondoggle

Today's Omaha World-Herald provides us with an update of development around Werner Park in Sarpy County on the edge of town.  And frankly, it's the same:  "Next verse, same as the first!"  Nothing's happening, other than the SID used to build the infrastructure around the "Trailer Park" (as I like to refer to it) appears to be heading towards bankruptcy.  No development means that the SID can't pay off the $12 million that was borrowed to build roads and install utilities.  Alamo Drafthouse?  Built elsewhere, closer to Omaha and the Interstate.  Pennant Place?  Didn't happen.  Not even an Arby's, it would seem.

Sarpy County officials make it a point to say that the ballpark itself isn't in financial trouble.  Which is true, though their statements come with a huge asterisk.
“Our revenues are coming in even without any development at the ballpark. They’re coming in and covering our debt payments.”
The asterisk?  One of the key components paying for the ballpark is a hotel tax, and that's a tax that was used to fund other things in the past.  Nothing new there at all; I wrote about it in 2009. There isn't any word as to what happened to the programs that used to be funded by the hotel tax, but you know it's coming from elsewhere in the county's tax revenue.  A big shell game.

Oh, and attendance out in BFE Sarpy County?  It still continues to be lower than the last years at Rosenblatt, averaging four more people a night in 2016 than in 2008.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Finally. Omaha's Civic Auditorium is Coming Down

This week, demolition of the long-obsolete Civic Auditorium began.  Some are sad about it, especially feeling nostalgic about the building's glory days when a 9,000 seat arena was big enough for most concerts and even the NBA.  I'm not, mind you.  Don't get me wrong; the Civic Auditorium served the city well in it's day.  But it's time was long past.

When the CenturyLink Center opened up, it was clear that the Civic's days were numbered. Events at the new arena had a big-time feel to them - even when the crowd could have fit into the Civic.  More importantly, the new place brought in events that simply wouldn't have come to Omaha otherwise.  U2, Springsteen, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Olympic Swim Trials and the NCAA basketball tournament.   Two weeks from now, I'll don a Hawaiian shirt for the Jimmy Buffett concert.  Sure, not every event appeals to everyone, but there's no denying that Omaha isn't better for having these events come to town.

Many UNO hockey fans are nostalgic for the Civic; I'm not. If anything, I'm still nostalgic for the CenturyLink Center.  The Civic was a functional starter home for UNO hockey, but that's all it was.  It's time is in the past.  Now the property is going to be redeveloped into something more valuable for the city.  It's a better use for the property.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Can Keith Williams Stay as the Huskers Receivers Coach?

When news breaks, it's almost inevitable that someone is going to go on Twitter with a truly awful #HOTSPORTSTAKE.  On Sunday, after CornNation's Brian Towle broke the report of Nebraska assistant football coach Keith William's arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence, the worst takes started with concerns about recruiting.

I truly understand where the thought comes from:  Williams has done a fine job with his on the field coaching and has seemed to be a pretty effective recruiter. But all of that is secondary in this situation, as football implications have zero relevance as to what happens with Williams.

Let's clear up a couple of misconceptions folks have: first, according to police reports, this is Williams' third incident with driving under the influence.  It's not "one mistake"...but his third time making a very serious mistake.  Second, it wasn't just one-too-many beers; Williams was double the legal limit when tested, which according the blood alcohol chart, indicates that he'd had at least three or four too many.

"Is this going to hurt recruiting?"  Well, duh.  It's already happened.  Done and done.
Williams set an awful example for his players and showed huge irresponsibility.  No matter what Nebraska decides to do with Williams, this is out there.  And that's even before we consider the legal ramifications:  third offense DUI would seem to involve some serious jail time and a loss of driving privileges. Want to worry about recruiting?  OK, how is Keith Williams going to get to a rural area to look at a recruit?  Take a bicycle on the plane?  If taxis or Ubers aren't available, he's not going to be able to do his job?

I see one way Keith Williams salvages his coaching career at Nebraska, and that is that as soon as he's released from police custody, he heads into alcohol rehabilitation for as long as it takes.  (At a minimum, he's going to be suspended multiple weeks anyway.)  He needs to own up to his mistake, and look his players in the eye and tell them how he failed them and how he failed his family.

Then, and only then, is it even possible to discuss whether Keith Williams can coach for the University of Nebraska ever again.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Good Lord Calls Sam Foltz Home

There are no words to do justice when tragedy strikes. Words can try to calm, words can try to sooth...but words cannot completely ease the pain. But several people have tried to do just that with Sam Foltz, and came pretty close.  First up is KOLN-TV weekend sports anchor Kevin Sjuts, who tells the story of how Foltz talked to his son's first grade class earlier this year.
How he said this without breaking down in tears, I have no idea. Or how he explained what happened to his son. My son also was a first grader this past year, and I can only appreciate how difficult that discussion must have been.

Next is ESPN's Joe Tessitore, who was with Foltz last night at that kickers camp in Wisconsin. The weather forced the camp to cancel the evening session, and Foltz filled the time by talking to young people with his own inspirational message.
As one of the very last things he did on this earth.

Sometimes you never truly appreciate people until they are gone.
Thank you Sam, and God bless you, your family, your teammates and friends. In due time, we'll worry about who might possibly try to fill Foltz's shoes on the football field. But for now, Nebraskans and college football fans everywhere will take a moment to mourn the loss suffered by the Foltz family.

And then, maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to live up to the challenge Sam Foltz left us.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Will the Huskers Really "Run the Ball" in 2016?

To me, it's the big question going into 2016: Will Nebraska actually commit to running the ball in 2016? We saw what happened last year; the Huskers lost seven games, sometimes in mind-numbing fashion, in forcing the passing game. I'd argue that Nebraska lost at least four games (Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa) last year because of excessive use of the passing game. Yes, Nebraska has some dynamic receivers...but overdependence on a passing attack led to far too many turnovers, and thus, too many losses in 2015.

In the Foster Farms Bowl, Nebraska unleashed a furious ground game and pulled off the upset of UCLA. But was that a change of philosophy by this coaching staff, or simply the coaches recognizing that UCLA had been vulnerable all season on the ground? Immediately after the game, I thought it was more of the former.

As this year has gone on, I'm starting to worry that it's the latter. In a March news conference, I read that Mike Riley hoped not to run the ball more, but rather merely run the ball better. I have no problem with trying to run the ball better, but I believe that in order to do that, the Huskers will need to run more in 2016 than they did in 2015. I  firmly believe that Nebraska needs to run the ball 60-65 percent of the time with this personnel.  That doesn't mean 50 rushes, like against UCLA...but it does suggest that the Huskers need to be pushing to be over 40 a game on a regular basis.

Evidence is lacking as to what direction Mike Riley will go this season...but what little I've seen suggests that Riley isn't willing to change his stripes offensively. He might have been forced to if he wanted to stay at Oregon State, but now I get the feeling that he's hoping he can recruit players to effectively run his scheme more successfully to Lincoln than he could in Corvallis.

Problem is that he doesn't have that sort of quarterback in 2016. And frankly, I don't see a lot of evidence that he's doing it for future seasons either. 

Yes, that's premature to say at this point. Certainly blasphemous for a Husker fan to say. And arguably hypocritical for a known non-believer in recruiting hype today at this point. So call it more of a hunch at this point than anything else.

So you tell me: do you think Mike Riley will run the ball more in 2016? Or do you even care?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Still Not a Believer in Mike Riley at Nebraska

I started this blog over eleven years ago primarily because I didn't believe in the head football coach at Nebraska. In the end, I was right about Bill Callahan.

Yay me?

Hardly. It's no fun watching your favorite team lose game after game after game, sometimes horrifically.

I believed in the next guy. But four losses a year (some of them ugly) weren't good enough at Nebraska, so he was sent packing. That's wrong on me, FWIW.
So next is Mike Riley, and once again, I find myself extremely skeptical that he's the right guy for Nebraska. And that skepticism continues to grow, the longer I observe the program.

Riley is a nice guy, and that's not meant as any sort of criticism. But it's also not any sort of qualification to be a college football coach at a school like Nebraska.

When I look at Mike Riley, I see a coach who was failing at Oregon State. Contracts were being reworked to lessen the impact of coaches leaving the program in a year or two. After his Beavers were blown out by Oregon to end the 2014 season, Mike Riley even admitted that his approach had to change.

Then Shawn Eichorst called and offered him an escape to Nebraska. Knowing that his time at Oregon State was coming to an end, it really was an offer he couldn't refuse.

So rather than change his approach to the game, Mike Riley changed ZIP codes and players. He tried to jam his square peg into the round hole of a team he inherited...and failed.

It didn't work at Oregon State and it didn't work at Nebraska either. Some take solace in Riley's failure by saying that he'll be able to attract players to Nebraska to make his system work here. I'll freely admit that MIGHT happen, but I think that's more wishful thinking than anything. The game of football has changed dramatically over the last twenty years as the spread offense has taken over, and Mike Riley has been slow to adapt to it.

Riley received accolades from Husker fans who wax nostalgic about fullbacks and tight ends, especially those that bristled when former offensive coordinator Tim Beck agreed with the assertion that tight ends and fullbacks were becoming obsolete. Here's the thing:  look at the NFL and college football.  Beck is right.  Tight ends and fullbacks are declining in use throughout football for multiple reasons. Andy Janovich wasn't drafted by the Denver Broncos for his value as a fullback; it was for Janovich's value on special teams.  It wasn't that Beck "hated" tight ends; it's merely a recognition of where the game of football is going in this day and age.  And in Mike Riley, I see a coach who doesn't recognize that and doesn't seem open to change.

Mike Riley does what Mike Riley wants to do offensively, damn the situation or the strengths of his team.  Inexplicable losses to Illinois and Purdue.  Even in his best game, the upset of Michigan State, fans chanted in the stadium "RUN THE BALL" in obvious displeasure to what they expected Mike Riley to do.

It is wrong. It's just yet another sign that the wrong coach was hired at Nebraska.

The defenders of Mike Riley point out that all this will work out once he gets players that fit his system into Nebraska, and his recruiting shows that he'll get it done. Well, I've heard that line before.  It didn't work the last time. Will it work this time?  We'll see, but I'm skeptical.

The hype train for Nebraska recruiting in 2016 is eerily reminiscent to 2004, though at least then it was five star recruits, not three-stars driving the train.  (Are recruitniks now agreeing with me that stars don't matter? I kid, I kid...)  For all of the hype, the reality is that Nebraska has 10 commitments in June, which is good. But let's not get carried away. The previous staff (you know, the one who couldn't be bothered with recruiting) had nine recruits in April 2014 before the Spring Game.  Needless to say...I'm not convinced.

What will convince me? Winning.  Show me something tangible on the field that gives me a reason to believe.  Mike Riley gave me seven reasons to not believe in him last season.  Michigan State was good, in the end...and the game plan against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl was encouraging, but everybody should know not to put too much faith in bowl game performances.

I'm not rooting against Mike Riley.  I don't want Mike Riley to fail.  I just look at the situation, and don't find a lot to be optimistic about.  It's not just me... Dave Bartoo of the CFBMatrix called him "dead man walking" after showing him at -6 in coaching effect in his 2015 Anti-Coach Effect, for doing the least with more talent and resources.

Mike Riley's a nice guy, and he's doing some nice things off the field. I'd love to like him as Nebraska's head football coach.  I just can't.  I just don't believe Mike Riley will succeed at Nebraska.

I hope I'm wrong.