Saturday, December 31, 2005

Taking things WAY too far

Many Husker fans, myself included, were extremely critical of Steve Pederson after the 40-15 loss to Kansas. I even called for him to either resign or be fired, a position I still maintain even after the Alamo Bowl.

Some fans apparantly have gone further. Quite a bit further. Quite a bit UNACCEPTABLY further, in fact. At the Kansas State game, the State Patrol assigned a trooper to guard Pederson after several threats were made, including an incredibly stupid one in the North Platte Bulletin.

Folks, Husker football is a source of pride in this state. It is part of our way of life. But some fans take it way too far and way too seriously. Threatening Pederson or anybody in his family is not only childish and immature, it is also illegal.

I'll go a step further. Threatening ANYBODY over a football team is childish and immature. It's a friggin football GAME. Get a life.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Good Vibrations

A lot of good vibrations are flowing through Husker fans today. And they rightly should. Last night's victory was an impressive victory over a quality opponent; something that had been missing during the Bill Callahan era up to now.

Two things are tempering those good vibrations though today:

LateralGate. It was a comedy of errors on all fronts: Nebraska, Michigoon, and the officials. But, let's face it, it was a desperation play by Michigoon. The laterals were fun to watch now that we know that Michigoon didn't score, and it's fun to watch the replays over and over again, but let's not let this diminish the fact that was a great college football game and a great performance by the Huskers. ESPN Radio was particularly hard on this fact: Michigan alum Dana Jacobson complained about the play for most of her guest-host stint on the Dan Patrick radio show. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was co-hosting for one hour, and had the bizarre notion that Bill Callahan should have offered to replay the down. Folks, it was a desperation play; if anything, the confusion helped Michigoon more than it hurt them. Until the bobbled lateral, Michigoon was more likely to get a safety than a touchdown as they lost yardage with almost every lateral. It wasn't until confusion broke out that they had a chance to score. Let it go, and enjoy one of the wackier plays you'll see.

Kool-Aid Drinkers. This game has a chance to begin repairing the deep divisions in HuskerNation. Callahan quieted a lot of critics in these last few games. Unfortunately, a few "Kool-Aid" drinkers are quite vocal in their cries of "I told you so!" Let me tell you something, if anything, this game proves that many of your allegations were false. We have had the talent to win many more games than we did over the last couple of years. And as I recall, we were able to defeat a 7-4 Big 10 team 2 years ago with the old staff -- and do it by 2 touchdowns. If you truly believe that Nebraska is about winning championships, not winning games, then you can't be happy with a 4 point victory over an also-ran in the Big 10 conference. So, shut your mouth.

Let's focus on what happened last night: Nebraska came out and played a complete game on national TV. We can all agree on that!

Paging the Trombone Player

In a Husker season filled with bizarre endings, the Alamo Bowl almost topped all of them. Thank goodness for Zackary Bowman's alert tackle at the Nebraska 20; otherwise, HuskerNation might find themselves in shock if Michigoon had managed to score after a half dozen or more desperation laterals as the clock expired.

The game saving tackle certainly allows Nebraska and it's fans to end the season on an extremely positive note. There were numerous inspired performances today, and I'll mention a few that come to mind right away.

Cory Ross. He capped his career in style with 162 yards rushing.
Adam Ickes. Playing with an abdominal injury that may require surgery after the game, he was a warrior on the field and caused a big fumble in the decisive fourth quarter.
Andrew Shanle. He made some huge tackles on Steve Breaston, preventing him from any sort of punt return. Yeah, one got flagged by the refs erroneously, but that hit also rejuvenated this team.
Terrence Nunn. Two huge touchdowns.
Defensive Line. Except for a period late in the third quarter and early in the 4th, they dominated Michigoon, and kept them from establishing any sort of rhythm in this game.
Zac Taylor. His numbers won't look good, but he took a licking all game.

All in all, it was a great effort to end this season. On defense, the Blackshirts dealt the Weasels all they could handle, and with the notable exception of about 20 minutes at the end of the first quarter and the first part of the second half, the offensive play calling was balanced with a fine combination of Cory Ross runs and Zac Taylor passes that kept the Weasels guessing what was coming next.

Considering all that has happened over the last couple of years, the players and fans deserved this type of ending.

I feel especially happy for the seniors such as Cory Ross, who have encountered 3 or 4 different position coaches, multiple systems, and taken abuse from some fans. It's great that they can end their careers on a high note. They should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Tale of Two Programs

About a week after the Alamo Bowl matchup was announced, I was talking to a casual Michigoon fan about the game. She was surprised that I wasn't talking more trash about the matchup, and I responded by being surprised that she wasn't talking more trash.

Seems that there are a lot more similarities in the two programs than just great tradition and history. Both teams underachieved this year, with Michigan starting the season in the top 5 in many polls and Nebraska struggling to become bowl eligibile. Both teams have been hit hard by injuries this season. And both teams have fans that aren't terribly impressed with their leadership.

If you look at both team's seasons before Thanksgiving, you would have to say that this game looks like a Weasel Rout in the making. And yes, Nebraska has lost Bo Ruud to a broken arm, Wali Muhammad to a suspension, and Dontrell Moore to grades to hurt the Blackshirts more.

But, Michigan was initially extremely disappointed to end up in the Alamo Bowl instead of the Outback Bowl. And Nebraska is extremely excited to be in San Antonio after a 5-6 "Home for Christmas" finish was staring them in the face following the Kansas debacle.

Nebraska's performance against Colorado opened a lot of eyes; for the first time in the Bill Callahan era, Nebraska didn't underachieve on both sides of the ball. Does Nebraska have the talent to compete with Michigan? Hard to say, Michigan is the best team Nebraska has faced this season. If Nebraska can continue the momentum they found against the Buffies, they can play with a team like Michigoon. And if Michigoon really doesn't want to be in the Alamo Bowl, Nebraska can make a statement and solidify the programs status. (Remember what happened to Kansas State in 1998 when they missed out on the National Championship game by losing the Big XII Title Game?)

It should be an interesting game. I have no idea how this one is going to turn out; I have thoughts that can explain a 4 touchdown victory by either team. That's what happens when you have 2 talented teams that haven't played that way.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and
Happy Kwanzaa to all. What the heck, happy Festivus as well. May your holiday season be joyful, no matter how you choose to celebrate!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The 1997 Debate Lives On

Today's Omaha World-Herald looks back at the debate over the 1997 National Championship, split between Nebraska and Michigoon. Initially, I was rather surprised that of the 6 writers, 5 of them picked the Wolverines to win if the two were to meet. Those predictions:
Malcolm Moran, USA Today: M 27, N 16
Tom Dienhart, Sporting News: M 17, N 13
Don Borst, Lindy's: M 20, N 17
Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated: M 17, N 14
Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe: M 34, N 24
Dennis Dodd, CBS Sportsline: N 35, M 27

But, of course, you have to remember that the writers gave their title to the Goonies, so perhaps this shouldn't be such a surprise. And Dennis Dodd briefly worked for the Omaha World-Herald in the early 90's...

Wolverine fans love to play the comparative score game to stake their claim that Michigoon was clearly the superior team in 1997, but they stop looking any deeper than the scores. Yes, Michigoon beat Colorado 27-3 and Nebraska beat Colorado 27-24. However, those games were two and a half months apart (UM-CU was in early September; NU-CU was the day after Thanksgiving). They also point to the Baylor game: Michigoon 38, Baylor 3 versus Nebraska 49, Baylor 21. But, they forget that both of those games were home games for Michigoon while Nebraska was on the road both times. Also, the scores of both those games for Nebraska were much closer than they really were. Both Colorado and Baylor each scored 2 late touchdowns; in the 4th quarter, it was NU 27, CU 10 and NU 49, BU 7.

Michigoon fans also love to point out the "Miracle at Missouri" when Nebraska tied the game on Matt Davison's diving catch of a deflected pass as time expired. However, they also ignore the last second running off the clock at the Rose Bowl with Washington State at the Michigoon 16. (The clock still read :01 when Ryan Leaf spiked the ball.)

So, what we are left with is a great debate for some. No debate for me, though. Michigan had a great team that year, but Nebraska was the National Champion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Recruitniks Start to Panic

Well, the Recruitnik Nation (a wholly owned subsidiary of Husker Nation, All Rights Reserved) is all up in arms about recruit Josh Freeman switching his commitment from Nebraska to Kansas State. Predictably, the reaction is furious and lines up along the following lines:
  • He was overrated.
  • He is a traitor.
  • He has no integrity.
  • Kansas State has no integrity.
  • Good Riddance.
Let's be honest; Recruitniks are reacting in anger at being jilted. Freeman was supposed to enroll in Lincoln in 3 weeks; in many respects, this is like calling off the wedding after the shower. And these recruitniks are reacting emotionally, not intelligently.

Only the Freeman family will truly know whether this was the right decision or not; this was their decision to make. Fans who react angrily to Freeman should remember the case of Lydon Murtha, who switched his commitment from Minnesota to Nebraska 2 years ago. It happens on both ways; these are 17 year old kids making the biggest decision of their lives so far. Fans should not have been surprised; Freeman's status should have questioned when he started talking to Oklahoma and Missouri last month.

For those fans still whining and complaining about it: Get over it. This is recruiting, and it happens all the time. Ask Texas about Ryan Perrilloux.

This especially includes you, Mr. Husker Information Minister. Today, you displayed the arrogance that causes so many college football fans to hate Nebraska. It was a pathetic, disgusting diatribe that will probably earn you yet more kudos from the people you work for. It was arrogant. It was pompous. It was vindictive. It was being a sore loser.

He attacked Freeman, he attacked his family. He attacked Kansas State and their new football coach, Ron Prince. He claimed to have pity on Freeman for making the biggest mistake of his young life.

Jim Rose is a disgrace to the Husker football program.

Monday, December 19, 2005

More Nuttery

Two years after using Steve Pederson to get a raise at Arkansas, Houston Nutt has had back-to-back losing seasons for the Razorbacks. In his attempt to save his job, he fired his offensive coordinator and hired a new offensive coordinator: Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn has no coaching experience at the college or professional level. So what makes him qualified to become an offensive coordinator in the Southeastern Conference?

Well, he's won state championships as head coach at Springdale High School in Arkansas.

But maybe more importantly, he's also the high school coach of "5 star" quarterback Mitch Mustain.

Yikes. When Nebraska hired successful high school coaches such as Dan Young and Dan McLaughlin, they started as graduate assistants, not as full-time assistants. And certainly not as a coordinator. Not quite as bad as Gerry Faust at Notre Dame, but this is obviously a desperate hire.

Thank goodness that plane came back empty from Fayetteville 2 years ago.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Recrutniks in a Panic?

Over the last couple of weeks, several of the so-called recruiting experts have expressed the opinion that Nebraska's 2006 football recruiting class is not going to be as highly rated as many fans expect. Now, Tim Cassidy, Nebraska's associate athletic director for football is starting to manage fan's expectations:

"We have to put an emphasis on filling our needs. I don't know where we'll rank this time, but sometimes there's so much hype into some of these guys." He cautioned fans about putting too much stock into the ratings by recruiting services and said Husker coaches have to target specific positions with players they believe best fit the program.

Amen, Tim. I'm sure that this recruiting class will be fine. However, you are about pay the price for feeding the recruting monster during the last couple of years. Nebraska currently has 20 commitments, with about 25 scholarships to offer. Rival's average star rating for this class is 2.95, which if it holds would be Nebraska's second worst over the last 5 years.

And let me repeat this: this recruiting class will be fine. I know that this coaching staff knows more about football players than these so-called experts. As teams below Nebraska start filling out their classes (USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson, Arizona, Tennessee), many of them will pass Nebraska in the rankings. It will be fun to watch some of these recruitniks squirm...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Football Tickets for Sale

Today, Nebraska began accepting applications for the 6,500 new seats being added to Memorial Stadium. Contrary to the perception of most fans, this is not the first time new season tickets have been available for sale. Last season, Nebraska failed to sell out their season tickets before the season began, as I have heard of several people who bought season tickets either just before the season or as late as the Pitt game. And if you had seen the sea of tickets outside the stadium before every home game, you would have to agree that interest in the Huskers last season was lower than at any time since the Devaney era.

With the withering of demand and the addition of 6,500 seats, the sellout streak is probably in the most peril that it has been in the past 35 years. And I'll give Steve Pederson credit for coming up with a fair plan to sell these additional seats.

One factor that helps Nebraska is that there is a perception that there was a 20 year wait for season tickets. This legend is blatently false; I got my season tickets with no donation in 1992. Granted, most season tickets purchased since then have required a donation. Nevertheless, just promoting the availability of tickets is going to stimulate demand.

I like Pederson's plan to set aside at least 1,000 of the new seats for non-donors; not only does it open up seats for fans who aren't able to donate at this time, but it also gives the athletic department the flexibility to sell more seats without a donation if they can't find enough new donors to fill the new seats.

I also like the "dutch auction" on donations; if you want to promise to donate more, you'll stand a better chance of getting tickets. It worked well on the Google IPO. If a lot of people want to donate a lot of money, the athletic department will be a huge winner. If the new donor base isn't that large, it gives them an out to ensure that the sellout streak continues.

I was afraid of what was going to be proposed; I envisioned the possibility of required donations for all seats or non-donors being pushed to the upper reaches of the north stadium. My retired parents have held season tickets in the North Stadium for over 40 years, and I'd hate to see them forced out of the seats they had occupied for so long.

In the end, this is a plan that is fair to everyone.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Former Players Still Uneasy

After last year's 5-6 debacle, a number of players began to express their dissatisfaction with the changes in Lincoln. A meeting between the players, Milt Tenopir, and Steve Pederson was held, and everyone was happy.

Or so the story went.

Over the past year, another story has crept out. By many accounts, Milt Tenopir took control of the meeting, and out of the respect these players have for Coach Tenopir, many of the issues that some players have went unspoken. Hence, the positive post-meeting comments.

That doesn't mean that former players are all on board, though. The Journal-Star talked to many players last week, and found a wide array of opinions. McCathorn Clayton is extremely positive, which shouldn't be a surprise since he works for Steve Pederson. Keith "End Zone" Jones is also on board.

Cory Schlesinger, who has been playing in the West Coast Offense in Detroit for years, chooses his words carefully, but his displeasure is obvious. Micah Heibel doesn't mince any words in his displeasure.

And we all remember Scott Frost's comments.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Another Horrific Weekend

With the exception of the Husker volleyball team (Hi, AJ!), this is turning into a miserable weekend of sports. Oweing to Christmas parties and shopping, I missed most of the UNO Mavericks being swept by Michigoon. I did get to hear UNO take early 1-0 leads on the Weasels, but those leads were short lived. The 3rd period of last night's game sounded particularly nasty; we'll see if that bad blood continues when the Weasels return to Omaha in February.

But I did get to see more of today's Nebraska/Creighton game than I cared to. If the 7-6 Nebraska/Pitt football game set the game of football back 50 years, then today's basketball game must have taken us back to the age of the peach basket. Both teams launched enough bricks to pave I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln. I don't know if Creighton is getting better or Nebraska played that poorly; I'm thinking the latter.

I've been a Barry Collier supporter, but Collier is running out of time to start showing progress. Yes, Danny Nee left the program in the sewer, and at least Collier has put a watchable product out there at times. There's no reason why Nebraska can't put a NCAA tournament team out there occasionally, but what we saw today was a high school class C-2 team.

You could see Collier's frustration on the bench today, so it's not like he's oblivious to the problem. If we see many more performances like this one today, it could be an ugly season.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Put some Metamucil in your Kool-Aid, Harold

Crotchety old Harold W. Andersen, the retired publisher of the Omaha Daily Newspaper saw an opening with the Colorado victory to take on the critics and the media for overbearing negativity. And while Andersen is correct that the tone of many articles about the Huskers is negative, he forgets the main reason why they are negative: The Huskers underachieved for most of Bill Callahan's first 21 games as head coach.

The first mistake that Andersen made was equating criticism with calling for his firing. Yes, there are people calling for a coaching change: and come to mind. But that isn't any sort of strong majority at this time. I've criticized Callahan several times, but I don't think it's time to fire him.

His most serious error was to blame LeKevin Smith for the Texas Tech loss, and "not the coach or athletic director". Oh, so LeKevin Smith called the "bend and break" defense for the first 20 minutes of the Texas Tech game that spotted the Raiders a 21-0 lead? What about that 3-man line that was so effective in allowing Brad Smith to rack up almost 500 yards of offense?

And his final error was in blaming the 2003 staff for the number of freshmen and sophomores who are playing now. First of all, thanks to the 85 scholarship limit, many teams are playing freshmen and sophomores. Oklahoma, for example, is playing more freshmen and sophomores than Nebraska.

My opinion is that there were some recruiting problems at Nebraska; problems that were solved at the start of 2003. That was too late for the 2003 class, but the 2004 recruiting class under the new staff was looking promising. One recruitnik says that Rivals had them around #14 before the firing rumors started scuttling that staff. In any event, the 2003 staff never got a chance to prove themselves.

As for the number of freshman and sophomores playing, don't be so quick to credit Callahan; of the 8 freshman and sophomores who started against Colorado, the majority were recruited by Frank Solich: Corey McKeon, Bo Ruud, J.B. Phillips, Chris Patrick, Nate Swift, and Terrence Nunn were Solich committments.

Now, did Bill Callahan recruit a lot of quality players? Sure looks that way. Were there some problems in recruiting before 2003? Yep, and that was taken care of in 2002.

Looks like Harold's arguments lack a lot of substance... Just like many of the kool-aid drinkers out there.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hell to the Vermin

The UNO Maverick hockey team finished up an nice 4 point weekend, sweeping Ferris (Bueller) State this weekend. Scott Parse took the lead as the nation's leading scorer with a 5 point performance against the Poodles...

Up next are the Weasels from Michigoon this weekend in Ann Arbor. The Weasels will be playing teams in red quite a bit; UNO plays at Yost in a 2 game series Friday and Saturday night; Saturday night the Husker women visit the Vermin. And now the Alamo Bowl will match up the Huskers and the Goonies on Wednesday, December 28th.

I'm anxiously awaiting AJ's initial volley of hatred towards Michigoon. (Parental guidance highly recommended...) It will be interesting to learn whether he hates the Vermin more than the Huskers; my guess is he'll just hope for a stadium collapse to take out both teams...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nice win for Husker Hoops over Marquette

I missed the first half tonight, and must admit I was shocked by the halftime score; Huskers by 19 at the break over Marquette. The Golden Eagles are fresh off their Great Alaskan Shootout championship and presented their toughest challenge to this point. (Sagarin rated their schedule #311 out of 334!)

They seemed to relax a bit in the second half, allowing Marquette to close to within 6 points with about 7 minutes to go. Last year, Nebraska seemed to find a way to let those leads slip away at the end, but this game, Nebraska turned it up at the end and won 84-74.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Solich's worst day: Saturday after Thanksgiving

Ohio head coach Frank Solich was arrested Saturday night for drunken driving in Athens, Ohio. No spin here; it was a dangerous and stupid act. Solich immediately pled no contest and was fined, ordered to pay a fine and attend a 3 day intervention program, and recieved a 180 day license suspension.

Solich will discuss the incident at a press conference tomorrow; Ohio University is treating this as a personnel matter, and Solich is expected to remain as the head coach.

When I heard of this situation, the first thing I thought of was that 2 years ago on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving, Solich was fired as the head coach of the Huskers. We may find out tomorrow whether this was a coincedence; my instinct says not.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

One man's ego

I think every Husker fan should be elated and excited about Friday's victory. Fans can take a lot of positives out of the performance of the Big Red. And I don't want to take anything away from it. Callahan supporters and critics alike saw clear signs of optimism that indicate the program is finally putting the discord from 2 years ago finally behind.

Then the athletic director reopened all the old wounds, claiming vindication by saying "This is the reason we did what we did." Before the game, Pederson declined to an interview with KETV-Channel 7 to discuss the events of 2 years ago. He knew that the questions would be uncomfortable, and nothing is to be gained by revisiting that decision.

So why do it after the game? Simple. Ego. The folks in Pittsburgh know about it. And at the first sign of progress on Friday, there's Steve Pederson's ego once again on display.

It's now been 104 weeks, and the wounds still haven't been healed. Bill Callahan seems to finally have gotten the embrace of his football team. Many critics of his, including me, recognize that this might be the turning point in the program.

So why does Steve Pederson suddenly want to brag about his 2003 coaching decision? Ego, ego, ego. 2 years ago, with his plans in place to fire Frank Solich in place, Pederson was the invisible man. And as soon as Nebraska seems ready to finally move on, there is Steve Pederson taking center stage to take the credit.

I can think of 38.5 million reasons why Pederson should have kept his mouth shut after Saturday's game, much like he kept it quiet after the Kansas game. But, once again, Steve Pederson put his ego ahead of the athletic department.

Bill Callahan may very well turn out to be a success. I saw something on Friday that indicates that this might work out in the end.

At the same time, I am further convinced that Steve Pederson will NEVER be able to repair his relationship with the fan base he alienated 2 years ago. He has talked about moving on, but Friday night, he refused to "walk the talk." My opinion that he should resign or be fired has not changed.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

It finally all clicks...

In the Bill Callahan era, the Huskers have had short bursts of offensive success. And some longer bursts of defensive success. But until yesterday in Boulder, they've never put together a cohesive 60 minutes of football.

Yesterday, it all came together. Every Husker fan has to be amazed by what they saw yesterday. It was a beautiful thing.

I must admit that I was expecting a repeat of the 2001 game, especially after the opening 3-and-out followed by Colorado running a counter play to gain 40 yards early on. But that was it for the CoCo Puffs. From there on out, the Huskers simply dominated.

Credit goes to everyone for this performance. Zac Taylor elevated his game to the next level, making clutch throw after clutch throw. Bo Ruud spent almost as much time in Colorado's backfield as CU quarterback Joel Klatt. And when Cory Ross wasn't picking up a CU blitzer, he was making a big reception.

After the Kansas debacle, I stated that the problem wasn't talent - and yesterday proved it. In the last 2 years, the only team to significantly outtalent Nebraska was Oklahoma. So what changed?

Simple. For the first time since the shakeup, the coaching staff and the players truly were on one page. Sure, they've said the right things at times, but you've never gotten the feeling that all was right in the Husker camp.

Until yesterday.

You could see it in the tears in Bill Callahan's eyes in his post game press conference. You could see it in the Gatorade dunk Callahan received.

It was a masterful performance by both the players and coaches. It's a shame that the Huskers will need to wait another month for another game to build on this performance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Not the Victory but the Recruiting

I wonder if part of the new building campaign will include an updating of the inscription on Memorial Stadium to reflect the new reality:
Not the Victory but the recruiting
Not the game but the letter of intent
In the glory.

Last week, I received a spam-mail from the Nebraska Athletic Department announcing 52 signees in various sports, especially trumpeting their recruiting ratings. And while I look forward to seeing many of these players in Husker uniforms, I can't help but continue to be concerned about the escalation of the recruiting hype machine.

In the past, Husker fans were advised to stay away from recruits. And for good reason; it's not very difficult to comply with NCAA regulations. Earlier this month, I was talking to my former boss, who has a son who is being recruited by several schools, and she was extremely proud of her son. And for good reason. And as we talked, I realized how easy it would be to commit an NCAA rules violation, even though she placed the call to me.

Before the Kansas State game, I was early enough and was underneath South Stadium with a few hundred fans as the team returned to the locker room from warmups. All the fans were cheering, applauding, and encouraging the team as they passed. Great! Wonderful! Go Big Red!

After the team passed, my elation turned to pure disgust. Some fans suddenly went absolutely nuts as the recruits began to follow along to the locker room. They weren't there to cheer on the Huskers; they were there for the RECRUITS! As far as I'm concerned -- completely PATHETIC.

After many home games, I've seen many people asking "Nevermind the game, what did the recruits think?" Like any fan should have the answer; fans run dangerously close to violating NCAA rules by contacting a recruit.

Don't get me wrong. Recruiting is important. But fan involvement in recruiting is an invitation to disaster. Fans can cause nothing but problems when they get involved.

Speaking of recruiting, did anyone notice that USC/Fresno State game on Saturday night? Everybody likes to talk about USC's athletes, and that's part of why they are #1. But it's not the whole reason; USC has always had top rated recruiting classes. It took Pete Carroll to turn it into a national contender. But how do recruitnik's explain Fresno State? Carl pointed it out a couple of weeks ago; Fresno State's last few recruiting classes were rated 53rd, 98th, 111th, and 75th. And they almost knocked off USC in the Mausoleum. Great coaching, good talent, and completely bogus recruiting evaluation.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rough day for UNO

Yesterday was a bad day all around for UNO; the Mavs were bounced from the Division II football playoffs by Saginaw State, losing 24-21 at home. Then, in hockey, Alaska-Fairbanks took advantage of a couple of bad bounces, a coaching blunder, and an outstanding goalie performance to split the series with the Mavs.

Last night was a frustrating game for UNO; they outshot the Nanooks 34-13. But Fairbanks scored the opening goal on a breakaway after a UNO scoring chance was deflected, then scored the 2nd period on a breakaway as the Nanooks were exiting the penalty box.

The Nanooks 2nd goal was extremely disappointing; the power play goal began at the start of the 2nd period when UNO was penalized for not returning to the ice after intermission. I've been frustrated by Bill Callahan's sideline blunders the last couple of years, but this was inexcusable. This one will knaw at us at the end of the season, though you can drive yourself crazy playing the "what if" game.

One thing though is clear; this team is loaded with talent. Once the goaltending stabilizes, these Mavs will be GOOD. Fairbanks went into Mariucci and kept the Gophers winless last month, and they're the only team to beat Michigan this season. And UNO pummelled them all weekend. And they went into Munn last weekend and swept Sparty.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sports Illustrated: "Out of line"

Mark Beech of Sports Illustrated writes this week that Nebraska's struggles start at the position that Nebraska used to become a national power in the first place: the offensive line. It's a fairly balanced piece; it skewers everyone including:
  • The fans who called for a coaching change 2 years ago after that "not very impressive" 9-3 season.
  • Bill Callahan for his "condescending" demeanor and his gaffes when playing Oklahoma.
One thing it does call for is patience, quoting Arizona coach Mike Stoops as saying that Nebraska's change is going to take time and patience if it is ever going to succeed.

And I agree to a degree. I'm willing to give Bill Callahan at least one more year to see if we start seeing some progress. It's not a endorsement of Callahan by any means; outside of recruiting, he's made far more mistakes than he's made good changes too date. But Nebraska can't get into a coaching carousel. Look around at how difficult it is to replace a legend: it took Alabama 3 tries to replace Bear Bryant. It took Oklahoma 3 tries to replace Barry Switzer. How many tries did it take for USC to replace John Robinson??? I still don't think Bill Callahan is the answer at Nebraska; he's just the 2nd guy to try and replace Tom Osborne.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sporting News: Callahan can't point fingers

Matt Hayes of The Sporting News joins the parade of national correspondents taking shots at Bill Callahan, this time for pointing the fingers at his players for the loss to Kansas. And while I'm not sure he directly blamed the players for Kansas, he sure implied it with some of his comments. It's not even the most recent example of this; last Saturday, he blamed Zac Taylor for "telegraphing" that boneheaded swing pass that resulted in an easy safety against Kansas State.

Some people will be quick to attribute this to a national media "hatred" of Nebraska, but let's be honest here, that's just blaming the messenger. But let's be honest, outside of recruiting, Callahan has not accomplished much since arriving at Nebraska. Perhaps after Callahan gets all his recruits in place, Callahan may look like a smarter coach and a better hire.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Burned Shirts & Sparty Sweep

Predictably, there's a lot of commotion about Harrison Beck's redshirt getting burned. Personally, I find it hard to criticize Callahan in this situation. I think he rolled the dice that he could get away with redshirting his top backup, and lost. Saturday, I don't think Callahan had much of a choice.

I do criticize Callahan for not putting Joe Ganz in at the tail end of the Missouri and Kansas games. Taylor took 3 or 4 unnecessary hits in those games after those games got to blowout status. But Saturday, if Callahan thinks Harrison Beck is his top backup, he has to play him in a 2 point game when Zac Taylor gets knocked out of the game. If it was a 3 touchdown game, that might be a different situation.

And it's a situation that critics like me have to expect. The heat is on Bill Callahan, and he really can't worry about whether Harrison Beck has any eligibility for the 2009 season. If Nebraska loses to K-State, and misses a bowl game, they lose 4 more weeks of practice. And if they continue to struggle in 2006 and 2007, there will be another head coach to worry about who will start in 2009.

And if we're talking what-if's, if you believe the recruitniks and Beck is as good as they say, he might declare for the NFL early anyway. Of course, those same people said that Zac Bowman would be declaring for the NFL after this season. More overhype from the recruiting crowd; I wonder what the NFL thought of Bowman's game on Saturday? He got sucked in badly on several plays, including chasing a Kansas State receiver down the length of the field on a draw play. The KSU receiver kept turning around to throw a block, but when Bowman kept following him, he just kept running.

And I neglected to throw some props towards the Mavericks. After starting the conference season 0-4, they rebound quite nicely to sweep #6 Michigan State at their barn. Driving back from Lincoln, I got to hear Greg Harrington and Terry Leahy describe the OT game winner by Bill Thomas on Saturday night. You could hear the folks in the Road Banned going nuts as the shocked Sparty fans quietly exited Munn.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Huskers win the Bungle Bowl

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Some of the best playcalling of the season (misdirection, toss sweep plays), some of the worst playcalling (screen pass in the end zone?). The Husker offense looked great at times, and anemic at times.

Let's look at the positives on the day:
  • Zac Taylor, until he got smashed in the 4th quarter, had his best game of the day. 21 for 31 passing on a day where the wind was howling.
  • Nate Swift is turning into a clutch playmaker.
  • Corey McKeon is proving that doesn't rate players for heart.
  • After struggles earlier this season, Jordon Congdon is now living up to the recruitnik hype with that clutch field goal.
I think Husker fans are split on whether burning Harrison Beck's redshirt was appropriate or not. My preference would have been to put Joe Ganz in the game; however, Callahan has clearly said previously that Beck is the backup and would go in if something happened to Taylor. And that's exactly what happened.

I think all Husker fans are hoping that this was Beck's worst performance of his career. His one completion was huge, and the roughing penalty he took put the Big Red into position for the winning field goal. However, Beck's interception cost the Huskers the lead and nearly the game.

Like I said, I would have preferred Ganz in the game, but I won't criticize Callahan for this decision. I knew that it was only a matter of time before Taylor got knocked out of the game, and I had hoped that Callahan would put Ganz in at some point to get him some reps and spare Taylor the shots he took at the end of the games against Kansas and Missouri. But what's done is done.

Apparantly, the coaching staff took notice of the media reports of Beck's lack of attention to the game the last 2 weeks; my wife noticed that staff personnel were watching him closely on the sidelines.

Thank goodness this game was not televised; it was a sloppy mess on both sides of the ball. Daniel Bullocks strip against Wake Forest was a great play, but twice he's been burned by trying to strip the ball instead of tackling. Whoever taught Bullocks to start doing that better hope that the NFL doesn't penalize him for this on draft day next spring.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Thanks to the Seniors

Before their final home game, just thought I'd salute the seniors on this year's Husker team.

Those that redshirted in 2001 saw them come close to the big prize, playing in the BCS National Championship game. They endured 2 coaching staff changes and even a losing season last year. They've endured insults from some "fans" who insist that they weren't any good, who can't wait for them to leave.

While they won't leave Lincoln with any rings, they do leave with my respect and admiration for how they fought through their Husker careers and finished it out.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Talent is NOT the issue

The frequent excuse from the kool-aid crowd is that we don't have the talent that we had 10 years ago.

Guess what. We probably never will. 1995 was something special, something that will probably never be repeated.

The 1995 Huskers should be considered the pinnacle of achievement; they are considered by some to be the greatest football team ever. If you expect that to be repeated, you will go through the rest of your life sorely disappointed.

Kool-aid drinkers like to recite rankings for the past several years as proof that "talent is our problem." Problem is, they never look at the rankings of our opponents. Sure, Oklahoma always has great recruiting rankings, but their top-5 2003 signing class is in shambles. But has Texas Tech had better recruiting classes? Nope. And Kansas? Please.

Success in football is not just based on talent. Talent is only part of the equation. Coaching and preparation plays as big, if not bigger role. Look at Notre Dame; last year, people used the talent card to explain their struggles. Add in a great coach in Charlie Weis, and suddenly the talent level has mysteriously been upgraded.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Fire Steve Pederson

(Update October 7, 2007: It's Time to Pull The Plug on Steve Pederson...)

Bill Callahan should NOT be fired.

He is in year 2 of a monumental transition. It is not going well, and I'm doubtful that he is the answer as Nebraska's head coach. But, we're only in year 2 of his run. Some of the holes in this year's team may start filling themselves next season, especially on the offensive line. But however cathartic the firing might be, the next question is, who would replace him?

Several names have already been brought up. Joe Glenn at Wyoming. Monte Kiffin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Barney Cotton at Iowa State. I'll throw out Marvin Sanders at North Carolina as well. As much as I like Frank Solich, he'd be a poor choice; there is still a large contingent of Husker fans who despise him. Many of them actually blamed him for yesterday's debacle.

But the decision as to who would replace Bill Callahan doesn't belong to the fans. It's the responsibility of the athletic director.

The person currently filling that position has experience in coaching searches. His process was roundly criticized and lampooned 2 years ago. Fox's Jimmy Johnson quipped that a dozen NFL guys received raises thanks to Steve. At least 3 of Pederson's candidates are already in hot water and in danger of losing their current job: Dave Wannstedt (who might get fired for the 2nd time), Houston Nutt, and Chuck Amato.

Steve Pederson is a divisive figure in this state. Named last year as Nebraska's Enemy of the State by Sports Illustrated, fundraising for the Osborne Complex has stalled since his last coaching change. I don't doubt that Pederson loves the University and the athletic program, but it's obvious a change is necessary.

Hopefully, Steve will do the right think and resign. But if he doesn't, fire Steve Pederson.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Welcome to Pediocrity.

2 years ago, Nebraska's athletic director made the statement that he refused to allow Nebraska to "gravitate to mediocrity". Whether we are "gravitating" or "accelerating", there is no denying it.

We have descended below mediocrity.

138 total yards of offense.

428 total yards and 40 points given up on defense. To a team that had was 1-4 in Big XII play and had scored 49 points in those 5 games.

For those of you who had the misfortune of listening to Jim Rose today, at least you could turn it off. I watched the whole thing in person.

Here are some of the more disturbing observations from section 31:
  • Playcalling was even more abysmal than usual. Bill Callahan decided that we needed to establish a ground game against one of the top rushing defenses in the country. And there was almost no variety in the running play; if I had a video tape, I would say of the first 10 runs, there were only 3 or 4 different plays run.
  • Kansas defended us with 9 or 10 players "in the box" most of the game. However, we only attempted to stretch the defense a handful of times by sending receivers deeper than 10 yards downfield.
  • Harrison Beck and Joe Ganz know that they aren't getting into the game unless Zac Taylor is knocked out. They spent much of the first half watching the Kansas dance squad.
  • Callahan might be trying to get Zac Taylor killed by leaving him in the game to get assaulted when the game is out of reach.
  • The defense tried to keep Nebraska in the game today. Corey McKeon had a key interception to end a Kansas threat as well as the safety. But, they wore down, and sadly in the 4th quarter, threw in the towel. All season long many fans have raved about their "never give up" will, but today, they went to the well one too many times.
They need to find a way to beat either Kansas State or Colorado. Kansas State may be the only opportunity as they may be struggling more than the Huskers at this point.

This Husker program is staring 5-6 in the face for the second consecutive year.

I must say, however, that you couldn't help but be happy for the Kansas fans. Everyone I ran into was cordial. Heading back up the hill, I had a heck of a view of the KU students swimming with the goal posts for the second straight week. And I was touched by a conversation with a Kansas fan who talked about being 5 years old the last time Kansas beat our Huskers. As the final seconds, you could see the tears in his eyes as he watched his team accomplish something he thought he might never see.

It brought back my own memories of watching Tom Osborne defeat Miami on their home field for the 1994 National Championship. My, how times have changed.

During a dinner stop on the Plaza in Kansas City this evening, we ran into several Husker fans trying to recover from the game. From the persepective of the fans I talked to this evening, I think HuskerNation is growing restless.

Update: Revisiting Pediocrity

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Which way will they go?

I must say that after last week's game, I was extremely pessimistic about this week's game against Kansas. However, after I thought about it a bit more, I remembered that I still think Oklahoma is a pretty darn good team. With Adrian Peterson back in the lineup, I think they've got a legitimate case to be the 2nd best team in the Big XII. Yes, that means I think they'll run the table and beat A&M (boy, Franchione sure hit a bump in year 3), Texas Tech (overrated), and Oklahoma State.

But, Kansas' defense is legit. Problem for them is, their offense isn't. Nebraska might not be as good as the Jayhawks on defense, but they're better than them on offense. Either way, this is shaping up to be a low scoring affair. First team to 10 wins? The over/under on this one is 38. Yuck!

Since this game is not on TV, you'll either have to drive to Lawrence or listen on the radio. Fortunately, you don't have to listen to the Husker Information Minister; UNL's students will be broadcasting the game as well. You can get their webcast at

Meanwhile, the UNO Maverick hockey team tries to bounce back after a bye week against Bowling Green. The 0-4-1 Falcons miss their inspirational leader, Jordan Sigalet, who is now on the roster of roster of the NHL's Boston Bruins despite battling Multiple Sclerosis. Hope the game still goes on; their last home game was postponed after someone drilled into a cooling pipe while setting up the nets.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Slash

Well, I must say I was disappointed, but not surprised by Callahan's comments at today's press conference. He seemed surprised that the question came up, then admitted that he had discussed the matter with both the Big XII's Supervisor of Officials as well as with the Athletic Director. He also said that he hadn't seen the video in question despite apparantly spending quite a bit of time over the previous 24 hours discussing it.

It's obvious that Callahan at this point doesn't care what the effects of this story is. And I kind of doubt Steve Pederson does either. So, the media will take some more pot shots with his comments in today's press conference, and then put the video from Saturday's game in their clip drawer, ready to pull out the every time they want to take a shot at him or Nebraska.

As Bill Callahan said today, "the damage is done". He had several opportunities to defuse the situation, and didn't, so that's where this stands. Everybody has an opinion at this point: some people say this is yet more proof that Callahan isn't suited to be a head coach. Others see this as proof that Callahan will do whatever he feels is right. Nobody's opinions are going to be swayed at this point.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Billy C's Favorite Team

Well, once again, Bill Callahan seems to have gotten himself into hot water against Oklahoma. After the Sooners final touchdown, ABC's camera showed Callahan making an apparant throat slash towards the officiating crew. However, that might not have been Callahan's intent there; theoretically he might have been demonstrating how his player was being held by his jersey. Which is it? Who's to say at this point. The replay I saw last night sure looked like a throat slash, but the animated GIF I found on a Sooner web site isn't so clear. (It's also rather small...)

Callahan did not directly comment on the officiating, as he knew that any comment would violate Big XII rules. However, the manner that he answered the question made it clear he was extremely displeased with the officiating. Jay Norvell may have inadvertantly violated that rule on Pinnacle's "Coaches Wrapup" postgame show. During a commercial break, Pinnacle accidentally left the microphone on, and Norvell was heard to say "f*****g refs" and "d*** Texas refs".

But let's face it, the refs were pretty balanced on their calls. The World-Herald caught Nebraska center Kurt Mann facemasking OU's Zach Latimer. Let's face it, Nebraska only got flagged 5 times against Oklahoma. That's one of their lowest totals of the year, matching the count from the Baylor game - which was officiated by the same crew.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Stoops schools Hillbilly C and the Puppetmasters

Tell me if you've heard this one before: the Huskers opponent drives the field on their opening possession to jump out to a 7-0 lead while the offense sputters in the early going.

It's getting old. It's great that the Huskers can rebound, but you can't dig yourself into a hole every week and expect to climb out of it.

One thing is painfully clear: Zac Taylor is clearly showing signs of the painful pounding he has taken this year. In the 2nd quarter, Callahan decided to open up the passing game once the wind was to their back. Taylor twice rolled out to throw but failed to see uncovered receivers running wild downfield. The second time, once Taylor finally decided to throw the ball, threw it off-target and so late that the Oklahoma defensive back nearly picked it off.

Today's offensive bright spot again was Nate Swift, with 9 receptions for 100+ yards. I liked this kid in the Spring game, and every game, this freshman gets better and better.

Looking at the remaining schedule, I'm getting extremely concerned about the Huskers prospects. Kansas might have the best defense in the Big XII. Kansas State is getting better week-by-week, with former Husker commitment Allan Evridge now playing well as their starting quarterback. And Colorado is still the best of the Big XII North.

Can Nebraska get some positive karma going their way in these last 3 games? I predicted 8-3, but that prediction is now looking like a dream at this point in the season.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Nattering Nabob of Negativity

As this week has unfolded, I've grown more and more uneasy at the prospects of this week's game. On one hand, Oklahoma looks the most mortal that they have been since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman. But on the other hand, I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind that the 2005 Huskers are no better, and might even be worse than the 2004 model.

On offense, we thought the dismal performances from the first 3 games were just a bad memory. But last week, the offense returned to it's sputtering self. So now that's 4 sputtering performances and 3 ok performances. The pendulum has now swung back. And on defense, in conference play they have become a sieve, especially early.

Oklahoma may be 4-3, but 2 of those losses were to undefeated UCLA and a Texas squad that has played the best of any team in the country this year. And Adrian Peterson is expected to be back in the lineup.

I hope I'm wrong, but I don't like the looks of Saturday's game. The one intangible in Nebraska's favor is that the game is in Lincoln and the 1995 Huskers are having a 10 year reunion. Last year, a shaky Husker team took inspiration from the 1994 Huskers to beat Missouri; could this year's squad get a boost of confidence and inspiration from the greatest college football team ever?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Excuses Excuses Excuses

The common explanation for Nebraska's poor play selection against Missouri was a combination of getting down early and then "down and distance". Hey, I'll buy the getting down early part.

So let's look at the "down and distance" argument. Starting after Nebraska pulled to within 7 points at 24-17, here was the play calling in situations where we weren't 2nd and long or 3rd and long:

1st & 10: Pass (Sacked for 8 yard loss)
1st & 8: Pass (incomplete)
2nd & 8: Pass (Touchdown - game tied at 24-24!)
1st & 10: Pass (complete for 10 yards)
1st & 15: Pass (incomplete)
1st & 10: Run (gain of 1)
2nd & 9: Run (loss of 3)
1st & 10: Pass (incomplete)
1st & 10: Pass (incomplete)
1st & 10: run (gain of 2)
1st & 10: run (loss of 2)
3rd & 2: Pass (incomplete)
4th & 2: Pass (complete for 30 yards but fumbled)
Missouri goes on 97 yard drive, up 31-24.
1st & 15: Pass (incomplete)
Missouri goes on 39 yard FG drive, up 34-24.
1st & 10: Pass (gain of 2)
I'll stop there, because at this point, Missouri is up 41-24 and the score argument now applies.

That's 4 rushes and 11 passes. On first down and 10 or less, we threw the ball 6 times and ran the ball 3 times. Did "down and distance" keep us from running the ball? I don't think so.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Beck #2???

Today, Bill Callahan said that Harrison Beck is the #2 quarterback, despite the fact that the official depth chart says Joe Ganz is #2. While that might explain why Zac Taylor was left in to be abused by Missouri, this is a real head-scratcher at this point in the season. I know Callahan apparantly doesn't care about redshirts, but barring a serious injury to Taylor, it makes no sense to play Beck this late in the season.

If Beck ends up playing in a game in a mop-up situation this season, it won't be the first redshirt mistake this staff has made. Last year, Cornealius Fuamatu-Thomas got thrown into the Western Illinois game late, then never played. The staff somehow thought he could still claim a redshirt year, but found out after the fact that wasn't possible.

Of course, after watching Thomas this season, I'm not sure that saving a year of eligibility for him is a big deal. Thomas was especially bad on Saturday. Several times Thomas whiffed badly on blocks; he was constantly slower than the defensive end to react to the snap count. Lydon Murtha didn't fare much better, but if we're going to have a problem at tackle, I'd rather take a chance on playing the talented freshman over the confused, inexperienced senior.

Saturday's game plan is still a puzzle in my mind, and to many others. Starting the game, it looked like Nebraska planned to run the ball on Missouri, based on their previous poor rushing performances. However, that game plan was abandoned when the Huskers went down 21-3. Which kind of made sense - until a couple of Mizzou fumbles allowed Nebraska to tie the game at 24-24.

Nebraska set a modern record for fewest rushes in a game: 19. 4 of those were sacks of Zac Taylor, so really it was 15.

15 rushes by Nebraska.

Read that again: 15 rushes by the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I'll say it again: 15 rushes by Nebraska against the now #67 rushing defense in college football. (My guess is they probably were somewhere in the 80's before the game.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Crappy Weekend

What a crappy weekend this is turning out to be. The UNO Mavericks get swept at home by the Miami Redhawks in hockey. And the Huskers get trounced by Mizzou in Columbia.

Just got back from Columbia, and it was a sad day when the Huskers rush for -2 yards for the game. Nebraska got beaten badly both offensively and defensively. For the third straight week, Kevin Cosgrove starts with an ineffective game plan, then is slow to make adjustments. A three-man front might make sense against teams that spread the field like Missouri and Texas Tech, but dropping 8 men into coverage with an inexperienced secondary like we have is insane. Eventually, someone is going to break down in coverage, and with absolutely no pass rush, the quarterback can simply bide his time until it happens.

You simply must get pressure on the quarterback.


I can hear the Cosgrove defenders saying "but if we blitz, someone will be uncovered". Guess what - it's happening anyway. The prevent defense doesn't work against Tech, and it didn't work today against Missouri.

Props to Brad Smith for a huge game. I haven't seen defensive breakdowns like that since the 2001 Colorado game, and before that, in a high school game.

On offense, it would be easy enough to criticize Zac Taylor, but I won't tonight. The man took an incredible amount of abuse in this game. When Nebraska got the ball back with a minute left in the game, I really hoped that Joe Ganz would finally get a chance to take a couple of snaps in a game. But no dice, and Missouri got another chance to use Taylor as a tackling dummy.

I was extremely disappointed with some of my fellow Husker fans today. I understand leaving early when the game is out of reach - especially on the road, where you don't know how the locals will react. (Every Missouri fan I came across today was classy...) That's not my criticism.

Some fans like to stand and cheer their team on. That's great! But look around when you decide to stand; if you're the only fans standing, sit down. And when your team is on offense on the road, and the home team is screaming for their defense, cheering "Go Big Red!" at your offense is counterproductive and just shows your ignorance. Or should I say stupidity.

When the opposing quarterback is laying motionless on the field, it's in extremely poor taste (and poor sportsmanship) to complain about the roughing penalty and yell "hit him again". Especially when your defensive player is lucky that he didn't get ejected for that helmet-to-helmet hit.

And please don't insist that, if it wasn't for the LeKevin Smith fumble against Tech and Terrence Nunn's fumble today, we'd be 7-0. We were lucky to be in today's game; 2 of our 3 touchdown drives were under 10 yards. Today's game could have easily been 41-10 or worse. And when you consider the endings against Pitt (blocked FG) and Iowa State (dropped interception by Nick Leaders), we're probably closer to 3-4 than 7-0.

It's time for some sleep; it's been a long ugly day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What does Vegas know that Husker Nation doesn't?

Or is it vice versa? Vegas has installed Mizzou as a 3 point favorite, but the expectation around here seems to be a big Husker win. I can kind of see both points; Nebraska has played 1 great game (Texas Tech), 2 decent games (Iowa State and Baylor), and 3 rather poor games. On the other hand, Missouri lost at home to New Mexico, gave up 31 to Oklahoma State, and got blasted by Texas (of course, who hasn't???)

Our local Tiger fanatic AJ is surprisingly confident as well.

2 years ago, I was guilty of overconfidence for the Missouri game. I remember sitting on top of a parking garage in Columbia before the game discussing plans to follow Nebraska to the Big XII Championship Game in Kansas City. The Bo-shirts were blitzing everything into submission, and the offense was playing decent. But then Nebraska turned the ball over 4 times deep inside their own territory - including 3 times inside their own 10. Those turnovers turned a game that Nebraska otherwise dominated into a 17 point loss. We barely got back to the safety of the parking garage before being overrun by a mob of Tiger fans carrying the goalposts.

Which Brad Smith will play? Which Zac Taylor will play? Will Bill Callahan outthink himself? Will Gary Pinkel sign his own pink slip, or contract extension? If Brad Smith falters, will fab freshman Chase Daniel come on in relief?

Heck if I know. I'd like to think this is a big Nebraska win shaping up on Saturday, but there are too many questions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mid-season report card

Well, 6 games into the season means it's probably time to give the Huskers a mid-season report card. I went back and looked at my preseason thoughts, and I think they turned out pretty well. On offense, Zac Taylor started off the season about as shaky as I thought he would. However, Bill Callahan made a nice adjustment after the Pitt game to put Taylor back into the shotgun, which seems to give Taylor a better feel for making his reads and Taylor made Iowa State pay. Taylor has been playing much better the last 3 games, and is a very servicable quarterback.

RB: I said it in July: Cory Ross. Enough said. Update from Saturday night's postgame comment: it looks like Ross's injury is not serious.

WR: Frantz Hardy made a big splash against Maine, but hasn't repeated that performance since. The passing game was DOA until Nate Swift started to get some playing time. And Terrence Nunn has been solid all season.

OL: Definitely playing better the last 3 games, though they had a very shaky start to the season.

DL: The one place where recruiting has made an impact this season: Ola Dagunduro, Barry Cryer, and freshman Barry Turner have given the d-line depth. And freshman Ndamukong (A Boy Named) Suh made a splash as well before getting hurt.

LB: Steve Octavien was looking to prove me dead wrong about the newcomers until his leg broke in the first game. Corey McKeon is showing the heart that Barrett Ruud showed us last season.

Secondary: Zack Bowman hasn't lived up to the hype, but hasn't been a flop by any means. This group has played ok, though the defensive line has lifted the pressure from these guys.

Coaching: Over all, the last three games have been very positive. Callahan has a quarterback that better matches his system in Zac Taylor, and the receiver depth is improved with Nate Swift and Frantz Hardy contributing. Cosgrove has also made some big adjustments by using much more zone defense this season. I especially liked the blitzes and the defenses Cosgrove used against Texas Tech for the middle half of the game - though I didn't like his waiting for Nebraska to go down 21-0 to start using them...

As we move on, the Huskers are showing the heart that last year's team lacked. Especially on defense, it looks like last year's defense had a hard time developing the passion they enjoyed with Marvin Sanders and Bo Pelini in 2003. But it looks like this team is much more unified this season.

8-3 is still looking like a good bet, and there is still a good shot at doing better. Oklahoma is struggling this season as I suggested in July, though Colorado is better than I thought. 10-1 is still possible at this point.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A good night for the Mavs and Huskers

Props to both the Huskers and Mavs for victories tonight. The Huskers found clear skies for once in Waco, and came away with a nice road victory with a generally solid performance on both sides of the ball. A couple of nit-picky observations:
  • If you are going use Jake Wesch as your kickoff specialist at home, take him on the road. David Dyches is a fine kicker, but looked unprepared to play.
  • The defense on the opening drive looked way too vanilla, and Baylor took advantage with a 7 minute touchdown drive to put us down 7-0. Giving an underdog an early lead at home is a dangerous proposition.
  • Baylor's 2nd touchdown was one of the weirdest calls I can remember. Instant replay opened a can of worms when nobody made a call as to who might have recovered the fumble on the field. Nebraska really can't complain about the results though; the ball on the 1 foot line was probably going to lead to a touchdown anyway.
One sight that makes Husker fans cringe was the sight of Cory Ross being helped off the field late in the game. If there is one person the Huskers simply cannot afford to lose, it's Ross. Bill Callahan and Jay Norvell are hesitant to throw the ball with Cody Glenn or Marlon Lucky at I-back, but they may have no choice if Ross is out. Those young I-backs will need to learn to pick up blitzes under fire, otherwise Zac Taylor will find himself a marked man in the pocket.

Meanwhile, back in Omaha, the Mavs upset #8 New Hampshire 5-3 to win the Maverick Stampede. Alex Nikiforuk continues his hot streak with a goal 15 seconds into the game, while freshman Tomas Klempa adds 2 goals. Freshman Greg Barrett may have staked a claim to the #1 goalie position with 35 saves. Will UNO crack the rankings this week? Up next is Miami. No, not the Hurricanes from Florida; the Redhawks from Ohio...

It's not confusing at all.

The Nebraska athletic department partnered with "Big Red Report" to produce a special edition on the facilities upgrade at Nebraska, and mailed it across to fans all over. I'm not sure if they sent it to ticketholders, donors, or just a general mailing list. But it looks like the start of a renewed marketing campaign to raise funds again. At last week's Texas Tech game, a commercial was shown featuring players from all Husker sports pleading for donations.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I really haven't heard anybody say that the facilities improvements aren't necessary. Personally, when the program was first announced, I was concerned that they didn't go far enough, especially when other programs continue to add onto their training facilities.

The fund-raising campaign got off to a fast start, raising $15 million in the first month, but then came crashing to a halt the night of November 29th, 2003. Since then, the program has only received a donation of $1 million from Anaheim Angels' outfielder Darin Erstad and $5 million from the Myers family of Omaha. And that's basically it after 22 months of discontent.

In today's "Voices from the Grandstand" in the Omaha paper, a fan expresses disappointment and disbelief that the campaign hasn't been more successful. In the "Big Red Report" article, Boyd Epley expresses surprise as well.

Nobody should be surprised at all with what has happened to the fund raising campaign. Deep down, everybody knows the root problem with the fund raising campaign. The kool-aid drinkers can express their outrage about the situation, but that won't change it. The wounds continue to fester and linger on.

Undoing the changes isn't feasible or practical. It isn't fair to the players or the coaches. But something needs to be done at the top levels at the University to address this situation. This problem isn't going to fix itself. Bill Callahan could win a national championship next year, and the athletic director will still be reviled.

What does the athletic director need to do? It's simple: swallow his pride. Acknowledge his detractors. Admit his mistakes. Apologize to those he has offended. Accept responsibility to "make it right". He can't undo what's been done; we're beyond that point now. But he can hold out the olive branch.

This has gone on long enough. Something has to be done.

Darling Niki

Junior Alex Nikiforuk is off to an absolutely SMOKIN' start for the Nebraska-Omaha Maverick hockey team. In Monday night's exhibition game against Manitoba, Nikiforuk scored on a 1 on 3 breakaway that was just plain SICK.

So what does he do for an encore in the season opener against Army? He gets the hat trick in a 3-2 victory against the Black Knights of the Hudson.

Tonight, the Mavs take on #8 New Hampshire at 8 pm for the Stampede Championship game. It will be interesting to see what kind of a crowd shows up tonight, with the Husker game going on at the same time, not to mention the other 2 hockey teams in town having home games as well. (Talk about bonehead scheduling...)

A few thoughts about the changes at UNO hockey games.
  • The curtains are an attempt to deal with the problem of playing hockey in a large arena in a town with an oversupply of hockey games to attend. They may not look the greatest, but it looks better than empty seats, and it does help with the noise level. The crowd was louder last night than the crowd at a Creighton basketball game I attended last March.
  • The nets suck. I understand why they are there. I may get used to them. But it makes it hard to follow the action at the other end of the ice.
  • The UNO athletic department needs to partner with the Department of Fine Arts on designing some custom graphics for the scoreboards. There is a lot of untapped potential in the ribbon boards that is being wasted.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Callahan's recruiting: #29!

Just noticed that Rival's has Callahan's 2004 class ranked #29...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Recruits with unrealistic expectations

Today's Omaha paper has an interview with Leon Jackson, who is showing signs of frustration with a lack of playing time. I'm not surprised here at all. The 2005 recruiting class was simply overhyped.

First of all, let me say this: It's way too early to judge the 2005 recruiting class.

It's too early now, it was too early this summer, and it was too early last winter when some people handed these guys starting jobs.

Let me also say this: The 2005 recruiting class was ranked more on numbers (31 recruits) than on quality. There will, no doubt, be some fine football players in this group. And in a year or two, we should be enjoying their success on the field.

But somewhere along the way, the hype meter went off the scale. Harrison Beck, Craig Roark, and Rodney Picou were going to be starting. Marlon Lucky was this year's Adrian Peterson. Zac Bowman was going to declare after this season for the NFL draft.

What's reality? Beck, Roark, and Picou are redshirting. Bowman is second string. Lucky is playing a handful of snaps in spot duty.

Will we see Bowman and Lucky more as the season moves on? I think so. Will they be good football players? Probably, but the jury is still out. Will we see those other guys? I sure hope not. It makes no sense to burn any of their redshirts at this point in the season.

I'm more concerned about the mental aspects of these freshmen. I'm sure many of them had dreams of making a big impact as freshmen. Hopefully, they are committing themselves to working harder so that next year, they can be in a position to claim playing time. Sometimes the better football player isn't the more talented one.

Look at #4, Cory Ross. Most schools and recruiting services didn't even consider him a running back. But Ross shows the heart and determination of a great football player. Where would Nebraska be without Ross? I don't know. But I do know that has no way to measure what makes Cory Ross a great football player.

I'll take a class full of players like Cory Ross than a class of Rivals "4 star" players anyday.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

X's and O's do make a difference

Tom Shatel has repeatedly claimed in the Weird Harold that talent and motivation is more important than the X's and O's. And if you look at today's game, his claim was shown to be extremely shaky.

I don't know if it was machismo, ego, or stubbornness, but defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove opened today's game by making the same mistake he made last year against Texas Tech - and with even worse results than last year. If you don't pressure the quarterback in Mike Leach's system, you will lose. And Leach's unorthodox line play, with those wide splits, makes it imperitive that you manufacture a pass rush. Kansas recognized this last week, and harassed Cody Hodges all night with a blitzing scheme. Cosgrove, however, somehow thought that our 4 man front could provide that pass rush.

He was wrong.

With 9 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, the Huskers were already down 21-0, and this game was threatening to get out of control even faster than last year's 70-10 meltdown. But to Cosgrove's credit, he made the adjustments and began to blitz. And the Tech offense ground to a halt. For the next 30 minutes of the game, Tech only gained 65 yards and only scored 6 points.

Unfortunately, that left 5 minutes on the clock, and Cosgrove called off the blitz. And Tech promptly marched back down the field into scoring range. Cosgrove called a few blitzes, and LeKevin Smith came through with a huge interception - which was negated when Smith fumbled the ball back to the Raiders.

Some fans will want to blame Smith for the loss, but that's not fair. Cosgrove's bonehead defensive game plan put Nebraska in a 21-0 hole that they didn't need to be in. Zac Taylor's 3 turnovers giftwrapped 6 points for Tech. This is a team game, and Nebraska fans shouldn't blame any one player.

Was this a disappointing finish? You bet. But Nebraska flirted with disaster in the last 2 games, with the blocked field goal against Pitt and Iowa State's Nick Leaders dropping a game-winning interception in overtime last week. This week, the ball bounced the other way.

Let's look at the positives. After making the adjustments, the Tech offense was locked down. The offense was effective both rushing and passing. There were a lot more positives today than there were 3 weeks ago against Pitt.

As far as I'm concerned, this was by far Nebraska's best game of the year.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

My take on the Texas Tech game...

This one comes down on the defense to put us in a position to win it. The offense will need to play even better than they played last week, but even in that case, the defense has to keep Tech off the scoreboard. 18, 10, 7, or 13 points from the offense is just not going to win this game.

Tech was not 60 points better than Nebraska last year; last year's score got out of hand only after Joe Dailey was benched for a true freshman quarterback who had 5 turnovers deep in our own territory. Those 5 turnovers became the final 35 of 70 points, turning a bad loss into a disaster.

Last year's 3 man pass rush against Tech was a disaster, and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove is not going to make that same mistake again. With the depth we now have up front and our less experienced secondary, the game plan should be to put pressure on Tech QB Cody Hodges early and often. That was the recipe that the Kansas Fighting Manginos used last week to keep Tech from rolling up and down the field. It should be a good template for the Huskers this week.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hockey time is nearing in Omaha!

After cleaning and disinfecting the Qwest Center from hick week and the Knights of Aksarben Rodeo, the ice is finally going in for the first games of the season. Returning as captain for the 3rd straight year is senior Mike Lefley. Assistant captains are Mike Eichman, Alex Nikiforuk, and leading scorer Scott Parse.

UNO is picked by the league coaches and media to finish 5th, which didn't sit well with returning defensemen Phil Angell. After missing most of last year due to a knee injury, Angell is looking to make an impact on the ice, not to mention the opponents.

Omaha hockey fans looking for a sneak peek at this year's squad should head to the Qwest Center on Sunday afternoon at 2 for the Red-White preseason scrimmage. Free admission!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Let's not overreact...

Listening to some Husker "fans" over the last couple of days, you could have sworn that Nebraska had just won the national championship. Yes, the West Coast Offense is improved. Yes, it was an exciting game. But it was just that: one game. Let's keep it in perspective.

If someone had told you that Zac Taylor was going to go 36 for 55 and 431 yards last week, what would your response be? I'd bet that most fans would respond in one of the following fashion:
(a) What drug are you on? (alternative: can I have some of that?)
(b) Woo hoo! We killed Iowa State! The Big Red is BACK!
(c) All of the above.

But, remember this game went to double overtime. We didn't kill them. Heck, if Nick Leaders holds onto that Taylor pass in the first OT, they are still partying in Ames.

Nebraska needs to find a way to punch the ball into the end zone from the red zone. That was the good news from the overtimes; we were 2 for 2 with the ball on the 25. Good sign for the future.

This week's game against Texas Tech is another gut check for the program. Nebraska will need to show as much improvement between games 4 and 5 as they showed between games 3 and 4. This time, the improvement needs to be shown on defense. Saturday, Nebraska failed to get much pressure against Iowa State's offensive line unless they were blitzing. Last year, we saw just how efficient Mike Leach's offense could be when you give their quarterback time to survey the field. And that was with 2 guys in our secondary who got drafted early in the NFL draft.

Last Saturday night in Lubbock, Kansas was able to give the Red Raiders a tougher game than most expected by putting pressure on QB Cody Hodges. This game plan reminded me of last year's throttling down last year. In the second half, I could announce the results of the play within 2 seconds of the snap by simply counting the number of players rushing. 3 or 4 men rushing, it usually meant a 10+ yard gain. 6 rushing on a blitz, and the pass usually was incomplete. Unfortunately, we spend most of the game rushing 3 rather than 6, and so our defense spent most of the evening chasing down receivers after the catch rather than hitting their quarterback.

Contrast that to the 2000 game in Lubbock, when the Blackshirts blitzed Kliff Kingsbury into submission in a 56-3 thrashing.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

When you're hot, you're hot... When you're wrong, you're wrong...

Needless to say, I was completely wrong on the run/pass ratio. Oh, it was 70%. 70/30 pass/run ratio. Perhaps Jay Norvell and Bill Callahan saw the same things they saw last year from Iowa State when they went pass-happy in the first half in Ames. The difference this season is that the Huskers were able to execute.

The first three games it was tough to see much of an improvement on offense, but today was a different story. Callahan and Norvell put Taylor into the shotgun, and let him fire away on slants, crossing patterns, and screen passes to receivers in motion. Taylor seemed to be much more comfortable operating out of the shotgun, though the same can't be said for center Kurt Mann. Most of his shotgun snaps had a noticable slice to them that Taylor occasionally bobbled.

Although Cory Ross will get the lions share of the credit, my game balls for receivers go to Grant Mulkey and Nate Swift. Mulkey got the game going with several nice catches over the middle to open up the offense. And Nate Swift finally got a chance to contribute with some nice catches in the 2nd half. I was very impressed by Swift in the spring game, and with the concern over small receivers, couldn't figure out why he wasn't playing more.

Not everything was rosy red; the defense was leaky and didn't get consistent pressure. The rushing game was non-existant. The freshman all-Rivals kicker continues to struggle. But that's another discussion for another day.

Tonight, let's give Zac Taylor, Nate Swift, Grant Mulkey, Cory Ross, and Isiah Fluellen the credit they deserve for a big game.

On a personal note, I was saddened to learn of the death the of "the big guy" who had sat behind us in South Stadium for the past 11 years. Though we never shared names, we shared our insights and joys of watching national championship teams, Heisman Trophy winners - and shared our misery during a 5-6 season. I was wondering where he was, and finally asked today and found out the sad news. Hope he enjoyed today's game from that big skybox in heaven.