Thursday, September 28, 2006

He's Coming

As the old saying goes, it's always darkest before the dawn. In the story of the transition from the Devaney-Osborne-Solich era to the Callahan era, last year's Kansas game appears to be the darkest hour. The game wasn't televised, so only the fans who attended the game got to see the debacle. The Blackshirts played pretty well for the first 40 minutes of the game, but on offense, the Huskers were seriously outplayed and outcoached that day. And in the fourth quarter, they threw in the towel and the Jayhawks rolled to a 40-15 victory.

So what to expect this weekend? First of all, the game is in Lincoln. Home field is usually worth about a touchdown to most teams, but for the Huskers, it seems like it should be 2 touchdowns. Second of all, the Husker offense is playing head and shoulders above where they were last season.

On offense, the Huskers will likely need to air it out more than they needed to last week, when they really didn't need to at all. The strength of Kansas is their rushing defense, and unlike last week, their big linebackers match up well against the Big Red. If Marlon Lucky is to break any long runs this Saturday, he is likely going to have to break some tackles before he can utilize his speed. Defensively, the name of the game is to stop KU's Jon Cornish, their leading rusher. The Jayhawks have QB questions, with freshman Kerry Meier nursing a sore arm which led to their loss at Toledo 2 weeks ago. Will KU turn once again to senior Adam Barman like last week in their uninspiring win over South Florida?

Word out of Lincoln is that while the players now are denying the revenge factor, deep down they know that they laid an egg in Lawrence last fall and lost a game they should not have. Add in Nebraska's mostly solid play as of late and Kansas' struggles, and you could get the sneaking suspicion that this is a woodshed game in the making. However, I don't think Kansas' defense will allow it to get to that point. I'm thinking 31-10 Nebraska, though if the Blackshirts get some turnovers, this could get out of hand.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two Weeks until Hockey Time in Omaha

After a summer filled with the sideshow of Belkis and Buckhead's fleecing of the athletic department, it's finally time to turn our attention back to the ice as the Mavs formally start to practice this weekend. It's about frickin' time that the focus of fans returns to the team and away from the schenanigans of the corrupt former administration in the Eppley building.

And friends, there is a lot to look forward to this season. Last year's CCHA Player of the Year and Hobey Baker finalist Scott Parse returns to lead UNO for his senior season. UNO made the NCAA tournament in just their 9th year of existence with a lineup of underclassmen who return to provide even more depth.

Word out of the UNO ticket office is that season ticket sales are up (10%?) and excitement and confidence is quietly building across town in the 2006-07 edition of the Mavs. A neat promotion to open the season on Tuesday, October 10th with a bang is the "Pack the Q" drive, with proceeds going to UNO women's soccer and the Nebraska Medical Center for Cancer Research. $10 gets all fans in, but tickets must be ordered by next Tuesday.

The Red-White scrimmage will be at 4:30 pm on Saturday October 7th at Tranquility... Should be a great way to spend the afternoon before the Nebraska-Iowa State game that evening.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown!

Yesterday's announcement that Kent Pavelka is returning to call Husker basketball certainly raised a few eyebrows (including mine) and reopened the last great debate inside the Husker fan base. Personally, I liked Kent Pavelka as a play-by-play voice and I'm happy that he's finally back. However, I really have to wonder... why?

The old line about Pavelka was that he "priced himself out of the job" 10 years ago, but the fact that Pavelka even offered to work for free once eliminates that argument. Even the GM of the new "Husker Sports Network" seemed to acknowledge that the sale of Pinnacle Sports reopened the doors of Husker sports for Pavelka.

But why bring Pavelka back? The simple answer is that Nebraska basketball needs an infusion of interest. Over the past few years, Creighton hoops has surpassed the Huskers in fan interest, so why not bring back the announcer who called Husker hoops during their glory days in the middle 90's? Put a little more excitement into the early basketball broadcasts, and hope that people like what they hear, both from the voice behind the microphone and the game he's describing.

However, this seems to send a strange message about the existing Husker broadcasters. Randy Lee certainly didn't do anything to lose his job. And most of the reaction from fans has revolved around returning Pavelka to the job he was most known for: the voice of Husker football.

The current "voice of the Huskers" Jim Rose has been a disaster in my mind. I thought Warren Swain, while competent, never captured the essence of the job. When Rose was named to replace Swain, I thought Rose had the passion for Husker football that Swain lacked. Problem was that Rose combines the arrogance of Brent Musberger and Howard Cosell, the vocal capabilities of Pee Wee Herman and Fran Drescher, and the accuracy problems that plagued Lyell Bremser, Pat Summerall, Keith Jackson, and Harry Caray in their final years. In other words, the worst of all announcers.

Rose has one redeeming factor as a walking encyclopedia of the history of Nebraska athletics. He can name the high school mascot of nearly every player on the team, and can probably recite the depth chart for the 1981 team. Problem with that is that there is so much information in his brain, he loses any sense of perspective. During last year's College World Series, he actually thought a home run was the greatest moment for the entire athletic department in 35 years, which included 3 national championships and two Heisman trophy winners. No wonder some fans refer to him as "aunt Blabby".

I've criticized his role as the "Husker Information Minister" over the past couple of years as the chief apologist for Steve Pederson, which makes it even more surprising that the Nebraska athletic department would bring back his predecessor. Talk shows and the internet have been full of fans saying that Pavelka is replacing the wrong announcer. Why would Host Communications and Nebraska reopen this can of worms, especially when Rose has sacrificed nearly all of his credibility in defending Nebraska against any and all criticism?

Don't get me wrong. Replacing Jim Rose with Kent Pavelka would be a welcome change in my opinion. I just think it's strange that it's happening. Perhaps Steve Pederson recognizes that despite Rose's support of him, the broadcasts have been "gravitating to mediocrity."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Out of Gas

Troy gave Florida State and Georgia Tech quite a scare the last two weeks, but following those two games up with a trip to Nebraska was just too much for the men of Troy. In a 56-0 thumping, Troy was completely dominated on both sides of the ball by the Huskers. Are the Huskers that much better than Troy? Was Troy simply out of gas? Did the Huskers step their performance up a notch last night? Which is it? The answer is: Yes - all of the above. Nebraska is bigger and stronger than Troy, and after two exhausting games the previous two weeks, Nebraska was faster last night.

Prime exhibit? Marlon Lucky. Lucky showcased his speed against the exhausted Trojans for 156 yards and three long touchdown runs of 34, 44, and 52 yards. On each run, once Lucky broke through the line of scrimmage, nobody came close to touching him.

On defense, the Husker defensive line was able to create enough of a matchup problem for the Troy offense that blitzing was simply unnecessary. Troy QB Omar Haugabook was a man under siege and took a horrible beating all night long. Nebraska simply dominated this game from start to finish, and when Bill Callahan pulled the first stringers early in the third quarter, you knew the game was long over, if it ever had even began.

Interesting to note that Zac Taylor only threw 17 passes last night, compared to 16 the week before. The big difference was that on it's first 16 first downs last night, Nebraska threw 8 passes and ran the ball 8 times, unlike last week when Nebraska ran the ball the first 16 first downs. In his post game interview with the Husker Information Minister, coach Bill Callahan talked about how against modern defenses, you need to be balanced offensively and that if you become one dimensional, you become easier to stop. Hmmm...

Kansas State rookie coach Ron Prince made a point of contrasting his approach, apparantly opposite of Callahan's, in his comments after yesterday's Louisville-PuddyTat game:
The plan was to be bold and daring, to try and seize an early lead. We weren’t trying to play the game just to get the game to the fourth quarter and be close. We were trying to win the game and see if we can play with these guys. We were kind of excited about that. To be honest with you there was an extra spark to our team this week. We had some better practices and we were excited. We are not going to coach scared. We are going to coach smart and be bold and daring. If you are going to pull of an upset like this you are going to do that."
How many Husker fans would have like to have seen Nebraska take it's shot last week, rather than play to see if USC would lose?

After watching some of the air show around the stadium yesterday, we headed into the stadium early and decided to check out the North stadium changes for myself. My vote: the fans in the North Stadium have been tempering their complaints. While the concourses are a very nice retrofit to the stadium, the failure to add any new entrances to the seating areas near the new seats was an extremely poor design. When you consider the severe weather that affected eastern Nebraska last week or the storms that forced a two hour delay in the Texas-Iowa State game yeseterday, this is a potentially life threatening, deadly design should an evacuation become necessary. It was amazing to contrast the difference in design between the new North endzone seats and the South endzone seats as to how much better the traffic flows out.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Return of the Trojans

Not USC, but the Men of Troy (Alabama). I felt this one was a possible trap game in July, and nothing has changed my mind here. Troy raised the eyebrows of the college football world by leading Florida State in the 4th quarter 2 weeks ago, then being tied up with Georgia Tech last Saturday. Does Troy have any gas left in their tank? Will Nebraska be in a funk after losing a game that fans (and players, I'm sure) were pointing to all year? That might be the biggest factor in this game.

So what to expect on Saturday? Troy runs a spread offense from the same "coaching tree" that brought Mike Leach to Texas Tech. Hopefully, Cosgrove finally learned his lesson against it and will "apply pressure consistently", otherwise they'll create matchup problems with the Husker secondary. Last week, Georiga Tech's Chan Gailey even said as much as they prepared for the Trojans:
"They've been very successful throwing the football in their first two games," Gailey said. "We'll have to change some of our matchup situations. They do create problems by spreading you out, but hopefully we create problems by bringing more than they can block."
For the Huskers on offense, yet more "pound the rock". A ball-control power football game plan should be quite effective against a smaller, yet quicker defensive line like Troy's. Last week, Georgia Tech rushed for 320 yards against Troy -- got to believe that has to be eyeopening to the Husker coaches and players.

The response to criticism of the bad, er, sorry, ultra-conservative game plan against USC has been swift and unrelenting this week, which means it's touched nerves. Again, most of the response misses the point - a conservative ball-control attack was probably Nebraska's best plan of attack, but carried to the extreme it was last Saturday night was overdoing it. Nebraska failed to call a pass play on first down until the end of the third quarter: 16 straight runs on first down. The defenders continually confuse the suggestion that Callahan should have thrown the ball a handful of times on first down to spread out the defense with a suggestion that Nebraska should have thrown the ball 40 times. The defenders are correct that the Callahan strategy might have worked if all the bounces in the game had gone the Huskers' way, but they fail to acknowledge that the game plan didn't work. And when things don't work, you always open yourself to criticism. Even the players questioned it; Tuesday, wide receiver Nate Swift said
"A lot of the guys were talking on the sideline, like, 'We should have been passing,' but we all trust Coach Callahan that he knows what he's doing," receiver Nate Swift said. "He has a game plan - I'm sure he has that planned out for a long time - and it just didn't work out for us that day."
If the players were questioning it, then why all the uproar over fans who question it?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Looking back at a great weekend of College Football

Horrible game plans aside, Nebraska really played pretty well Saturday night against USC. Sure, Nebraska didn't have a corner who could match up with Dwayne Jarrett, but heck, I'm not sure many other teams do. Heck, on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles proved they didn't have a cornerback big enough Sunday to cover a Jarrett. Nebraska picked up a lot of experience on Saturday night, and gave USC a physical battle they won't forget.

I see the Pac-10 has suspended the officiating crew from Oregon's fraudulent win over Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon. Stoops and company have every right to be upset, and are considering cancelling an upcoming series with Washington if the Pac-10 doesn't change their rule requiring Pac-10 officials to be used at games on their campuses.

The great thing about Saturday was the number of matchups between top 25 teams: 7. We haven't had that type of competition in years, and that's a great thing for college football. Oklahoma is upset because they played a competitive game, lost, and dropped in the polls for it. You shouldn't penalize teams for taking a chance and playing somebody good, you should reward them. In today's money environment of college football, more and more teams are taking the easy way out and scheduling easy home games instead of scheduling challenging games. Nebraska now needs to schedule "money" games with Troy, Nicholls State, and Louisiana Tech. Contrast that to 1981 when Nebraska's non-conference schedule was Iowa, Penn State, Florida State, and Auburn. Heck, USC is doing that this season, with non-conference games with Arkansas, Nebraska, and Notre Dame.

One of the biggest mistakes the BCS ever made was removing "strength of schedule" from their calculations in 2001 after Florida State nudged out Miami to get a chance to play Oklahoma in the BCS title game. Sportswriters were incensed that the Miami team that they felt was more deserving was left out, and the BCS capitulated, removing most of the leverage that encouraged teams to schedule competitive games.

We learn more about college football when a Michigoon thumps Notre Dame than when Wisconsin beats San Diego State. It's more interesting to watch Tennessee-Florida than Texas A&M-Army. And can someone tell me why in the heck someone felt it necessary to televise Texas-Rice nationwide???

A great game nobody is talking about was the LSU-Auburn defensive battle. Bo Pelini's Beauxshirts ended their string of 16 quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown on Saturday, but they still have the #1 defense in the land. LSU might have won Saturday if the officials hadn't blown a call on 4th and 8 when the officials waived off a pass interference call that would have given the Tigers 1st and goal late in the game. Unlike the Pac-10, the SEC doesn't have the courage to admit they screwed up the call, and so instead they change their story every day to try and find an excuse until LSU fans and the media give up on the story.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Conservative Game Plan or Bad Game Plan?

Much of the kool-aid drinking crowd are incensed at the criticism of yesterday's Husker offensive game plan against USC. They point out that USC's defense harassed Zac Taylor when he did pass. They point out that the teams that challenged USC last year (Texas, Fresno State) ran the ball. You know what: they have a point.

Except they are making the point against the wrong argument. A conservative game plan probably was a good idea. However, there is "conservative" and then there is what we saw last night. Heck, compared to last night's game plan, Rush Limbaugh looks like Ted Kennedy.

I went back and looked at last night's drive chart and it confirmed my suspicions. Nebraska didn't attempt a pass on 1st down until the end of the 3rd quarter. It took until the 16th "1st and 10" to even attempt a pass. Guess what happened when Nebraska finally unhandcuffed the offense? It's only touchdown of the game.

I don't have a problem with a heavy run-orientation to start the game. Keeping the ball away from USC's offense makes sense. But even in a run-oriented offense, you still need to throw the ball occasionally. And by occasionally, I don't mean on 3rd and long either.

More than half of Zac Taylor's pass attempts came on third down, and usually it was third and long. Mix in a few passes on first down earlier in the game, and Nebraska gets a few more first downs and keeps the ball away from USC a lot longer. The one-dimensional Husker offense of last night was easy for a talented team like USC to defend, and game Nebraska almost no shot at winning the game unless the Blackshirts go +3 on turnovers. And even then, it might have been tough.

Some kool-aid drinkers even acknowledge this, by saying if we could just stay within reason into the 4th quarter, we still would have a shot to win this game. In other words, a "rope-a-dope". The problem with that strategy is that it's frequently difficult to magically "turn it on"...especially "turn it on" against a team like USC. Even Zac Taylor and Nate Swift talked about how the offense never got into a rhythm, never got untracked.

Vanilla isn't necessarily a bad flavor of ice cream, but plain-label off-brand vanilla almost always is bad.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Husker Game Plan vs USC: WTF?

Tonight's USC game had to be a rather frustrating game for Husker players and fans tonight. Overall, I thought the defense played decent against a very talented USC offense. I would have liked to have seen more pressure on Booty and less of Dwayne Jarrett, but he's an all-American. After the way USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin publicly criticized him, you had to expect Jarrett to come out big.

On the other hand, the Husker offensive game plan was downright disappointing and sadly predictable for most of the first three quarters. First down runs, second down runs, and then throw on third and long. Critics of the old Nebraska offense used to lampoon these scenarios, and then tell us that's why Nebraska needed to "modernize" it's offense to use something like the West Coast Offense. Then we get a big game, and what do we get? Even the ABC announcers were wondering where the option was with this game plan.

My initial reaction? An offense playing not to get embarassed. In 2004, Callahan's Huskers faced the #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners and the Huskers ground it out, in part because that's what they did best and in part because they didn't want to risk throwing the ball. Against a top five USC team tonight, we sadly saw much of the same game plan.

Where were the tight ends? Where were the wide receivers? Until the 4th quarter, they were simply MIA. And sure enough, when they started to get involved in the offense, the offense began to click and Nebraska pulled to within 21-10. But that was too little too late. USC drove the field against the Blackshirts and took an insurmountable 28-10 lead.

Some fans might be satisfied that Nebraska beat the spread, but count me as disappointed because Nebraska was capable of much more tonight.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trojan Conquest or Conquest of the Trojans?

I must say that this week's Nebraska/USC game is the type of game that makes college football the great sport that it is. (It's also sad that these types of games are becoming increasingly rare, but that's a subject for another blog entry down the line.) Most of the analysis of these teams is based on one game (does anybody really want to put any weight behind the Nicholls State game?) and last season. Of course, both teams are different than last season, so that throws more wrinkles into the mix.

On paper, it seems both teams have somewhat similar strengths. On defense, both are strongest up front while the secondary is a concern, with both teams losing a key contributor to season-ending knee injuries (The Huskers' Zackary Bowman and USC's Josh Pinkard). On offense, both teams like to throw the ball around while breaking in new running backs.

But, who wins the matchups? That's a question nobody knows right now.

USC offense vs. NU defense: USC lost 2 Heisman winners, so they have to be down, right? As Lee Corso would say... not so fast! John David Booty had an impressive debut 2 weeks ago against an SEC team on the road, much like Matt Leinart did three years before. Dismiss Booty at your own peril. Dwayne Jarrett is an all-American, and Steve Smith would probably be as well if he didn't play last year in the shadow of Jarrett, Leinart, and Reggie Bush. Even at full health, this was going to be a tough matchup for the Blackshirts. With the concerns in the secondary, it becomes apparant that Nebraska needs to disrupt Booty before he has a chance to deliver the ball. The "bend and break" defense where Nebraska only rushes 3 or 4 guys is a sure-fire ticket behind the woodshed. Consistent pressure is going to be required. USC will know this, and will do their best to contain guys like Adam Carriker. So who will step up? I think a key name could be Steve Octavien, who is a playmaker. Unleash him and see if he can find some Booty.

Husker offense vs. Trojan Defense: Zac Taylor is completing 73% of his passes this season against very weak opposition. So let's cut back to the Alamo Bowl, where Michigoon pounded Taylor time and time again. Taylor's 14-for-31 may not look very impressive, but 0 interceptions and 3 touchdown passes sure does. What was the key in that game? Balancing the run and the pass. Cory Ross is in the NFL, much to the surprise of many recruitniks, so one of the 4 I-backs will need to step up. My pick against USC is Brandon Jackson. Jackson will play a key role in protecting Taylor from USC's front 7, which should mean plenty of playing time. He'll need to contribute both with his blocking as well as his rushing. I also look to see more from the Husker receivers. Maurice Purify will probably be featured, but I have this sneaking suspicion that Nate Swift is going to come up big on Saturday night. The late word today that all-conference center Kurt Mann is hospitalized with an infection is a major blow for the Big Red.

Special Teams: Nebraska had some special teams issues in the first two games, missing a long field goal attempt and having some very poor coverage on kickoffs. Nebraska can't afford to make mistakes here.

Coaching: Pete Carroll has coached 3 Heisman Trophy winners and has a national championship ring from 2004. (My vote in 2003 went to LSU.) Bill Callahan took a team to the Super Bowl in his first season, but then lost his next two teams. But the Huskers seemed to form a bond with Callahan before last year's Colorado game, and the team began to really click at that time. I'm really intrigued to see how the Huskers handle this test Saturday night.

Fans: Perhaps the biggest question is how many Husker fans will show up in the Mausoleum. Some people predict a repeat of 2000's "Red Out" when the Huskers took over House that Knute Rockne built. Nebraska got 4,000 tickets, but 3,000 Nebraska fans bought single game tickets before USC stopped sales. Estimates range from 20,000 to 40,000, but ticket brokers report strong business for this game. Will USC fans jump off the bandwagon and sell their tickets to Husker fans?

Celebrities: Will Farrell vs. Larry the Cable Guy. Ugh. Kind of like having to choose between Lindsey Lohan and Fran Drescher for best actress. Advantage: Everybody else.

Bottom Line: My logical side suggests that Husker fans have knocked the line down a little lower than it should be. But my instinct suggests that Nebraska turned a corner last November, and this game is going to be closer than the experts think. Which is right? Don't know. I still think Nebraska has a 20% of winning this game, and a much greater chance of making this a competitive game. There is still a cloud from the Kansas and Mizzou thumpings overhanging the program that could result in an epic trip behind the woodshed, though.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Plan for UNO Athletics

In all the furor over the Belckis & Buckhead circus at UNO, casual observers may have missed the recommendations of the Karnes commission on the future of Maverick athletics. Some fans might be disappointed by the recommendation to stay division 2 for now, but considering the current budget state of UNO, it's the most prudent. The commission did recommend that UNO petition the NCAA to allow D-2 schools to have 2 programs play in D-1 to allow the Mav football team to play in 1-AA which could be an exciting proposition for UNO. And let's face it, if the Huskers are going to play 1-AA schools like Nicholls State, then why not keep the money in the NU system?

The other big news was the recommendation that UNO build a new hockey arena at Ak-Sar-Ben to eliminate scheduling conflicts at the Qwest Center and provide a better experience for fans. As MavRick discussed months before, a new "Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum" would bring incredible hockey karma to Omaha's most popular hockey program. Could UNO build their own arena? The Karnes Commission had representatives of some of the heaviest hitters in town, so if they think that it's doable, it's doable.

Except for one little issue, which brings us back to the UNO administration. While Jim Buck may be finally out of the picture, chancellor Nancy Belck still remains. Many UNO boosters have already indicated that they have no interest in donating to UNO as long as Belck remains in charge. And let's face it, today's story that Belck altered Buck's expense reports, apparently in a pathetic effort to make it seem that a $1,263 dinner bill was for more than the 8 people present, certainly doesn't begin to soothe the damage done to her reputation.

What happens when an unpopular and untrustworthy individual tries to lead an effort to raise funds? You only have to look to Lincoln, where Steve Pederson continues to struggle to raise money for the stadium improvement project. As long as Belck remains at UNO, this project will only be a long-term dream for UNO.

Should Belck be ousted at UNO? That's a tough call. Certainly everybody (with the exception of Harold Anderson) recognizes that Belck has made huge mistakes in dealing with t his situation. Some would argue that you cannot remove a chancellor over problems with the athletic department, but on the other hand, this is no longer an athletic issue, but rather one of budget abuses of university funds, where the athletic department was merely a pawn in a shell game.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Soggy Snoozer

Today's Nicholls State game was one for the die-hards and the first-timers. Rain showers arrived in Lincoln about 90 minutes before kickoff which made this mismatch even more miserable to watch. (I found out in the 2nd quarter that the ScotchGuarding on my coat has worn out, meaning that by the time I got home, I was a soggy, soggy mess...)

So what, if anything, did we learn today? First, Marlon Lucky is the #1 I-back. I saw some good things from the other backs as well, but Lucky saw more time in the earlier portions of the game. I do think Callahan is going to continue to play all of the backs. Next week, I expect to see Lucky in the game about 40% of the time, Brandon Jackson in the game about 30% of the game (for his pass protection), and Cody Glenn and Kenny Wilson splitting the rest of the time.

Second, even if Matt Herian has lost some of his speed, he hasn't lost his soft hands or his ability to get open and make big plays.

In any event, today's game really is irrelevent in terms of identifying where Nebraska is. Callahan even admitted that many of the things they did today were intended solely to play with the minds of future opponents (read: USC's Pete Carroll). Callahan could get away with that today with an overmatched 1-AA opponent...but now, the big test against USC awaits for next week.

The action elsewhere in college football was much more compelling than today's snoozer in Lincoln. Unfortunately, the "out of town" scoreboard was shut off in the stadium, so I had to wait to get home to follow along.

AJ's Mizzou Tigers made a strong statement that they intend to compete in the Big XII North with a 34-7 thrashing of Ole Miss. With Kansas and Iowa State struggling in the early going, I'll place Mizzou as the #2 team in the North.

If you see a Colorado Puffalo fan, try to refrain from laughing too hard at them, if that's possible. I'm not sure what's more embarassing...going 0-2 after losing to in-state rival Colorado State today, or having the team they lost to last week, 1-AA Montana State, lose to division 2 Chadron State. How long will the implosion that began last fall against Iowa State take to complete?

Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats knocked off the pre-season MAC favorite, Northern Illinois 35-23 today. Noteworthy is that the Bobcats scored as many points and had more offense against the Huskies as the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes had last week. It looks like Solich picked up some new tricks in his tour of college football teams 2 years ago. Bobcat QB Austen Everson completed 23 of 31 passes for 322 yards in the upset.

Also in the MAC, Turner Gill's Buffalo Bulls fell to Bowling Green in triple overtime 48-40. It sure looks like Gill is showing progress.

Florida State had to come from behind to defeat Troy tonight 24-17. The Huskers will need to be focused in 2 weeks no matter what happens next weekend in LA.

I caught a little bit of Kevin Kugler's call of the Texas/Ohio State game on Westwood One radio this evening. It's a shame that Nebraska is saddled with the incompetent Jim Rose (aka the "Husker Information Minister")as the "voice of the Huskers" when a talent like Kugler is right in our own backyard. But as long as Steve Pederson is in charge in Lincoln, Kugler will remain persona non grata.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Husker Snoozer...and Belckis & Buckhead Exposed

I'm trying to come up with a compelling item of interest for this week's Nicholls State game...and no dice. Oh sure, you can point to Colorado and Kansas State's performances last week, but as we've learned, coaching changes don't always go smoothly. (But come on... losing to Montana State? Nearly losing to Illinois State? Yikes!)

During the week, I've read more positive comments about Brandon Jackson's performance last Saturday than the other backs. He's definitely going to be a key in next week's game against USC. Why? Simple... pass blocking. Nebraska will need to bring their best game against the Trojans, and many feel that Jackson is our best all-around back right now.

What does that mean for this week? With Marlon Lucky being sore from last week's back injury, look for a heavy dose of Cody Glenn and Kenny Wilson this weekend against NSU. Will Wilson start to live up to the hype from the summer this weekend? That might be the most intriguing aspect to a mismatch. Let's face it; this game would be more interesting if it were the season opener, and even then it would only to see the new HuskerVision screen. Any fans who complain about never getting to see any games should head to Lincoln; the game is not sold out yet. (I've got an extra ticket too, if anybody is interested...) This is your opportunity.

Tonight's Omaha World-Herald lowered the boom on former vice chancellor Jim Buck's perks that were paid for by taxpayers and boosters in a copyrighted story. Turns out that Buck's Caddy and country club membership weren't even half of Buck's excesses. Among the expenses that Buck passed the buck on:
  • Christmas gifts of fruit baskets for Nancy Belck and others
  • A trip to Hawaii this summer for his wife
  • A $226 dinner for Mr. & Mrs. Buck at a Baltimore restaurant
  • Two trips to the Division 1 "Final Four" men's basketball tournament (UNO is D-2 in basketball)
  • Golf in Florida
  • Dinner at the grand opening of Omaha's new Holland Performing Arts Center
In some respects, there really isn't anything new here except the details. Tomorrow's Nebraska Board of Regents will be meeting could be interesting. Even if there isn't any update from the Karnes Commission on the future of UNO athletics, every regent should be demanding answers regarding gross mismanagement by UNO's administration. The calls for Nancy Belck to step down are becoming louder and louder; it looks like it may only be a matter of time. Claims of ignorance aren't acceptable from the leader of the University, and this casts serious doubts about Belck's decision-making.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Huskers lead Big XII in NFL Players

Interesting stat on today: The Huskers lead the Big XII conference in former players on NFL rosters with 31 former players. Tejas has 30, and Oklahoma has 29. From last season, Cory Ross made the Baltimore Ravens as a kick returner, Sam Koch made the Ravens as the starting punter, Daniel Bullocks will be starting at free safety for the New Orleans Saints, while LeKevin Smith will be a backup defensive tackle for the New England Patriots.

Just something to keep in mind the next time a kool-aid drinker tries to denegrate Nebraska's talent level.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Memorial Stadium: Good Intentions gone Bad

A few thoughts on the changes to Memorial Stadium.

Good: Adding capacity for 6,500 new fans to the North stands
Bad: Not adding any new entrances for those 6,500 new fans in the North End Zone. (Technically, they did add new entrances at the bottom of the stands, but the new seats were at the top.) In addition, they've added handrails to the aisle to aid disabled fans climbing up stairs, but at the expense of clogging the aisle even worse than before. Inconvenient to say the least, potentially lethal if an emergency (fire, severe weather) were to develop. I'm not sure how they are going to fix this one.

Good: New HuskerVision screen at the top of the North stands is VERY cool for highlights.
Bad: The new auxilary screens are at the south end of the field, meaning that fans in the north stadium don't get much of a view. They would have been better off combining the two panels into one big screen and mounting it at the top of the south end zone.

Good: Less advertising in the stadium.
Bad: Less scoreboards in the stadium. In the classic "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", they removed all of the old scoreboards and only replaced a couple. The yardage stats are now kept in a miniscule, illegible portion of the big screen. There are only 2 real scoreboards left, in 2 corners at field level. The one in the northeast corner becomes useless when the sun is shining as the red LED's are not bright enough to be seen in sunlight. The play clock also becomes tough to read in the sunlight, and an auxilary game clock is mounted behind the end zone cameraman, meaning it's always blocked. They've also portioned off part of the new TV screens to show score and game status, but those sections are too small and tough to read.

Bottom line: It was once said that "Hell is paved with good intentions". While exaggerating the impact problems, some major costly mistakes were made. The scoreboard problem can be fixed by purchasing new scoreboards and placing them back where they were. The HuskerVision problem is going to be more expensive to fix, as I'm not sure how much it will cost to set up screens for the fans in the north end zone. Perhaps one of the screens can be moved back to the northwest corner.

As for the access problems in the North stands, that is going to take some engineering and architectural work to fix, and potentially at a very high price. (Hopefully in dollars and not in lives.) I'm not sure what the engineers and architects were thinking here, because this was not well done at all.

Tunnel Walk thoughts
After 12 years, it's seemed over the last few years that they've run the limit as to what they can do creatively with animation. So the new approach of 3 players talking about why they came to Nebraska is a fresh way. On Saturday, one of the players was Bo Ruud who said "My brother played here, My father played here, My uncle played here. I bleed Husker Red"" while showing clips of the Ruud family in action, including John Ruud's legendary hit on Oklahoma's Kelly Phelps in 1978. The theme is "I play for Nebraska". Outstanding idea, though they producers need to cut back on the background noise and background music. These clips are being shown in a football stadium with thousands of screaming fans, not a movie theatre. Let the words and pictures speak for themselves without the dramatic underscore that obscures the message.

Also, one thing that needs to be fixed is the camerman filming the players walking out of the tunnel needs to back off the zoom as converting a standard TV picture to fill a 32:9 aspect ratio big screen requires cutting off the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the picture. That means the first tunnel walk was mostly a collage of torsos. The rumors of smoke machines turned out to be bogus (thank goodness), but the ill-conceived fireworks of 2004 were back Saturday, and were not well timed at all. Hopefully we won't have to see them again.

Care to see it? A couple of videos have hit the internet. Keith Jackson introducing it was a nice thought, but it didn't seem to turn out. Better off just going straight to the player comments from a dark screen.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Louisiana Tech Wrapup

Today's 49-10 win over Louisiana Tech certainly continues the momentum from the Colorado and Michigoon victories at the end of last season. By no means was it perfect; it was a season opener. George Darlington gambled that Bill Callahan was going to walk the talk and "pound the rock" and gambled to stop the run. The offensive line had a pretty good push, but the backs had a hard time breaking free. However, the commitment to stopping the run meant that receivers were running open all day... and more often than not, Zac Taylor made them pay.

Of the 4 backs, I was most impressed with Cody Glenn and Brandon Jackson. Glenn was the leading rusher and showed his speed and power several times this afternoon. Jackson only touched the ball three times, but he made them count. His 25 yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter was the best run of the day by far. Jackson also seems to be assigned the role of protecting Taylor in passing situations, and he delivered time and time again. Taylor wasn't sacked today, and Jackson had one especially noteworthy blitz pickup that saved Taylor from one vicious hit. Marlon Lucky had a decent performance, picking up some momentum in the 2nd quarter. Kenny Wilson started with a bang, going untouched into the end zone on his first carry, which was called back for a holding call. After that, he wasn't particularly noteworthy and seemed to struggle with ball control.

The defense started hot with 2 sacks on the opening drive, but none the rest of the game. It wasn't a particularly noteworthy performance, especially with a quarterback making his first start. It appeared to be a fairly vanilla defensive plan, which probably was all that was necessary against an opponent like Louisiana Tech. The Blackshirts will need to raise their game significantly in two weeks.

All in all, it was a refreshing season opener. A 49-10 victory against a 1-A opponent who had a winning record in 2005 is nothing to feel too bad about.

As for the stadium "improvements"? No comment for now; more on that later. Let's savor a 49-10 victory instead.

Friday, September 01, 2006

GameDay Preview

So what to expect tomorrow? Well, I'm curious to see if Bill Callahan will follow through and "pound the rock" tomorrow and this season; something I was hoping to see the last 2 years. In any event, there are several reasons why I think you'll see a little more of the Husker running game:
  • 4 running backs with no apparant leader at this time. Fans love Cody Glenn's attitude and effort, appreciate Brandon Jackson's work in returning from injury, want to see the potential that Marlon Lucky brings, and want to see if Kenny Wilson is everything that has been written and said.
  • Keeping Zac Taylor healthy is perhaps the biggest key to this season. Nebraska simply cannot afford to let Taylor take as many hard hits as he took last season, and the best way to prevent that is to run the ball.
  • More confidence in the offensive line
On defense, I'm curious to see how the reworked secondary performs. I think Tierre Green will be outstanding at safety, and I think Andrew Shanle will be fine as long as Kenny Wilson is wearing the same uniform. Courtney Grixby is solid as well, which means that the question mark will be at the other corner, where Andre Jones takes over for the injured Zackary Bowman.

And like most other fans, I'm interested in seeing the improvements to the stadium. I've certainly criticized Steve Pederson, but one decision I haven't criticized him for is the need for upgraded facilities. The new HuskerVision screen is certainly needed, as the old screen has been showing it's age the last couple of years. It will be nice to be able to watch the new screen without using my binoculars from my vantage point high up in the south end zone!

I am a little concerned that they will try to "overdo" the Tunnel Walk this year. I remember the first tunnel walk against UCLA in 1994...nobody knew it was coming when all of a sudden there was this loud noise, and then stars suddenly started spinning on the screen, and suddenly the team appeared on the screen unexpectedly, and the stadium erupted. The next year, they added animation of the Sears Trophy exploding out of the field, and the year after that, the animation went even further. In recent years, though, it's almost as if they are trying "too hard" to outdo themselves and end up making the experience less than it could be. Most every stadium uses their video screen for a dramatic introduction, so it's no longer the unique thing it once was. That's ok. Just don't overdo it. In 2004, they tried adding fireworks to the end of it with horrible results. Fireworks in the daytime are worthless, and it overwhelms the band.

Rumor has it that Nebraska has installed a smoke machine at the tunnel entrance; I sure hope I've heard wrong. Smoke machines might have been cool 15 years ago when Miami used them, but they're pretty passe' as well. I've also heard that Sirius might be retired as well, which might be a shame as well. Sure different music could work, but for many fans, Sirius IS the Tunnel Walk and the tradition. And if something is a tradition, you only change it at your own peril.

It will be interesting what 6,000 more fans means as far as game day traffic and the like. KMTV-channel 3 is reporting that Lincoln is reducing the number of police officers assigned to gameday traffic control, which definitely doesn't sound like a good idea.