Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mavs get 2 Players of the Week in Sweep of Broncos

In the reverse of the Huskers last weekend, the UNO Mavs started off slowly last Friday night, but went on to sweep Western Michigan. The CCHA went on to name Scott Parse offensive player of the week, as he scored the game winner Friday night and went on to finish the weekend with 2 goals and 4 assists. Parse is certainly keeping up the pace he set last year when he finished the regular season as the nation's scoring leader.

17 year old Jeremie Dupont saved UNO's bacon Friday night in relief of Jared Kaufman, who had an off-night in letting in 4 Bronco goals before getting lifted. He followed that up with his first shutout as a Mav in just his third college game in UNO's 6-0 victory Saturday night.

This weekend, Alaska heads south on their first road of the season; the Nanooks are tied with UNO for 2nd place in this early part of the season. Will the Mavs offensive juggarnaut continue? At home this season, UNO is averaging 6.6 goals a game...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cowboy Up

Looking back at last Saturday's game against Oklahoma State, it's still not exactly obvious what the problem was. Or should I say problems. This one looks like blame needs to go across the board: offense, defense, special teams, players, and coaches alike. Some will play the talent card, but that's ignoring the fact that the Cowboys started 4 freshman and sophomores on defense and 5 on offense.

Saturday night, both Bo Ruud and Stewart Bradley commented that they could tell early on that something wasn't right with the team. Ruud recognized it in warmups, and Bradley realized it with the opening plays. Neither said, though, what the problem was. Perhaps it was the fact that Bill Callahan let the team know that Missouri had just lost (or, that's what Callahan told ABC's sideline reporter just before kickoff), which could have lessened the Huskers "sense of urgency". In baseball, frequently teams will turn off the "out of town" scoreboard in the midst of a tight pennant race so that the team focuses on their game instead of "scoreboard watching." Were the Huskers focusing on the wrong opponent this week?

Some folks suggested that Nebraska was tired after the Texas game. Perhaps...but Nebraska enjoyed a nearly 10 minute advantage in time-of-possession (34:59 to 25:01).

Game plan? Well, a heavy dose of Brandon Jackson sure started the game off right for the Big Red, jumping out to a 16-0 lead. I've criticized Callahan for not trying to be balanced, and on Saturday, Callahan's attempt to balance the offense after establishing Jackson turned out to be the beginning of the end. Even Billy C admitted that they started to throw the ball too much on Saturday.

On offense, I think you can find issues with just about everybody on offense. The offensive line had a horrible 2nd half. And when Zac Taylor gets pressured...very bad things usually happen. Last year, Taylor usually got knocked around like a punching bag. This year, Taylor is making poor decisions and is also having ball security issues when being sacked. Compounding this is the observations that receivers were out of position, running poor routes. That was to be expected in 2004, and might be acceptable in early September. But this was game #9, and many of these receivers have been running these routes for 3 years now.

On defense, I've pretty much thrown in the towel on Kevin Cosgrove. Wisconsin fans thanked Nebraska for taking him off of their hands, and I can see why. Yes, injuries have hurt the huskers, but everyone has injuries. Time and time again, we see poor fundamentals combined with telegraphed playcalls of unimaginative schemes.

Should some of the younger defensive players be seeing more action? Many fans are calling for more of Ricky Thenarse, Major Culbert, Ndamakong Suh, and Barry Turner. It's interesting that the Cosgrove is playing the more experienced players over the younger players, which was not my expectation 2 years ago.

So do we just chalk last Saturday up to "just one of those bad days"? I could buy that if it was just a few things that went awry, but in the 2nd half, just about nothing went right. Couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't tackle, couldn't cover, couldn't kick. Nebraska ended the game +1 in turnovers and had a 10 minute advantage in time of possession; two indicators that would indicate that you are playing ok.

I know I expected to lose a game we shouldn't, and maybe this was it. But looking ahead on the schedule, two games tougher than last Saturday's are ahead on the schedule, and that's what scares fans.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

An Embarassing Collapse

Brandon Jackson has a dominating 1st quarter leading Nebraska to a nice 16-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. But what followed has to be the most disappointing Nebraska collapse I can remember, getting outscored 41-7 down the stretch before finally scoring a meaningless touchdown at the end.

Or should I say "embarassing".

The thing is, there really isn't any single thing that Husker fans can point to. Nebraska was dominated in all aspects of the game in the final 35 minutes: offensively, defensively, special teams.

Perhaps one turning point was when Callahan subbed Marlon Lucky in for Jackson. Jackson probably could have used a breather, but by that same token, it seemed to be the turning point in momentum that Nebraska was never able to recover from.

Defensively, this might have been one of Nebraska's poorest performance in terms of fundamentals since the 2001 Colorado game. Between horrible, horrible tackling, soft coverage on receivers, and being exposed in overpursuit, it was a horrible performance by the Blackshirts.

Maurice Purify shows his talent as a big-time receiver, but someone needs to get this kid's emotions under control as he was called for his third personal foul of the season. It's only a matter of time before Purify gets flagged in a critical situation.

Special teams were abysmal today as well. 2 missed extra points as well as being unable to get kickoffs to the endzone. Franz Hardy making some extremely poor decisions to run kickoffs out of the endzone put Nebraska's offense into holes.

Brandon Jackson's 180 yards rushing looks like an anomoly. When was the last time Nebraska had a rusher perform like that, yet get blown out like this?

Thanks to Oklahoma's defeat of Missouri, Nebraska still has a shot to win the Big XII North. But right now, that should be the least of Nebraska's concerns as Nebraska needs to regroup. Missouri and Texas A&M are better than any team that Nebraska has beaten this season, which is a very troubling notion.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How to NOT Market a Program

Here's a head-scratcher for you. Despite playing home games this season against Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas A&M this season, Oklahoma State does not expect any sellouts at the smallest stadium in the Big XII. Why?

Ticket prices.

Despite getting a $165 million donation from T. Boone Pickens earlier this season, the Cowboys jacked up prices as much as 71% according to the Tulsa World.

Against Texas A&M last weekend, the cheapest ticket available at game time was $175. For this Saturday's game against the Huskers, ticket prices start at $85, with a top price of $525.

You read that right.

$85 for the cheapest ticket for a team that went 4-7 last season (1-7 in the Big XII conference)?

But that's not the worst of it... tickets to the Oklahoma/OSU game start at $100 each.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Now the season begins

Looking over the season so far, the season hasn't been much of a surprise. Nebraska is 6-2 like we thought. Several of Nebraska's opponents (Louisiana Tech at 2-5 and #124 in the Sagarin computer rankings, Troy at 2-4 and #132 in Sagarin, and Iowa State at 3-5 and #78) are much weaker than originally thought.

But things get a whole lot more difficult down the stretch. First, the good news. Colorado is struggling badly at 1-7 and #99 in the Sagarin ratings. But before the regular season closes out against the Cocoa Puffs, the Huskers have to deal with 3 of the most improved teams in the conference. Oklahoma State is 4-3 and #56 in the Sagarin ratings is up next. After that is Missouri is 7-1, tied with the Huskers for 1st in the Big XII North, and #24 in the Sagarin ratings (2 behind the #22 Huskers). Then it's a road trip to College Station vs. 7-1 Texas A&M (#34 in Sagarin).

These next three games are against teams better than anybody else that Nebraska has defeated this season...and will define this season. Arguably, the Missouri game is the most important game, but if Nebraska wants to dismiss any doubt about whether the Huskers are "back", Nebraska needs to win them all.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Unpredictably Predictable

Slowly thawing out from today's freezing, blustery game... a most entertaining game that will go down as a classic. Like any classic, both teams had their opportunities, and it came down to the end of the game.

A lot of folks want to blame Terrence Nunn for today's loss, but that's not exactly fair. Nunn had a bad game, but Nebraska had plenty of opportunities to win this game. Personally, my heart sunk when I saw Zac Taylor drop back to pass on 3rd and 4 with just over 2 minutes to go, as I felt it was a bad call at that point in the game. Texas was out of timeouts, so "pound the rock". Yes, it was likely to come up short, but the clock will continue to run. The wind was at the Huskers back, so it was likely that Texas would get the ball around their own 20 with 2 minutes left and no timeouts. Could they drive the field against the wind? Personally, I think it was a bad call, but not Callahan's worst of the game.

My vote for the worst call of the game was near the end of the 1st quarter. NU has a 2nd and 1 at their own 45 yard line, and a fierce wind at their back. 2nd and 1 is kind of like the ultimate "free pass" in football; you can try just about anything and if it doesn't work (and you don't screw it up completely), you still have a 3rd and short. What does Callahan do? Line up in a power formation (signalling that you are going to play it conservative) and hand it off to Cody Glenn, who gets hit in the backfield.

All in all, I thought Callahan's game plan stunk in the first half for the most part. Except for Maurice Purify's long touchdown catch (aided by a double whiff by the Texas secondary), the Husker offense was mostly inept. Lining up mostly in power formations, Texas could afford to stack the line and stop both the run as well as the short passes to the tight ends.

But I loved Callahan's changes at halftime. And no, I don't believe the claims that "we didn't change anything at halftime". (Where did the 3 tight-end formations go then?) He opened up the game and showed some balance. In the first half, Callahan called for runs 6 out of 7 times, and the offense sputtered before getting to "2 minute offense" time. In the second half, Callahan called passes 7 out of 11 times on 1st down to open up the offense and start moving the ball.

I call Callahan's playcalling unpredictably predictable. Frequently Callahan tips his hand and goes "run, run, run" or "pass, pass, pass", but only rarely "run, pass, pass, run" and mixing it up play-by-play. In the 2nd half, we got more of the latter, and the Huskers got back into the game.

And when I start getting frustrated about Callahan's conservative playcalling, he'll pull a double reverse or an I-back pass out of his bag of tricks. Go figure.

Special teams were a key part of today's game. If Nebraska had won today, the blame easily could have been pointed at Greg Jackson who missed 2 field goals and had an extra point blocked. But Mack Brown switched to a walkon freshman kicker, who drilled the game winner in his first action in college football. Even after Bill Callahan tried to ice him by calling a timeout and then challenging the play before to drag things out even further. (Nice call, Coach. A review of a play via instant replay usually takes 2 minutes or more; far more than a timeout. Us fans in the south stadium were wondering what the heck Callahan was challenging until we realized that he just wanted to let the kid think about the kick a whole lot longer.)

On Nebraska's side, Nebraska's problems with kickoffs nearly led to disaster. Despite having a stiff tail-wind, Jordan Congdon was unable to get the opening kick anywhere near the endzone and Texas returned it to the NU 10. Congdon may have an NFL accurate leg, but he simply doesn't have the leg strength to drive the ball into the endzone. Hopefully we'll see more of Jake Wesch on kickoffs the rest of the season; Wesch did a nice job last year as the kickoff specialist.

In any event, today's game might have been just round 1. Even the Texas players and coaches expect to meet again in Kansas City. Last time we heard talk like that was after the 2001 Nebraska-Oklahoma game, and that season, neither team made it to the championship game after each got upset after Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Niagara Falls & Bovines In the Snow

Tonight was a record setting night for UNO as the Mavericks literally stampeded all over Niagara in a 10-1 blasting, setting a school record for goals in a game. Brandon Scero scored 4 goals and Alex Nikiforuk had a goal and 4 assists in a game that was the biggest mismatch in hockey that I've seen in 15 years. You knew it was going to be one of those games when freshman J.J. Koehler singlehandedly carried the puck short-handed through the Purple Eagles and pushed the puck past the Niagara goalie when nobody decided to stop him. The Mavs will play Northern Michigan tomorrow night at 7:05 pm for the Stampede Championship.

Meanwhile, Husker fans are getting ready for tomorrow's game against Texas. And the weather is looking ugly, with temperatures falling through the 40's into the 30's and now there is talk of snow. One local forecaster is calling for snow in the morning with a trace to under 1" of accumulation. Yikes! It's too early for that.

One aspect to this game that some folks haven't talked about is that this game might not really matter in the grand scheme of things. Texas appears to have a straight shot at the Big XII South title to play against the Nebraska-Missouri winner in Kansas City in December. With that in mind, will either team play all their cards tomorrow? Between that and the weather, that could cause gameplans to become a lot more conservative on both sides.

Husker assistant Shawn Watson told fans to expect to see the "inside passing game" tomorrow, which I read as tight ends and quick slants. Interesting that he'd say this publicly; are they that confident that they can literally "call their shot" or is this just a ploy to divert the attention of the Texas defense initially?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Remember the Alamo

In a discussion today on the 'ol Husker mailing list, it was suggested that Nebraska try the ultra-conservative game plan that failed miserably against USC. And after looking a little bit at Texas, I'm of the opinion that it will fail just as badly against Texas. Perhaps even worse.

Why? Simple. Texas is #2 in the nation at stopping the run, giving up only 1.9 yards per rush. So what should Nebraska do?

Remember the Alamo.

Or specifically, the Alamo Bowl. Nebraska defeated Michigan with a potent combination of runs and passes that kept Michigan from keying on either aspect. It was the West Coast Offense the way it was supposed to be run; a balanced attack that efficently moved the ball up and down the field.

The problem is that while Callahan's offense ends up being fairly balanced when you look at it over a long stretch, in most situations it is anything but balanced. And sometimes with disastrous results (Iowa State 2004, Kansas 2005, USC 2006). Even Tom Shatel notes that it's frustrating to get a handle on this offense.

The key to beating a team like Texas is to revisit games like the Michigan game and not balance the offense by games (run, run, run one week; pass, pass, pass the next) or even by series, but rather by plays. Throw the ball on 1st down and take advantage of Texas' desire to stop the run. Run the ball in passing situations to keep the 'Horns from keying on any aspect of the game. Keep 'em guessing.

Texas' weakness is the secondary, and if Texas gears up to keep Nebraska from running the ball, receivers will be open. Hit some receivers, and the running game will then open up.

I don't know if Zac Taylor will have time to find guys like Terrence Nunn or Franz Hardy on Saturday. Texas will likely pressure Taylor...he probably won't have time to work through his progressions. Instead, I like guys like Maurice Purify or Nate Swift on quick-hitting passes to loosen the defense.

Balance will be the key on Saturday. If Callahan's playcalling becomes predictable, it could be a long day Saturday.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Angst in Husker Nation

All throughout Husker Nation, there is a growing feeling of discontent with the 6-1 Huskers. It started with the USC game and the ultra-conservative game plan, grew with the poor performance against Kansas, and the "pound-the-rock" strategy at Iowa State and Kansas State. And while some of the criticism was warranted (especially against USC and Kansas), I'm not sure I see the reason why for the last couple of weeks.

I still believe the USC game plan was overly cautious. Defenders of that game plan point out Pete Carroll's comments about it, but they also don't acknowledge that Nebraska was among the least successful at implementing it. Mostly because they were woefully predictable, and thus unable to sustain drives to keep the ball away from Carroll's offense. It simply did not work that night, and never was going to work.

But against Iowa State and Kansas State? The big difference was that it worked. Against Iowa State's smaller, inexperienced defense, it was remarkably effective. And against Kansas State, the Huskers bolted to a 14-0 lead and Kansas State never seriously threatened.

So why all the angst? Well, there are a number of factors here that are coming into play here.

Some folks simply hate power football. They consider it obsolete. They wanted to Nebraska to become a big-time passing team and aren't getting what they thought they were getting with the west coast offense. Of course, somebody needs to define the "West Coast Offense". Tom Osborne probably expresses it best:
"The term 'West Coast offense' -- what does it mean? Generally it's a ball-control passing game for a lot of people. Sometimes I think people get caught up in that terminology. I'm not sure it's clearly defined. I think you do whatever works best with the personnel you have."
And note Osborne's comments about it's effectiveness:
"It does seem what they're doing is working well. They have a number of talented players at that position. As long as it's being productive, I don't see anything wrong with what they're doing."
Of course there are other reasons as well. Some folks simply don't like Bill Callahan. Heck, I'm still not sold on Callahan, but it's hard to argue with the wins.

Some folks think that you need "style" points. Dominating and crushing opponents isn't really happening by anyone. In back to back weeks, Troy Smith and Jim Tressel's Ohio State Buckeyes scored the same number of points as Austin Everson and Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats against a common opponent: Northern Illinois. In this day of parity, there simply aren't a large number of blowouts in college football anymore.

And of course, there is the lingering effects of a certain athletic director who thought that 9-3 was "gravitating to mediocrity." That day, the standard at Nebraska was been set at "dominate", and thus far, Callahan and company still fail to meet that standard. Not that many coaches are likely to do it either.

On Saturday, Nebraska certainly could have opened the game up more, but in doing so, opened up the risk of letting Kansas State back into the game. Zac Taylor has had some ball control issues when being sacked this season, so exposing Taylor in the passing game when it's not necessary is doubly foolhardy. How many Husker fans want to play Missouri or go to Texas A&M with Joe Ganz as the starting QB?

Run the ball, milk the clock, control the tempo, and win the game. If it's working, why take the chance? The expectations are to win the Big XII North, and to do that, you need a healthy Zac Taylor and wins. "Pounding the rock" will do that against the Iowa States and Kansas States. Probably will also do that against Oklahoma State as well. What about Tejas? That's another story entirely.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Parse Nearly Carries Mavs to Championship in Alaska

UNO headed to Alaska this weekend and came away with 2 ties against #14 Colorado College and the host, Alaska-Anchorage, in the Nye Frontier Classic. Saturday night featured freshman goalie Jeremie Dupont making 35 saves in his debut game to save the game for the Mavs.

Senior Scott Parse was named the Classic's Most Valuable Player for an assist on Friday night and both goals Saturday night, including a clutch game-tying short-handed goal.

For the purposes of the tournament championship, both games ended with shootouts. UNO defeated Colorado College 4-2 Friday night, but UAA beat the Mavs 3-1 on Saturday night. But in the standings, UNO started the season 0-0-2 against WCHA competition. Next up is UNO's Maverick Stampede tournament on Friday and Saturday night at the Qwest Center.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Attack of the Purple People Eaters

Solid performance tonight in the Little Apple against Kansas State tonight. Some fans are going to criticize the conservative game plan again tonight...but once again, the Huskers got out to a fast start and led the whole way.

Let's give the Wildcats defense some credit; they've played well this season - 27th in the nation in total defense. They made the necessary adjustments and pressured the Huskers tonight in the 2nd half.

Brandon Jackson had another solid game starting for the 2nd week in a row. Marlon Lucky's touchdown run might have been his best run of the season; did anybody else catch him waiting for his blocks to develop, and then kicked it into high gear. Very nice.

Maurice Purify is becoming a big play receiver, but is also hurting the team with unnecessary penalties. That's his second personal foul in 3 games.

Defensively, I liked Coz's start with sending 6-7 guys after Josh Freeman...only problem was letting up in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, allowing Freeman to gain his bearings and begin to make plays. The kid didn't get flustered; Wildcat fans have to like the look of the future with him at quarterback.

A few other thoughts around college football:

What is up in Lubbock? Colorado finally won a game, beating Texas Tech today.

Anybody else raise their eyebrows when Baylor took a 10-0 lead on Tejas tonight? Of course, the Horns cruised the rest of the evening to set up next weekend's game.

Tonight's brawl between Miami and Florida International was ugly. 13 players ejected, and it took 5 minutes to restore order. Players were swinging helmets and even a set of crutches. Major suspensions are going to be coming down. Between this and Miami's poor performance, one has to wonder how much longer Larry Coker will keep his job.

Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats pulled off another upset, this time beating Illinois 20-17. Coming up next week is the Husker Heritage Bowl: Solich's Bobcats vs. Turner Gill's Buffalo Bulls.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Little Classlessness from KSU Fans

AJ the HuskerH8ter likes to ridicule Husker fans as the "classiest fans in the nation"...not. And usually he has a point. Some Husker fans take it a little too far...or in a few cases, a lot too far.

Some Kansas State fans over at ksufans.com are taking classlessness to a new level of depravity. In light of the tragic death of New York Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle in a plane accident yesterday, a few PuddyTat fans have decided that the death of former Husker QB Brook Berringer is funny. I won't link to them, but here are a couple of the threads for those of you who don't believe me:

Utterly disgusting. I haven't seen anything this out of line since a couple of sicko's from Nebraska came up with "Sal is Dead. Go Big Red."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mr. Freeman meets the Blackshirts

At today's Husker news conference, Bill Callahan and the Huskers tried to deny that there is any ill-will remaining from Josh Freeman's decommitment from Nebraska to Kansas State.

Does anybody really believe that?

Between Jim Rose's childish outburst last December and Bill Callahan's "prima donna" comment last March, too much has already been said.

A good strategy against any true freshman quarterback is to apply maximum pressure, and I'm sure that the Nebraska coaching staff has no qualms about providing it this Saturday night. In fact, I think a bigger problem is keeping it under control. I'll be curious to see how far Nebraska pushes things Saturday night.

Actually, I'm a little worried. Worried that Nebraska might try TOO hard to send a message to Freeman. Worried that somebody might go over the line, might not play smart, might do something that will make this game ugly.

I was disappointed in December when Freeman decommitted, as I thought he was an intriquing prospect at quarterback. But I was more disappointed in the reaction by Nebraska and some of it's fans. Stupid things were said, and a lot of hard feelings persist. Will someone do something stupid Saturday night? I hope not.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Attack of the Clones

Tonight's Nebraska-Iowa State game wasn't the aerial circus that many (myself included) expected. Instead, it was more "pound the rock", with the biggest surprise being the backs in the game. ABC announced Marlon Lucky as the starting I-back, but Lucky didn't see action until the 2nd quarter, and in fact, never rushed the ball tonight.
Instead, it was my two favorite backs: Brandon Jackson and Cody Glenn. Gotta love 2 backs topping the century mark, with both guys making big plays.
Many fans will criticize the conservative play calling in the 2nd half, but you also consider the field position. In the third quarter, drives started at the NU 3, NU 7, NU 20, and NU 12. Certainly limits what you can do in that situation. (Thank goodness no swing passes!)

Nebraska also got a gift tonight from the referees when they ruled an Iowa State touchdown incomplete in the 2nd half. One has to wonder what has happened to the Big XII replay officials who should have immediately stopped this game for a review. I haven't seen a single review called from the booth this season.

Defensively, Nebraska played enough "bend and break" defense tonight to scare Husker fans, but in the end, blitzed enough at key points during the game to keep the Clones out of the end zone. Considering how Iowa State's receivers matched up with our secondary with the size imbalance, applying the pressure was a key to tonight's Husker victory.

One of the nice things about staying home for the game is that it allows you to catch other games around the country. Here are a few thoughts from around college football:

Missouri became the first Big XII team to become bowl eligible. An impressive win at Texas Tech tonight for the Tigers. Tonight, the top 2 teams in the Big XII North seperated themselves from the rest.

USC certainly is looking mortal, surviving a scare at home against Washington thanks in part to the clock operator at the Mausoleum.

Tommy Tuberville probably should worry about his own team and worry about the BCS next January.

When Oregon takes the field, and the other team has the uglier uniforms...something is seriously wrong in college football. Nike is evil and must be stopped. Yikes!

Friday, October 06, 2006

A "Must Win" for Callahan?

Local Husker H8ter AJ asked today whether the Iowa State game represented a must win game for Bill Callahan. My take? Nope. Missouri represents the strongest challenger to the Huskers in the Big XII North. Iowa State simply has too tough of a schedule, as they still have to face Oklahoma next week. Even with a loss to the Cyclones, the Huskers still will be in the mix for the championship game. As such, it's simply not a must win game.

However, if you are looking big picture, this is a game that Bill Callahan really needs to win. A lot of kool-aid drinkers are giving the Huskers a pass for last weekend, saying "a win is a win". Just win and advance baby.

Except that's not the situation, as this season isn't so much about wins. After last year's Colorado game, the slogan "Restore the Order" became the buzzword. The Huskers' Tunnel Walk talks about "resurgence". Nebraska entered 2006 with the momentum from the Alamo Bowl victory. With the exception of the USC game, that momentum continued in thrashings of Louisiana Tech, Nicholls State, and Troy. But then the Kansas game happened. Was that a blip? Or were the Huskers exposed?

That is the question that the Huskers need to answer tomorrow. Nebraska doesn't need to blow out the Cyclones, but they need a win to maintain the momentum. A loss to Iowa State reopens a lot of the questions that folks were asking last November after the Kansas game.

If you want to keep web sites such as "FireBillCallahan.com" offline, you need to win these games.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cyclone Warning

The nervousness level for this week's game against Iowa State increased exponentially last Saturday after the Huskers' poor performance on defense. On one hand, Iowa State has certainly struggled this season (an OT win over Toledo and narrow escapes against UNLV and Northern Iowa) at times. But on the other hand, Iowa State's strengths (quarterback and wide receivers) seem to match up with Nebraska's greatest liability (pass defense).

Preseason, Iowa State's receiving corp was rated tops in the Big XII and present a huge mismatch against the Husker secondary ... especially if the Blackshirts play like last week. Adding to the mismatch equation is the mobility of Iowa State QB Bret Meyer. On Tuesday, Stewart Bradley said to expect an attacking defense against the 'Clones...but Meyer's mobility might wreck those plans. Throughout the years, Nebraska has struggled against mobile quarterbacks (Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson, Vince Young, Brad Smith), and Meyer seems to be growing into that role.

On the other hand, Iowa State's defense has struggled most of the year, which should mean a big game for Zac Taylor and the Husker offense. Nebraska should score often on Saturday night, which means we could be looking at a WAC type of score. Remember that 63-42 game against Oklahoma State and Barry Sanders in 1988? This could be that sort of game.

This is going to be the first ISU-Nebraska game I've missed in 17 years. Ticket demand in Ames is at an all-time high and our ticket request got rejected. In many respects, with an offensive shootout envisioned and a 7 pm kickoff, watching it on TV might be for the best as it might be 3 or 4 am before I'd get home after the game.

The weather on Saturday is looking almost tropical for a Nebraska-Iowa State game in Ames with a game time temperature forecast of 70. Most years, this game felt more like it was 70 degrees kelvin. But the forecast also calls for gusty winds Saturday, which should affect the passing game for both teams. In the wind, I have to give the edge to Zac Taylor, as he impressed me with his touch on a windy day against Kansas State.

My thoughts on this game? Well, I think Nebraska can score 35 or more points on Saturday easily. The only question is how many Iowa State will score. If Cosgrove can find a way to contain Meyer and pressure him, Nebraska could win easily. If he can't, Nebraska could be in for a dogfight. And we all know what happens when Nebraska lets a quarterback run wild. Last year, Missouri had struggled throughout the season, but turned it on against Nebraska. So did Kansas last year. So did Kansas last week.

So what's my prediction? I'll take Huskers 38, Iowa State 28. Iowa State always plays Nebraska tough in Ames.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Give Me Lame Excuses for $500, Alex

Well, here's a novel excuse for a bad defensive performance last Saturday against Kansas. Senior defensive end Jay Moore said today:
"I think the crowd noise had a lot to do with it."

He goes on:
"There were a lot of communication errors between the defense, and that really just got guys on different pages. When you've got guys in different defenses, execution's obviously not going to be right."
Every football fan who's attended a game in person has to be shaking his or her head with this logic. Have you ever heard of a defense calling for quiet?

Stewart Bradley then added:
"We didn't communicate the best. And we had a scheme where we had a lot of checks and stuff based on what they were running."
Hmmm...who came up with a scheme that doesn't work in a loud stadium?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Did we get lucky against Kansas?

Sitting up high in the south end zone, I didn't have a good view of Nate Swift's catch in OT that gave Nebraska a first and goal at the 1/2 yard line. I know that KU coach Mark Mangino challenged the play, but never figured out why. Didn't get to see any decent replays yesterday either.

Then I came across the following picture, courtesy the Lincoln Journal-Star:
Yikes! That looks like a fumble...and a touchback, which means Nebraska whiffs in the first OT and the Jayhawks could win the game with a field goal.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mangino: Best Coach in the Big XII North?

Many Husker fans scoffed last month when Mark Mangino signed a new contract that pays him the same as Bill Callahan. However, if you compare the two coaches head-to-head, I'd have to say that Mangino is underpaid in comparison. The last two seasons Nebraska has had more talent on the field, but Mangino and his staff have outcoached Callahan and company.

Looking around at other's comments on yesterday's defensive collapse against Kansas, three factors seem to be at the heart of the problem:
  • Kevin Cosgrove's bad gameplan
  • Communication problems lead to breakdowns
  • Bad fundamentals
Even Cosgrove had second thoughts about his gameplan, telling the Omaha World-Herald that he limited the Husker pass rush out of concern for the shovel pass to Jon Cornish. Thank goodness for that; who knows how many yards Cornish would have run for in that situation. Sigh. Considering that Kansas racked up 574 yards last night, that's kind of like Calvin and Hobbes worrying about monsters under the bed.

Jon Johnston over at CornNation.com kind of sums up the frustration of all Husker fans. Cosgrove needs to get these problems addressed quickly. Iowa State's Bret Meyer is a much better quarterback than KU's Adam Barmann, and if he has as much time next Saturday night, Meyer could throw for 600.

One place to start would be to look at how Kansas defended the Husker offense where Kansas found a way to disguise their coverages and befuddle the Husker offensive line to abuse Zac Taylor.

Return of CozBohl

Midway through the fourth quarter, I was afraid that this post was going to be called "Odor Restored" as the Kansas Jayhawks spent most of the final 3 quarters of tonight's game trying to recreate last year's 40-15 thrashing. What's the difference between last year's Kansas game and this year's? Two observations: (1) Callahan made Kansas pay for stuffing the line as Zac Taylor didn't complete a lot of passes tonight, but those passes sure covered a lot of yardage. (2) The CozBohl defense (aka "the bend and break") made an unpleasant and unwelcome reappearance.

First the negative to get it out of the system: With Kansas playing a backup quarterback tonight, the CozBohl defense has to be considered a near disaster. When I say "near" disaster, that's only because in overtime, Coz finally unleashed a few blitzes and challenged KU's Adam Barmann. Before that, Kansas dominated the entire 2nd half so much that I felt that we were unlikely to be able to win the game in overtime. Glad I was wrong on that account.

On the positive side, the Husker offense was able to score 32 points and put up huge numbers through the air against a decent Kansas defense. Last year, Callahan played into KU's "stuff the box" strategy, but this year, he threw deep and scored. At the time, Husker fans probably were thinking "blowout", but as it turned out, Nebraska was able to hold on at the end.

It's been a long night, but USC's struggles against Washington State and the beatings encountered by Louisiana Tech and Troy tonight sure give one some serious reason for concern. But by that same token, Iowa State struggled with 1-AA Northern Iowa and Kansas State lost at Baylor. At this point, AJ's Missouri Tigers might be the best team in the Big XII North...