Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Little Love for Zac; A Little Hate for Me

A lot of honors have been pouring in this week for Zac Taylor, being named offensive player of the year from the coaches and the writers. The Omaha fishwrap's Tom Shatel wrote a great column yesterday on the kid who was born and bred Sooner red who wasn't good enough in high school to warrant interest from his favorite team, then bounced from Oklahoma State to Wake Forest to Butler County Community College before ending up in Lincoln, of all places. Early on in his junior year, Taylor struggled. But as the season wore on, he proved his toughness, taking hit after hit after hit and getting up, getting a little better each week. This season, he continued to improve, generally making fewer and fewer mistakes and making more and more plays, becoming the MVP of the team.

Is Zac Taylor the most physically talented quarterback around? Nope. But in the West Coast Offense, you don't have to be the most physically talented quarterback. In fact, physical talent usually works against you. The West Coast Offense requires the smartest quarterback, the one who trusts his mind instead of his arm. That's why the West Coast Offense features quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia, and Rich Gannon. That's why Brett Favre struggled at first in Green Bay until he learned to throw the ball away (using his head) rather than force the ball to receivers.

Will Taylor go onto the NFL? This season will give him an opportunity, but chances are he won't be an initial success. But if he finds a good organization and situation, he can sit back and learn and develop. If both he and the NFL are patient, you just never know. I wouldn't count him out. He's got all the intangibles...and sometimes that means more than raw physical talent. (Can you say Ryan Leaf or Todd Marinovich?)

Late Tuesday night, I recieved an e-mail from Big Sports 590's Matt Perrault in response to my entry from last week where I took issue with Perrault calling the Nebraska-Creighton basketball game an "autowin" for the Jays:
If you are going to say I haven't done my research...please do yours. My ratings are basically equal to 1620's in the key demo (you might know what that is) and I've done it in only 6 ratings periods with no promotion what so ever. Disagree with me all you want - but don't ever say that I don't get people to listen to my show and pay attention....

Glass house my friend.....
First of all, thanks for writing in, Matt! Perrault doesn't disagree with my assessment that he didn't do his research on recent Husker/Jays games. In 2004, the game in Lincoln would have gone to overtime if Kellen Miliner doesn't score the game winner with a second left. In 2003-04, the teams split at the Qwest Center with the first game going down to the wire before Creighton won and the Huskers winning in the NIT on a layup by Jake Muhlheisen. Autowin? Hardly. It didn't take much research to find this out, either.

Instead, Perrault is more upset with my comments about the ratings for his show. Now, I don't have access to the official Arbitron books and breakdowns, but folks who do have access to them seem to agree that the ratings for KXSP and Perrault are poor. Now, one thing that weren't available were the ratings for the local NPR stations, so I guess it's true that I can't really compare the two. But judging from the 0.8 rating that "Big Sports 590" (19th out of 20 Omaha area stations) pulled in this spring, it's quite possible that my quip probably was more of a slam on NPR.

As for the "glass houses" comment? Not sure what he's referring to, but if he's referring to the low hit rates for my blog, that's perfectly fine with me. I'm not exactly after huge ratings, and since I do this for fun, I'm more than pleased with the traffic I get. I do this in my spare time, and if a few folks find it interesting to read occasionally, all the better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Conundrum on Mike Kemp

UNO's disappointing 4-7-4 start to it's hockey season has fans in a rather ugly mood. With most of the nucleus of last year's NCAA tournament team intact and a returning Hobey Baker finalist in Scott Parse, expectations for this season were high. Bud Bar denizen AJ even went so far to call for coach Mike Kemp's head today.

Fair? Well, in defense of Kemp, the opposition over the last month of the season has included #14 Alaska, #6 Michigoon, #4 Miami, and #5 Notre Dame. UNO has played well at times, but the 1-6-1 record over that murderer's row schedule has UNO behind the eight ball. Still, UNO is #25 in the Pairwise rankings, which means that UNO isn't out of it at this point.

But UNO's spotty play is compounded by a general feeling of unrest and tension within the team that even some of the biggest sunshine pumpers acknowledge. If anything, it seems to be increasing...which when combined with the end-of-season swoon from last spring, raises questions about the direction of the program. The suspensions of 4 players for drinking while on the Miami roadtrip also raises questions about the mindset of the team.

So is it time to make a change? My answer: Not yet. I'm not sure what replacing Kemp mid-season would accomplish; in fact, I get the impression that it would only make things worse this season. (When was the last time any college team changed coaches midseason? I can't think of any examples.)

Also, UNO is just now starting a search for a new athletic director following yesterday's resignation by David Herbster. Who would select a new head coach? Could UNO search for a new head coach while searching for a new athletic director and chancellor? I would argue that each search would be a distraction for the other.

And let's face it, it's still really early in the season; if UNO can solidify it's defense and goaltending and start getting more consistent play, they could turn this around quickly. While the team needs to start playing with a sense of urgency, pressing the panic button isn't going to solve anything.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Athletic Directors on the Move

Over at Iowa State, athletic director Jamie Pollard made a bold move today by naming Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to replace Dan McCarney. Bold, because Chizik was one of the hottest names in coaching circles. Bold because nobody gave Pollard a chance to sign Chizik. Bold because even after Pollard announced they had found their man, he faked out, who went on to report that Central Michigan's Brian Kelly was going to be the head coach.

Imagine internet recruiting site getting their facts wrong. Go figure.

But back to Pollard. Combine this hire with the hiring of Greg McDermott and the $135 million fund raising campaign underway at Iowa State, and you get the impression of an athletic director making things happen. Iowa State is certainly upping the ante and getting into the game in the Big XII.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the Belckis and Buckhead saga of graft and excess claimed UNO athletic director David Herbster today. I have mixed feelings on this one; I can't hold Herbster responsible for all of UNO's problems. Nearly all of them predated Herbster's arrival on campus and many were the result of mismanagement by the now ousted UNO administration. Herbster had some good ideas, but some were so poorly implemented, they ended up backfiring. But Herbster in the end needs to bear some responsibility for not questioning the excesses of his supervisors and not keeping boosters more aware of the situation at UNO. In any event, this change is probably for the best. This allows UNO athletics to start with a clean slate.

The bowl negotiations are hot and heavy after Texas A&M's upset of Tejas last Friday. Apparantly, A&M athletic director Bill Byrne is working hard to get the Aggies into the Holiday Bowl. However, now it seems Texas is now the choice for the Cotton Bowl, which now begs the question of where would the Huskers play if they don't win against Oklahoma on Saturday. Some rumors have Nebraska dropping to the Alamo Bowl to play Iowa. Why do I have this image of Barry Switzer at work, delivering a bag of tacos to Steve Pederson's office?

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Circus is Headed to Kansas City

Not since the Ringling Brothers Circus left town have we seen so many tricks and pratfalls as we saw in today's Nebraska-Colorado game. Frankly, as Tierre Green sprinted to a first down, I had reached my limit of trick plays, as the gags were wearing thin as the miscues and breakdowns in fundamentals mounted.

Watching highlights a few minutes ago, I can see how the Green run was set up by play calls earlier this year where Nebraska tried to draw the defense offside. In this light, it was a great call.

Likewise, the Joe Ganz touchdown pass to Barry Turner was also a creative play, set up originally by the final extra point against Oklahoma State. I'm surprised that the Puffs (or at least their coaching staff) didn't recognize that Ganz was the "kicker" instead of Jordan Congdon, nor did they seem to recognize the "high school" formation where the offensive line lines up away from the ball, with only the center, holder, and kicker (Ganz) in a traditional formation. Still not exactly sure where Barry Turner lined up; the replay I saw indicated he was hanging around on the far sideline.

So why the frustration? Well, when you see the I-back pass called for the third time in the game, and on the last one, the Huskers MVP QB gets blasted, you start questioning the sanity of it all. On top of that, add in the frustration of unforced penalties occuring over and over on offense and horrible, horrible tackling on defense, you get the feeling that perhaps Nebraska spent way too much time on gadget plays compared to the rest of the game plan. Even Bill Callahan had to shush the Husker Information Minister in the post-game radio interview from pumping too much sunshine on this win.

I think fans recognize that the Huskers were a little too sloppy and a little too gimmicky today; it was eerily quiet outside the stadium and the internet also seems rather quiet as well, especially considering the postgame trophy celebration. (I don't remember ever seeing a conference trophy presentation "ceremony" before, let alone a division trophy presentation.)

That takes us to next week's Big XII Championship game...and the big surprise of the day is that the opponent might not be Texas after all. After the snowy game in October, I recalled that the last time we expected a rematch (in 2001), it didn't materialize after upsets. And while Nebraska avoided the upset, the Bovines weren't so lucky. Now, if Oklahoma can hold off Oklahoma State tomorrow, the Sooners will get another trip to Kansas City.

Which sets up quite a quandry for Husker fans. On one hand, Nebraska playing Oklahoma for the conference championship just feels oh-so-right, even if the game is a week after Thanksgiving. Could we get the old diamond Big 8 logo painted on the field at Arrowhead?

But on the other hand, if Okie State can upset the Sooners, Tejas would back into the conference championship game on a 2 game losing streak. Colt McCoy was knocked out of the Kansas State game early with a neck injury, and struggled today against the Aggies, throwing 3 interceptions before getting carted of the field on a stretcher after suffering another neck injury today. You would have to like the Huskers chances in this game with the prospect of McCoy either being unavailable or hampered again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Here Come the CuCu Puffs!

Despite the designation of Colorado as the "Rival" game by ABC, I'm not sure that Colorado is the rival of the Huskers. KMTV-channel 3 in Omaha ran an online survey and it's 63% Not a rival. Personally, I don't think Nebraska really has a true archrival. Nebraska and Oklahoma have a tradition of playing great, meaningful games, but if you ask the Sooners, their rival is Tejas. Tom Shatel is calling for the Huskers and Sooners to play every season on the day after Thanksgiving, but I don't look for that to happen anytime soon. Forcing Nebraska and Oklahoma to play each season would throw the balance of the conference off; it certainly would increase the strength of both teams schedules and probably mean that other teams would have a much easier conference schedule.

This matchup certainly has led to some weird results over the last few years. The home team hasn't won since 2001. The discrepancy between the two teams' records reminds me of 2000, when a 3-7 angry bunch of Puffaloes came into Lincoln and gave the Huskers all they could handle. CU mounted a late comeback, and took a 32-31 lead with :47 left in the game after going for two points. But Eric Crouch calmly led the Huskers on an efficient drive, going 4 for 5 to drive the Huskers deep into Puffalo territory, and Josh Brown nailed a 29 yard field goal to win the game.

So what does that mean for tomorrow? First of all, ignore the records. Secondly, remember that under Bill Callahan, Nebraska has performed very well after a bye week. Vegas says NU by 14... I think it might be a little closer than that.

When they announce the seniors tomorrow, one fellow who should get a thundering ovation is Greg Austin. In a few years, this man will probably need to have both of his knees replaced. He suffered a catastrophic knee injury as a freshman and has never given up. Greg Austin came to Nebraska as an unheralded recruit which didn't measure his heart. Hopefully he'll be able to share his passion and his unrelenting work ethic with other players and inspire them.

I see online that the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Denver Broncos tonight 19-10. Unfortunately, this game was blacked out across most of the nation by the NFL's decision to broadcast this game on their own obscure network instead of one of their existing broadcast partners. This is the ultimate power play by the NFL to see if 8 games are compelling enough to justify the $8.40 a year price to each customer. My vote: No way. I've caught a little bit of the NFL Network on DirecTV, and it's mostly uncompelling programming. The 8 games certainly ups the ante, but for the rest of the season, it's merely an NFL version of ESPN Classic.

Reminds me of the ill-fated decision by the NHL to move games from ESPN to SportsChannel America, another obscure channel. That move almost killed the NHL. The NHL repeated that mistake last year by moving the games to OLN, now Versus. And now even the MLS gets more coverage than the NHL. The NFL certainly has the product to make this succeed... I just hope it doesn't, as it's the next step towards the Super Bowl being broadcast on Pay Per View.

It's not just NFL fans that lose out with this... Big XII fans are losers as well, as the NFL Network also obtained exclusive rights to the Texas Bowl and the Insight Bowl, which means that the bowl game for Missouri, Kansas State, or Kansas may end up being blacked out to most fans. Remember the uproar a few years ago when Fox Sports Net started pushed a Nebraska/Kansas State football game to FX? Here we go again... In the end, fans end up the losers in this power play.

A quick reminder. #4 Notre Dame comes to the Qwest Center to play the UNO Mavs in hockey this weekend. Certainly a busy sports weekend in this area. That's something to be thankful for!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

As the coaches churn

The Sporting News' Tom Dienhart is reporting that Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell is the frontrunner to take over to replace Dan McCarney at Iowa State. Not a surprise to me; I've felt Norvell was the best coach on the Husker staff ever since he arrived. Losing Norvell is inevitable, in my humble opinion, and losing him to a Big XII rival would be double-trouble.

Dienhart also says that former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is one of the leading candidates at Michigan State. At least one MSU fan is pushing Bo to take over Sparty (thanks DoubleExtraPoint for the tip):

Down in Columbia, Gary Pinkel's contract extension was termed "insane" by AJ the HuskerH8er. Perhaps the timing of the announcemen was insane, right before Dan McCarney's final game in Ames. But Mike Alden really didn't have much of a choice here: either fire Pinkel or show him the money. Pinkel was basically in the same situation that Barry Collier was at Nebraska this spring with only 2 years left on his contract. Pinkel's contract status was an albatross around Pinkel's neck that would make it very difficult for Pinkel to recruit. Pinkel even acknowledged it in today's Columbia Daily Tribune:
"I think when you get under three years, people wonder. For example, last year after the bowl game, we won our bowl game and nothing happened, so all our competitors were like, ‘Oh, are they going to keep Pinkel there?’ You know how that goes."
Perhaps the timing was bad; certainly waiting until after the end of the regular season would have made more sense. But it had to be done. Alden couldn't make the same mistake Steve Pederson made last spring and hope that Pinkel would bail him out by finding another job.

Speaking of Steve Pederson's mistakes, the folks in Athens, Ohio are certainly celebrating the Bobcats' first championship and bowl bid since 1968. When you consider the progress that the Bobcats have made in their last 2 years under Frank Solich and that Nebraska is just now getting back to the level it was at when Solich left, it's obvious that Solich is a pretty darn good football coach. North Carolina and Iowa State certainly thought so, considering Solich before eventually looking elsewhere.

Oh, and just to be fair, I do have to give props to Steve Pederson's hire if I'm going to criticize his handling of Barry Collier. The Omaha daily's Tom Shatel said it, and I'll say it: It doesn't happen very often, but Dana Altman got outcoached Saturday night by Doc Sadler. And that's the best news for Nebrasketball since the team walked out on Danny Nee and into Bill Byrne's office over 10 years ago.

Matt Perrault on KXSP made one of the more inane comments I've heard on Saturday, calling the Nebraska game an "autowin" for Creighton. In Perrault's defense, he wasn't in town for any of the matchups prior to last season, but he neglected to do any research to show just how close the matchup between Nebraska and Creighton has been the last few years. I guess that's why the Jim Rome-wannabe is drawing an audience only comparable to NPR...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cryin' and Whinin'

A few quick thoughts while dealing with a very cranky newborn assistant blog editor:

3 months ago, I suggested that the gap between Nebraska and Creighton basketball wasn't as big as BrieJay fans thought it was. Tonight's Nebraska's 73-61 victory over the somehow rated Creighton squad certainly bruises some of those egos. Certainly, you should have seen this coming with how the shorthanded Husker team performed in the early going versus the overrated Jays in the early going this season.

It's a shame that this game was only televised on ETV2 statewide, a channel only carried by a few cable systems and folks with HDTV. It was a bad scheduling decision (playing the game the same night as the class B high school championship game) as well as Nebraska AD's continuing snafu in wanting to maintain ironclad control over Nebraska broadcasts. The game was produced by Cox for NET, and word has it that the broadcast featured a dog barking over Matt Davison's halftime commentary. Looks like Cox continues to prove their ineptitude; just ask Cox subscribers in Omaha how ABC looks in HD.

UNO hockey got swept this weekend by #6 Miami. Friday night's 7-3 loss was rather disappointing to fans, but CSTV's "Rink Rat" had some positive things to say about the Mavs:
UNO's puck movement is as good as any team I've seen this season, with the possible exception of Minnesota. They're doing a lot of good things out on the ice tonight, but this Miami team is very, very good, and the Mavericks don't have the goaltending they need to stop the RedHawks.
As for the team (UNO fans are) dedicated to, they have some good offensive punch, but they're playing three freshmen on defense and a freshman in net. They're just not there in their own end right now, and I'm just going to get annoyed if I start writing about the goaltending right now. It's hard enough for Minnesota to count on outscoring their opponents every night, let alone UNO.
Tonight, the Mavs lost 2-1 to the Redhawks on a late goal in the third in an improved effort. The results for the Mavs aren't what fans want, but it's not as bad as it might seem. However, next up is #5 Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday night, so it doesn't get any easier. Fortunately, these games are at home.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Few Thoughts from the Maternity Ward

Thanks to everyone for the good thoughts regarding the newest member of our family. Plans are to finally head home tomorrow, which means we'll no longer be able to call on the hospital's great staff of nurses to bail us out after tonight. On the other hand, it will be great to be able to spend a night in my own bed instead of on the couch here...

Lots of consternation among Mav fans over being swept at Yost last weekend by Michigoon. Friday night's game was close, but UNO lost 2 different two-goal leads. As Terry Leahy would say, "Beware the 2 goal lead". Speaking of Leahy, he and play-by-play voice Greg Harrington went a overboard in talking about how great it was for UNO to keep it close with a program like Michigoon. 5 years ago, it was one thing to be in awe of the Weasels and to accept moral victories. Now is a different time. UNO has played for a conference championship and made the NCAA tournament. Losing 6-4 isn't a moral victory anymore. A punchless 5-1 loss on Saturday night is even worse. Next up are the conference leader Miami Redhawks. UNO has a tough stretch of games coming up with many on the road, and UNO needs some wins badly over the next couple of weeks.

I did get to catch a little of Nebraska's season opener in basketball against the Mavs last night on the radio. How about Aleks Maric playing so much and so well 11 days after his appendectomy? Yes, it was against a D-2 opponent, but it's also against a D-2 program that gave Creighton all they could handle last week. Nebraska is still extremely short handed after a rash of injuries forced the Huskers to put student manager Nick Krenk, son of former Husker tight end Mitch Krenk, into the game last night for 13 minutes. Saturday night, the Huskers take on Creighton in a reversal of situations. Last year, the Bluejays were injury stricken and throttled the Huskers. This year, the Jays appear to be the overrated team and the Huskers are the shorthanded squad.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Welcome to the world, Rachael

My apologies to folks expecting sports commentary, but in the grand scheme of things, sports are just a (usually) fun diversion from the more important things in life. Today is one of those days I'll always remember, with the birth of my beautiful baby daughter Rachael, born this morning at 7:59 am to my even more beautiful wife. For those folks scoring along at home, she came in at 8 lbs. 6 ounces and 22 inches. Good vocal cords too!

Right now all is well here with mother and daughter. Gramma is pretty happy as well. Needless to say, this is one of those life changing moments, and only God knows where this new adventure will take us. Others who have kids tell us it is one of the most amazing events they've experienced, and the first few minutes have seemed that way so far.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Tell me if you've seen this plotline before: Nebraska gets off to a good start and takes a commanding lead. The Huskers are running well, throwing well, and playing pretty good defense. They look like a pretty darn good football team. Then around halftime, they hit a wall. The offensive line becomes a sieve, the running game gets stuck in neutral, Zac Taylor couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, and the defense forgets how to tackle. We saw this against Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma State. And saw it again today.

What's the problem? Hard to say, but it's probably a combination of factors. Players losing focus? Probably. Coaches not making adjustments? Perhaps. Coaches making bad adjustments? More likely. Opposing coaches making better adjustments? Sure looks that way. Opponents getting momentum and outplaying the Huskers? Definitely.

In any event, things were looking rather bleak for the Big Red until Barry Turner blocked that long field goal attempt by A&M with 1:43 left in the game. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope. Todd Peterson made 2 clutch catches (including a 22 yard reception on 4th & 3), A&M takes a dumb roughing the passer penalty to turn a 4th & 10 situation for the Huskers into 1st & goal, and Maurice Purify made the leaping catch for the win.

ABC may have named Zac Taylor player of the game, but my vote goes to Peterson, the unheralded no-star walkon from Grand Island.

Maurice Purify is the best pass-catching wide receiver to ever wear Husker red. Of course, considering the history of Nebraska's I-formation offense, that's a little like saying you've found the best Italian restaurant in Ecuador. He's likely to be the first Nebraska receiver to get drafted to the NFL since Irving Fryar.

This was a game Nebraska and Bill Callahan needed. Oh sure, Nebraska still had the inside track for the Big XII championship game, but another loss against the a southern division team would still have left a lot of questions. And with Kansas State's upset over Tejas this evening, the North may finally be ready to rise out of the muck. And if Colt McCoy is lost to the Bovines for an extended period of time, fans can certainly wonder if Nebraska couldn't surprise in Kansas City in 3 weeks.

But not if they continue to meltdown in the 2nd half.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

UNO Hockey: It's Michigoon Week

This weekend, Nebraska-Omaha heads to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigoon Weasels...and just to get everyone in the right frame of mind, here's a little Weird Al:

But seriously, this is UNO's first game in a long-series of games where they only play 4 games at home over the next 2 months. Following this weekend's series, UNO heads to first place Miami-Ohio. The Mavs definitely need to bring home some points this weekend against Michigoon.

When these two teams met last February, it was a great series with UNO taking 3 points, thanks in part to Alex Nikiforuk's game winner late on Friday night:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Coaching Change at Iowa State and the Fall of the Big XII North

While not surprised, I'm a little disappointed that Dan McCarney is out at Iowa State. Yes, they've struggled this season, and choked the last couple of years when they've been in a position to win the Big XII North. But on the other hand, just the fact that Iowa State has even been in contention for a division championship should be worth keeping the guy around. But that's the state of college football today, where patience is seldom practiced.

On the other hand, the idea of Iowa State competing for the Big XII North title the last couple of years is a solid indication that the North division isn't what it used to be. I've read some Husker fans that seem to think that winning the North in 2006 is an accomplishment that makes them better than any other Husker team this century. They claim the trophy, and don't realize the trophy doesn't mean as much as it used to.

What do I mean? Let's look at the Sagarin ratings of the Big XII North over the last few years:
1998: Champion: #4 Kansas State, Nebraska #9, Rest of B12N: 12, 29, 62, 68
1999: Champion: #2 Nebraska, Rest of B12N: 4, 32, 68, 71, 78
2000: Champion: #9 Kansas State, Nebraska #4, Rest of B12N: 30, 54, 77, 83
2001: Champion: #8 Colorado, Nebraska #5, Rest of B12N: 21, 40, 72, 93
2002: Champion: #19 Colorado, Nebraska #41, Rest of B12N: 5, 35, 51, 132
2003: Champion: #13 Kansas State, Nebraska #23, Rest of B12N: 41, 57, 72, 106
2004: Champion: #32 Colorado, Nebraska #68, Rest of B12N: 52, 57, 60, 61
2005: Champion: #36 Colorado, Nebraska #24, Rest of B12N: 30, 32, 39, 56

What about 2006? Nebraska is #27, and the rest of the B12N: 33, 54, 80, 100, 110.

Up until 2004, the Big XII North champion has been a top 20 team and usually there were multiple teams in the top 25. Since then, the North has been a shadow of it's former self. This year, while Nebraska and Missouri are looking better, the bottom part (Kansas, Iowa State, and Colorado) has fallen to new lows for the conference.

People who think that winning the Big XII North in 2006 is somehow better than finishing 2nd a few years earlier are simply deluding themselves. In many respects, this is like grading on a curve. Don't get me wrong, the title isn't something to not be happy about. It just doesn't mean that Nebraska in 2006 is somehow better than they were a few years before (2000, 2001, 2003).

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Few Final Thoughts on Mizzou

Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha Daily writes a critical look at the state of the Husker program in yesterday's paper. Barfknecht doesn't dispute the position of Steve Pederson and Harvey Perlman that the program was "tired"; heck, Barfknecht wrote scathing articles about Frank Solich's recruiting. My favorite was when he raved about Colorado's freshmen Craig Ochs and Marcus Houston in 2000, and how Nebraska would fear them for years to come. Oops.

But Barfknecht does raise some valid points:

  • Winning the Big XII North title isn't exactly a great accomplishment. Since Kansas State won the North (and then beat the latest "greatest team ever" for the conference title) in 2003, the Big XII North has been one of the worst divisions of any BCS conference. Certainly Nebraska has been the most talented team in the division the last few years.
  • If 2003's 9-3 record wasn't very impressive (thus sayeth Harvey Perlman), how does 2006 shape up?
  • Bill Callahan is 11-11 in Big XII play during the league's worst down cycle, playing in the worst division in the conference.

Callahan's prized 2005 recruiting class has already lost 8 players (including several of the blue-chippers), and Callahan's 2006 class was only #20. The 2007 class is currently rated #26.

Beating Missouri is good. But if Nebraska truly wants to show improvement, games like Oklahoma State need to become bad, distant memories, not recurring attractions.

I'm surprised more people haven't discused Gary Pinkel's brain damaged timeout following Chase Daniel's 4th quarter completion despite being sacked by Bo Ruud. The official's blew the call originally, and fans and the Husker coaches were protesting the call. Why in the world would you call timeout and give the refs time to review the play? You could easily see from the sideline that the call was questionable, and that letting the play get reviewed would cost the Tigers 15 to 20 yards. So why not get to the line quickly and get a play called. Time was running short for the Tigers, and 4th and 7 is much better than 4th and 23. Not to mention wasting a timeout. Heck, if Missouri would have raced to the line, there was a good chance that Nebraska would have been forced to challenge the play... As it was, the timeout gave Bill Callahan time to plead his case and then give the replay official in the booth time to look the play over.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Billy C Schools Pinkel

Thursday I suggested that today's game matched each team's offensive strengths against the other team's defensive weakness, and the question was which team would capitalize on this more. Well, the Huskers handed the ball off to Brandon Jackson 32 times for 115 yards and delivered the 34 points I predicted.

However, Missouri failed to challenge Nebraska's injury depleted linebacker corps and vulnerable secondary. Partly due to Cosgrove's nickel schemes to play the youngsters in the secondary? Yes, to some extent. But really, it was almost as if Gary Pinkel didn't even want to try to exploit Nebraska's weakest link on defense.

All game long it was a steady stream of what I call the "Statue of Liberty" play, where Chase Daniel took a shotgun snap and didn't move, handing off the ball to a running back on a sweep. And yes, Tony Temple did get 100 yards running that play, but he also ran about for about 200 meaningless yards east/west as this play was strung out for minimal game most of the day. Missouri failed to challenge the Husker secondary most of the day, choosing to throw mostly short screen passes.

As the game went on, I couldn't help but wonder whether Missouri fans felt like Husker fans after the USC game, frustrated by the game plan. Sure enough, AJ the HuskerH8ter agreed.

A few other thoughts about today's game:
  • Bo Ruud came up huge today. I've read a few folks implying that Ruud wasn't even talented enough to play for any division 1 school, let alone play for Nebraska. Funny, I've heard the same talk about Scott Shanle and big brother Barrett Ruud in past years and both those guys are playing on Sunday's in the NFL.
  • Hard to choose a favorite highlight reel catch between Maurice Purify, Terrence Nunn, and Nate Swift today. All three should make highlight reels.
  • Chase Daniel looked a little off today. Perhaps someone on Missouri's training staff needs to supply him some energy bars during the game. I don't think this supplement helped him much. Certainly they have something better available.
Score this one for Callahan and the embattled Kevin Cosgrove.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Little Nookie on the Eve of SlapFest

Tonight at the Qwest Center, UNO overcame another shaky performance by Jerad Kaufman in goal to tie the Alaska (Fairbanks) Nanooks 5-5 tonight in hockey. Mr. Hobey himself, Scott Parse, had assists on UNO's opening goal as well as UNO's game tying goal with 1:22 left in regulation. Phat Dogg Dan Charleston got UNO tied the game in the 2nd period with a short handed goal followed by a power play goal midway through the period.

17 year old freshman goalie Jeremie Dupont came in early in the 2nd period in relief of Kaufman with the Mavs down by 2 and had another solid performance, following last weekend's shutout that earned him CCHA rookie of the week honors. I'm assuming that Dupont will start tomorrow night, and with another solid performance, might earn both starts next weekend when the Mavs travel to Ann Arbor to face the Weasels.

But first comes tomorrow's Husker game against Missouri. You really get a sense that the coaching staff knows the pressure is on this game. Tight ends coach Shawn Watson told the Omaha World-Herald:
"We've won some nice games, we've done some really good things. But we've got to win a big game."
And the World-Herald casts a tone on what this game means to Bill Callahan and Steve Pederson:

Win, and Nebraska likely goes to the Big 12 Championship game in Kansas City, Mo., as the experts predicted. Callahan, even with four or five losses, can claim progress - life is all about progress.

Lose, and many Nebraska fans will instinctively recall an autumn Sunday in 2003, when Athletic Director Steve Pederson, who had just fired Frank Solich, proclaimed his intolerance of mediocrity. They'll remember Pederson's words after NU drubbed Colorado a year ago:

"This is the reason we did what we did," Pederson said that night. "It's what we've been saying all along, that things will turn."

So which will it be? Will this be the beginning of something great tomorrow?

Or will it be the beginning of the end?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mizery: Strength vs. Weakness

Saturday's game vs. Missouri features a matchup that looks very bad for Nebraska. Missouri's spread offense will try to stretch the field and complete passes underneath, putting pressure on the linebackers. However, Nebraska's linebacking corp is hurting. Corey McKeon and Steve Octavien missed practice yesterday, and are very questionable. Lance Brandenburgh, who would fill in for McKeon, is also hurting.

Even if the Huskers were healthy, the spread offense has been a real challenge for Kevin Cosgrove. Cosgrove let Texas Tech jump to a 21 point lead last year after the Raiders hung 70 on the Big Red the year before. And last year in Columbia, Brad Smith ran untouched through Cosgrove's prevent defense.

So what's the solution? Well, Cosgrove is going to need to try SOMETHING different. With the shortage of healthy linebackers, it may be time to try some nickel and dime coverages, especially when Missouri tries to spread the field. Mixing up a healthy dose of blitzes wouldn't hurt either.

On the other side of the ball, there's a potential, albeit, smaller mismatch. Missouri has shown a vulnerability in defending the run. Oklahoma's Allen Patrick ran for 162 yards last week. I'm thinking that a heavy dose of Brandon Jackson is in order for this week. A nice side helping of Cody Glenn would be nice as well.

Saturday's game will probably come down to intangibles. The game is in Lincoln, and the home crowd seems to be worth about 2 touchdowns for the Huskers. In the end, it will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. Last week, both teams made mistake after mistake to set up this week's slapfest.

Somebody has to win this one...and since it's in Lincoln, I'll take the Big Red in a 34-28 victory.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Must Win for Callahan, Part II?

Before the Iowa State game, HuskerH8ter AJ asked if that game was a must win for Callahan. I said no at that time. In the end, it was a moot point; the Huskers won handily.

So, let's fast forward 4 games. After a victory against Kansas State, Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium on a 2 game losing streak to face Missouri, with the winner having a 1 game lead and the tiebreaker in the race for the Big XII North.

Is this a must win for Bill Callahan?

My take: No...but it's awfully close.

First, why not: With a loss, Nebraska will be 6-4 which would still be bowl eligible, even if they were to lose out. It's tough to fire a coach who made it to a bowl game (not that it matters to a certain athletic director), and frankly, three years probably isn't enough time to judge a coach. Nebraska certainly doesn't want to hitch a ride on the coaching carousel that sabotaged schools like Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa State in the 80's and 90's.

But here's why it's close: With the sorry state of the Big XII North the last 3 years, there is no excuse for not winning a title. Finishing the regular season at 7-5 most likely does not send a strong message that this program is in a resurgence after an 8-4 season in 2005. If a 75% winning percentage wasn't good enough for the Cornhusker football program in 2003, it's hard to accept these results.

Even if it doesn't result in the immediate firing of Callahan, a loss puts an end to all the goodwill gained from the end of the 2005 season. Already the and FireBillCallahan blog are back in action.

Here's another factor: In the Sagarin computer rankings, Nebraska's loss to Oklahoma State dropped the Huskers to #39. That's 5 spots behind Hawaii, 4 spots in front of Navy, and potentially even more problematic to the leadership in Lincoln, only 10 spots ahead of the Ohio Bobcats, a perennial bottom-feeder in the MAC that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1968. That's a comparison that has to be extremely uncomfortable to anyone who made outrageous statements about "gravitating to mediocrity."

The best way to keep this in check is to win on Saturday. Must win? No. But if they don't win, things are going to get rather hot.