DoubleExtraPoint blogger Jeffie has organized a "Big Red Roundtable" with several Husker blogs (Corn Nation, Big Red Network, and myself) to get a sampling of opinions of the state of the Huskers. The first one is a wrapup on the 2006 season; here are the subjects and here are my responses. If this proves successful, we'll likely do more of them. It's kind of fun to respond and it will be interesting to read the others' responses. Of course, your comments are welcome as well.
1. As a Nebraska fan you no doubt had a well-conceived set of expectations for the year. How did the 2006 Nebraska season jive with your preseason prospects?
My "realist" prediction was 9-3 and Big XII North champions. Pretty much dead-on with my expectations. I expected Troy to give us a better battle than they did, though. Most of my expectations of strengths and weaknesses weren't too far off, though Mo Purify contributed far more than I expected, and I posted this before Zackary Bowman ripped his ACL.
2. Given the long-standing success of Husker football how does losing five games influence your overall evaluation of the 2006 season? In other words, do the losses keep you up at night? Are you comfortable rationalizing them in some way? Or do you take the optimistic perspective of focusing on the left hand of the W/L column rather than the right hand?
The number of losses didn't bother me as much as how we lost those games. It wasn't until a few days after the Cotton Bowl that I even realized that 5 losses was the 3rd worst for this program in nearly 40 years. Certainly didn't seem that way. Some losses I look back and say, wow, we made too many mistakes to win, like against Oklahoma. (See 2003 Missouri, 2001 Colorado, 1999 Texas, 1996 Arizona State, etc.) Other times, we got outtalented (see 2002 Rose Bowel, most Orange Bowls vs. Miami, etc.) But this season, 4 losses came under the category of "what the #*$& are we doing???" I hated the USC game plan; it was almost a sign of surrender. I disagreed with the decision to throw on 3rd and short late against Texas, as running the ball likely meant that even if we didn't get the first down, Texas would have probably had to drive 80 yards against a gale with no timeouts in 1:30. Oklahoma State was a collapse after Brandon Jackson dominated the game early. And an ill-advised fake punt against Auburn let the Tigers back into the game that we were dominating at the time.
Bottom line is that watching the Huskers continually losing games that we should have won is a disturbing trend.
3. Now that the season has come to a close we know that Coach Callahan will go over all areas of the team with an IRS auditor's attention to detail. Help him out by offering a brief assessment of the 2006 offense, defense and special teams.
Briefly? On offense, it came down to balance. Some teams, Nebraska could simply overpower with the ground game (Iowa State, Troy, Nicholls State), and they did it. But when the Huskers were playing their best, it usually was because they were balanced. See the 2nd half against Texas; we mixed it up well and got into a groove. When we didn't try to be balanced (2nd half against Oklahoma State, for example), bad things usually happened.
Defensively, I think we tried to overcompensate for shortcomings in the secondary by playing too much base defense, and failed to generate pressure on the quarterback in passing situations. Towards the end of the season, we started to take some more chances and mixed it up a bit on defense, and had some better performances against Oklahoma, Auburn, and Missouri. But that still doesn't explain how Adam Barmann turned into Peyton Manning back in September...
Special Teams? After improvement in 2005, this squad regressed in 2006. Kickoffs were consistently short, giving every opponent great field position. We were one of the worst teams in the country in field goals by only converting 5. And at times, punt returns were a comedy that were poorly blocked and frequently not fielded. At least our punt coverage was ok.
4. No post-season assessment would be complete without handing out some hardware. Who are your 2006 Nebraska offensive and defensive MVPs and why?
On offense, I thought about naming Zac Taylor as the MVP, but decided to go with Brandon Jackson instead. Taylor was a warrior all season, but if it wasn't for Jackson picking up blitzes, making key catches, or taking command of the running game in October, Taylor would have never survived the season. Will he go to the NFL? We'll find out tomorrow. Offhand, I'd like to think not. I think he's established himself as the clear #1 (despite what happened in Dallas), and he's not projected very high in the draft.
Defensively, I'll chicken out and take Adam Carriker. Most of Cosgrove's schemes early in the year handcuffed him, but towards the end of the season, he was able to get some help and wreak havoc with opposing offenses.
5. For something completely different. If you had to name a coach of the year from the Nebraska staff whom would you select? This can be based on any number of things, including performance of a particular unit or the improvement of a particular aspect/unit over previous seasons.
I must admit, this question threw me for a loop, and I probably spent more time on this question than all others combined. My first take was to throw out John Blake, Dennis Wagner, and Jay Norvell as candidates. I hesitated on Blake because his departure and quick replacement seemed to indicate that something wasn't going well behind the scenes, even if the line was strong IMHO all year without getting a lot of help. Wagner's lines survived injuries to Greg Austin (memo to this staff: find a way to keep Austin involved in this program in some way if he wants.), Kurt Mann, and Matt Slauson this season. And Zac Taylor was named all-Big 12 and was incredibly efficient all season.
But when I thought more about this season, what we saw was an overall improvement in the team. With that in mind, I decided to name strength coach Dave Kennedy as my "coach of the year". Each year we always hear about "bigger, stronger, faster", but this year, each player actually seemed to be "bigger, stronger, faster" than they were the year before.
6. And finally, bust out your mental scrapbook. What is your favorite/most impressionable or defining memory of the 2006 Husker season? This can be a play, a game, a thought/image, or in CBS March Madness terms "One shining moment".
Trying to think more optimistically, I'd like to focus on Maurice Purify's leaping touchdown catch late against A&M. The whole drive was a thing of beauty, with key plays by Zac Taylor and Todd Peterson to get the Huskers in position, not to mention Barry Turner's block of an A&M field goal. So after thinking about it some more, let's name the final two minutes of that game as the Husker's "shining moment", since it really was much more than Purify's highlight reel catch.
What does the rest of the Roundtable think? CornNation, DoubleExtraPoint, Big Red Network have posted their responses. Check 'em out, and feel free to comment.
Late update: Kind of like the tradition of giving the opposition party a chance to respond to the President's "State of the Union" address, here's AJ the HuskerH8er... (Of course, in AJ's case, it's kind of like of like allowing Osama bin Laden or Kim Jong-Il to respond to Bush...)