How does a win feel like a loss? That's the sensation Husker fans are experiencing after today's 20-17 victory over Wake Forest. It's kind of a glass half-full, glass half-empty situation. Problem is, after last week's Nevada game we really thought the glass was overflowing. I know my expectations increased; heck, I put them 7th in my "Power Poll" last week. (Here's a shocker... they won't be there after this week...) With last year's ACC rookie of the year on the sidelines, I expected more out of the Big Red.
Not that they did some good things at times on defense, especially to open the game and for much of the second half. Ndamakong Suh played like a man possessed at times today. But at other times, Wake counteracted our physical play by putting more speed on the field, and on several key plays, Wake Forest's speed killed us.
On offense, it was mostly a muddled mess. The offensive line wasn't creating the push they did the week before. Maurice Purify had a few key drops. But more importantly, Sam Keller is really struggling at quarterback. At first glance, numbers weren't horrible... 24 for 41 passing for 258 yards and a touchdown. But then read on... 2 interceptions plus a 2 fumbled snaps. Even more disturbing was watching Keller staring down receivers all afternoon, though fortunately, Wake didn't capitalize on this.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by this. Joe Dailey struggled as a first year quarterback in this system. Zac Taylor struggled early in his first year starting in this system, and even though he improved towards the end of the season, still had a fairly low pass efficiency rating. But Sam Keller was the NFL prospect, the quarterback with the strong arm. He once torched LSU, right? How can he be struggling too? Here's the scary thought... it may be the system.
Over at Corn Nation, Corn Blight absolves Bill Callahan from blame, pointing out receivers were open. I'll disagree on this point, as it doesn't matter whether the receivers were open or not when the plays aren't successful. The West Coast Offense is most productive when it tries to be balanced, and Callahan seemed to abandon the rushing game at times to put the ball in the hands of a struggling quarterback. That's on Bill Callahan.
Once again, we have yet another entry into Bill Callahan's "Calls of Shame". These are calls that make you jump up and scream "WTF?", and it's starting to become a sad tradition at Nebraska. It started against Pitt in 2004 with the 18 yard field goal attempt from the 6 inch line that resulted in no points. In 2005, there was the screen pass out of the end zone that resulted in an easy safety for Kansas State. And last season, there was the fake punt in the Cotton Bowl that gave Auburn control of the game. The latest entry? Bill Callahan called on his inner Gary Pinkel by deciding to go for it on 4th and 2 with 2 minutes left, running essentially the same play that got blown up on 3rd and 2, just running it to the other side of the field. Guess what... it got blown up as well, giving the Deacons one more shot with great field position. Yes, if the play is successful, the game is over. But the downside of this play was simply not worth taking the risk. Take a delay penalty if necessary, then punt the ball and pin the Deacons deep in their territory.
The officials also had a bad day as well. Wake fans will wonder where the holding or pass interference call was on the last play. Holding was a real possibility, but pass interference wasn't possible since the ball wasn't really catchable. On the other hand, how can someone lose control of the ball then step out of bounds, yet retain possession? And when using the chains to measure for a first down, it's usually considered good form to fully stretch the chain out tight rather than push the stick back towards the ball and calling it good.
So while it's a win, it was an ugly win. Glass half full folks will see 2-0, while glass half empty will see a team that didn't play well and really was lucky to win this week.
I'd rather be lucky than a fan of Iowa State or the Weasels, both of whom are now 0-2...