The lady who sits by me frequently at the games asked me towards the end of the game what I thought the problem with the Huskers were. The very short answer ("Everything") isn't accurate. The most accurate short answer ("Coaching") isn't complete. It's really a systematic failure of the program. So let's look across the program and get an idea of where this program is.
Ah, the old strawman of talent. We've been beaten over the head with the idea that only talent matters and that Bill Callahan and company have been bringing an unprecendented level of talent to Lincoln. Now that strawman is being ripped apart by the reality that the talent argument has been taken to absurd levels. Talent is important, but it's only part of the equation. Furthermore, we've seen recruiting prioritize on recruiting offensive skill players, many of whom don't see the field (Chris Brooks, Menolik Holt, Niles Paul, etc.) but not enough defensive linemen and linebackers. And many of the defensive recruits have been junior college players with only a couple of years to play before their time is up. While the defensive line should be back next year, only Phillip Dillard returns among the top five linebackers. That means Nebraska's next coaching staff has their work cut out for them to fill this hole.
Strength and Conditioning
Dave Kennedy was supposed to be the guy who was supposed to bring "Husker Power" back, but so far, the evidence isn't terribly convincing. He certainly didn't make much of a difference at Pitt, and it appears that he's not doing it at Nebraska either. For what it's worth, Travis Justice said on KXSP-AM last week that he had been told by someone "in the business" that Kennedy was the "worst strength coach in the nation." (Of course, you have to take the source with a grain of salt.) That being said, you certainly don't hear any rave reviews of Kennedy's work, and in fact, you hear many former players suggesting that Kennedy's program isn't working.
The photo of wide receiver Will Henry's playbook has been posted all over the internet. Let's be honest here... most college textbooks are smaller than this. We've also seen Sam Keller and Joe Dailey have to run to the sidelines to get the playcall right. So we know the offense is too complex. Players who aren't sure of what they are doing are hesitant, and hesitant players play slow. Football is supposed to be instinctive, and this playbook doesn't allow that.
Adding to the problem is Callahan's practice routine of focusing the majority of repetitions on the starters, leaving the reserves to watch on the sideline and not get much work. Player development is essentially limited to spring and preseason practice, which doesn't bode well for the future. No practice means no chance to master the playbook, thus creating a vicious cycle of mediocrity.
This one's been beaten to the ground. Whether it's Kevin Cosgrove's love of playing "prevent" defenses all game long or Bill Callahan's rather predicable personnel/formation groupings, it's become almost a laughingstock that opposing teams can master them in one week, while our players never seem to master them.
Reports of disfunction are nothing new to this coaching staff. In 2004, people outside the Nebraska locker room heard the coaching staff doing battle with each other at Iowa State. Callahan took off the headphones late against Missouri this year. Jay Norvell, John Blake, and Scott Downing all apparantly left Lincoln privately unhappy as well. If the coaches aren't all on the same page, then the players are getting conflicting instructions as well, leading to more dissent. No wonder the players seem to be merely going through the motions. That makes three lost teams for Bill Callahan in the last five years: 2003 Raiders, 2004 Huskers, and now 2007.
The good news is that none of this is necessarily fatal. In fact, good personnel decisions by Tom Osborne can address four of the five issues for future seasons. That doesn't help things for 2007, however.