Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday Night Beer: Yes, the Huskers Have a Chance

As Cobby illustrates, yes, Nebraska still has a chance. Certainly the Sooner defense has struggled since linebacker Ryan Reynolds tore his ACL against Texas. That plays well into Nebraska's ball control scheme with the "spread coast offense". But Reynolds absence hasn't affected the other side of the Sooners much, and that's Sam Bradford and the lethal Sooner offense. Some people might point out Bradford only completed 40% of his passes against Kansas State...I prefer to look at the 55 points the Sooners scored in the first half.

Bottom line: Nebraska must play a perfect game offensively, scoring on every possession and eating clock. Then hoping that the defense can somehow get a stop or two at some point during the game. Likely? Nope. But possible...and that's why they play the games.

Since the formation of the Big XII conference, the NU/OU game has become much more of a battle based on respect than hatred. Both programs have gone through their downtimes (Oklahoma in the 90's, and Nebraska from 2002 to the present), so both programs seem to recognize and appreciate the other. (Well, except for a some unfortunate exceptions that we'd prefer never have happened. Right Billy & Darth?) One thing is for sure, the men from Youngstown have the respect thing down.

UNO hockey is undefeated, mostly due to a rather weak non-conference schedule so far. (In fact, it allows for UNO to be ranked #1 in the emulation of the Pairwise ratings and RPI for the second week in a row!) That changes this weekend to some extent with the Mavs heading to Bowling Green to play the Perverts. It will be interesting how the improved defense and physical play will translate in conference play. In recent years, UNO has dug a hole with poor play early in the season; this year, they really need to get off to a fast start.

Sarpy County has raised their hotel tax to be comparable to Omaha's, in preparation for their bid to build a stadium. But it's going to be a mere drop in the bucket. The 1.5% increase to a 4% tax will bring the total take from hotel taxes to around $500,000 a year...or $10 million over 20 years. The 1% increase in Omaha's hotel tax alone will bring in over $22 million over 20 years. Bottom line is that Sarpy County needs to find another $30 million or more to build this stadium.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Week 9 Power Poll

Here's the deal with the "Power Poll". Most other pollsters take last week's poll, and promote or demote teams based on whether they win or lose, then fill in the teams around them. This leads to some weird results, but everybody just accepts it. I do it differently; I just take each week's game, and decide who is better than the next team. On a week like this, you get different results, such as teams moving up in the rankings for losing.

1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. Penn State (nice win on the road with your backup quarterback)
4. Florida
5. Oklahoma State (Example #1... take the #1 team down to the wire in their house, you get credit for that...)
6. Georgia
7. Oklahoma (defense has completely disappeared)
8. Utah
9. USC
10. Ohio State (Example #2... lead the #3 team in the country for most of the way, you get credit for that, even if you lose...)

Big XII Standings
1. Texas
2. Oklahoma State
3. Oklahoma
4. Texas Tech
5. Missouri
(Huge gap here...)
6. Nebraska (Only win by the North over the South on Saturday)
7. Kansas (Badly exposed by Tech, and in common opponents Tech and Iowa State, fall far short of the Huskers)
8. Baylor
(Another gap seems to be forming here...)
9. Colorado (Only because of their victory over Kansas State)
10. Kansas State (Only because of their victory over Texas A&M)
11. Texas A&M (Only because of their victory over Iowa State)
12. Iowa State (Fallen off the face of the earth after leading Kansas at halftime three weeks ago...)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bears Put Up A Fight

After Baylor walloped Washington State earlier this season, I knew that this was not the same Baylor football program that we've been become accustomed to in the Big XII. Both teams beat Iowa State by the same margin (28 points) in back-to-back weeks. So all signs pointed to a close matchup.

Stop for a pause there. Last year, I felt Nebraska had fallen to the level of Baylor in terms of Big XII football, and while that's not necessarily something to be proud of, both teams are improved in 2008.

That being said, trailing Baylor 20-17 at halftime is not an accomplishment. Coming back in the second half to win 32-20 is one, albeit minor. It's not where Nebraska want sto be, but it's progress from where they were.

Tom Shatel today agreed with my postgame question whether Bo Pelini's ongoing discussions with referees are actually counterproductive. There's no doubt there's no shortage of calls to protest. I think everybody is still trying to figure out how Baylor ended with the ball on the ball on their 24 yard line after muffing that second quarter punt. But referees don't like being shown up...especially by a rookie head coach. Respect is something that has to be earned, and it's becoming apparent that the referees aren't respecting Pelini at this point.

Both Menolik Holt and Phillip Dillard are "questionable at best" for the Oklahoma game this week. Dillard's injury is a major concern since he's the anchor at linebacker. Cody Glenn is going to need to step up and be a playmaker. He'll also need to quit giving the officials a reason to throw the penalty flag at him. Some of the calls may be questionable, but when the referees are not giving Nebraska the benefit of the doubt, even the slightest hint of impropriety seems to draw yellow.

Holt's injury means that Niles Paul needs to step up his game. Curenski Gilleylen got a chance, but his stone hands will keep him on the bench. (Shades of Abdul Muhammad...)

Certainly the defense had plenty of busts on Saturday; in fact, most of Baylor big plays were the result of defensive lapses. Bad arm tackling and a mismatch in coverage led to the Bears first touchdown, as did a lapse in coverage on two long Robert Griffin runs on Baylor's second drive. To be sure, Baylor had more speed than Nebraska on Saturday. That's one of those things that will take time to address, but keep in mind, that it's not just speed, but the combination of speed and strength. And Nebraska was the stronger team yesterday.

Certainly Nebraska's performance, while not exactly what Husker fans were after, was the best that the North could in head-to-head matchups with the North. Oklahoma laid Kansas State to waste in the first half, though there are huge questions marks with the Sooner defense after giving up 35 to the Wildcats. The Sooners just haven't been the same since linebacker Ryan Reynolds tore up his knee against Texas. Almost as bad on defense yesterday was Kansas, who never really stopped any Texas Tech drives until the end of the third quarter. Iowa State is now the worst team in the Big XII after letting Mike Sherman's motley crew hang 49 on the Clones at home.

And if any Husker fans are still thinking about winning the North, well, Missouri is back and in complete control of that race at this point. Colorado's "playing rather well" defense was no match for the Tigers. Of course, that "playing rather well" is a rather absurd statement, considering the Buffies are now #78 in total defense. In fact, here's your statistic of the week: Nebraska now has the best defense in the Big XII North. Nebraska is #66, followed by #78 Colorado, #87 Missouri, #88 Kansas, #101 Iowa State, and #109 Kansas State.

Hold that thought, though. Let's make that "least awful defense" in the Big XII North instead.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Baylor: Trap Game or Gaining Momentum

For all the renewed optimism around Husker fans this week, it's quite a bit of a surprise to see the glut of tickets on the market for the Baylor game. I mean, Baylor isn't the same old Baylor; two weeks ago, they blasted Iowa State 38-10. (The same score difference of last week's Nebraska/Iowa State game, if you recall.) They also beat Washington State rather soundly as well. Art Briles has the Bears playing much better, especially in their rushing game. And Robert Griffin kind of reminds me of Kansas State's Michael Bishop or Ell Roberson; quarterbacks who can beat you with their arm or leg.

Maybe it's not a big game for Nebraska if the Huskers win, but I guarantee it'll look like a big game if Baylor pulls off the upset. For what it's worth, Bo Pelini continues to be pleased with practices, which is surely linked to the Huskers improved play the last couple of weeks. Win, and Nebraska is 5-3 and in great position to get to bowl eligibility. (And maybe even more, should Missouri and Kansas completely implode... Not likely, to be sure, but still mathematically possible.)

AJ the Huskerh8r is understandably irritable this week. Between his Tigers swooning on the national stage and his 4-8 prediction looking fragile, all he's got is his belt and scoreboard from two weeks ago. Nebraska's victory over Iowa State made it impossible to keep ranking the Huskers 6th in the now he rates the Big Red 5th. That's right...behind Colorado and Kansas State.

Colorado? Where they are rotating quarterbacks, because, well, they don't really have a quarterback? Oh, but AJ says it's because their defense has been "playing well". 39 points to Florida State's #29 offense? Oh, but they held West Virginia to 14 points...oh wait, the Mountaineers are #79 in 1-A in offense. Well, they did hold 1-AA Eastern Washington to 24 points.

Oh, but that West Virginia victory is better than anything Nebraska has done this season. Well, kind of. Sagarin has West Virginia #56, which is better than Nebraska's victories over #59 San Jose State and #60 Western Michigan. Oh, and Sagarin says that #31 Nebraska is better than #53 Colorado.

And don't get me started on Kansas State. Even TB & the gang at BringOnTheCats recognize the Turd Casserole they're being forced to digest this season.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Night Beer: Sarpy Preparing For Negotiations

"Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!" appears to be the battle cry for Sarpy County, as county leaders plan to move forward with negotiations with the Omaha Royals to move them to southwest Chalco/east Gretna. But the real development is still two weeks away, when Sugarland, Texas votes on their stadium complex (funded by a 10% tax on tickets, 2% hotel fee, a half-cent sales tax, and a $3 parking fee). If that carries, the Royals have the ace in the hole for negotiations with MECA and Sarpy County. If it fails, it becomes a game of chicken to see who blinks first: MECA, Sarpy County, or the Royals.

Footnote on Zack Bowman...the injury bug bites him again. After an injury-riddled Husker career, he's now out after just one game with the Bears, Bowman has a torn bicep which will require season-ending surgery. Frankly, I don't think we'll ever know how good Bowman might have been if it wasn't for all of the injuries.

Nate Swift points to the restored Unity Council as keeping the team from spiraling down into a blame game during the earlier point of the season. Last year's team was 4-3, but as the season spiraled out of control, the mental focus on the team slipped as well resulting in the total collapse of the team. Fast forward to 2008, and this team is improving and gaining confidence as the season goes on. That might be the biggest impact of the coaching change.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Week 8 Power Poll

OK, after Texas' obliteration of Missouri, the Bovines take over the top spot for the time being. Let's face it, college football is a game of survival, and with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech up next, that survival is not guaranteed. But when Alabama only beats Ole Miss by 4 points, it's clearly time to move Texas up.

1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. Penn State
4. Oklahoma
5. USC
6. Utah
7. Florida
8. Georgia
9. Oklahoma State
10. Ohio State (OK, I may have written the Buckeyes off a little too early.)

Big XII Standings
1. Texas
2. Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma State
4. Kansas (Yeah, they lost, but they looked more competitive against Oklahoma than Missouri did against Texas...)
5. Texas Tech (Trailing A&M at halftime should concern Raider fans...)
6. Missouri (Beat Colorado this week, and give me a reason to move you back ahead of Kansas...)
7. Nebraska (We'll see if AJ can find a reason other than "I didn't watch any games this weekend" to continue justifying burying the Huskers at the bottom of the woeful Big XII North.)
8. Baylor
The bottom four are almost interchangeable, but I'll sort them out anyway. Not a huge difference between these teams right now.
9. Colorado (I'm giving the Buffies the benefit of the doubt that a quarterback change might eventually spark this team.)
10. Iowa State (I'm giving the Cyclones credit for their first half against Kansas; that's at least something of note...)
11. Kansas State (Not sure if Colorado's offense is that bad, or if Kansas State's defense might possibly have improved.)
12. Texas A&M (Leading Tech at halftime isn't enough to erase the stench of the rest of this season...)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Tigers, Buffies, and Wildkitties Lay Eggs

I must say that I was rather surprised to see Texas A&M leading Texas Tech at halftime yesterday. Tech did come back and won, but their 7-0 record is looking rather suspicious at this time. Sagarin's rates their strength of schedule 103rd at this point, meaning that except for Nebraska, they really haven't played anybody. That changes starting this week, as they play Kansas, then Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. Tech's going to have to step their play up a few notches, as they could easily be 7-4 when Baylor arrives in Lubbock after Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins yanked the redshirt off of freshman Tyler Hansen to replace Hawkins' son Cody, who was struggling mightily this season. Right now, it's "splitting snaps", though it's important to note that Hansen played more than Cody Hawkins. Look for this situation to mimic Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor; Hansen will likely be the starter for the Buffaloes by the start of November.

Not that either quarterback had a lot of success against Kansas State's awful defense. So while Hansen gives them a little more of a spark and potential, it's still a bad offense to this point in Boulder. Speaking of the Wildcats, Kansas State starts begins the Ron Prince death march next weekend with Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri up next to face the nations #105 defense.

I headed down to the Qwest Center last night to catch UNO's hockey game against Union College. Looks like I didn't miss anything by skipping the Texas/Missouri game; I walked by the Briequarium and just shook my head when I saw the Bovines led the Tigers 35-0. Surprised the heck out of me; I figured Missouri could be outscored upon, but not be essentially shut down offensively. Is Texas that good? Well, after defeating Oklahoma and Missouri, you'd have to go that direction until someone proves otherwise.

Speaking of the UNO/Union game, it was a fairly physical defensive battle, with neither team having much success putting the puck on net during the game. That might be the biggest change with UNO hockey, as the Mavs now seem to be much more physical than they've been in years. They came out a little sluggish in the first period, but they controlled the play much of the third period and nearly all of overtime. There was one stretch in overtime where UNO controlled the puck like they were on a power play for over two minutes, periodically rotating a player out for a subsitution while not allowing Union a chance to change up. Certainly remarkable, and not like anything I've seen from UNO hockey before.

It's just game two for the Mavs, so it's hard to say much about where the Mavs are. Union was a middle of the road eastern hockey team last season, so while the victory is good, it's not like UNO slugged it out with a national power. That being said, the victory was enough to make UNO #1 in's Pairwise calculator. Yeah, it's silly to look at it this point, especially with the way they calculate the Pairwise. But it's a good start for this season, even if AJ already gave up on them before the season even began.

Anybody else see Zach Bowman's impact on the Chicago Bears today? Activated from the practice squad this week, he only saw a little action, but oh, what an impact. Playing initially on special teams, he spooked the Vikings' Charles Gordon into muffing a punt deep in Viking territory, then pounced on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown. Then, after more injuries in the Bears secondary, he sealed the Bears victory with an interception with 41 seconds left in the game. We heard all about Bowman's talent when he arrived in Lincoln, but injuries really limited him throughout his Husker career. Whether it was nagging hamstrings, torn tendons or torn ACLs, he never really was healthy during his Husker career.

Speaking of former Huskers in the NFL, I see Barrett Ruud got 5% of the votes for "player of the game" on tonight's NBC broadcast. Yeah, he won't get on the horse trailer tonight, but another big game for the former Husker.

I criticized Shawn Watson for not pulling Joe Ganz against Missouri two weeks ago; turns out Watson had a good reason to do it. I'll name this variant the "Spread Coast Offense", and so far, it looks fairly productive. What I'm especially intrigued with is the Marlon Lucky lining up in the shotgun taking the snap from center. I'd love to see Lucky utilized much like the Miami Dolphins line up Ronnie Brown. Of course, I've been calling for it all season.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Huskers Breeze Past Cyclones in the First Half

Yesterday, Carl Pelini told Husker fans in Omaha that "This may have been the best week of practice I may have ever had as a coach." I had two conflicting thoughts when I heard that:

Great! Bo Pelini said that Nebraska practiced well the week before, and the Huskers then went out and played pretty well against Texas Tech.

Not Again! Mike Ekeler made a similar announcement two weeks ago, then the Huskers were demolished by Missouri.

By early in the 2nd quarter, it was clear that my first feeling was correct. Nebraska absolutely dominated that first half on both sides of the ball. Nate Swift had an unbelievable first half, especially that highlight reel touchdown catch in the first quarter. Really, the only thing to criticize in the first half was the two turnovers...otherwise, it could easily have been 31-0 or 35-0 at halftime.

Second half, the Cyclones made some adjustments and quickly got back into the game with a quick touchdown to open the third quarter. But the rest of the third quarter was a stalemate until Iowa State badly missed a 40 yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, landing it in the tuba section instead of through the uprights. Nebraska promptly got the offense back into gear, and finished up strong.

At halftime, I felt that if the defense finished the game like they started, they might have finally earned their Blackshirts. Second half, I'm not sure they earned them, though it was by far their strongest game of the year. Holding Iowa State to 228 yards and 7 points isn't too shabby. But again, it was Iowa State who hasn't done much offensively since halftime two weeks ago, when they led Kansas at home.

One major accomplishment was Pierre Allen finally forcing a turnover when he stripped Derrick Catlett late in the third quarter. Unfortunately, that led to an excessively long review while the referees tried to determine if Armando Murillo had stepped back in bounds before picking up the ball. It took nearly almost five minutes for Versus to pull up the low end zone replay and slow it down enough to determine that Murillo had indeed stepped back in bounds before gaining possession. It took so long that the ISU public address announcer played the entire 4 minutes of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer"...yikes! Larry Asante, though, let another interception pass through his hands.

Offensive turnovers by the receivers were the biggest offensive problem this week. Penalties were much improved this week, with only 4 penalties for 45 yards. (Those 15 yarders need to get addressed though.) Lucky ran pretty well, though the offense was once again throw first, run second. Maybe that's not the long term vision for this program, but right now, that's what this team seems to do best.

But most importantly, did we see progress again this week? Damn right we did. Unlike last season, where the team seemed to get worse as the season progressed, this year, the team generally seems to be improving.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Ultimatum for Mike Kemp and UNO Hockey

Tom Shatel talked to UNO chancellor John Christensen this week, and got confirmation that he expects UNO to be in the top four in the CCHA. In fact, he expects it this season:
"If we don't start meeting that standard, we will sit down and have some serious discussions after this season," Christensen said. "There will be changes. I'm not prepared to say at this moment what that will be. A lot of things go into a season and how it plays out.

"Our team lost a lot of talent. But every team loses talent. It's time for our program to play at a high level."
Nevermind that UNO is picked eighth in the CCHA this season. Christensen wants more from UNO hockey, and wants it now.
"Mike has shown he can build a good program. But there are builders and there are finishers. It's time to deliver."
Is it fair to dump this on Mike Kemp just before the season starts? Truth is, nothing in sports is fair anymore. In some respects, at least Kemp knows what is expected of him. Frank Solich entered the 2003 season thinking he needed to deliver a certain number of wins, though nothing was said until he was fired.

Right or wrong, that's where UNO hockey is now. A fantastic start, making it to the CCHA championship game in just their third season. In recent years, they've been ohhh-so-close to getting to that 4th spot several times, but haven't made the cut, finishing fifth in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Why fourth? The CCHA playoff format makes the divide between fourth and fifth place huge. Fourth place gets you a first round bye, and a home series in the second round. Fifth place gets you a home series in the first round, and if you win, you play the fourth place team on their home ice. Win that second round series, and it's off to the Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals.

Not to mention that in the last five years, an average of four CCHA teams have made the NCAA tournament each year. Christensen sums it up:
"If you finish in the top four every year, those things (championships and Frozen Four berths) are going to come."
After the Nancy Belck/Jim Buck scandals, many people thought UNO was committed to mediocrity. Today, the message is loud and clear.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Big Red Roundtable: Midway through 2008 Edition

HuskerGuy has called together another Big Red Roundtable; not sure who's all going to show up this time. But I'll bite:

How do you see the Huskers finishing the 2008 season? Final win loss/record?
I originally said 8-4 or more likely 9-3. Well, at 3-3 and a trip to Norman, 8-4 looks like the best case scenario. It might not be unreasonable either, especially if Nebraska takes care of business this week against Iowa State. Baylor is much improved, but that game's in Lincoln. So is Kansas. But the season closes out with Ron Prince's final home game and Colorado, who has lost badly to every decent team they've played. So I'll go 7-5.

What is the most disappointing aspect of NU's performance in the first half of the season? Lack of a running game? Offensive inconsistency? Penalties?
Defense is the thing I'm most disappointed in. Yeah, defense was absolutely horrible last season, but I really had hoped they'd at least be mediocre. So far, they've merely upgraded to bad. Penalties have also been disappointing. Offensive inconsistency is actually better than last year, when we went 7 quarters without scoring a touchdown against Missouri and Oklahoma State, then went nearly 60 minutes without a touchdown against A&M and Texas.

Through 6 games, what do you think of the defense coming off of last year's debacle? Have they improved more or less than you thought they would?
Well, gee...I think I just answered that. The defensive line has shown significant improvement from last year, when they were barely a speed bump for opposing offenses. But the secondary continues to be an ongoing puzzle. I think we've got athletes, but so far, only in-state walk-ons seem to be able to buy into the scheme.

With the reality that the Big 12 may now be as tough as the SEC, how does that bode for Nebraska's attempt to regain it's former status? How long of an uphill climb do we have to re-join the leaders of the conference?
Everything is cyclical in college football. Quarterbacks like Chase Daniel and Graham Harrell are gone after this season. This may sound weird coming from me, but it all starts with recruiting. Let me explain: the last four years, we've been told that we need to recruit stars. We all can see how well that's worked out. Most importantly, it'll take time to coach 'em up and develop them. How long will it take? Count on it taking three or four years before we'll know for sure if Bo Pelini is the right guy...then we'll have an idea how long it'll be to join the upper echelon. If Bo really is the right guy, we'll probably know sooner than later.

Most disappointing/surprising players for NU thus far?
Cody Glenn has been the most surprising player; he's a playmaker on defense. (I've long felt he was a playmaker on offense who spent most of his time before in the doghouse of the previous regime.) Disappointment? Early on, I'd have to go with Larry Asante, though if his play against Texas Tech is any indication, that might be a little premature.

Others participating? HuskerFaithful

One Year After the End of the Pederson Error

Yesterday, Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald noted that today is the one year anniversary of the firing of Steve Pederson. Some fans even view October 15, 2007 as the sixth greatest day in the history of Nebraska football.

That's almost as bad as what Pederson did to the program. Even one year later, there's nothing to celebrate. While there is a renewed sense of optimism around the entire athletic department, there's no need to "dance on Pederson's grave". Not with the football program still trying to dig itself out of the hole Pederson dug.

I mean, at this point, we're still hoping that Bo Pelini is the answer to the Huskers' problems. I see little signs that the program is back on the right track, but progress is much slower than I had hoped. Certainly the Huskers have been much more competitive this season than last, even if the record doesn't necessarily reflect it to this point. We don't know if there will be another regression, much like Meechigoon's loss to Toledo last week.

The reconstruction effort has scarcely begun in Lincoln. It was inappropriate to celebrate one year ago, and it's inappropriate to celebrate today.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Night Beer: Brouhaha between Bo & Barney?

Breaking News! Bo Pelini was spotted yelling at offensive line coach Barney Cotton during Saturday's NU/Texas Tech game!

This also just in: Christmas is less than three months away!

Let's be honest here. Bo Pelini being demonstrative is news? It doesn't take much to find pictures of Pelini expressing himself. Last week, the big story was the "family feud" as Bo was obviously ready to fire big brother Carl.

Of course, if you've seen Matt Schick's "Carl Big Red" interview with Carl Pelini, you know how silly that idea is. Likewise, it's just as silly to think that Saturday's outburst is anything more than irritation over two successive holding penalties on the same offensive lineman.

Just the same, some idiots have created some pretty far-out stories on this one. Maybe they are auditioning for Art Bell.

Speaking of Huskers blowing up, anybody else catch Richie Incognito getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final seconds of yesterday's St. Louis/Washington game? Josh Brown bailed out Incognito by drilling the 49 yard field goal anyway as time expired.

Sarpy County leaders aren't just satisfied with a potential $40 million boondoggle in pursuit of the Omaha Royals. Those same elected officials are also trying to clear up a $7 million snafu over lost federal funding for road construction and a lost court case over zoning standards for a warehouse near the proposed ballpark location. And people still think that Sarpy County can pull this off?

And as predicted, the folks in Fairbanks aren't too happy with Sarahcuda turncoating on the State U last weekend in Omaha. Of course, Governor Palin seems to have overplayed the "hockey mom" card, judging from the reaction she got in Philadelphia. (Thanks, Sammy V over at DXP!)

Or maybe they were just cheering "Ruuuud!" Former Husker linebacker Barrett Ruud is having a heck of a season with Tampa Bay. He's even getting some mention from Pro Football Weekly as a candidate for league MVP. Not to shabby for a guy that some Husker fans thought was too slow and untalented to start for a Big XII school.

Week 7 Power Poll

Another wild week means some upheaval in the power poll. Some of the Husker Blogpollers are really punishing Oklahoma and Missouri for their losses, but I'm not. Again, the point of the Power Poll is to rate teams as to their relative strength, and which teams I think are better than the others.

1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Penn State
4. Oklahoma (Not going to get penalized too much for losing to the Bovines)
5. BYU
6. Utah
7. USC
8. Florida
9. Georgia
10. Oklahoma State

Big XII Power Poll
1. Texas
2. Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma State
4. Missouri (Again, still better than Tech.)
5. Texas Tech
6. Kansas
7. (tie) Nebraska
7. (tie) Baylor (Definitely not the old Baylor)
9. Colorado (A must win this week)
10. (tie) Iowa State (That one hurt...badly...)
10. (tie) Kansas State (Beating A&M means absolutely nothing)
12. Texas A&M

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bo Doesn't Know Moral Victories

Last week, I pointed out Shawn Watson, Ted Gilmore, and Barney Cotton as coaches who probably were under the greatest scrutiny over the performance of their charges.

Tonight, they deserve a toast after today's performance against Texas Tech. Barney Cotton's offensive line was physical and opened up some nice sized holes for all of the Husker I-backs. Ted Gilmore's young receivers, especially Menelik Holt and Niles Paul, were making the catches today. And Shawn Watson's game plan was stellar with a wonderfully balanced passing and rushing.

Look at time of possession: 40:12 for Nebraska to 19:48 for Texas Tech. Some people call time of possession the most overrated statistic in football; I disagree. The only statistics that really matter are points scored and points allowed. In today's game, that two-to-one dominance of time of possession was huge for the Huskers.

Everybody in college football knows how productive Mike Leach's offense is, so every moment that they are off the field is an opportunity to stay in the game. And to be sure, it doesn't matter how long you hold onto the ball if you don't score points. But by that same measure, if you give Texas Tech fewer possessions, that means there are fewer possessions that you need to stop them.

You can look at the defensive performance as a glass half-full or half-empty situation. On one hand, Tech averaged 8.8 yards per play. But Nebraska went into today with an even more decimated linebacker corp. Cody Glenn and Phillip Dillard played very little today, as they only mentioned a "participated" on the stat sheet. True freshman walk-on Matt Holt was the starting MIKE linebacker.

But others stepped up. Larry Asante returned from the Twilight Zone and tackled like a man possessed today. Eric Hagg made some key stops as well on pass coverage.

Joe Ganz had his best game of the season, and arguably the best game of his career when you consider the opposition. Some fans will unfortunately blame him for the loss, since his interception ended the Huskers chances. That's unfortunate. Nebraska had plenty of other opportunities to execute and possibly win the game before overtime. Take the blown coverage on Michael Crabtree on 4th and 4. If someone covers Crabtree (or at least helps) and the pass falls incomplete, Nebraska has the ball in great field position instead of Tech late in the game. If someone makes a better block on Castille's first half 4th and 1, Nebraska maintains possession.

Football is a team game. You win as a team, and lose as a team.

Nebraska fans can take a lot of positives out of this game. Great effort, great heart, and much crisper execution on both sides of the ball. But in the end, it was still a loss. Nebraska doesn't count moral victories. You're heartened by the improvements, but there were still plenty of opportunities for improvement.

If Nebraska continues to improve the rest of the season like they did this week, it will still be a successful season and a major improvement from 2007.

Instant Feedback: So Close Against Tech...Yet So Far

Turns out Nebraska isn't quite as hopeless as some people felt. A great game plan, keeping the ball away from Tech and even getting some pressure on Graham Harrell at times.

Obviously, the key play of the game was Mike Leach going for it on 4th and 4 from deep in Tech territory. Harrell completes the pass to Michael Crabtree for a huge gain, and Tech eventually took the lead 31-24. But the Huskers showed heart, and tied the ball game up at 31 with :29 seconds left.

In OT, Nebraska's chances looked good once the extra point was blocked...but Ganz's interception sealed the deal for the Raiders. A great football game that many people didn't think was possible.

Not a perfect game by Nebraska... too many penalties on the Big Red once again. But the offensive line made a vast improvement this week. Larry Asante was a monster in the secondary, making up for his poor play earlier this season.

It's a loss, but did you see progress from Nebraska this week? Damn right you did.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Are the Huskers Hopeless Against Texas Tech?

Husker fans seem to be resigned to a loss tomorrow against Texas Tech, even normally optimistic guys like Steve Hanaway over at the Big Red Network. Certainly, Tech's offense has launched the Red Raiders into the top ten, and Nebraska's performance over in the last two games left a lot to be desired. Certainly the Raiders should be favored to win, and they are, by a nice sized point spread.

But is it hopeless? We all remember all too well what happened the last time Nebraska traveled to Lubbock, Texas. Kevin Cosgrove rushed three and dropped eight into coverage, and Bill Callahan threw true freshman quarterback Beau Davis to the wolves, as five turnovers resulted in a 70-10 beatdown that shocked the program.

That was four years ago, and another coaching staff. All of those coaches are elsewhere now. And except for Beau Davis, all the players are different now as well. Problem is...Tech is much better than they were in 2004. And Nebraska really isn't much better.

So is Nebraska positioning themselves for another apocolyiptic beatdown like in 2004? I'll be's possible. But it's not assured. In fact, Double T Nation gives us five reasons Nebraska will beat the Raiders. (They also have five reasons why Tech will win as well...)

I do sense a little different attitude coming out of Lincoln this week. Ron Brown and Bo Pelini have said this has been the team's best practices of the season. But is that enough? Not by itself. For starters, the offense needs to become more productive. Everybody who's watched Nebraska football knows it.

On defense, I'm reminded of the last couple of times Nebraska faced Texas Tech. Laying back in zone coverage and rushing three or four linemen is a sure recipe to get picked apart. Blitzing Harrell comes with a heavy price; Tech's offensive line is big and strong, and Harrell gets the ball away quickly. But like Chase Daniel, if you let him get into a rhythm, it's game over. Bo Pelini knows his gimmicky defense from last week was a mistake, and he'll have something else in mind tomorrow. That doesn't mean that the results will be any better, though.

Likewise, a blowout lost isn't automatic either. I firmly believe this is a game Nebraska can win tomorrow. It'll take a performance the likes of which we really haven't seen from the Huskers in years (Michigan 2005? Oklahoma State 2003? Oklahoma 2001?).

But it's not hopeless.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wednesday Night Beer: Glenn Still Hobbling

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Cody Glenn returned to practice, but is still rather gimpy. Can he play against Texas Tech? That's still up in the air.

Certainly, Nebraska will need all the speed they can come up with against the Red Raiders. I still have nightmares of that game four years ago. I spent most of the third quarter swearing at Kevin Cosgrove for rushing three and dropping eight guys deep, leaving plenty of cushion underneath for Sonny Cumbie's receivers. Fourth quarter, I spent swearing at Bill Callahan for throwing true freshman Beau Davis to the wolves, as he threw 8 passes: 1 was caught by a Husker, 4 were caught by the Raiders. That might be the worst stat line ever seen.

While Chase Daniel's comments about the Huskers playing dirty hurt the Huskers image on Monday nationally, the more people talk about it, the more it makes Daniel look bad. Steve Sipple says that the issue was "unbecoming a a veteran player of his exalted stature." Bleacher Report notes that "Daniel hasn't done spit." Double Extra Point called him a "female kitty". And CornNation is full of comments from the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, Sarpy County isn't going to let little things like estimates that come in too high and the realization that they can't afford to build it thwart their dream of building a stadium in Chalco for the Omaha Royals. This story seems to have so many twists and turns, it's hard to know where this is going. If Sarpy County is bound and determined to build a stadium, one very well might happen. The only question is: how far is Sarpy County will to stick their neck out on this issue? Will they gamble and build the stadium and hope things work out? Will they build an econobox and hope it works out? Or will MECA come to their senses and start negotiating with the Royals again?

No matter what happens, nothing really happens until Election Day. That's when Sweetwater, Texas votes on their stadium proposal. If it passes, Sweetwater takes the lead in the pursuit of the Royals. If it fails, then the Royals have to pray that Sarpy County comes through for them, else they have to agree to MECA's offer.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Monday Night Beer: Daniel's Smack Falls Flat

Chase Daniel has gotten a lot of mileage from his allegations of "dirty" play by the Huskers. The charge? A Husker spit on him in pre-game warmups. Since then, both Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and Bo Pelini have investigated, and neither staff found much of substance. In fact, the whole charge simply doesn't make much sense. First of all, what was Missouri's Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback doing all by himself within spitting distance of the Huskers during pre-game warmups? And why wait until after the game to bring it up, and through the news media no less?

And while gross and not sportsmanlike, it's not really "dirty". (Until the offenders own up to this, I suggest that the team not get their post-game snack after the Texas Tech game.) When I first heard of the charge, I figured it had to do with Zac Potter's personal foul after hitting Daniel early in the first quarter. But while it was a helmet-to-helmet hit, it wasn't late at all. In contrast, while reviewing my recording of the game to find the Potter hit, I noticed a Sean Weatherspoon late hit on Joe Ganz, who had just fired a touchdown pass to Nate Swift. Weatherspoon, who wasn't flagged, took two steps and launched into Ganz helmet first. No flag, either for initiating contact with the helmet or for the late hit. One late hit doesn't make either team "dirty" however.

It was a rough night for the officials, who also failed to stop the clock when Nate Swift caught a pass and ran out of bounds with 1:05 left in the first half. A couple of questionable calls involving Denario Alexander. In the first quarter, getting a pass interference call on Anthony West even though the only way he would have caught the ball was out of bounds. In the second quarter, Alexander could have been flagged for offensive interference on Armando Murillo's interception attempt.

But don't get me wrong...the officals didn't cost the Huskers this game. The Tigers stomped the Big Red fair and square. Nebraska needs to get the penalty situation ironed out...and quickly. When you have 14 penalties and go minus-two on turnovers against a great team like Missouri, you're begging for a 52-17 butt-kicking.

Wow...14 penalties? Enough is enough, gentlemen (and I use the term loosely). That includes the staff as well. Time to start playing smarter out there.

I've got to be honest here. There has been absolutely zero buzz about UNO hockey this offseason. Even the media and coaches picked them eighth in the CCHA in the preseason polls. But suddenly, some buzz started to come out of the team itself. First head coach Mike Kemp:
"We're going to be a different looking team from what we've been the past few years. We're bigger and stronger, but we've also been able to maintain a lot of our team speed."
Then senior Dan Charleston:
"We have a really fast team, a lot faster than the last three teams I've been on here with the Mavericks."
The biggest criticism of UNO hockey in recent years is that the Mavs have been fast, but vastly undersized. Best example is the 9-2 squashing that Boston University put on the Mavs in the 2006 NCAA regional. Bigger and faster? If that's for real, and not some preseason marketing hype, this could be exactly what UNO hockey needs.

UNO might also get some promotional marketing out of Governor Sarah Palin once the election is over. (Heck, she says "Mavericks" enough that they've made a drinking game out of it!) Last night, Palin gave a speech in downtown Omaha at the run-down Civic Auditorium and was awarded one of UNO's cursed black sweaters from the Mavs horrible 2003-04 season where they finished dead last. Hopefully, she'll wear it proudly! Of course, I'm sure that'll go over well in her home state with University of Alaska Nanook fans...especially when UNO heads to Fairbanks in mid January.

(Two Palin comments in a week? Is this suddenly becoming a political blog?)

Week 6 Power Poll

Not a lot of turnover this week; most of the top teams remained on top. I struggled with who to bump up to replace South Florida, and decided to go with the underdog. Who knows when Vanderbilt will qualify again, so what the heck:

1. Alabama
2. Oklahoma
3. LSU
4. Missouri
5. Texas
6. BYU
7. Penn State
8. Georgia
9. Utah
10. Vanderbilt

Big XII Standings
1. Oklahoma
2. Missouri
3. Texas
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma State
6. Kansas
7. Nebraska (Yeah, they got shelled by Mizzou. Who are you going to move above them? Seriously.)
8. Colorado (Got shelled by Texas AND Florida State, and almost lost to 1-AA Eastern Washington. Just be happy you didn't get passed by Baylor.)
9. Baylor (Would be 7th if they could have pulled it out against UConn...)
10. Iowa State (Could also be 7th if they could have finished of the Jayhawks...)
11. Kansas State
12. Texas A&M (Kansas State wants to keep you company...)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bo Knows Mizery

As I drove home from Lincoln this morning, I listened to Bo Pelini take the blame for Missouri's demolition of the Huskers. And while that's fine, and there's no shortage of blame to go around, I think Missouri's 52-17 victory makes two things very clear.
  • Bill Callahan may have gotten too much of a bum rap for for his game day coaching.
  • Bill Callahan might be the worst recruiter of any head coach at Nebraska since Bill Glassford (1949-1955). And that's only because there probably (a) aren't many people still around that can remember what Glassford's players looked like and (b) the game of college football has evolved to the point that any comparison is futile.
Tom Shatel repeated his statement that Frank Solich was a better recruiter than Bill Callahan to the Columbia Tribune this past week. Is anybody going to dispute this statement? Do you see many players on the 2008 Huskers that would start for the 2003 Huskers?

I don't think we'll have many takers on that one. To be sure, there are some decent players in Lincoln, but no difference makers. None. Zippo. Nada.

We saw plenty of difference makers on the field tonight. All wearing white. Chase Daniel is a machine out there. Derrick Washington was lethal tonight. And Jeremy Maclin was, well, Jeremy Maclin.

Want some salt in those wounds, Husker fans? Jeremy Maclin seriously considered attending Nebraska...but Bill Callahan only offered Maclin a grayshirt opportunity at first. Pay your own way to Lincoln at first, and then go on scholarship. Eventually, Callahan offered a full scholarship, but by that time, Maclin had decided to go elsewhere.

It gets even worse. Derrick Washington grew up a Husker fan...but Callahan wasn't interested either.

Think Nebraska could have used those two guys tonight?

And as long as we're thinking... what does the prognosis look for the Huskers for the rest of this season? In August, I had the most optimistic prediction was 11-1. That ain't happening. My most likely prediction was 8-4/9-3. That's looking kind of high now. My pessimistic? 3-9.

Well, I'm not sure that's happening. Kansas State looked horrible this afternoon, as did Colorado tonight. Iowa State nearly upset Kansas. An awful lot of football still to play.

But first, Nebraska has to travel to Lubbock to play Texas Tech. Remember what happened last time in Lubbock, with a new coaching staff?

To be sure, Bo Pelini deserves plenty of criticism. How many penalties did the Huskers take tonight? WTF was Joe Ganz doing in the game at the end? And what about that game plan that Mike Ekeler was so pumped up about?

I don't want to throw Pelini and this staff under the bus yet. It's only their fifth game, and they are merely playing the cards they were given. Earlier this week, Bo Pelini remained silent when the Denver Post's John Henderson asked Pelini about the defensive talent he inherited.

That non-answer says it all, really.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mike Ekeler is Pumped Up About Husker Gameplan For Missouri

At this morning's Big Red Breakfast in Omaha, linebackers coach Mike Ekeler made it clear he might be even more pumped up than usual with the Huskers defensive plans against Missouri:
"I won't say too much because I don't want it out there, but I'm very, very, very excited about this game," Ekeler said. "Very excited. And I know our kids are chomping at the bit. We were probably ready to play on Tuesday."
The crowd laughed.
"No, I'm serious," Ekeler said.
Certainly more excited than many Husker fans, many of who are simply hoping that the Huskers don't embarrass themselves like last year, much like Republicans did over Governor Sarah Palin's prospects in last night's Vice Presidential Debate.

So what does Ekeler have in mind? Of course, he's not going to tell us now. But Carl Pelini gave us a few hints:
  • Pressure the Quarterback
  • Mix it up defensively
  • Stay sharp and recognize the Tigers' formations.
Not exactly what I suggested earlier this summer, but not far off either. Beergut from Texas A&M's I am The 12th Man blog helped create a great three part series on defending the spread over at CornNation. If you read nothing else before tomorrow night's game, read this. It's good stuff.

Of course, it doesn't matter how great the scheme is if the Huskers continue to have as many blown coverages as they've had this season. That's where much of the skepticism of the Huskers chances comes from. Virginia Tech didn't always capitalize on last weekend's mistakes, but Chase Daniel and the Tigers can - and will.

Offensively, the Huskers need to play keep away with a balanced attack. Nebraska can't get into a track meet, but will need to show more downfield passing than they've shown so far this season. I've made no secret that I want to see more Roy Helu; if Nebraska is going to do it, it's tomorrow or never.

Tomorrow night's game is going to be a challenge, to be sure. Hopeless? Well, to listen to AJ the Huskerh8r, of course it is. But one of my favorite rankings makes it not only possible, it might actually be somewhat likely. Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings has Nebraska #33...and Missouri only #30. (Needless to say, Sagarin is NOT impressed with the Tigers. I'd argue that this opinion is in the minority.) Factor in the home field advantage, and no matter which version of Sagarin's predictors you use, the Huskers are the favorite in Lincoln tomorrow night.

As I told my soon-to-be-wife in Columbia, Missouri 11 years ago as the Huskers took the field with a minute to go: "You gotta believe!"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thursday Night Beer: One out of Two Problems Fixed

Well, the car problem turned out to be nothing major. The internet access issue, on the
other hand, is still unresolved. Qwest is coming out tomorrow. But a few quick comments
while I wait:

* As I type this, the Cubs are down 6-0 in game two, after losing game one at home. I can almost hear Ron Santo's groans even with my radio off. Never count this team out...but by that same factor, if they don't turn it around, 2008 might replace 1969 as years of infamy for Cub fans.

* Much is being made in the local media about who's the starting I-back for the Huskers. Maybe it's a mind game to keep the Tigers guessing. Or more likely, the Huskers aren't ready to demote Marlon Lucky. In any event, both Lucky and Roy Helu need double digit touches Saturday night for the Huskers to have a shot. If Joe Ganz has the ball most of the time, it could be a long (and potentially embarassing) night.

* It will take a balanced attack, but Nebraska must run the ball consistently. Mix in some occasional play action to the tight ends and the wide receivers to keep it diverse. But please, lets not rely so much on the wide receiver screen.

* On defense, Nebraska has to cut down on their blown coverages and generate a little pressure up front. If Chase Daniel faces no pressure, he'll pick the Husker secondary apart. We saw what he did last year with zero pressure. That means the play of Ndamakong Suh and Ty Steinkuhler will be critical.

More later, if and when connectivity is restored...