Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cody Green Takes Over at Quarterback; Husker Offense Remains Lethargic

The much-rumored fan-requested change at quarterback took place today, but didn't provide Nebraska much of a spark on offense.  Cody Green did some good things on the ground and a little bit through the air, but made some mistakes in the second half that reenergized Baylor.  But the results were much the same as the last few weeks:  a lethargic offense with only one offensive touchdown.

One thing is clear in my mind:  Zac Lee got too much of a bum rap for the Husker offensive problems.  Green has an upside and at this point, I see no reason to switch back at quarterback barring injury.  No need to play quarterback Pong like interim Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins.  The problems for the Husker offense go deeper, and start with an injury depleted I-back corps.  Roy Helu was ineffective and is still looking to be injured.  Dontrevious Robinson ran strong...but got injured as well.  So now the Huskers turn deep onto the depth chart.  Marcus Mendoza does ok running wide, and Lester Ward looked passable running tough inside.  Austin Jones doesn't seem to provide much of anything.

Without much of a running threat other than Green, that puts too much pressure on a Nebraska passing game that doesn't really offer much of a threat.  Niles Paul occasionally makes the big play, and Khiry Cooper shows potential.  But right now, there isn't much there to work with either.

Bottom line is that until Helu, Robinson, or Rex Burkhead get healthy enough to contribute, this offense is going to continue to struggle.

On defense, the defensive line looked strong but the secondary struggled at times after Alfonzo Dennard left the game due to injury.  Jared Crick was a man possessed out there, and Ndamukong Suh was strong as well.  The personal foul call against Suh late in the game was almost laughable.  If that's a foul, then it's time to abandon tackle football and become a fan of the Lingerie Football League.

Bottom line:  It's a win, but it doesn't give fans much of a reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season.  Other than the Oklahoma game, every game down the stretch is a game that's up for grabs, and it's up to this team to continue to fight through their problems, work on improving, and try to finish the season strong.  Mail in performances, and Nebraska could be home for the holidays once again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Unmentioned Possibility of the Husker Quarterback Debate

As we've gone through this week, there's been much consternation about Cody Green not seeing the field last weekend against Iowa State.  Very few people are blaming Zac Lee for the Huskers 9-7 loss, but they also point out that Lee didn't lead the Huskers to victory either.  So we hear lots of conspiracy theories and excuses as to why Green remained on the sideline.  But in every single one of these discussions, one reason never gets brought up... and frankly, if you are going to discuss the relative merits of each quarterback, you need to consider every possibility.

Even the possibility that Zac Lee, a junior, is a better quarterback than Cody Green, a true freshman.

We've seen this argument before; the backup quarterback is one of the most popular players on the team.  Quarterbacks always get more of the credit and blame for the performance of the team, and when the team is struggling, people are looking for alternatives.  But changing quarterbacks doesn't mean improvement...just change.  I remember in 2004 reading fans calling for Beau Davis or Jordan Adams to start after becoming frustrated with Joe Dailey.  (Even after Bill Callahan threw Davis to the wolves at Texas Tech, resulting in his five turnover performance.)

I'm not saying that Lee is playing outstanding, or that Lee is definitively the better quarterback.  We've seen Cody Green look impressive in mop-up duty against Sun Belt foes.  Problem did Zac Lee in those games.  We saw Green throw a touchdown pass against Tech, something Lee didn't do.  But we also saw Green throw an ugly interception and two other passes that really should have been picked off as well. The only people who really know which quarterback is the best quarterback at this time are the coaches, and up to now, the decision has been made to stick with Lee.  Which is just fine with me, as we really don't have enough reason to second guess their decision.

I'm not opposed to playing or even starting Cody Green -- but only if the coaches make that decision based on what's best for the team.  I don't think these coaches are trying to sabotage the team or are ignoring Green by being stubborn.  They watch these quarterbacks every day; they know which quarterback is the better quarterback.

The problems the Husker offense faces at this time are larger than just who plays quarterback.  We're watching the depth chart at wide receiver being turned upside down due to the poor play of the receivers.  It's pretty obvious that this staff feels that much of the blame goes on the receivers.  Add in the injuries to Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead, and the Husker offense is operating without playmakers.  Is Green a playmaker?  Maybe, if you judge him primarily on his running ability.  But is a Jammal Lord style offense what we want to see?  Some of Green's passes were painful to watch against Texas Tech; frankly, he didn't look like the solution in that game.

I don't know which quarterback will start against Baylor; frankly, I'm more concerned by the receivers than quarterback right now.  But I do feel confident that the coaches will be playing the best quarterback this Saturday, no matter what fans feel and demand.

Monday, October 26, 2009 BlogPoll Week 8 Draft

A few minor updates to this week's poll. I still don't understand the love for Iowa, who nearly lost to a very average Michigan State team. In fact, I'm moving them below Oregon and Boise State because the Ducks continue to impress - unlike the Hawkeyes.
1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Southern Cal
7 Cincinnati
8 Virginia Tech
9 Oklahoma 1
10 Oklahoma State 1
11 Georgia Tech 2
12 Boise State 2
13 Oregon 2
14 Iowa 2
15 Miami (Florida) 6
16 Arkansas 2
17 South Carolina 1
18 Penn State 1
19 Ohio State 1
20 Arizona 1
21 California 1
22 Houston 1
23 Texas Tech 6
24 Pittsburgh 1
25 Notre Dame
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#24).

Out go the Huskers for good reason. Texas Tech falls five spots, but I'm giving Tech a pass with the injury to Stephen Sheffield.

Big XII PowerPoll
  1. Texas
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Oklahoma State
  4. Texas Tech
  5. Nebraska
  6. Missouri
  7. Iowa State
  8. Kansas State
  9. Kansas
  10. Colorado
  11. Texas A&M
  12. Baylor
Not sure how to rank some of these teams. The transitive property never applies in college football, and this year provides the ultimate proof. Texas Tech blew out Kansas State, then Kansas State blew out Texas A&M the next week. Now A&M blew out Tech. With that situation, it's nearly impossible to base this on purely head-to-head, so you've got to lok at how teams really stack up. Nebraska coulda-shoulda beaten Iowa State, and Iowa State coulda-shoulda beaten both Kansas State and Kansas. Missouri might be 0-3, but they've played a murders row to open the conference schedule.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Night Beer: Huskers NOT a Mirror of 2007

One of the more popular suggestions of the last day is the idea that somehow the 2009 Huskers are the mirror image of the 2007 Huskers now that offense is the problem rather than defense. Except that misses one minor detail: the 2007 Huskers weren't very good on offense either for much of the season. Remember the Ball State and Iowa State games, where Bo Ruud interception returns were needed to win? Remember going seven quarters against Missouri and Oklahoma State without a touchdown, then repeating that over four quarters against Texas A&M and Texas? Yes, the offense put up some gaudy numbers in November as the defense disappeared, but at least while Sam Keller was quarterbacking, the Huskers weren't good on either side of the ball.

The reason why the 2007 Husker offense improved in November? A quarterback change, forced by an injury to Sam Keller, invigorated the offense. Is another quarterback change called for in 2009? It's becoming a more intriguing option as the offense continues to struggle. Zac Lee isn't the problem..but he's not the solution either. This team's only playmakers we've found are Roy Helu and occasionally Niles Paul. Helu is hurt, and Paul intermixes spectacular plays with spectacular blunders. So who's left to make something happen? Maybe Cody Green can make something happen; the risk factor is that while he's shown great running ability, his passing still might leave something to be desired. But it might provide a needed spark on offense. I'm not ready to demand the change, but I'm hoping that the coaching staff is considering it.

The UNO Mavericks hockey team was off this weekend, but UNO fans were excited to see former Mav all-American Scott Parse make his long-delayed NHL debut this weekend. Injuries have slowed Parse's rise to the NHL, but he's off to a great start, with two assists in his first two games last night and tonight.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nebraska vs. Iowa State in 3 Letters: WTF

I don't know if there is any other way to describe it. Pardon the vulgarity, but What The F-bomb was that? Eight turnovers. Eight turnovers. It's mind boggling. Eight turnovers.

This one is a gut shot that frankly might be this team's Waterloo. Last week was ineptness on offense, but for the most part, the offense was ok today. The Huskers moved the ball ok most of the day...until they got inside the Iowa State ten yard line. In the upper reaches of the South End Zone, someone yelled to "quick, kick the field goal before someone screws up" in the third quarter. Two plays later, Dontravious Robinson was stripped of the ball. Postgame video showed offensive lineman Keith Williams reading Robinson the riot act as he came off the field. Not a good sign for team unity, though the frustration was certainly understandable. (And it's not like Williams had a particularly good game either; the left side of the line struggled all afternoon..)

We all know what was bad today, but there were some signs of optimism to build on.
  • Dontravious Robinson showed good power in his first action at I-back. Looking at the replays of his fumble, that was a ferocious attack on the ball by Iowa State's defense. I'm going to give Robinson a pass on this one; it's a learning experience for him to work on ball security. In fact, I'm so concerned about Roy Helu's injury status, that I think Robinson should start next week at Baylor. I'm not convinced Helu is able to adequately maintain possession of the ball with his shoulder injury; it might be best to let this thing heal.
  • Zac Lee isn't the answer, but isn't the problem either. His receivers didn't help him at all today, though Lee did stare down his receivers much of the day. Not as blatantly as Sam Keller, mind you. But bad enough that it makes you fear the Sooners when they come to town.
  • I'm going to say it again: Ndamukong Suh for Heisman. I know it's become a quarterback award in recent years, but nobody else is having this kind of year. Right after Iowa State scored their touchdown, I started wondering if Suh would get a hold of the kick and allow the Huskers to tie the game at 9-9. Unfortunately, Suh got too much of the ball and it squirted out of bounds before Prince Amukamara could field it. If Amukamara had gotten to the ball, he had clear sailing for a 2 point conversion.
  • Shawn Watson still called too many screen passes today, but he did try to stretch the field today. And I loved the power formations with multiple tight ends. The right side of the line was productive...the left side, not so much.
  • Phillip Dillard is performaning at an all-Big XII level at linebacker. Not bad for a guy who disappeared this spring and in the first two games of the season.
Nebraska may be a disappointing 4-3 at this point, but it's a wacky season and anything can still happen. Actually, anything seems to be happening this season. Texas A&M came back and upset Texas Tech in Lubbock tonight. Colorado somehow upset Kansas last week. Before anybody writes off this season, stop and look around. Wacky turnarounds seem to be the norm this season.

It all starts tomorrow by acknowledging the great job the Iowa State defense did in forcing some of those turnovers, and starting over with ball security drills. At the same time, team unity and resolve is an even bigger concern at this point. A loss like this can either spur the team on to resolve the problems, or implode like 2007. And let's not kid ourselves...the 2007 Huskers were bad for much of that season on BOTH sides of the ball. (Remember the long stretches without touchdowns in October of that season?)

I don't know what the solutions are, but giving up isn't one of them.

Husker Mike's PostGame Iowa State Podcast

"Unbeliveable. Eight friggin turnovers. My goodness. I'm stunned."

Gabcast! Husker Mike's PostGame Podcast #15

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Media Forgets "It's Not About You" in Pelini Coverage

Ever since this weekend's 31-10 loss to Texas Tech, I've been somewhat dismayed by the media's obsession with Bo Pelini's curt answer to a rather inane question. The most flagrant example is the Omaha World-Herald's headline writer, who came up with the "Boorish Bo" tagline today to Lee Barfknecht's article about Pelini's comments during and after Saturday's game. It's not that the media is wrong as much as they don't realize that, in the grand scheme of things, Pelini's dismissal of a dumb question isn't the story. The story from Saturday was the dismal play of the Husker offense, not the postgame presser.

I liked Dirk Chatelain's columns last week questioning offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's playcalling in the Missouri game. It was a tough, but fair examination into the situation from an outsider's perspective. And Chatelain's questions about what Pelini wants to see from his offense was also a good question, evoking the following response from the head coach:
“First thing I want to see is … us being able to run the football consistently and knock somebody off the football."
But I'm still struggling with trying to understand the followup question where he asked if Nebraska tried to do that against Texas Tech. One look at the statistics would have answered that question. It was a dumb question begging for the answer he got:
“You watched the game, what do you think?”
In all the uproar over this answer, nobody in the media as of yet has suggested what Pelini should have answered instead. And that's because there really isn't an answer to this question. He could have been truthful and said "No". He could have been Bill Callahan and started rambling on about something else to change the subject. But neither answer would have shed any light into the situation.

The way the question was worded seemed to ask Pelini to call out either his offensive coordinator (for the playcalls and formations) or his quarterback (audibling out of those situations)...when the question really revolves around "how do you get to that type of offense?" Is it because of scheme? Is it the depth situation at running back? Is it because of execution?

There's an old adage that if you "ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer." Bo Pelini doesn't deal in a lot of coachspeak; he'll be vague about injuries ("he's fine") but that's about it. He's usually direct in his comments, and like in this situation, almost to a fault. His predecessor used to ramble on about whatever it was he wanted to talk about, never even trying to answer the question at hand. You don't get that with Pelini, and that frankness comes at a price when the media drops the ball in the interview room.

That's not Bo Pelini's fault. That's the media's fault. Pelini has enough problems figuring out what's wrong with the offense. If the media wants a better answer, ask a better question rather waste ink and airtime griping about the curt answer. Chances are that with Bo Pelini, if you ask the better question, you'll get the answer you wanted in the end. Like Pelini said today
"I answer things pretty directly. I'm very black and white."

Monday, October 19, 2009 BlogPoll Week 7 Draft

This week, the sportswriters finally agreed with my ranking of Alabama at #1, finally knocking the Florida Tebows out of the top spot. But a weekend of upsets is causing quite a disruption on my ballot.
1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Southern Cal 2
5 LSU 2
6 TCU 2
7 Cincinnati 2
8 Virginia Tech 4
9 Miami (Florida) 1
10 Oklahoma 1
11 Oklahoma State 3
12 Iowa 5
13 Georgia Tech 5
14 Boise State 9
15 Oregon
16 South Carolina 5
17 Texas Tech
18 Arkansas 7
19 Penn State
20 Ohio State 7
21 Arizona
22 California
23 Houston
24 Nebraska 12
25 Pitt
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Kansas (#16), Missouri (#20), Brigham Young (#22), South Florida (#23), Notre Dame (#24).

A few things stand out that probably require explanation.
  • Virginia Tech didn't drop as much as most other voters would drop them. I'm still voting based on what I think the relative strength of each team. The Hokies beat Miami, who beat Georgia Tech, who beat VT. So who do you vote ahead of the others? VT's blowout of Miami was the most impressive of the three games, so they get the nod.
  • Oklahoma jumps up 1 spot despite losing their third game of the season. Three losses by a total of FIVE points. If I think Miami is a top ten team, then Oklahoma isn't far behind them. And frankly, I still think the Sooners are better than 110 other teams in college football. I can't put anybody else ahead of the Sooners than are already in front of them.
  • Iowa is this season's Penn State. An undefeated, overrated Big Ten team who voters feel the need to rank highly. Why? The Hawkeyes nearly lost to Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.
  • Boise won...and dropped because they merely beat a Tulsa team that Oklahoma blew out handily. It was noted last week that Boise doesn't look like a top five this is a necessary adjustment.
  • Arkansas jumps 7 spots by going into the Swamp and taking the Gators down to the wire. Another example of a team deserving to be rewarded for playing a better team and just coming up short. It's better to lose by 3 points to Florida than to beat Arkansas State by 3 points.
  • Texas Tech has been underrated lately. I forget they took Texas down to the wire, and their loss to Houston was close as well. The Red Raiders seemed to put everything together when Steven Sheffield took over at quarterback. They may be underranked at #17.
  • I don't think Nebraska is as bad as they looked on I'm keeping them ranked for now.

Big 12 Powerpoll
  1. Texas
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Oklahoma State
  4. Texas Tech
  5. Nebraska
  6. Missouri
  7. Kansas State
  8. Kansas
  9. Colorado
  10. Iowa State
  11. Baylor
  12. Texas A&M
This weekend, the top four teams in the South clearly established themselves on a level above the North...but the bottom two in the South sure took a step downwards. Baylor has an excuse with the loss of Robert Griffin...but A&M is now finding out that Mike Sherman is simply Bill Callahan 2.0.

I'm still trying to figure out how Kansas managed to lose to Colorado; that one was nearly as stunning as Nebraska's lack of offense on Saturday. Is the North becoming one big sucky pool of mediocrity?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mavs Brush Off Colgate

In my dismay over the Huskers loss to Texas Tech yesterday, I missed much of last night's UNO hockey game with Colgate. UNO came on strong in the third period, scoring four times in the final twenty minutes to win 4-1 last night. That continues an impressive trend early in the season of dominant third period hockey; no goals allowed in the final period through the first four games.

John Faulkner is establishing himself as the starting goaltender, giving up two goals for the entire weekend. I'm impressed by this hot start because I made the assumption that the transition would take much of the first month or two. I fully expected some hiccups and some mistakes early on as UNO transitioned into the "run-and-gun racehorse" style favored by Dean Blais. Instead, UNO finds themselves 3-0-1 and ranked nationally.

It's easy to see Colgate and think toothpaste, but it's an important victory over an east coast hockey team that helps set the Mavs resume for later in the season. UNO hired Dean Blais because the Mavs want to play into March...and winning these non-conference matchups help the RPI which helps set the PairWise. UNO's 2006 run to the NCAA tournament was based on a strong non-conference schedule; unlike college football, strength of schedule matters in hockey.

A bye week comes in handier than normal for UNO; it gives them more time to work on cementing down the new system and prepares the team for conference play. I expect this team to be much better after the new year than in October, so a good start in October really starts to raise some eyebrows.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nebraska's Offense Goes AWOL

I've watched a lot of Nebraska football over the years, and today's 31-10 defeat at the hands of Texas Tech might have been the most disappointing and distressing losses I can remember. There were some bowl games where a top-ranked Miami squad stopped the Husker offense cold; that could be excused because of the competition and the location. I remember a few horrid games against Oklahoma where the Sooners dominated; again, the Sooners were usually that good those years.

Those losses don't compare to today. Texas Tech isn't known for having a great defense, and while the Raiders deserve a lot of credit for shutting down Nebraska, the concern level over the Husker offense is now reaching critical level. We excused the lack of touchdowns against Virginia Tech because they're known to play great defense. OK fine. We excused three quarters of futility against Missouri because (a) the game was played in a monsoon and (b) the Husker scored four times late. OK. But today? What excuses can be made today?

There is only one, and that is injuries to Nebraska's top two running backs. Rex Burkhead is out for the next few weeks with a foot injury, and Roy Helu's shoulder is not only not recovered from last week's injury, but now aggravated. But that doesn't excuse today's performance one bit.

It's not Zac Lee, though he does share the blame along with everybody else on offense.

With Helu limited, Nebraska sought solutions in the running game and found very little as the line line did a poor job blocking and had way too many penalties. Austin Jones was ineffective for the most part in relief. Zac Lee did have a couple of nice short runs.

The passing game was pretty much a disaster today. Zac Lee, whether by design, bad reads, or bad play by receivers, never threw the ball downfield until his final pass, which fell out of bounds on 4th and goal. Lee never challenged the Raiders deep, being content to take short passes for minimal gain all day. Cody Green came on in relief, and threw the ball deeper with mixed results. Yes, he did get the Huskers into the end zone...but was picked off once and probably should have had two more picked off. Green wasn't the answer today either, and I'd resist the tempatation to call for Green to start next least not with this game plan.

Speaking of which, I don't know what the game plan was supposed to be this week, as it seemed to be completely out of sorts. Perhaps it was to not make any mistakes and keep it close, and wait for Ndamukong Suh to save the day once again. Which might have worked if somebody had bothered to try and recover Niles Paul's fumble on that lateral.

This one doesn't go on the Blackshirts. Yes, they did give up 24 points to the Raiders, but holding the Raiders to 259 yards of offense should have been enough to put the Huskers in position to win the game. In fact, limiting Tech to 259 should have put Nebraska in position to win by handily.

This one goes to the core: offensive line, quarterback decision making, wide receiver play, you name it. It was bad all the way around today, and I didn't see anybody (other than Chris Brooks and maybe Khiry Cooper) who really cared. Zac Lee finally elected to scramble for a first down rather than throw an incompletion on the run with running room ahead of him. I guess that was one sign of optimism.

The only suggestion I can bring forward is to start utilizing Nebraska's tight ends more. We know that Mike McNeill is a game changer, Dreu Young is a great blocker, and Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed are intriguing freshmen. Let's get them into the game more and try to get some offensive continuity going. Is Cody Green the answer? Not if you are asking him to throw the ball 40 times a game. Not with these receivers, and not with this line trying to protect him. And not with this game plan.

Maybe there's something in the video that will emerge that was just not quite right. But until Helu and Burkhead are healthy again, I'm not sure I see any answers to the mounting questions about Nebraska's offense. And that's frightening at this point, because an offense that can't run and can't throw isn't going to do much when the competition isn't a Sun Belt foe.

Husker Mike's Texas Tech Post Game Podcast

"I don't believe what I just saw..."

Powered by GabCast

Monday, October 12, 2009 BlogPoll Week 6 Draft

Not a lot of upsets at the top of the poll, but lots of teams losing at the bottom of the poll, necessitating a lot of movement down.
1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Virginia Tech
5 Boise State 1
6 Southern Cal 1
7 LSU 2
9 Cincinnati
10 Miami (Florida)
11 Oklahoma
12 Nebraska
13 Ohio State
14 Oklahoma State
15 Oregon
16 Kansas
17 Iowa 1
18 Georgia Tech 3
19 Penn State 1
20 Missouri 3
21 South Carolina 4
22 Brigham Young
23 South Florida
24 Notre Dame
25 Arkansas
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Auburn (#19), Wisconsin (#22), Georgia (#23), Arizona (#24).

Three byes in the top ten lead to a lot of inertia. LSU didn't mount much of a challenge to Florida...but the gap between the top three or four teams and the rest is becoming large. I'm not bumping Nebraska up in the standings after the Missouri victory because while I was very pleased with the play of the defense, I wasn't pleased with the offense much of the night at Missouri In other words, while others upgraded their opinions of Nebraska, my opinions were simply validated.

I thought about dropping Missouri further...but as others around them lost, I really couldn't find teams to bump above them. So the Tigers remain a Top Twenty team in my opinion. I mean, when I finally have to rank Notre Dame, you know I'm struggling to fill out my ballot.

Big XII Standings
  1. Texas
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Nebraska
  4. Oklahoma State
  5. Kansas
  6. Missouri
  7. Baylor
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Texas A&M
  10. Iowa State
  11. Colorado
  12. Kansas State
Baylor gave Oklahoma a better battle than I expected. Is Oklahoma overrated? Very possibly, but I'm being stubborn with the Sooners for a while longer. Texas Tech wallopped Kansas State badly, so I'm bumping the Wildcats down in the standings. And frankly, seeing Colorado leading Texas at halftime has to be a headscratcher at this point. Iowa State nearly pulled off the upset at Kansas, so I'm keeping them up on my list.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mav Hockey Off to Blais-ing Start

Took in my first Nebraska-Omaha hockey game this past weekend and came away impressed with my first glance at the new-look Mavericks. Assuming that UMass-Lowell is as good as some expect (ranked 10th nationally in the preseason polls), coming back to win 4-3 is a good start. What impressed me at the start was the crispness of play after just one week of official practices; I didn't see the lazy passes and mistakes that you normally see early in the season. The speed level seemed better, and at the end of the game, UNO was able to carry the play much of the way.

Freshman Terry Broadhurst scored the first two game-winning goals this weekend, breaking out to an impressive start. Redshirt freshman goalie John Faulkner came on in relief both games this season to bail out senior Jeremie Dupont. I'm surprised by Dupont's struggles in the early games, as I expected to see Dupont take advantage of his opportunity to become a dominant goalie in his senior season. Faulkner did well in junior hockey playing on offensive-minded teams, which might prepare him well for what we'll see at UNO.

Overall, it was a good night of hockey to cap off a good start to hockey season. New radio play-by-play announcer Dave Ahlers was fine, and it's nice to listen to the game with FM clarity on a stronger signal. It's going to take some time to get adjusted to former Z-92 morning host Otis XII promoting Mozart during breaks in the action, and I think the continued branding of "Omaha's Team" may become even more annoying than Steve Pederson's horrid "Power of Red" slogan. The loss of the band at games wasn't as disappointing as I thought it would be. I'd still like to see the Music and Athletic departments find an agreement, but it's not as big of a loss as I originally feared.

I'm curious to see how this squad reacts to the Blais system. First weekend was very good, but I still expect some bumps as the team adapts to a more offensive mindset.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ndamukong Suh and the Blackshirts Overwhelm Mizery

Erin Andrews asked Bo Pelini in the postgame interview, and the smile said it all: the Blackshirts will be issued shortly. Maybe tomorrow, definitely this Saturday. It was a masterful defensive performance in absolutely horrible playing conditions.

Truth be told, things looked bleak throughout the third quarter. Nebraska couldn't generate any offense all evening in a downpour. When Zac Lee wasn't misfiring, receivers were dropping the ball. Sensing the difficulty in throwing the ball, the Mizzou defense turned up the pressure and shut down the running game, daring the Huskers to go deep.

And deep they went at the start of the fourth quarter, with Niles Paul redeeming himself for special teams disasters early in the game. Special teams were a disaster most of the night, with misfielded punts and blown snaps. At one point, it was easy to suggest that Nebraska should have given up on fielding punts and simply put 11 men on the line and see if you could force Missouri punter Jake Harry IV to make a mistake.

But on 3rd and 8, Lee finally connected with a wide open Paul for a 56 yard touchdown that was an adrenaline shot to everybody wearing Husker Red. The defense was beginning to wear down at that point, as Derrick Washington was beginning to gain some yardage towards the end of the 3rd quarter. But the adrenaline shot revitalized the soon-to-be-Blackshirts, as Ndamukong Suh finally snared a Blaine Gabbert pass setting up the winning touchdown. Follow that up with a Deion Gomes interception shortly thereafter, and suddenly the Huskers were in control.

Many people are going to criticize Zac Lee's performance for the first three quarters, and that performance was nothing to be proud of. But at that point, Lee's numbers weren't dramatically worse than Gabbert's if you exclude the long pass just before halftime that set up a touchdown. It was an ugly night for both quarterbacks to be sure.

But in the end, it was Lee who made the plays down the stretch; going 5 for 6 for 79 yards in the 4th quarter, the exact same yardage for the first three quarters. Gabbert's numbers might actually have been helped by the rain; Nebraska dropped several interceptions with the wet ball.

There will be plenty of things to review, criticize, and correct. Lack of push by the offensive line, lack of execution especially on special teams. But this was a victory to savor against a division opponent, and the next step on the road back to relevence.

Before anybody asks the question, the answer is "NO!" We saw a Husker defense tonight that reminds us of the "good 'ol days," but the offense is still a work in progress. This team still needs to prove itself a few more times before anybody can utter the word that begins with a "B" and ends with a "K". It's wonderful that three weeks after letting a victory slip away from them, Nebraska roared back in the fourth quarter and restored the heart that was ripped out of the program in December 2003. That's the best takeaway from a dreary night in Columbia, and the best revenge for a fourth quarter meltdown six years ago, also on a cold, wet night.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Nebraska vs. Mizzou 2009: Where the Game Will Be Decided

One of the more interesting things I've noticed is that both teams fans are extremely confident - both seem to think they'll win, and win somewhat easily. Obviously, someone's going to be very disappointed when their chariot turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. But who is it going to be?

Missouri fans love to ask the question "Who has Nebraska beat?" Valid point; three blowout victories over Sun Belt foes doesn't prove much in terms of Big XII prowess. But reverse the question, and it becomes an even stickier situation for Tiger fans: "Who has Missouri played?" Sagarin rates Missouri's schedule #114, while Nebraska's is ranked #84.

Even scarier for Tiger fans is that two games were still in doubt in the 4th quarter against Bowling Green (Sagarin #100) and Nevada (#92). So while the domination of Illinois (Sagarin #91) and Furman (Sagarin #122) are certainly nice, Nebraska's performances against the Sun Belt teams rates higher.

So here are my takes on tomorrow night:
Neither team has faced an offense like the one they face at Faurot Field.
Missouri hasn't faced a defense even remotely as strong as Nebraska's. Nebraska has faced a much stronger defense - but only managed five field goals.
Weather and the flu rumors may wreak havoc with any predictions for tomorrow night.

Nebraska has a clear advantage up front defensively. Missouri's offensive line has struggled to open holes for Derrick Washington, and Blaine Gabbert has been forced out of the pocket quite a bit this season. This is Nebraska's key to victory; Nebraska will need to pressure Gabbert all night long. That doesn't mean that the Huskers need to sack Gabbert as much as not allow him to take his time and find his receivers.

Missouri has a clear advantage in the secondary. Against Nevada, Danario Alexander was practically uncoverable. All Gabbert has to do his get it close, and Alexander can get the ball. Great hands, speed, and a size advantage. So the key is for Suh and the rest of the line to flush Gabbert and keep him out of any rhythm.

For the Huskers on offense, the key is to be steady. Missouri has given up a lot of yards, but hasn't given up long plays. Consistent drives will not only keep the Blackshirts off the field, but also keep the crowd in check. If Roy Helu is ready to play, he'll be the key player. If they focus too much on stopping Helu, the tight ends and receivers will be open for nice gains.

Before the talk of monsoons and flu, I was thinking Nebraska 41, Missouri 24. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm going to hedge my bets here, and choose Nebraska 27, Missouri 14.

Monday, October 05, 2009 BlogPoll Week 5 Draft

I have mixed feelings on Oklahoma; they should have beaten Miami last night on the road, but didn't. I still think they're a better team than Nebraska, and I can't bump them below Nebraska nor anybody else underneath Nebraska...but I have to move Miami ahead of Oklahoma for now. So I'm bumping Miami to 10th, though I'm feeling uncomfortable saying Miami is a top ten team right now.
1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Virginia Tech
5 LSU 1
6 Boise State 1
7 Southern Cal 1
8 TCU 1
9 Cincinnati 1
10 Miami (Florida) 10
11 Oklahoma 4
12 Nebraska 1
13 Ohio State 1
14 Oklahoma State
15 Oregon 4
16 Kansas
17 Missouri 1
18 Iowa 3
19 Auburn
20 Penn State 3
21 Georgia Tech 4
22 Wisconsin
23 Georgia 6
24 Arizona
25 South Carolina
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Houston (#13), California (#21), Mississippi (#22), Michigan (#24).

Iowa falls for struggling with Arkansas State, a team Nebraska dispatched easily. I was skeptical of Houston, and losing to UTEP confirmed that. So out they go. I'm finding less and less to like about Ole Miss, so out they go as well for now. Problem with bringing teams in is that they all have warts. Wisconsin? Arizona? South Carolina? Maybe I should rethink that Ole Miss dropout.

Big XII PowerPoll
  1. Texas
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Nebraska
  4. Oklahoma State
  5. Kansas
  6. Missouri
  7. Baylor
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Texas A&M
  10. Kansas State
  11. Iowa State
  12. Colorao
Top 6 teams were idle this week, so no change there. Tech looked shaky against a horrible New Mexico team while A&M got exposed by Arkansas. Baylor looked ok with their third string quarterback, so up they go to 7th. Kansas State blocks an extra point and moves up to 10th. And after watching Noel Devine gash the Buffaloes, it's obvious that there is no "D" in Colorao. And that "pro style offense" is such a great match for the Buffs personnel...not. Next up for the Buffies: Texas. Can the 'Horns hang 100 on the hapless hoofstock?