Sunday, September 30, 2012

Huskers Oversleep At Start of Pajama Party; Rally to Beat Wisconsin

Nebraska overcame a sloppy start against Wisconsin and rallied from a 17 point deficit to pull out a 30-27 win. Six fumbles - most unforced - by the Huskers made this game much closer than it should have been. Meanwhile, the defense played their best game of the year against a struggling Badger offense to bail out the offensive miscues.

What led to the sloppy start and the unforced fumbles?  Bo Pelini seemed to indicate in his postgame interviews that the players might have been too tight.  Too much focus on revenge, perhaps?  It certainly didn't work the last time Nebraska tried to make a revenge game bigger than it probably should have; the "Red Out Around the World" turned in to a big Texas party.  Against Wisconsin, it was the "Unrivaled" game with the "Techfit" specially designed uniforms.  Was it the uniforms?  Maybe a little; no doubt that the Huskers were a little too tight especially at the start, so anything that contributed to being too amped up has to be considered partly to blame.

I'm not against alternate uniforms (I loved the 2009 "300th Sellout" uniforms), but hopefully tonight is the only time we'll see the Huskers wearing these pajamas.  At CornNation, Salt Creek labeled this game the Pajama Party with these awful uniforms, and it fits. Recruits and players may like them, and that's probably most important.  But for fans in the end zones, it was nearly impossible to tell who was on the field when they were facing you with the big "N" or "W".  So in the first and fourth quarters, I really couldn't tell who was on the field most of the time for the Huskers; all I saw was 11 N's on the field.  And in the second and third quarters, I really couldn't tell who was on the field for Wisconsin from my south end zone seats.

With the number of times Nebraska put the ball on the turf today, it's amazing that the Huskers managed to only lose two of them. But those bobbles killed early drives and gave Wisconsin an opening to seize the game. Early in the second quarter, Nebraska had two first downs with three fumbles - and trailed 20-3.  Shades of Texas 2009...or Southern Cal 2007.  Nebraska was laying an egg like they did last October against Ohio State.

Except this time, nobody left early.  Nebraska's offense got rolling in the second quarter to cut the lead to 20-10. The defense makes a nice stand and forces Wisconsin to punt when disaster hits.  On third and long, Wisconsin sends the house, and Taylor Martinez doesn't recognize it.  David Gilbert backs up his smack talk  and strips the ball from Martinez.  Boom...Wiscy's up 27-10 on the Big Red.

But Martinez fights back even though he's not playing his best game.  Hits Kenny Bell for a 20 yard gain on third-and-six, and then sprints into the end zone on a 38 yard touchdown run.  Boom...Martinez bounces back and the Huskers are back in it.

Last year against Ohio State, it was Lavonte David forcing a Braxton Miller fumble that fueled the comeback.  In this game, it was Sean Fisher making the big play, nailing Montee Ball for a loss on third and one.  10 plays later, Martinez fires a touchdown pass to Kyler Reed, and the Huskers are within three points. The Blackshirts are just getting started; another three and out leads to a game tying field goal from Brett Maher.  Wisconsin can't build on yet another Jared Abbrederis catch and punts again.  The Huskers are now pounding Wisconsin deep into Badger territory, but another penalty stalls the drive.  Brett Maher kicks the game winner, and the Blackshirts finish the game out.

Baker Steinkuhler gets more penetration against the Badger offensive line than we've seen all season. One of the goats of the UCLA game, linebacker Alonzo Whaley, makes the game-sealing play by tackling Ball for a loss on fourth and one.

It wasn't Nebraska's best game of the season.  Martinez didn't play great, but made enough plays to win. His receivers made tough catches that didn't allow them to get many yards after the catch.  Martinez's legs made up for his arm inaccuracy, including a nifty recovery of an Ameer Abdullah fumble to gain nine more yards and get the first down to start the game-winning field goal drive.

The Blackshirts struggled early to cover Abbrederis, but smothered Ball - especially down the stretch. Pelini answered his critics that thought that Pelini had lost his touch on defense tonight.  That doesn't mean the Huskers necessarily earned their Blackshirts tonight. What worked against Wisconsin probably won't work against Braxton Miller and Ohio State.

But it's a win, and it's a win when Nebraska made more than enough mistakes to lose the game.  In the end, Nebraska found a way to win.  They dominated Wisconsin on both sides of the ball in the second half; clean those up and every game is winnable for the Huskers.  But if they don't, every game is losable down the stretch.

Monday, September 24, 2012

BlogPoll: Oregon Moves to #2

Oregon's dismantling of Arizona bumps the Ducks up to the #2 position...that and LSU's two point escape from Auburn.  Good thing the Tigers weren't playing Louisiana-Monroe this week.  South Carolina also rises with a blowout victory over a not-so-horrible Missouri squad.  (Welcome to the SEC, guys!)

Notre Dame, sadly enough, can now stake a claim to the Big Ten title after sweeping Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan.  Some will put them in the Top Ten, but I'm still skeptical.  It took a narrow comeback to beat Purdue, Michigan State is overrated, and I'm not quite sure what to make out of Michigan.

Into the poll this week are Mississippi State and Arizona State.  Michigan State's struggles with a horrible, winless, Eastern Michigan squad validates my preseason concern that the Spartans have nothing other than Le'Veon Bell working on offense.  They're out.

And is that Northwestern leading the B1G as the only team in the Top 20?  Sadly yes.  Hate to reward a team for a 1-AA win (that's why NU only went up one spot), but it's hard to argue with 4-0.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Worst Husker Opponent Ever?

Not sure what was uglier. The game
or Pocatello reporter Matt Gittins'
pants. At least he matched the tie
with his shoelaces.
I didn't expect much when Nebraska announced in February that Idaho State was going to fill the last remaining open date on the Huskers 2012 season. But I didn't realize just how bad Idaho State was until I sat down to review Idaho State in detail in the summer.  Sure, 1-AA teams usually aren't very good, though there are a few exceptions.  Craig Bohl has put together a pretty salty squad at North Dakota State, and Northern Iowa is pretty good too.  And nobody (especially the Weasels who wear Maize and Blue) will ever forget Appalachian State.  Idaho State isn't one of those teams.

Idaho State isn't even a not very good 1-AA team.

Idaho State is a really bad 1-AA team.  They won two games last season, one of which was a 44-7 victory over Western State College.  You probably haven't heard about Western State College.  They aren't Division 1-A or even 1-AA.  They're Division 2.  And not a very good division 2 team either.  How bad?

Two weeks after losing to Idaho State, Western State College was blown out by Nebraska-Kearney 55-14.  A bigger margin of victory.

Translation:  Idaho State is probably a Division 2 calibre opponent.

So what did we learn about Nebraska today?  Not much.  There was such an extreme difference in talent on the field this afternoon, it's impossible to determine how well Nebraska may - or may not - have played.  Rex Burkhead looked like he was limping on his first carry, then proceeded to outrun every Bengal on a 61 yard touchdown run two carries later.  Rex Burkhead doesn't have breakaway speed with a healthy knee, but even with a bum knee, he's faster than anybody on the Idaho State defense.

Idaho State's defense is woefully undersized as well, with their biggest player weighing at 263 pounds.  Nobody else on the two-deep even tops 250 pounds.  Yet the Nebraska offensive line couldn't create any holes up the middle.  That has to be alarming.  Sure, there were plenty of running lanes outside, but inside...not so much.

Did the Husker defense find their mojo today?  Not really; Idaho State's offense is the ideal foe for a Pelini defensive scheme.  No credible running threat from either the running backs or the quarterback; the Bengals just want to sit back and fling the ball around the field all day.  That frees up the Nebraska defensive line to go eat quarterbacks, and eat they did:  seven sacks and fifteen tackles for loss.  Again, they should have dominated the Idaho State offensive line, who's heaviest player, freshman left tackle Colin Prestesater, tops out at 285 pounds.

The best thing about the day is that nobody seemed to get hurt.  That's it.  It was such a mismatch that the most memorable part of the day was the Wave.  The wave was cool 30 years ago; it's passe now. But with the score already 35-0 in the second quarter, the bored students started the wave.  Big whoop.  But then they tried something different.  The slow motion wave.  The hurry up speed wave.  The reverse wave, followed in quick succession by the double wave going both directions.

I disdain the wave.  But today, the wave was more interesting than the game itself...and that pretty much sums up the day.  Enough joking about this one.  There's a Big Ten conference just waiting to be seized. Michigan has proven that it can be beaten, or maybe more accurately, can beat itself.  Michigan State's offense is dreadful.  Ohio State is improved, but isn't invincible. Wisconsin looks to be in disarray and now may have lost Heisman runner-up Montee Ball to another head injury.  A second concussion in two months makes Ball's status for next weekends Ugly Uniform game extremely questionable.

But before you get too hyped about Nebraska's chances, Nebraska's schedule took a beating today.  UCLA lost to Oregon State 27-20, while Western Kentucky blew out Southern Miss 42-17.  So Nebraska is probably one of several teams who have a chance to come out of the dumpster fire that is B1G football on top.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tyler Moore Gone for Good; Chase Rome Returns

It's one of those win one/lose one scenarios today about wayward Huskers.  Tyler Moore announced that he's transferring to Florida, but Chase Rome has officially returned to the Husker football team. I never assumed both were gone, but I was more pessimistic about Moore than Rome.  In the case of Moore, despite the denials, the rumors were that Moore wanted to be closer to home...and that's what happened. (It was pretty obvious it was going this way once Moore's father neglected to mention Barney Cotton or John Garrison when discussing the coaches.)

Maybe I was being a pollyanna, but I kind of expected Chase Rome to return.  I may have been alone on this one, though.
Here's what I wrote last week about Rome:
Maybe Rome goes back to his apartment, sleeps on it, and talks to friends and family about what happened.  Maybe he realizes that as a third-year sophomore, he only can play one more season at another 1-A school unless he gets his degree.  Maybe after a cooling off period, Rome can sit down with the coaches, clear the air, and rejoin the program. Pelini seems to be leaving the door open for now, that's a positive.
And one week later, he's back. Maybe with a better attitude and effort going forward...or maybe not.  Either way, if the coaches and his teammates are fine with it, I'm fine with it. College students sometimes do stupid impulsive things, and I'm glad that this seemet to work itself out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ticketmaster Announces Ticket Sales for UNO Outdoor Hockey against North Dakota

Stumbled on this a few minutes ago.  According to Ticketmaster, a season ticketholder presale for the outdoor hockey doubleheader between UNO and North Dakota, plus the Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars, begins on Monday, September 24th at 10 am.

All well and good.  But I just stumbled into this.  There's no official word from UNO yet; no announcement in the paper.  There's no information about how season ticketholders buy tickets.  Just that ticket sales begin next Monday for season ticketholders, and for the general public on Monday, October 1st. is this supposed to work now?  Shouldn't season ticketholders know the details of this by now?  All we know is the prices of the tickets:  $28 and $78, plus Ticketmaster fees.  Do we have to buy them online?  If not, where do we go?  What seats are $28, and which are $78?  (That's a bit of a spread, by the way...)

$78 for a top-end ticket  in a good location isn't terribly overpriced for a special event like this. (I expected top tickets to be $100, personally) $28 for most tickets is probably a good deal.  But how many tickets are there at each price level, and where are they?

Fans probably want to coordinate their ticket purchases so that they are sitting near friends, so a little advance notification would have been awfully nice.  But it looks like "advance notice" is out the door now, and now all we have to hope for is getting some sort of notice before the pre-sale ends.

Somebody is dropping the ball on the execution of this event, and that's not a good sign.

Monday, September 17, 2012

BlogPoll: An Argument for NU as Best in the B1G West Division

Well, I'm ready to insert Nebraska back into the Top 25; not so much because I think one game fixed all of Nebraska's problems, but rather that Nebraska's problems aren't as bad as everyone elses.  Take Michigan State, for example.  Last night at home, the Spartans had no offense to speak of, and their defense wasn't anywhere near enough to win the game.  Some people may think the Spartans are the cream of the crop in the Big Ten's west division, but I'm not seeing it.  Nebraska's defense was better yesterday, but the Huskers need to do it against a BCS caliber opponent...and they won't see one of those for another four weeks.

So there you have it.  Southern Cal gets penalized for losing their fourth in a row at Stanford.  I thought Stanford was overrated to start the season, but they've proven themselves to be a Top Ten team now.  Alabama has to be a pretty much consensus pick at the top of the standings.  Notre Dame probably gets too much of a bump for beating Sparty on the road, but I can't help that.  TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, and Ohio get penalized for not playing so well against opponents this week.

In this week are Northwestern, Nebraska, and Arizona.  I'm not convinced Northwestern is a Top 25 team, but they are 3-0 against BCS conference opponents.  Each of those opponents probably will finish the season at the bottom of their conference standings, but still, those are somewhat decent wins.  And wins are better than losses.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Night Dessert: Still Waiting for Word on Tickets to Nighthawks & UNO Outdoor Hockey

The Omaha Nighthawks posted pictures of their staff touring TD Ameritrade Park to Facebook on Friday, including an image proclaiming the stadium as the "Home of the Omaha Nighthawks".  That's all well and good, but there's still no word about ticket sales or whether MECA has agreed to a deal with the Nighthawks. We haven't heard about the start of training camp or even whether any players are signed, yet the first game is less than two weeks away.  (It's a road game; the first home game is still four weeks away, so that's not quite as imminent.)  I'll keep saying it...the UFL is not convincing anybody this is a viable league with how the 2012 season is rolling out.

Speaking of MECA and tickets, supposedly tickets to the outdoor hockey doubleheader in February are supposed to go on sale on October 1st. And information about those tickets is non-existent as well, other than the prices start at $30.  It would be nice to have some heads up as to how this is going to work.  The silence is starting to become deafening in this regard; you'd like to start building some buzz about the outdoor game between the UNO Mavericks and North Dakota not-called-the-Sioux-per-NCAA-decree.  This could be a great event, but not if it's run haphazardly.  And this one appears to be on it's way towards being an afterthought.  The Omaha Sports Commission seems to have put all of their promotional effort into next year's Senior US Open at the Omaha Country Club.  That's all well and good; that is a bigger event.  But that's not until next July; the outdoor hockey game is less than five months away.

UNO did announce this week that five Maverick hockey games will be televised on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), starting with the Icebreaker tournament in Kansas City.  If UNO plays in the championship game of the Icebraker, that game will also be nationally televised.  Home games against Colorado College (Friday, January 4th at 6:30 pm), North Dakota (Friday, February 8th at 6:30 pm), and Wisconsin (Friday, March 1st at 6:30 pm) will also be broadcast.  A road game at Denver on Friday, January 11th will be televised at 9 pm.  That's big news to have such national coverage, but I wish more road games were on the schedule.

UNO also announced that their hockey broadcasts were moving from 96.1 FM to 1180 AM this year.  That's a huge step backward for UNO; 96.1 FM's signal covers a 75 mile plus radius around the Omaha area.  1180's AM signal barely reaches the western city limits of Omaha.  This change might have been forced by 96.1's format change from 80's rock to Top 40 hits earlier this morning, but it's still a bad move.  Heck, moving the games back to 1290 AM would have been better.

Another concern about the broadcasts is the status of Terry Leahy as color commentator.  Earlier this spring, Leahy was laid off by NRG, the owners of 1180 as well as KOIL 1290 AM and 1620 the Zone.  Since then, Leahy has found part-time work with competitor KFAB - 1110 AM; would NRG allow Leahy back on their airwaves.  Would KFAB allow Leahy to take the time off to travel on road games?  The loss of Leahy on the UNO hockey broadcasts would be an even bigger loss than the downgrading of the station.

The only upside to the 1180 deal is the potential of bringing 1620's Gary Sharp on-board as the voice of UNO hockey.   Dave Ahlers, while he has a background as professional hockey broadcaster, just isn't very good at play-by-play.  If UNO can manage to put a team of Sharp and Leahy together, that would be the best way to deal with a bad station arrangement.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blackshirts Bounce Back Against Arkansas State While Pelini Falls Ill

I noticed something wasn't quite right with Nebraska during the Tunnel Walk.  Bo Pelini and the Huskers looked extremely sullen; just not themselves as they took the field before the game.
My first thought was the Oklahoma State game in 2007; I saw a similar reaction from the Huskers that day, and it carried over onto the field. That didn't really happen today, though we saw a few issues on defense early on as the Huskers struggled to defend Gus Malzahn's wide-open spread offense between the 20's.

The weird thing was I noticed someone wearing one of the coaches shirts walking behind the north end zone towards the Nebraska locker room in the second quarter, and immediately thought to Pelini.  A quick check of my binoculars indicated it wasn't Pelini, but subconsciously, I obviously was wondering about him.  But then word about Pelini leaving in an ambulance started passing through the stands, and I started to connect the dots, whether they are related or not. A lot of questions have been raised about Pelini this week; many fair, though some not-so-fair. He's had a player quit on him, and even some internet nit-wits suggesting he's about to be fired. Pelini's blood pressure probably usually hits nuclear levels during most games, but today, it all was enough to send Pelini off the field in and into an ambulance.

In that second half, the Blackshirts played Blackshirt stifiling defense.  Did Arkansas State put some yards up in the first half?  Yes, but the Red Wolves offense was kept out of the end zone all day.  And let's put it in perspective; Arkansas State had rolled up over 1200 yards against Oregon and Memphis; holding them under 300 is probably a good performance.

Nebraska's defense still has problems shutting down quick screens running wide, but they showed improvement in tackling.  OK, it's Arkansas State and not UCLA or Ohio State.  That rumored 3-4 defense?  Nothing more than unleashing Eric Martin and moving him around and behind the line of scrimmage.  And Martin unleashed was not what Arkansas State was looking for; one sack, three quarterback hurries, and a fumble recovery. Nice to see someone up front making plays.

Zaire Anderson had a slow start in his first action, but made a key stop in the third quarter to haul down Ryan Aplin for no gain on third down.  Holding Arkansas State to 6 of 16 on third down is a step forward; not great, mind you...but improvement.

And that was the name of the day.  Before last week's debacle against UCLA, I would have been pleased with a 42-13 victory over Arkansas State.  After last week's defensive meltdown, I'm extremely pleased.  (I predicted 56-31 over at CornNation.)  Let's face it; the defense really only gave up 3 points.  How can you blame the defense for holding Arkansas State to 0 yards and a field goal after Ameer Abdullah's fumbled punt return?

Abdullah's muffed punt was the only blemish on an otherwise sparkling performance by the sophomore.  Last season, I wondered about his ability to run inside, but today, he was solid in all aspects of the game.  This is going to blasphemous for me to say, but Nebraska doesn't miss Rex Burkhead as a running back.  Rex does a few things better than Abdullah, and can do things in the Wildcat that we haven't seen from Abdullah, but Abdullah has a fourth gear with breakaway speed...and that's something Rex Burkhead really doesn't have.

Taylor Martinez was solid today; 13 of 14 in the passing game for 180 yards.  That one incompletion could have been intercepted, though.  Even worse, Jamal Turner had a seam; if he hits Turner in stride, Turner probably scores and blows the game wide open.  I'm not going to blame those two fumbles on Martinez; Ben Cotton missed a block on Nathan Herrold, who blindsided Martinez for the Red Wolves only touchdown of the day.  And I couldn't tell, but it may have been Braylon Heard who missed picking up a blitz on Martinez and led to another fumble.

Unless Kenny Bell's Husker career is cut short by declaring early for the NFL (or injury, considering all possibilities), seems destined to become Nebraska's greatest receiver ever.  Both touchdown passes were great plays, but I loved the second one for knowing exactly where the end zone was and running wide then finding an opportunity to stretch the ball across.  That's heady play to work with both his blazing speed and solid hands.

Considering all that has happened this week, it was a solid game for Nebraska. The defense found a way to shut down the high flying Arkansas State offense in the second half (only 89 yards of offense), and most importantly, Bo Pelini was released from the hospital.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Records Reveal Nothing New About UNO's Plans to Drop Football and Wrestling

The Omaha World-Herald received a copy of the records surrounding UNO's controversial termination of the football and wrestling programs as part of the Mavericks move to Division 1 last year, and failed to find any "smoking gun". In fact, no documents showed any mention about dropping football and wrestling prior to the announcement.

So what does this mean?  Pretty much nothing at this point.  People are going to believe what they want. When did UNO decide to drop football and wrestling?  The records are not clear about that, which makes you immediately question whether the records are complete.  But there's no evidence to support the various conspiracy theories floating around out there, most of which are fairly ludicrous.

The idea that Tom Osborne ordered Mav football to be shut down is pretty much crazy talk from my perspective. There's no evidence to support that, and frankly, there's little for Nebraska-Lincoln to gain by doing that.  That being said, I think circumstantial evidence does show that Husker football was a leading cause of the end of Maverick football.

I'm a UNO alum who never attended a Maverick football game.  I'm guilty as charged.  If I could go to a football game, I would go to Lincoln.  But some people did both. Back in the 80's and early 90's, the Huskers and Mavs coexisted better.  The Huskers almost always played at 1 pm; UNO at 7 pm.  If someone wanted to attend both games, they typically could.  If someone wanted to listen to the Husker game on the radio, they could and then head to UNO for the Mav game.

All that changed once the Big XII formed and nearly every Nebraska game was televised.  Some at 11 am, some at 2:30 pm.  And many at 6 pm.  Game times were never set until a week before the game, so suddenly that neat arrangement of game times fell apart.  People had to choose:  Mavs or Huskers.

I don't know what the attendance used to be like for Mav football.  I just know that in the last season of UNO football, the season attendance for football rivaled one weekend of UNO hockey.  Other than the season opener, fans weren't coming to football games.  The market spoke about UNO football, and the silence was deafening.

When UNO football fans complain about the abruptness of the decision to drop football, they say that with some blinders on.  They could see firsthand the lack of support.  They plenty of warning in 2006 when NU regent Chuck Hassebrook wanted UNO to drop football.  They had to know the numbers were not good for UNO football, but what was done to make UNO football viable?  They put in a big-screen television, and that was about it.

Should UNO have dropped football?  In an ideal world, no.  But we don't live in an ideal world.  We're reminded time and time again that government spends too much money, and UNO athletics was needing more and more government funding to stay in the black. Right or wrong, the decision was made that UNO needed to do something to cap that spending.  Football became expendable in that analysis.  There wasn't a financial model that supported UNO football moving to 1-AA and becoming less of a drain on the University.  A money game with a BCS opponent would bring in $400,000 or more ... but the additional scholarship requirements of 1-AA would more than consume that.

In the end, it came down to the bigwigs saying that they didn't that they didn't want UNO to subsidize football anymore.

That's why UNO football was dropped in 2011.  The answers UNO football boosters have been looking for have always been there; they just aren't the answers they want to hear.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rome Is Burning

The big news out of Lincoln today is that it's raining.  Well, maybe that's the big news for people who don't care about football; let's face it, this rain is too late to help this season's crops.  It should ensure that my lawn looks better than Northwestern's Ryan Field this weekend, that's for sure.

No, the big news is that Bo Pelini is going to tinker with the Nebraska defense in the aftermath of UCLA's exploitation last weekend.  The big experiment is a move to a 3-4 defense, or that's what we've been told.  I tend to think it's going to be more of a 3-3-5 defense; I just don't see Pelini looking to replace a defensive back with another linebacker.  The problem at UCLA didn't seem to be in the secondary, but rather up front.  Replace a defensive lineman with a linebacker who's likely more athletic, and maybe that sparks the Husker defense.  Maybe that gets a player like Sean Fisher, David Santos, or Zaire Anderson on the field.

But this move changes things for the defensive lineman, and somebody is going to end up on the bench. The rumor mill heated up this afternoon that sophomore Chase Rome stomped out after learning that he was heading to the bench.  Pelini pretty much confirmed that tonight, saying that Rome was off the team "for now" and then added this:
"His personal goals and personal perception of where he should be on this football team doesn't match the team goals"

Ouch.  There are so many ways to take this.  The simplest is to point out that the defense played horribly last week, and changes need to be made.  Nobody should feel that they have a right to anything after that performance.  Lots of players need to re-earn their playing time.

Rome is now the fourth high-profile player to leave the team since the end of spring practice. Aaron Green saw a backlog on the depth chart, and headed to TCU.  Freshman offensive lineman Ryan Klachko transferred to Illinois at the start of August's practices.  Sophomore offensive lineman Tyler headed home to Florida about a week and a half later.  Now Rome walks off.  Is there a bigger problem in Lincoln?

One or two probably aren't such a big deal.  The third raises questions, and the fourth raises alarm bells.  But what is the problem?  Is it Bo Pelini?  Or is it a sense of entitlement by high-profile recruits? In sports today, people who lose their spot on the depth chart seem to respond by looking to change their uniform.  It happens in college all the time, and happens even more often in the NFL.

Husker Online's Nate Clouse pointed out this evening that Pelini makes it clear that nobody is entitled to playing time at Nebraska:
This is nothing new with Pelini; I've heard variants of it from Pelini over the years.  Players shouldn't be surprised when Pelini means what he says in that regard.  Maybe talk like that is why some recruiting followers worry that Pelini can't land as many big-time recruits as they'd like. But is enabling a sense of entitlement the right thing for the Nebraska football program to do, long term?  Maybe we keep a high profile recruit in one situation and he eventually becomes a star.  But consider the alternative of players "holding out" to demand playing time.  That can't be a good thing.

We also don't know if there were any extenuating circumstances outside of what happened on the field (both in Pasadena as well as on the practice fields this week) that led to this situation.  That could turn something that looks tonight like a high-profile player who doesn't want to earn his playing time into something else entirely.

Pelini said that Rome was off the team "for now."  Maybe Rome goes back to his apartment, sleeps on it, and talks to friends and family about what happened.  Maybe he realizes that as a third-year sophomore, he only can play one more season at another 1-A school unless he gets his degree.  Maybe after a cooling off period, Rome can sit down with the coaches, clear the air, and rejoin the program. Pelini seems to be leaving the door open for now, that's a positive.

But the whole situation has the potential to take this football team into a 2007-like downward spiral. Nebraska entered this season with high hopes, and those hopes, while not completely dashed, were probably unrealistic. Now it's getting ugly, and the team can either rally and rebound.  Or fold, like the 2007 team did.

And that's the most unpleasant scenario of all to consider.

Monday, September 10, 2012

BlogPoll Ballot: Huskers Disappear Like Blackshirts

Not much change at the top of the ballot, but the second half of the ballot is almost completely new.  I dropped the teams that suffered bad losses over the weekend -- removing them completely.  That includes Nebraska as well; obviously I misread the whole situation with the defense.

SB Nation BlogPoll Top 25 College Football Rankings

Husker Mike's Blasphemy Ballot - Week 2

Rank Team Delta
1 Alabama Crimson Tide --
2 USC Trojans --
3 LSU Tigers --
4 Oregon Ducks --
5 South Carolina Gamecocks --
6 Georgia Bulldogs --
7 Florida St. Seminoles --
8 Oklahoma Sooners --
9 Kansas St. Wildcats Arrow_up 9
10 Clemson Tigers --
11 West Virginia Mountaineers --
12 TCU Horned Frogs Arrow_up 3
13 Michigan St. Spartans --
14 Florida Gators Arrow_up 6
15 Baylor Bears Arrow_up 10
16 Ohio Bobcats --
17 UCLA Bruins --
18 Virginia Tech Hokies --
19 Michigan Wolverines Arrow_down -7
20 Louisville Cardinals Arrow_up 2
21 Stanford Cardinal --
22 BYU Cougars --
23 Arizona St. Sun Devils --
24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish --
25 Texas Longhorns --
Dropouts: Nebraska Cornhuskers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Wisconsin Badgers, Oklahoma St. Cowboys, Washington Huskies, Utah Utes, North Carolina Tar Heels
SB Nation BlogPoll College Football Top 25 Rankings »

Baylor rides the wave of teams coming in.  Kansas State gets a huge promotion for doing what Nebraska fans only dream of: blowing out Miami (Florida) in your home stadium.  Michigan State finally gets ranked for showing an offense outside of Le'Veon Bell.  Michigan gets penalized a little for looking a little too pedestrian against a Mountain West service academy at home.

UCLA gets on the ballot with their huge performance against the Huskers.  Other new teams are Virginia Tech, Stanford, Arizona State, and most grudgingly, Texas and Notre Dame. I needed teams to insert into the mix, and those were the best available.  Arkansas struggled against a 1-AA team and lost to a Sun Belt team; they don't look like a top 50 team anymore.  Wisconsin has a better case; they lost to a lower-tier Pac-12 team....but they're gone.  Nebraska might have still warranted a vote, but not after this past week's stinker.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

UCLA Roasts the Blackshirts In a Tackling Debacle

What a frustrating night for Husker fans.  The first half WAC track meet gave way to a second half defensive struggle that discombobulated down the stretch. Where to begin, where to begin?

I'm going to start with tackling.  It's easy to call it Cosgrovian...too easy, and too flippant.  But the fact remains that the Huskers couldn't tackle worth a darn tonight.  There were issues last week, but tonight, it was an epidemic.  Credit Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin for breaking those tackles, but many times Nebraska's defense could have gotten off the field.  And didn't.  Can tackling be fixed?  Absolutely; it's fundamentals.

The bigger problem was up front.  Nebraska's offensive line was OK in run blocking...but in pass blocking, Nebraska tackles were getting beat regularly on the edge.  And by the end of the game, even the guards were getting beaten.  Take away those passing lanes, and rush Taylor Martinez to make throws quicker than he'd like, and boom, you have a 17 for 32 passing performance.

But the flip side was even worse; UCLA only needed to send four to penetrate our backfield while Nebraska needed to send five or six to get pressure.  And when you send five or six, that leaves seams to be exploited...and exploit is exactly what UCLA did.  KOZN's Mike'l Severe has been sounding the alarm about the lack of playmakers up front, and tonight that message was driven home like a nail through the skull.  What's the solution?  Is it time to get Aaron Curry and Avery Moss more playing time and get them developed under fire?  The redshirts are burned, and so you might as well play them.  Occasionally Jason Ankrah made a play, as did Eric Martin...but that was about it.

I'm not quite as down on Taylor Martinez as some fans probably are.  Did Martinez make some mistakes tonight?  Absolutely.  But he didn't have a lot of help at times; we saw a few more drops this week.  Martinez ran the ball well at times, though he was hung out to dry on that zone read out of the end zone.

I saw a few things to be optimistic (or maybe less pessimistic) about in the secondary.  Josh Mitchell plays bigger than his 155 pounds, and Daimion Stafford did an admirable job trying to cover Joseph Fauria.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste seemed to make a few play late in the game.

Ameer Abdullah had a great time running the ball for the most part, but that turnover to open the second half put the defense in tough spot.  Tim Beck is going to get ripped for his game plan and play calling, but some of that is a little excessive.  If anything, Beck seemed to go to the well a few too many times.  On that drive at the start of the fourth quarter, I was waiting to throw a play-action pass into the end zone, but instead, it was all on the ground.

Nebraska had plenty of opportunities to win this game, and failed.  Bottom line.  They failed.

In the fog of disgust, there will be a lot of wailing and moaning.  But let's make it clear that Nebraska wasn't alone in sucking today.  Michigan may have had the best victory in the Big Ten today, and that was an unimpressive 31-25 victory over Air Force.  Northwestern's victory over Vanderbilt isn't far off.  Iowa only managed two field goals at home.  Penn State lost a winnable game at Virginia.  Illinois and Wisconsin were exposed badly.  Nebraska won't see an offense like UCLA's again this season, in all likelihood.

Was this Pelini's "hairball" game for the season?  We can only hope.  Nebraska fans should be disappointed with what they saw tonight...but that's true of most B1G teams tonight.

A Must Win Game for the Huskers? Or a Must Not Lose Game?

I didn't have the opportunity to watch UCLA's game last week at Rice; we don't get CBS Sports Network on our cable and I wasn't home anyway. I can only base my opinions on the stat sheet and my summer preview of UCLA posted to CornNation.  Needless to say, I was surprised when the betting line for tonight's game opened at just five points.  I was even more surprised by the number of national prognosticators picking UCLA to win outright tonight at the Rose Bowl.

At face level, I don't see it.  Sure, Rex Burkhead is questionable to play, and doubtful to contribute.  I could see Burkhead playing just the opening play to keep his consecutive games streak alive and see how it actually goes.  But even without Burkhead, I still think Nebraska should be favored.  But many disagree.

I'm not going to try to refute that argument.  They very well might be right; UCLA isn't so out-manned that they cannot win. But I think part of the argument for the UCLA upset is past Nebraska failings:  the Capital One Bowl and Wisconsin last season.  Texas A&M and the Big XII Championship game in 2010.

Oh, and the "Pelini Hairballs" where Nebraska inexplicably lost:  Iowa State and Texas Tech in 2009, Washington (Holiday Bowl) in 2010.  Northwestern in 2011.

I think Nebraska should win today, and win fairly comfortably. My CornNation game prediction is NU 38, UCLA 14.  I think I'm alone in thinking that the Blackshirts can hold UCLA to just two scores; I'm on an island here.  But that's what I see.  Rice wasn't much of an opponent; note that Kansas is a 10 point favorite over the Owls today.  They had one of the worst defenses in college football last season, and probably aren't going to be much better this year.

This isn't a game Nebraska must win so much as it is a game that Nebraska must not lose. Tom Osborne once noted that any game you lost suddenly became a big game after the fact. A victory over UCLA won't impress most college football experts (unless the score gets out of hand, which I don't expect)...but a loss to UCLA adds even more traction that the Huskers are not anywhere near the upper echelon of the football world.  Remember that summertime talk that Nebraska might only win eight games this season?  This comes from that perception.

If Nebraska is to break that perception, Nebraska cannot afford a loss tonight in the Rose Bowl. It's a game Nebraska must find a way to win, because failure to win becomes just yet another example of Nebraska's not back.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

BlogPoll Ballot: 'Bama #1, Any Questions? Didn't Think So.

Now that we've moved beyond the opening week of the season, actions on the field take precedence over preseason perceptions.  And so, teams that played well against opponents perceived to be good take precedence over teams that struggled against not-so-good opponents.  Got that?

In short, Alabama goes to #1.  Southern Cal moves to #2 with a blowout of Hawaii.   After that, well, it's a muddled mess at this point where we have to start using perception.  Oregon looked good in the first half, then mailed in their second half.  South Carolina looked somewhat meh against a meh opponent. Florida State blew out a nobody while Oklahoma struggled with UTEP.

So then comes the homer pick: Nebraska at #9. Yep, that's right...#9.  Southern Miss was a bowl team and C-USA champs last year and got beat badly.  There aren't a lot of teams that played an opponent like that in week one and beat that opponent like that.  So I'm putting the Husker there for now.  We'll see if they stick there, especially when they play Arkansas State in two weeks followed by Idaho State.  Those won't be impressive opponents.

Ohio at #16?  Yeah, that's a sentimental pick...but they did rack up 499 yards against Penn State, and while the Nittany Lions lost all of their offence from last year, the defense last year was solid and should be decent this season.  No Ohio State?  Yep...NCAA sanctions.  No Michigan State?  Yep... the Spartan offense was down right offensive considering Boise State only had two returning starters on defense.  Michigan at #12?  That might be a little high, but my take is that Alabama may be that good.  And let's be honest...if we want matchups like Alabama/Michigan, we can't penalize teams for losing and then reward teams like Oklahoma State for running up the score on Savannah State.

Wisconsin #14?  Well, they probably shouldn't even be rated after that performance against Northern Iowa, but I decided to leave 'em in based on perception.