Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eichorst Slaps Down Unfounded Speculation From Local Media; Continues to Support Bo Pelini

Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst gave Bo Pelini his version of the "1000%" vote of confidence Saturday morning, and also took issue with the speculation that Pelini was even on the hot seat in the first place.
"My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices. However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska -- that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family. We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future."
 Emphasis added for clarity. Except that many of the people driving the speculation aren't giving up their case:

Yep...still at it. Read the last statement again:  "...look forward to upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future."  Bowl game and the future... i.e. beyond.  Some say that since he didn't say 2014 that the future only includes the bowl game.  That's trying to read way, way too much into Eichorst's statement.

Eichorst didn't say 2014 because he didn't want to read any limits as to his support for Pelini as head coach. Lots of recruits on campus right now, and there's no need for anybody to read this as only a one year endorsement. It's open-ended and ongoing.

Eichorst's statement also makes it clear that he would have preferred to wait until after the bowl game, but the "unfounded speculation and conjecture" forced him to respond now. If he wanted to wait, he simply could have indicated that "end of season" meant "after the bowl game" and left himself an opening. He did no such thing.
Let's make it clear:  Pelini is going to be Nebraska's head football coach.  Period.
What I find most curious is that the statement appeared on almost simultaneously to the local media starting to tweet about it's existence. Clearly, the statement was sent to Chicago first and subsequently released to the "Local Media" once BTN was ready to post it.
Note the "Local Media" in this version of the message. That's not my creation; that's how it came from Lincoln.  And it was a nonverbal message to the World-Herald and various sports talk hosts driving the "Pelini Hot Seat" theme that the athletic department is none-too-pleased with the volume of the speculation.

As it is, I'm pleasantly surprised, if not downright shocked, that Pelini is returning. I've felt Pelini has done as good of a job as possible resurrecting the Nebraska defense as well as dealing with the injuries on offense. Eight wins is a very sub-par season for Nebraska, but teams that lose an award-winning quarterback usually struggle. (Did anybody see what Green Bay has become on Thanksgiving?)

I do have to wonder if some of yesterday's meltdowns could have been avoided if Eichorst had given a private message of support earlier this week after Pelini discussed the issues of the "hot seat" narrative.  Certainly, Pelini was on edge and may have felt that he had nothing to lose yesterday. That might explain that fake punt or going for it on fourth down in Nebraska territory in the fourth quarter.

And I suspect Shawn Eichorst might not have wondered the same thing over the last 24 hours.

Friday, November 29, 2013

More Turnovers and Awful Fake Punt Call Doom Huskers Against Iowa

Today's Nebraska football game against Iowa almost has become a sideshow to the "Is Bo Pelini being fired or not?" storyline.  Or in the eyes of some, it's not "if" but rather "when".  I'll cut to the chase: I don't believe Bo Pelini should be fired.  That doesn't mean that I'm happy with an 8-4 record, but considering the circumstances that got Nebraska to this point (young defense and 12 players on the two-deep offensive roster), 8-4 is actually a fairly good record. (Did anybody see yesterday what the Green Bay Packers are like without Aaron Rodgers?  That's what injuries at key positions and with this quantity can do to a team.)

Starting out the day, I thought Nebraska was going to have a good day offensively until Taariq Allen got penalized for stepping out of bounds before catching a 32 yard pass down to the Iowa 17 yard line. Next play, a bad interception. Two plays later, another bad interception.  7-0 Iowa.

More special teams blunders put Nebraska inside their own five yard line, and the resulting punt gave Iowa another short field.  Now it was 14-0, and things were looking awfully bleak at halftime.  Nebraska did put together a really nice drive to open the third quarter, and it seemed to be game on.  Until the refs decided to penalize Zaire Anderson for pass interference on a pass thrown 15 feet over C.J. Fiedorowicz's head.  Horrible call.  Then the officials flagged Pelini 15 yards for apparently waiving his hat too close to the referee.  Still Nebraska didn't seem to be out of the game until Pelini made one of the worst call's of his coaching career.

Kirk Ferentz smelled it coming, and called time out.  Just to be on the safe side, he sent his base defense back out onto the field.  And the fake punt was stuffed in Nebraska territory.  One play later: Boom... 24-10.  Still, it wasn't over.  Nebraska battled back, and after a defensive stop, Nebraska seemed ready to finally mount the comeback over their mistakes.  And then another happened, as Ameer Abdullah got popped in the helmet and fumbled.  And that's all she wrote.  Nebraska got desperate late, going for an ill-advised fourth down on their side of the field to allow a garbage touchdown late.  That was the ball game.

A short postgame press conference seemed to signify where this is heading.  Pelini called the pass interference a "chicken-sh*t" call.  He was both right - and wrong.  Right, because it was a bad call.  Wrong, because Pelini can't say that in public. At the very least, Pelini will likely be sanctioned by the Big Ten for publicly criticizing the refs.

Unless, of course, Shawn Eichorst acts first.  I didn't really believe it before today.  I sense most people didn't believe it before today.  But now, everybody seems to.  And it's pretty darn clear this one could be even more divisive than the Solich firing ten years ago if it's not handled correctly. Fans are clearly split on whether Pelini should stay or go. But making it even tougher are the comments of the players; they clearly love Pelini and stand behind their coach 1000% percent.

Should that count for something? It should.  But I'm not sure what formula Eichorst will use in making this decision. And neither does anybody else outside of One Memorial Stadium.  But here's how I would evaluate the situation:  I'd sit down and ask Bo what went wrong and what needs to change moving forward.  Eichorst played the game, and it's his responsibility to determine if that's truly going to take Nebraska to the next level.

I don't know if that's what Eichorst will do. I just hope that Nebraska still has a chance of avoiding another nuclear winter like 2003-04.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

B1G Power Poll, Week 14

This week's poll is much like the others... very few changes, and in the lower part.  Pretty much know who is where now.
  1. Ohio State
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Michigan State
  4. Nebraska
  5. Iowa
  6. Minnesota
  7. Michigan
  8. Penn State
  9. Northwestern
  10. Indiana
  11. Illinois
  12. Purdue
The rest of the Power Poll ballots should be posted to CN in the next day or so...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Taking Issue with the Omaha World-Herald

No, this has nothing to do with Dirk Chatelain. This is the business of the World-Herald, not any complaint about the editorial quality (or lack thereof) with Omaha's daily newspaper.

I'm a subscriber. I know I can read the paper online, but I still like getting the dead tree issue of the paper. Call me an old fogie if you wish. What I find curious is that as more and people drop their subscriptions because of the price, the World-Herald keeps increasing their rates.  Of course, that's just exacerbates the problem, but the World-Herald doesn't seem to mind.

The World-Herald's latest price increase nearly pushed me to cancel my subscription this week. A few weeks ago, they sent me a letter (costing them 50 cents) to inform me that they are increasing the price for this Thursday's paper by $2.75.  Why?  Because of the "valuable advertising" that day.

That's right.  They are charging me extra because Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and Nebraska Furniture Mart are stuffing the Thursday paper full of huge Christmas ads.  Not charging the retailers more...charging me more.  (Of course, let's not forget that the Furniture Mart and the World-Herald are both subsidiaries of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway.)

That's not my only issue with the business operations of the World-Herald.  I also have leased a parking spot from the World-Herald in their parking garage at 12th & Capitol for over ten years.  Three weeks ago, I received the following letter from the company that manages the garage for the World-Herald:

"This is to inform you that effective November 30, 2013 your contract for parking in a World Herald Garage reserved stall will be cancelled."

I do have the option of signing up for a non-reserved spot (at a slightly reduced rate).  Which is what I did, because I like the convenience of the garage. Why I signed up for a reserved spot is because most of the non-reserved spots are on the roof, where cars are subject to snow, hail, etc.

It appears that the World-Herald made a business decision to sell my spot to Gavilon, a commodity futures company that has just finished a new four-story building on the World-Herald's former headquarters site. Never mind that I've been a loyal customer for over ten years.'re cancelled.

I understand the newspaper business has gotten rather cutthroat as of late and that newspapers are struggling financially. But actions like these are not how you show you "appreciate your patronage".  I call it taking advantage of the customers you still have.  It shows a complete lack of respect for their customers, and shows that the World-Herald does not value their customers in the least.

I thought long and hard about taking my business elsewhere, but I'm reluctantly agreeing to their latest terms.

Mostly because the Lincoln Journal-Star doesn't deliver to Omaha.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

UNO Finishes Their Finest Month of Hockey With Sweep of #8 Miami

When UNO's schedule was released, the month of November stood out for it's ferocity.  Road trip to perennial contender Denver.  Home games against Michigan, North Dakota, and Miami.  A really rough stretch for UNO, who was picked by most to finish last in the inaugural season of the NCHC.

That "rough stretch" turned into quite an impressive month:  the Mavs won six of eight games.  And it's not like the other teams fell apart either:  Last week, Michigan was ranked #5 in the nation, Miami #8, and North Dakota #15.  Denver was receiving votes in the top 20.

Now UNO stands poised to break into the rankings themselves.  Quite possibly top 15.  ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross has UNO a tad bit higher:
Pretty heady stuff, but it's still awfully early.  And it's an awkward stretch for the Mavs with only one weekend series in the next six weeks.  But UNO enters Thanksgiving weekend in first place in the conference. They've settled on a #1 goalie, as Ryan Massa has been rock solid as of late.  The penalty kill, which was horrible in October, has gotten better.

Friday night's game got off on the wrong foot with Miami scoring on a power play goal in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. But the second period turned into one for the ages - at least the first 19 minutes and 30 seconds.  Dominic Zombo scored 22 seconds in to tie it, then Johnnie Searfoss scored a couple minutes later to put UNO in the lead.  Freshman Austin Ortega scored twice along with Brock Montpetit to give UNO a commanding 5-1 lead.  But with 24 seconds left in the period, Miami scored another power play goal, then scored a third goal with just five seconds left to halve the UNO lead.

But UNO was just as dominant in the third period, and the Mavs won 6-3.  I didn't catch the Saturday night game due to the Husker game. UNO won 3-1 thanks to a Tanner Lane short-handed goal.  Massa stopped 25 of 26 shots for his fifth win of the season.

UNO is off for Thanksgiving, then plays Colorado College for the final series before the Christmas break. The Mavs won't play again at home until January 10th against Minnesota-Duluth, who's currently ranked #19.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Huskers Survive and Advance Against Penn State

As snowflakes and buzzards swirled around State College, Nebraska survived a couple of very questionable late penalty calls and pulled another game out of the fire. It seems no matter what adversity Nebraska faces, the Huskers battle back.  Five freshman turnovers last week, and Nebraska still outplays Michigan State on the rest of the plays. Injuries wreaking havoc once again?  Nebraska battles through.

Third string quarterback. Patchwork offensive line. Receivers named Brandon Reilly and Sam Burtch pressed into service. This team just battles through.  Did they make it tough on themselves with crucial mistakes? Absolutely: Ameer Abdullah fumbles on the goal line when Nebraska seemed ready to take a 14-6 lead.  Ron Kellogg III fumbles inside the NU 10 yard line while being sacked, giving Penn State a short field to take a 13-7 lead.

But say one thing about Nebraska: when the chips are down, they don't give up when the ball bounces the other way. Kenny Bell takes the ensuing kickoff to retake the lead.  But the play of the game had to be that Ameer Abdullah 62 yard touchdown run with that inexplicable personal foul penalty.
Touchdown off the board, and Nebraska has to settle for a game-tying field goal.  Everybody thought it was a bad call.

Well, almost everybody.
Interesting dichotomy from the ESPN team, with the former World-Herald reporter taking issue with the Nebraska media he still works next to.  Or more accurately, the Lincoln Journal-Star.  It reopens the issue of the narrative coming from 13th & Douglas Street in downtown Omaha.  The resentment from 2011 still runs very, very deep.

It's easy to dismiss this game as Nebraska underperforming once again.  That is, if you are being ridiculously superficial.  Nebraska's injury list is almost absurdly long.  Nebraska dipping to their third string at quarterback and on the offensive line.  How bad was it?
Seriously.  In baseball, this is akin to position players having to pitch in extra innings. Except here, it's not strategy that's depleted the bench, it's injuries.  It's either this - playing guys who probably shouldn't be expected to play, or burn redshirts in the eleventh game of the season.  Bo Pelini has wisely decided to keep the redshirts intact. And it's amazing that Nebraska somehow found a way to win this game.  It speaks to the heart and passion in this program.

Of course, others will merely dismiss this as excuse making.  Call it hatred, call it trolling.  Call it myopic.  Bottom line to me is that it makes the discussion of firing Bo Pelini to be downright infuriating. 

Defensively, it wasn't a bad performance, but it wasn't one of Nebraska's better performances. The defensive line got run over at times by Penn State as Zach Zwinak frequenly hit the second and third level untouched.  But the defense did a pretty good job of containing Allen Robinson, though he still got his eight catches and 106 yards.  Props go to Ciante Evans who battled all day with a bum shoulder.
Yeah, Nebraska's first three seasons in the Big Ten haven't gone exactly the way Husker fans had originally hoped. But you can't question the heart and passion of this program. And there's a lot of exciting potential in this program, as Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel points out:
The 2013 Huskers have their flaws but there are hints of promise here at the end of autumn. If Ameer Abdullah returns, he’s likely to become the first Nebraska back to rush for 1,000-yards in three different seasons. Randy Gregory is going to be even more fun to watch in a year. Same goes for the rest of the defensive line. There are potential all-conference type players at linebacker too. The defensive improvement overall this season is probably one of Pelini’s greatest achievements.
 Am I a Bo-liever?  To me, it's a no-brainer: Why would I not be?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Should Bo Pelini Be Fired?

This isn't a prediction. Nobody knows what Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst is thinking other than Eichorst and probably chancellor Harvey Perlman. Anybody who says they know what Eichorst is planning is probably either (a) guessing or (b) listening to somebody who is guessing.

These are just my opinions on the matter. I don't have any way of knowing whether Eichorst would agree or disagree with them.  He might even have completely different criteria than I'm using.

Two items that probably aren't particularly relevant is how Nebraska performs in the next two games. Sure, a 9-3 record makes it a little difficult to fire Bo Pelini, but Steve Pederson proved that isn't a major obstacle. Likewise, a 7-5 record makes it a little difficult to retain him, but the injuries could be a plausible explanation.

In my mind, any evaluation of Bo Pelini has to be based on Pelini's entire record, but more importantly, where Pelini would take Nebraska football.  Some people characterize Nebraska football as stagnant under Pelini, with four losses each and every year.  I don't see it quite the same.  We've seen seasons with good defense.  We've seen seasons with great defense.  We've seen seasons with awful defense.  And the same thing can be said about the offense.  In the end, it's always averaged out to the same results: 9-4 or 10-4.

Some call it "Bo-gatory".  I'm not sure why people view it so negatively; certainly the Bill Callahan era should give fans reason to appreciate nine wins a season.  That doesn't mean that we should be ecstatic over nine win seasons. We should want more... in fact, we should ask for more.

Many fans want Pelini dismissed because he's failed to get to eleven wins.  "Holding him responsible" is essentially a demand for punishment for failing to meet our goals.

I don't care about punishment. Firing Pelini doesn't make the blowout losses better.

What I care about is the future, and I think good things are in the future.  I believe the defense has turned the corner, and I think there are positives to look at on offense.  Some will accuse me of looking at the situation with Husker rose-colored glasses, so let me explain further.

One of the frequent complaints about Pelini is his recruiting.  Did he make some mistakes in recruiting his first few seasons? Absolutely. Just look at the defensive line recruits. But Pelini made changes in his approach.  Dismissed Ted Gilmore as recruiting coordinator after the 2010 season. He brought in consultants from outside football to evaluate his staff's interviewing and evaluation process. Has it made an effect? Look at the young talent on the defensive line. And for the folks that dig recruiting rankings, note that Nebraska's average star ratings for the 2011 and 2012 classes were higher than anything that Bill Callahan accomplished.

That young talent is why I'm optimistic. Nine freshman on the two deep on the front seven, and they've started to play really well over the last month.  And they'll undoubtedly get better.  Already people are talking about Randy Gregory with Suh-like references.  That's a high standard, and he may not turn out THAT good, but he's got two more seasons of eligibility. 

A lot of people over-simplify Pelini's defense as being good with Callahan's players, but not with his own.  If those critics equate Ndamukong Suh with Callahan players, I suppose.  Sure, Callahan recruited Suh as well as Prince Amukamara and Eric Hagg...but Pelini recruited Alfonzo Dennard, Dejon Gomes, and Lavonte David.

Does Pelini need to change some things? Most definitely, starting with special teams. I don't think Pelini needs to even be told that he needs to do something different. The numbers are pretty glaring. Maybe it's time to lighten the load on linebackers coach/special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator Ross Els.  Hand the special teams responsibilities to somebody else, at the very least.

I don't believe Pelini to be resistant to change.  He's changed offensive coordinators.  He's changed recruiting coordinators.  When Cory Raymond wasn't working out as secondary coach, he changed that too.  (And for those that think Pelini didn't have his hand in that change, note that Terry Joseph was in Lincoln to fill the opening within a week.)  That being said, Pelini makes changes his way.

There are a lot of youngsters playing this season. On defense, it was because of past recruiting mistakes that now look like they've been corrected.  That seems to be bouncing back nicely.  On offense, it's because of injuries. To think that Nebraska almost won the Big Ten's west division despite losing an all-Big Ten quarterback and an all-American offensive lineman to season ending injuries, as well as several other linemen and skill players over the last month gives you reason to pause.

That youth movement this season gives me a lot of optimism for the next couple of years.  I don't buy that Nebraska is going to be stuck with four losses each season under Pelini, much like I didn't buy that Nebraska was always going to lose to Oklahoma or lose the bowl game under Tom Osborne.  In some respects, the start of the Pelini era at Nebraska has resembled a bit of whack-a-mole. Fix the defense, and the offense stagnates.  Fix the offense, and suddenly the defense tanks.  Now the defense is fixed, but can the offense just become consistent enough to get out of it's own way?  I consider it like a weekend golfer who hasn't put it all together.  When he's driving the ball well, his short game goes to pot.  He figures out the short game, and suddenly he's driving it in the trees.  Can he eventually put both of them together?

My money is on yes. I think Nebraska can easily do worse than Pelini.  Can Nebraska do better than Pelini? Maybe, but it's not as easy as it might seem.  Dan Hawkins looked like a home run hire going from Boise State to Colorado.  Bill Callahan looked pretty good coming to Nebraska just one year after taking Al Davis' franchise to a Super Bowl.  Fear of failing with a new coach shouldn't necessarily stop Nebraska from changing coaches, but it should force Shawn Eichorst to think long and hard before making a change.

Deep down, I do believe it's much more likely that if Pelini and Nebraska separate after this season, it works out better for Pelini down the road than Nebraska.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

B1G Power Poll, Week 13 Ballot

Once again, I'll be ranking the Huskers higher than everybody else.
  1. Ohio State
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Michigan State
  4. Nebraska
  5. Minnesota
  6. Iowa
  7. Michigan
  8. Northwestern
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Illinois
  12. Purdue
Woulda-coulda-shoulda.... but didn't.  That's Nebraska's losses this season.  I still think that deep down, Nebraska is the third best team in the Big Ten this season.  They just haven't played that way.  (That's also why Michigan and Northwestern are also higher than others will vote them.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Husker Freshman Fumble Away the Big Ten's West Division to Michigan State

It only took three plays to establish the storyline of today's game between Nebraska and Michigan State.  Ameer Abdullah rushes for eight yards.  Kenny Bell catches a pass for four yards.  Then Terrell Newby fumbles a pitch from Tommy Armstrong.

Spartans ball.

The Husker defense steps up and holds Michigan State to a field goal.  OK, so Nebraska got that out of their system, right?  Hardly.  Next drive, same thing.  Abdullah runs for 10 yards.  Bell catches an 8 yard pass.  And then Armstrong throws the ball directly to Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond.

Remember that 2009 game between Nebraska and Iowa State?  Five turnovers?  Are you kidding me?  What the heck is going on in Lincoln?

Freshmen.  Jordan Westerkamp muffs a punt.  Armstrong adds two more fumbles.  All those turnovers by freshmen.  And most of them self-inflicted by Nebraska; gifts from the the newest players on the Big Red roster.

Freshman mistakes. Throughout the history of college sports, a common meme is the freshman or rookie mistake. It happens.  And unfortunately, it happened in this game.  Nebraska certainly didn't intend to have to play this many freshman this season.  (Taylor Martinez haters excepted, of course.)  Injuries have forced Nebraska's hand on offense.

And unfortunately, that negated a great performance from the rest of the offense.  If you still waste your Saturday morning watching ESPN GameDay, you probably saw Desmond Howard predicting that Ameer Abdullah would be held in check by Michigan State's invincible defense.  (I didn't watch; I had more important things to mow the yard.)

Michigan State's defense was only giving up 41 yards per game.  Abdullah tripled that by himself.  Heck, backup Imani Cross topped the Spartans defensive average. Prior to this weekend, Michigan State had only allowed 391 yards rushing on the ground.  Nebraska rushed for 182 today alone.  They were only allowing 1.62 yards a rush, nearly a yard per carry less than the next team.

Nebraska averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

If not for the turnovers, Nebraska wins this game.  Probably handily.  The defense played well enough early to win this game.  41 points by Michigan State? How the heck does that happen?  It's easy when the Spartans get the ball on the NU 40 (field goal), 8 (touchdown), 22 (touchdown), and 3 (touchdown) yard line.  24 points off of turnovers.

Husker fans agonize over every loss.  Bad losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State, and UCLA have rightfully raised questions about the defense.  This one was different; the defense isn't the problem at this time. Nebraska's defense seems back on track to playing Blackshirt style defense.

But that nagging turnover problem?  No, benching Taylor Martinez didn't fix that.  Problem is, I don't know this does get fixed, other than work on it. Ameer Abdullah has been better this season holding onto the ball.  Martinez was better at ball security this season as well. I suspect that Armstrong and Westerkamp will be better in the future.

Frustrating as heck.  But what are you going to do?  Press the panic button?  Call for another Steve Pederson?  Haters are going to hate.  The rest of us are only going to wonder what this season might have been like if Martinez had been healthy all season long.  Doesn't change the fact that Nebraska is now 7-3 and out of the Big Ten's west division race, unfortunately.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ralston Arena Scoreboard Fails As UNO Basketball Tops the Century Mark

Two nights after Creighton beat Missouri-Kansas City 96-70 in basketball, UMKC traveled across town to play UNO.  And got throttled again, losing 101-71 at the Ralston Arena.  That was the official score in the book.  The scoreboard in Ralston said something completely different at the end of the game.
Photo Courtesy of Tim McMahan/Lazy-I

Yep, UMKC 71, UNO 1 was the final on the Ralston Arena scoreboard

Seriously, you have to wonder how a basketball scoreboard could not be programmed to handle triple digit scores.  That's a somewhat common occurrence in basketball. Most every high school gym has a scoreboard that can handle 100's.  And this is a video board, which should remove any physical limitations over what can be displayed.

Not sure who should get the blame: Daktronics, who I believe supplies the video boards for the Ralston Arena, the folks in Ralston, or UNO.  Or everybody...because that's simply embarassing.

That shouldn't take away an impressive performance by UNO's basketball squad, who were led by C.J. Carter with 16 points. The transitive property doesn't typically apply in sports, but it is worth noting that UNO defeated UMKC by a larger margin than their more-well-known cross-town counterparts from the Hilltop.  (Of course, when your star player is none other than Dylan McDermott, of course more people are going to flock to your games.)

I wonder if Kevin Kugler got autographs for his wife and kids?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

B1G Power Poll Ballot, Week 12

Not much change at the top...or the bottom...this week, but judging from the rest of the ballots on the PowerPoll, the middle has gravitated towards my ballot a bit this week.  Nebraska upsetting Michigan in the Big House has a way of making that happen.  My ballot for this week:
  1. Ohio State
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Michigan State
  4. Nebraska
  5. Michigan
  6. Minnesota
  7. Iowa
  8. Northwestern
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Illinois
  12. Purdue
Yes, Minnesota beat Nebraska.  But Michigan stomped Minnesota. As did Iowa.  Do I believe in Iowa?  Heck no, at this point.  And what game is the odd-ball result that I have to disregard?  I'm diminishing that Minnesota victory over Nebraska for now.

Am I right or wrong to do that?  We'll know Saturday night...

Reenacting the Disputed Michigan Goal from the 2011 NCAA Hockey Tournament

With UNO facing Michigan for the first time since that infamous 2011 NCAA Tournament game, Michigan folks are once again indignant that anybody believes that UNO got hozed by the referees call at the end of the game.
To refresh everybody's memory, here's what happened.
Keep in mind that the original call was no goal, and the decision to award Michigan the victory came from the instant replay.  Michigan fans have taken video shot from the far end of the ice, blown it up to where pixels are about the size of a puck as some sort of definitive proof that the puck was in the net.

It's not definitive.
All those images that Michigan fan produces showing ice between the puck and the goal line are not definitive without proof that the puck is actually on the ice.  Could it have been a goal? Absolutely.  In fact, I'd concede probably. But it's not definitive, as the above reenactment indicates.  "Probably a goal" is not a goal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

UNO Splits Hockey Series with North Dakota

UNO broke North Dakota's three game winning streak over the Mavs on Saturday night with a 4-2 victory, but fell to the former Sioux on Sunday evening.  Due to the unluck of the schedule makers, I was only able to see the final two periods of the Sunday game.  I arrived just after UNO tied the game at 1-1, only to watch the Sioux take the lead on two goals that frankly should never have happened.  On North Dakota's second goal, UNO defenseman Michael Young inadvertently knocked in the rebound of Michael Parks shot.  The third goal probably would have been overturned if the instant replay system were working properly.  North Dakota's Rocco Grimaldi's shot was deflected by Blake Caggiula's skate. It should have been overturned for both the kick as well as Caggiula being in the crease ahead of the puck...but the goal stood.

UNO's Josh Archibald managed to cut the North Dakota lead to 3-2 in the closing seconds of the second period, but UNO couldn't manage to score again.  Down the stretch, the game got very physical with numerous scrums.  Just after North Dakota's Derek Rodwell was sent off for tripping, Grimaldi drilled UNO's Ryan Walters into the boards head first. It should have been a five minute major for Grimaldi, but the infamous Brian Aaron and his partner Brian Thul didn't have the backbone to toss the 2012-13 WCHA all-rookie forward.

Despite the loss, UNO remains tied for first place in the NCHC, which is actually a pretty good position for UNO considering their preseason selection to finish last. This weekend, #2 Michigan returns to Omaha for a non-conference series.  The next week is #8 Miami.  It's a brutal schedule for UNO, though it got off to a pleasantly surprising start by sweeping the Gwoz-less Denver Pioneers on the road.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Blackshirts Dominate Michigan As Armstrong Comes Of Age Late

Over the last two seasons, the images of Nebraska's defense getting scorched in big, nationally televised games has been seared into Husker fans retinas.  And by the end of the B1G Championship Game, it was seared into the retinas of anybody who follows college football.  Heck, it even became a meme.


I've had my theory on the problem last year.  Nebraska simply didn't have the horses in the front seven last season.  Recruiting failures in Bo Pelini's early classes had led to a talent deficit up front.  Pelini recognized the problems early on, and replaced his recruiting coordinator after the 2010 season.  The problem with recruiting is that there is a long latency on fixing problems in college football.  There are no free agents; there are no trades.  So you hit the recruiting trail hard, and try to rebuild.

Last season, Pelini had a few elements of the solution, but gambled that he could redshirt them in 2012. Almost worked too, until Baker Steinkuhler went down in the Iowa game. So this year, we had a full group of true freshmen and redshirt freshman on the line.  They had some issues against Wyoming.  Looked pretty good against UCLA - in the first half...until Brett Hundley somehow evaded a sack just before halftime.  The youngsters lost their focus, got tentative...and got absolutely roasted in the third quarter.  Looked incredibly shaky early against South Dakota State.  But that is youth and inexperience for you.

Things looked a little better against bottom feeders Purdue and Illinois, but then more inexperienced mistakes doomed the Huskers against the surging Minnesota Gophers.  (Who are proving to be a not-so-bad team themselves now.)  And the first quarter against Northwestern as well.  But then something happened.

Pelini and John Papuchis leveled with their youngsters, cleared the air, and reset the defense. And ever since, we've seen defense that's worthy of the terms Blackshirts.  From that point forward, Northwestern punted on 11 of their final 13 possessions. Another drive ended with an interception.  The 13th drive?  Yeah, the Blackshirts gave up a field goal...but the Wildcats only gained three yards after taking over with a first and goal.

Today, the Blackshirts set the tone on the opening possession and except for the opening drive of the second half, never let up.  No matter how broken the Michigan offense may be, holding ANY opponent to -21 yards rushing is impressive.  What's more impressive is that this wasn't a 1-AA or Sun Belt opponent...but the team that was the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten's west division.  Randy Gregory will be claiming Big Ten defensive player of week honors this week, and the rest of the defensive line played well.  It was a high risk/high reward approach as Nebraska put the pressure on early and often.  Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was beat to a pulp last week by Michigan State, and the Huskers ripped those scabs off and reopened those wounds.

Let's compare those two games for Michigan.  Against Michigan State, Michigan rushed for -48 yards and passed for 216.  Total offense: 168 yards of offense.  Against Nebraska, Michigan rushed for -21 yards and passed for 196.  Total offense: 175 yards of offense.  Granted, Michigan State softened up Michigan for the Huskers, but the fact that Nebraska went on the road and performed like the Spartans on defense is a major accomplishment...especially after all the previous defensive breakdowns of the last few seasons.

And that defensive performance was sorely needed now that the offense has been decimated by injuries.  Kenny Bell and Jake Long were back on the field, but then Jeremiah Sirles left with a knee injury.  So that's three offensive linemen (one all-American) and an all-conference quarterback who's not on the field. In that light, Nebraska's offensive issues are a little more understandable.

Ameer Abdullah's performance today might also be named Big Ten offensive player of the week after rushing for 105 tough yards against a pretty solid Michigan rush defense. Of course, the biggest was that five yard option reception for the game winning touchdown, because the pitch went forward. Tommy Armstrong came of age on that final drive as he completed those clutch passes.  How about that 26 yard throw to Kenny Bell on fourth and two?  I'd have been seriously tempted to call on Mauro Bondi to kick the long field goal, but that's why I'm a blogger, not a coach.

Last week's hero nearly became this week's goat, as Jordan Westerkamp's muffed punt nearly cost Nebraska the game. I say nearly, because (1) the Huskers won the game and (2) it's a team game.  Westerkamp is going to make plenty of plays in the future for Nebraska; today's muff might just be the last time he doesn't make the catch, considering his reputation of having some of the best hands on the team.

And he's a freshman.  Just like Tommy Armstrong, who was cool and collected driving Nebraska to the winning score.  He didn't turn the ball over today.  Just like Avery Moss and Greg McMullen, who had great games at defensive end.  And just like Alonzo Moore, who had the critical block to spring Abdullah into the end zone.

The boo-birds are justifiably unhappy with Nebraska's two losses this season...but when you consider the whole situation, there's a lot of things to be excited about in Lincoln, both short-term and long-term.  Short-term, Nebraska still is in the drivers seat to get back to Indianapolis.  Beat Michigan State next Saturday, and every goal is still in front of this team.

And long-term, there are a lot of young players starting to emerge on both sides of the ball in Lincoln. Just something to remember when the critics start complaining the program is stuck in neutral. Injuries have forced  2013 into a transition year, and this transition is going better than fans had a right to expect.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

B1G Power Poll, Week 11

I noticed that last week I didn't drop the Huskers as much as many of my co-horts over at CornNation.  So I'm going to be the outlier again this week.  Here's my ballot for this week, which probably still has the same discrepancy.
  1. Ohio State
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Michigan State
  4. Nebraska
  5. Michigan
  6. Iowa
  7. Minnesota
  8. Northwestern
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Illinois
  12. Purdue
I didn't watch the Wisconsin/Iowa game, so I have to infer a lot.  Wisconsin played the game without Chris Borland, and Iowa never scored a touchdown.  And the game was in Iowa City.

I do suspect that I have Michigan rated waaaay too high.  That'll work itself out.  Is Nebraska too high? Maybe, but that too will work itself out. With over half of the starters on offense sidelined last week, the Huskers get the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Just Another Ordinary Nebraska Victory Over Northwestern: OMFG! RK3-to-1!

I admit it. I lost faith in my Huskers as the closing seconds ticked away in the fourth quarter. I had thought that Nebraska and Northwestern were heading to overtime...that is, until Tommy Armstrong unleashed yet another freshman mistake.  First and goal, Northwestern with just three minutes to go.  I couldn't criticize those fans who started heading for home. Things looked awfully bleak.  Nebraska seemed destined to be 5-3. The boo-birds were going to be out for Bo Pelini, and things were going to get ugly.

But then some little things occurred that reminds you that there is no quit in Nebraska football.  The Blackshirts (yes, I used that term) held on for a goal-line stand to limit the damage to a field goal.  Ameer Abdullah somehow getting 16 yards on fourth and 15.  And then the most incredible of incredible finishes as Jordan Westerkamp and Ron Kellogg III ensure a place in Husker history.

We've known that Westerkamp has the best hands of a pretty good receiver corps.  We've known that Kellogg probably has the best fundamental arm on the team, but still, the idea that this was the winning combination blows the mind...because that describes the Nebraska situation on offense.

Nebraska's all-Big Ten quarterback, Taylor Martinez, was up in the press box with injuries to his hip and foot.  The Huskers best receiver, Kenny Bell, left the game early and finished the game in sweats after suffering a groin injury.  The most electric playmaker, Jamal Turner, was out with a hamstring injury.

So when Nebraska was on offense, there was Tommy Armstrong throwing passes to Alonzo Moore, Westerkamp, and Sam Burtch.  And yes, that offense had some issues. Northwestern dared Nebraska to throw the ball, sometimes stacking ten defenders in the box.

Tommy Armstrong was really sharp in the first half, completing 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards and rushing for 52 more. Third quarter, not so much. 4 for 9 passing with an interception. Fourth quarter, six passes, zero completions, two interceptions.  That's the freshman coming out.  He'll get better over time with experience. It's just something to keep in mind for people who wanted to see Armstrong inserted into a game when the chips are down.

Ron Kellogg was just the opposite.  1 for 5 passing for 13 yards and an interception in the first half, earning him a spot on the bench for the third quarter.  And deservedly so.  But with Armstrong struggling in the fourth quarter, I wondered whether Bo Pelini and Tim Beck would turn to Kellogg and his arm with under four minutes to play.  They didn't...and Armstrong threw his third pick.  It looked like "game over."  But Kellogg rewrote his stat sheet: 6 for 8 passing for 91 yards...and THE touchdown.

With all the talk about receivers and quarterbacks, we almost forgot the heart and soul of the Nebraska offense:  I-back Ameer Abdullah who's putting together one of the great seasons in recent years for a Nebraska I-back.  24 carries for 127 tough yards against a defense that was selling out to stop him. And on that final drive, Abdullah caught the first three passes for 31 yards, including that oh-so-important 16 yarder on fourth down. Watch the replay again as he breaks three tackles to move the sticks.

Defense was a mixed bag: a really rough start, and a finish that sustains my hope for the future.  Northwestern put three of their first four drives into the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 21-7 lead on the road. Although I didn't hear it in my seats in the north end zone, others heard the complaints.  Was this 2007 all over again? Not in my book.  Against Oklahoma State, Nebraska was listless on both sides of the ball enroute to a 38-0 deficit.  That wasn't the case today.

There were, however, more missed tackles.  David Santos had a rough first half, especially trying to cover "superback" Dan Vitale.  Michael Rose had a couple good plays, but a bunch of whiffs and horrible reads at middle linebacker. In came Josh Banderas to stem the bleeding.  Second half was much, much better.  104 yards of offense.  On 13 Northwestern drives from the midway point of the second quarter on, Nebraska forced 11 punts and one interception. The other drive?  A field goal despite holding Northwestern to just 2 yards and no first down.

Is that the Blackshirt defense we want at Nebraska?  I won't go there...but it's a heck of a lot closer. I saw a lot to like on the defensive line today, especially with the ends.  Avery Moss with the pick-six.  Randy Gregory with two quarterback hurries.  Even Jason Ankrah had a sack.  We saw Vincent Valentine escape off of the milk carton and be a little bit disruptive as well.

Ciante Evans was huge on run support, with five tackles for loss and playing much bigger than he is.  Saw some good things from Corey Cooper as well.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste almost put the game away, narrowly missing an interception with nobody between him and the end zone.

The victory makes Nebraska bowl eligible.  There are issues without a doubt, but let's not forget the following fact:
Everybody has injuries. Heck, Northwestern had to insert their sixth string running back after Treyvon Green left the game. (Has Iowa finally transferred the curse of AIRBHG to jNWu?)  But gutting out a victory without three of your top offensive playmakers and finishing the game with more than half of your projected preseason offensive starting lineup means something.

Maybe Nebraska is not where fans want them to be. But let's drop the psychobabble of the team "giving up" or being "mentally weak".  Mentally weak teams that give up don't win games like this one.  Focus on this:  while Nebraska has issues, we saw players step up. Plays were made when the chips were down.  We saw depth emerge at receiver. We're going to need depth to step up on the offensive line down the stretch.  Nebraska's still in control of their destiny in the Big Ten west division.