Sunday, September 25, 2016

Huskers Survive Red Zone Miscues In Front of the Sea of Red in Chicago

It seems that whenever Nebraska plays Northwestern, weird things seem to happen.  In some respects, the 2016 game resembled the 2012 game in that Nebraska's domination on the stat sheet wasn't reflected on the scoreboard. In 2012, it was costly turnovers and ill-timed penalties; in 2016, it was fumbles inside the one yard line. In fact, I'd argue that Terrell Newby's fumble changed the entire tone of the game.  If he's down at the one yard line, it's not unreasonable to think that Nebraska punches it into the end zone on the next play.  That would be 75 yards in four or five plays and a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the game. Instead, Nebraska's momentum complete deflates, and the Huskers only gain another 32 yards the rest of the first quarter.

As a long time believer in Mikale Wilbon, I was pleased to see him see even more playing time against Northwestern.  In fact, he surely was Nebraska's most effective I-back in the second half.  I don't think he's going to start next week, but if he runs the ball like he did in the Windy City in future weeks, he'll be starting games before too long. He's definitely earned more playing time next week.

Tommy Armstrong continues his impressive run this season; maybe his completion rate hasn't improved, but his turnover rate has. And more importantly, he's making plays with his legs and proving the importance of a dual-threat quarterback in today's age in college football. I'm not sure he had a lot of help from his offensive line today, though.

Nebraska's defense had their worst performance of the year, in my opinion.  Justin Jackson got his 4 yards per carry average that he put up against MAC and 1-AA competition, and Clayton Thorson once again made NU look silly.  Thorson had a net loss of negative two yards rushing this season prior to facing the Huskers and was completing under 50% of his passes...but the Huskers let him go 42 yards untouched and complete 65% of his passes. Can we please put the whole #LockDownU notion under a lockdown?

Good win?  Absolutely! Every win is a good win, and there's nothing to apologize about being 4-0.  Especially after last season, when Nebraska seemed to be magnetically attracted to the banana peel. But let's put those wins in perspective: Nebraska's four opponents have only won three games against division 1-A opponents this season.   2-2 Oregon has beaten Virginia and lost to Colorado.  2-2 Wyoming beat Northern Illinois and 1-3 Northwestern beat Duke. 1-3 Fresno State, like Oregon and Wyoming, has a 1-AA victory on their resume.

Taking a nervous look towards that matchup with undefeated Wisconsin in a month?  Yeah, I'm getting more and more concerned about that one.  But let's not worry too much about that yet; the Huskers found ways to lose to Illinois and Purdue last season, and redeeming those losses comes up first.
A lot is going to be said over the next week about Michael Rose-Ivey kneeling during the national anthem, joining the protest originated by Colin Kaepernick a month ago. Some will undoubtedly be outraged by the "disrespect" being shown to the flag. That's a fair opinion. Some will even call for Rose-Ivey to be punished in some manner for his actions.

That's not a fair opinion.

In fact, that's an even bigger disrespect of our flag and our nation. Silencing people who have dissenting opinions of the actions of government is something we expect in North Korea, not the United States of America. If you truly believe that America is the greatest and most free country in the entire world, then certainly Michael Rose-Ivey has the right to kneel during the national anthem as a symbol of protest.  And when you consider that just this week that a police officer in Tulsa was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing an unarmed black man a week ago, Rose-Ivey has a right to be concerned.

In fact, I applaud Rose-Ivey for taking a stand that's not going to be popular in this state. We're free in this country to disagree with Rose-Ivey's position. The court system will determine a resolution to the situation, but if we're truly the land of the free, then Rose-Ivey is free to be concerned that a police officer may have made a tragic mistake. Disrespectful?  Not nearly as disrespectful as yelling "you lie" at the President of the United States during a speech to Congress.  (Especially when the facts show otherwise.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Huskers Clear Their Throat Again After Successful Duck Hunt

Husker fans have anxiously awaited this matchup with the Oregon Ducks ever since it was announced, and while this edition of the Ducks isn't quite the same caliber as they were a couple of years ago, Oregon is still a potent offensive team. But when Royce Freeman left early in the first quarter, Oregon was no longer elite on offense, merely good.

Meanwhile, the Huskers offense was rather stagnant in the first half, thanks to a gameplan that thought that the Huskers could run the ball right down the Ducks throat. The Ducks struggled this season stopping the run, so it made sense...but Oregon sold out on stopping the run, and the up-the-middle runs weren't working.

What was working? The runs out of the shotgun, especially with Terrell Newby, who averaged 7 yards a carry in the first half. It's something the coaches realized at halftime, and the Huskers dominated the third quarter...until the Huskers folded on 3rd and 27. Hard to believe that the Ducks not only got the first down, but took it to the house.

And when Oregon followed that with a 98 yard drive, things looked pretty bleak.  Buy that's when Tommy Armstrong delivered with the game on the line. First hitting Jordan Westercamp for a fourth down completion, and then scrambling for the game winner.

That's an aspect of Nebraska football I'm going to miss over the next few years, as Mike Riley is now recruiting pro-style throwers at quarterback. Color me skeptical that this is a good move in the modern era of football, but that's the's going to be the future of the Huskers.

Still, Oregon had a chance to score , and looked to be threatening until they were flagged for holding again. Between the Freeman injury, the penalties and Oregon's obsession with the 2 point conversion, the Ducks had plenty of opportunities to win this game, but didn't. It was fitting that Michael Rose-Ivey got the final stop after playing a whale of a game.

It wasn't the greatest game; both teams have plenty of things to improve on. But as Husker fans learned last season,appreciate every win. Iowa showed last season that football teams just need to find ways to win each game to have a great season.

The Huskers made enough plays today, and are 3-0. Maybe not a pretty 3-0, but 3-0 looks a helluvva lot better than 1-2 like last season started.

Just win, baby. Just win.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Turnovers Turn Tight Game into Blowout Husker Victory over Wyoming

For three quarters, the Nebraska-Wyoming game seemed to live up to my prediction that the game would be closer than the Vegas point spread.  Wyoming had just cut the Huskers lead to 24-17, and seemed to have the momentum after instant replay correctly ruled that a deep pass from Tommy Armstrong to Brandon Reilly had slipped out of Reilly's hands and onto the ground ever so briefly. My Twitter feed showed fans at home didn't see it, but the HuskerVision screens found a replay that showed the ball on the ground.  And even before the officials had a chance to announce the call was being overturned, both teams began walking back to the other end of the field.

Nebraska did score on that drive at the start of the fourth quarter, and then Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen became a turnover machine.  How bad?  Four turnovers on Wyoming's next nine offensive plays...and suddenly, a 24-17 nailbiter was now a 52-17 blowout.

As a self-proclaimed "run the ball" guy, I wasn't terribly pleased with Nebraska's game plan in this game, as I think the Huskers were too quick to give up on the running game.  Or at least the coaches were too quick to give up on the I-backs.  Granted, Devine Ozigbo wasn't terribly effective all day, but Terrell Newby looked OK on his four carries. And let's be clear:  four was also the number of I-back runs in each quarter of the first half.

Was that offensive approach all that effective?  Well, Nebraska led 14-10 at halftime; debate that if you wish.
I would point out that in that decisive fourth quarter, Nebraska ran the ball 17 times and only threw six passes, but most of those runs came in garbage time.  It wasn't offense that won this game, it was defense.

I've been fairly impressed with John Parrella's new defensive line, though to be honest, this group hasn't been really tested yet.  They will be next week by the Oregon Ducks.  Nebraska won't be able to wait for the fourth quarter to put the game away against Oregon.

Monday, September 05, 2016

UNO's Baxter Arena: First Year Results Hemorrhages Crimson Ink

Sunday's Omaha World-Herald shone light on the first year financial results, and the results were the opposite of what supporters expected going in.
The university-owned arena recently ended its first fiscal year $1.5 million in the red, forcing campus officials to infuse $1.4 million in university funds into the operation to help cover construction bond payments.
The disappointing results aren’t just a first-year blip. It’s expected that $1.5 million in university dollars will need to be tapped to balance this year’s books, with $1 million kicked in by UNO and $500,000 committed by NU central administration in Lincoln.
Sounds bad? It's actually worse.
The athletic department had been counting on roughly a half million dollars in arena profits to help fund its own operations, dollars that did not materialize. That shortfall and myriad other budget issues left athletics with a $1.8 million budget deficit of its own.
Not a surprise to me, mind you. I thought the numbers didn't add up before one spade of dirt was turned over, and turns out, my suspicions were correct. But that doesn't help things one bit.  The money has been spent; the building is built.  There's no turning back.

UNO can't undo this mistake.

The Monday Morning Quarterback can say that UNO hockey should have stayed downtown at the CenturyLink Center with basketball remaining at the Ralston Arena. Baxter Arena has been a lose-lose proposition for everyone: the other arenas have fewer events, and UNO's athletic budget is exposing the reality that the expenses of owning a building 365 days a year are much higher than renting a building for the 20-25 days a year they actually need it.

Doesn't matter now.  They built it, and now must deal with the results.  The University of Nebraska system, which signed off on the bad idea, is now on the hook to cover the losses. Hopefully UNO won't lose any more sports in the aftermath.  I suspect that any plans for UNO to build a baseball field are now dead, which is a shame, because they deserve a better facility than what they've got out at Boys Town.  Maybe UNO could find an agreement with another high school; I know that Millard North has a better looking facility than Boys Town.  I suspect Westside might also have a decent field.  Maybe UNO and MECA could swallow their egos and find a way to compromise so that UNO could use TD Ameritrade Park on a part-time basis. (Imagine UNO and Creighton working on joint scheduling to bring opponents to town to play games with just one road trip.)

You know what would help UNO even more?  Winning hockey games in March... and April.

One thing is clear:  the Omaha metro area is done building arenas and ballparks for many, many years to come.  This area has overbuilt, and has double what the region actually needs and can support.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Huskers Run the Dadgummed Ball, Honor Foltz, and Beat Fresno State Going Away

Probably the best way to describe the start of Nebraska's 2016 season was "wet".  When Sam Foltz's young nephews led the Huskers out of the locker room on the Tunnel Walk, tears were flowing throughout Memorial Stadium. I think this might be the first time I didn't clap along to Sirius; I couldn't.  Even the sky was crying.

And all of that emotion might explain Nebraska's uneven performance in the first half.  Nebraska looked OK at times running the ball, though it was inconsistent in the first half. And they ran the ball primarily. Last season, I argued that in losses, Nebraska didn't run the ball enough.  Against Fresno State, you could make an argument they ran the ball too much:  51 runs and 13 passes, a 80/20 ratio.  That's probably an overreaction too far the other direction, but considering that the Bulldogs were 116th in the nation in rush defense, it wasn't exactly a bad choice.

Especially when you consider that Nebraska went turnover free.

Defensively, there were quite a few things to like, especially up front. I liked the play of the defensive line, especially senior Ross Dzuris with three tackles for loss.  I suspect that if the officials had been interested, they could have called a half dozen or so holding penalties on Fresno.  The officials did throw the flag with targeting calls against Luke Gifford and Aaron Williams.  Of the two, I still believe Williams' hit was closer to targeting than Gifford's, though the official review apparently "confirmed" Gifford's penalty and overturned Williams'.  It wasn't until I saw a BTN replay after returning home that I see what Gifford got called for, but I still think it's a very questionable call.  Gifford led with his arms, hitting Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil on the upper arm, with the helmets colliding as Virgil started to fall.  Is targeting now any helmet-to-helmet contact?  That seemed to be the decision of this crew.

It's a first game, so you have to expect some unevenness, especially when you consider the emotional impact of the loss of Sam Foltz.  The Huskers finished the game strong in the second half, and that really should be the takeaway. But let's put it in this perspective: I suspect that Fresno State will be the weakest opponent Nebraska will face in 2016.  I expect Wyoming and Maryland to be much improved in 2016, and Nebraska went 1-5 against the other schools in the Big Ten's west division.

I mean, Nebraska did beat South Alabama 48-9 last season.  This was definitely a better win than that, and hopefully something to build on.