Friday, December 31, 2010

Huskers Offense Vanishes in Holiday Bowl

In tonight's Holiday Bowl, Nebraska had it's worst offensive performance since the Oklahoma State game in 2007. It reminded me of some of those painful Orange Bowl losses against Miami back in the 80's and 90's...except for one thing.  Nebraska wasn't facing Miami in their prime, but rather, a .500 Washington team that the Huskers beat by 35 three months earlier.

It was a night and day performance offensively.  Defensively, the Blackshirts played fairly well in the first half, but not so well in the second half. Even so, the game was essentially over at that point without a sign of life offensively.

Thanks to ESPN's coverage of the Music City Bowl as well as the Stanford/UConn women's basketball team, I missed much of the first half, so I'm not quite sure what to think about where it all started to go wrong.  Listening to Bo Pelini's post game press conference, I'm not quite sure he knows either at this point.  It was all the same problems that we've seen over the last month of the season, except that this wasn't against ranked opponents. This was a 6-6 team that ranked 103rd against the run this season.

Credit goes to Washington; they were ready to play and were the aggressors on defense. And for whatever reason, Nebraska really didn't try to take advantage of that aggression, instead trying to be patient and see whether the offense could work their way out of trouble.  Something they never really did.

My initial take is that the problem started right up front.  The offensive line couldn't deal with nine men in the box in the run game, and lost confidence. And it all steamrolled downhill from there, especially when the Huskies sacked Taylor Martinez on a three man rush that rolled over the entire line (and Roy Helu as well).

Martinez had another sketchy performance at quarterback tonight.  It looked like he was physically fairly healthy and had much of his speed and elusiveness back. But November and December took their toll on him mentally, and he struggled with his decision making throughout the night.  He took unnecessary sacks, and threw some ugly passes.

That had to give Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson a huge case of heartburn.  The running game was almost non-existant, and Martinez wasn't handling the passing game all that well either.  In hindsight, you could make a good case to pull Martinez, but at that point, Martinez was probably playing better than anybody else offensively.  What do you do?  Nebraska had run the Wildcat formation with Burkhead further than it ever should have gone, as evidenced by Burkhead's fumble that set up Washington's first score.

Would I have like to have seen Zac Lee come into the game instead of Cody Green?  Yes, mostly because I think Lee is a better passer and makes better decisions.  Green came in, and struggled to get the ball to wide-open receivers.  Granted, the Huskies had eased up on their pressure at that point, but I think Lee was more likely to be able to make some connections in the passing game.  That in turn could have opened up some runs, especially if it was done earlier in the game.

Defensively, the secondary was locked down on Jermaine Kearse and the rest of the Husky receivers, especially in the first half.  Jake Locker couldn't complete a pass until the second half, and even then, he only completed 6 of 18 passes for the game. The big problem was the inability to stop Chris Polk.  He went for nearly 300 against Washington State earlier this month, and he was the dagger in the heart of the Blackshirts.  If Nebraska's offense could have managed something .... ANYTHING .... Nebraska could have survived that outburst from Polk.  But not with the offense stuck in neutral, or reverse like it seemed to be at times in the second half.

Which brings me back to where the offense goes from here.  We'll see where the staff goes from here.  I get the feeling that Shawn Watson is very likely headed to Miami of Ohio.  If so, I wish him well.  Obviously, Nebraska needs to find a new linebackers coach as well.

Offensively, I'm curious to see where the offense goes.  Taylor Martinez has a lot of physical talents to take advantage of, but if it's going to be at quarterback, he needs someone to help teach him the way.  Is that Joe Ganz?  Don't know.  I would have thought Scott Frost would be another great candidate, but I don't get a good vibe on that anymore.  If it's not going to be Martinez, could it be Brion Carnes?  You never know.  The offensive line also needs to rebound quickly from this night.  It starts in the weight room ASAP, as these guys need to pull themselves out of the Jack Murphy Stadium turf after getting steamrolled by Washington.

Nebraska also needs to find playmakers at receiver to replace Niles Paul and Mike McNeill. I know guys were open tonight, but we need to find someone to become more consistent.

Bottom line as we move into the wee hours of the night.  Tonight might have been the worst offensive performance by a Husker team in a bowl game ever, considering the level of competition.  (I hope Washington fans don't take too much offense at that; most of the previous turds were against national championship contenders.)  But let's also remember that Nebraska won 10 games this season and has a Big XII North title.  10-4 is still an improvement over the previous regime, and the worst thing that can be done is to lose the faith.  I still believe in Bo Pelini and his staff, and want to see how they react and move forward.


Ben Jensen said...

I am very disappointed. I concur with you Mike on your assessment

TM in KC said...

Everyone wants to believe in Pelini and staff because they are OUR guys. But, the undisciplined play, fumbles, predictable offense, lack of in game adjustments, trying to force our QB into a drop back mode...he cant do it Shawn, roll him out. 40 Plus years of WATCHING football and I have little confidence in Watson. Teams figured out his Offense by mid season and the good teams shut him down.

Husker Mike said...

There were in game adjustments yesterday from my perspective. The Wildcat went away after Burkhead's fumble, just like the Wildcat seemed to take over in the second half against Oklahoma.

That being said, Martinez looks really awkward rolling out, so I don't see that as a solution. The kid really needs someone to teach him how to play quarterback.

Anonymous said...

good summary, although your comparison at the end to the "old regime" is getting a little tired. This current regime has enough serious problems of their own. Mentioning the old regime only serves the purpose of creating a continual excuse for this bunch.

Nate said...

You defend Wats as an OC, but what are your thoughts about him as a QB coach? How much development has there been? Very little. And Ganz was developed by Cally, not Wats.
If Watson called crappy games but developed quarterbacks to be game changers, great. But he doesn't do all that great in either of his responsibilities.

The Outsider said...

I've read lots of comments from Husker fans suggesting they're embarrassed to have been beaten by Washington. Now, I understand that Washington is not exactly... well, Oregon this season. However, at 6-6 after playing the second-toughest schedule in the country and after making major improvements over the course of the season, the Dawgs are better than everybody thinks.

If Nebraska and Washington played ten times, I think Nebraska would probably win seven, but give credit where due. Washington played better than Nebraska last night. A lot better. And it's not just that Nebraska played badly - although I admit this wasn't the Huskers' best game. The Huskies played great football.

Looking forward to seeing the Huskers next season. You all are the best fan base in the country.

Husker Mike said...

I've heard Joe Ganz speak very highly of Shawn Watson, and Ganz has seemingly bitten his tongue when Callahan has been mentioned. So I think that Watson probably is OK as a quarterbacks coach. I know that Joel Klatt on FSN also speaks highly of Watson, FWIW.

That being said, we do have a body of work to look at. Something needs to be adjusted, at the very least.

As for the Washington fans, part of what you are seeing is the reaction to how Nebraska played in November and December. It wasn't just the Holiday Bowl. Back in early November, people were wondering what it might take to sneak into the BCS title game. It's safe to say that Nebraska doesn't belong anywhere near that game at this point after a 1-3 finish to the season. And a lot of fans are bitter...VERY BITTER...about how that has fallen apart.

The Outsider said...

Okay, Husker Mike, I can appreciate that. But the fact is the Huskies came out and mopped the turf with the Huskers (I say that objectively, not triumphantly) because the Dawgs are actually a pretty good team at this point of the season. That's all I'm getting at.

Admittedly, this a a Nebraska Cornhusker site, so you don't owe the Huskies anything. I get that. Still, it seems to me that acknowledging this fact should mitigate your despair: the Huskies are as good as a top-20 team. I'm not saying they should be voted into the top 20 - they lost too many games for that. But that's the level they're playing at.

From my perspective: there's no shame in losing to Washington.

From your perspective: although Nebraska came out flat and although the season didn't end like you wanted it to, this isn't the end of the world.

We on the same page?

Nate said...

I want Watson to succeed, I really do. Personally, he's a likable guy. And if he does well, Nebraska does well.
Maybe Ganz succeeded despite Watson? Ganz was at Nebraska from 2004-2008 and Watson only worked with QBs and was OC in '07 and '08, even though for much of '07 Cally made the calls. Joe was good in late '07; I'm not sure if Wats made that huge of an effect on him in just a few months. Maybe Billy C wasn't very well liked by Ganz, but he taught him well.

Husker Dave in SD said...

I believe we need a QB coach as much as anything, to go along with a new OC. Look at the 90's and I believe Turner Gill was the QB coach. He coached Frazier, Frost, and Crouch. 'Nuf said there. The whole game was painful to watch. It's one thing to lose to a top 5 team, its another to get manhandled by a team that struggled to get to .500.

martinez4huskers said...

Here's what I'll say to all of you saying that Wats is a "likable" guy. In the Army, we have a way of characterizing leaders in this capacity: Leaders are EFFECTIVE, not POPULAR. Just because someone is likable doesn't make them an effective leader or coach. Wats needs to prove to his players and to Husker Nation that he can get the job done EFFECTIVELY. If that means he's the unpopular but produces wins, then so be it; that's the win games. By no means am I saying that Wats is solely responsible for this disaster of a game (that blame lies squarely on Barney Cotton and his sissy la-la O-line), but as the offensive coordinator, he needs to get involved and light some fires under some butts to get this offense where it needs to be to be a championship football team. Right now, we don't deserve any kind of championship. Our effort in the latter half of the season proved that.

Anonymous said...

BO is the head coach. Why can't he make a decision on offense????? His conduct lost the A&M game and not pulling Martinez lost the OK game. What more proof do you need.


Anonymous said...

Being a Husker and Husky fan, I have seen the last 5 UW-NU games, 3 in person. I'm glad I didn't make the trip south to see this one. Bo needs to build a run game similar to Wisconsin's, where the o-line can take charge in the fourth quarter and finish. I would like to see Frost go to NU. He looks bad in that ugly ass green. I was happy for Jake. He's a great kid and one tough player. Hopefully he will get to apprentice under a good mentor in the NFL because his passing game needs work.

James Leroy Wilson said...

When Martinez ran wild on the Huskies and then K-State, I knew the season was ruined. In a properly-coached team, a quarterback who can run should be the final dagger in the back, but when the quarterback's legs become the focal point of the offense, any competent Division I defensive coordinator will figure out how to stop him.

Nebraska should have built on the kind of offense Ganz gave us in 2007-2008.