Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Huskers Valiant For Three Quarters, But Bulldogs Deliver Knockout Blows

After Nebraska got demolished by Wisconsin, some Husker fans dreaded what an SEC school would do to Nebraska. It all comes down to whether you view the Nebraska that got their rear-end kicked from Indianapolis back to Lincoln as the "real" Nebraska, or whether the ten-win Nebraska was the real one.

Well, my take is the "ten win" Nebraska was the real Nebraska.  Nebraska gave Georgia everything they had for the first three quarters, but simply ran out of gas late.  The two differences in this game:

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was Peyton Manning/Tom Brady-like on third down.  The final damage was 11 completions out of 14 attempts when Georgia was under the gun.  The killer was that third and twelve, Murry hits Chris Conley on a short crossing route...only to race 87 yards for the clinching touchdown since Pelini sent the house.  Ballgame.  Sometimes it was bad coverage, but more often than not, it was Georgia simply making the play exactly right.  What killed Nebraska today was Georgia's precision on those critical plays.

But Nebraska was in it with a gritty, gutty performance on both sides of the ball.  Nebraska pounded the ball on Georgia to open the second half, and the Bulldogs appeared to be on the ropes midway through the second half when disaster struck.  Ameer Abdullah fumbled the ball away on third and one, and that dashed Nebraska's chances to win. Or did he?
The officials said Georgia recovered, and that's the way it goes. But at that point, the Georgia defense was seeming to be running on vapors, and were completely discombobulated.  Nebraska keeps that drive going, punches it in to take the lead, and it's a whole different ballgame.

Moral victory? Yeah, it's a loser proposition, but after the Wisconsin debacle, it's what it is.  Nebraska held it's own against an SEC squad that came within a few seconds and five yards of the national championship game.  Couldn't handle the Georgia receivers on third down, but Georgia couldn't stop the Nebraska ground game.

Nebraska's defensive line was admirable against the Georgia offensive line, but linebacker play was a little spotty, save for Will Compton's momemtum shifting pick-six interception in the first half.  Secondary play was spotty at times as well; sometimes great, and sometimes awful.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste is great in coverage, but missed twice on corner blitzes to have an opportunity to make a play.  Ciante Evans got burned multiple times today.

So once again in the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska loses four games.  Two 9-4 seasons; three 10-4 seasons.  Not great, not awful.  Some of the games were awful, and that's going to lead to a lot of kvetching in the new year.  So what do we have to look forward to in the new year?

Nebraska's offense proved itself against an SEC defense today filled with guys who'll play on Sunday next season. Does Taylor Martinez make some bad decisions passing the ball?  Yes.  Does  he make good plays happen more often?  Yes.  And the supporting cast on offense might be the best Nebraska has had since the middle 90's.  Seriously.  Name another Nebraska receiver better than Kenny Bell.  Irving Fryar?  Jamal Turner isn't far behind.

It's the defense where Nebraska has issues.  Some will run with the "Bo Pelini can't coach/recruit defense" card after today's game.  It's true that Nebraska's defense was awful this season, but saying one bad season overrides Pelini's track record throughout his career is inane.  Just because Monte Kiffin hasn't worked out at Southern Cal doesn't damage his resume.

Nebraska's defense will look completely different next season; it has to with the number of seniors that played this season.  Daimion Stafford, P.J. Smith, and Courtney Osborne depart at safety.  Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, and Sean Fisher depart at linebacker.  Eric Martin, Cameron Meredith, and Baker Steinkuhler depart on the line.  An awful lot of holes to fill on a bad defense.

But there are a lot of players who redshirted this season who might be in a position to help next season.  Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen, Aaron Curry, and Avery Moss on the defensive line. Linebackers Thomas Brown, Michael Rose, and Zaire Andreson.  Jonathan Rose in the secondary.  Are these guys an upgrade over who took the field for the Huskers this season?  Nobody outside of North Stadium really knows for sure.  Bo Pelini said he was excited about who was coming back next season, but what else could he say?
The bottom line is that some of these names will need to produce next season if the Huskers are going to break out of this four-loss pattern in the right direction.

There are far worse things than losing four games each season.  Bill Callahan proved that.  And hitting the panic button after "only" winning 10 games (and losing badly when you don't) is definitely the wrong thing to do.

That doesn't mean that Husker fans should be happy with the losses this season, or happy about a moral victory against Georgia either. Nebraska has to get better.  Period.

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