Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dean Blais Extension a Good Thing For UNO

Last week, UNO extended the contract of hockey coach Dean Blais for an additional three years, through the end of the 2017-18 season. To my surprise, a few UNO fans actually grumbled about the extension.

Not sure I completely understand it.  Sure, UNO hasn't made the semifinals of the conference tournament in Blais' five seasons in Omaha. Didn't in Mike Kemp's last four seasons either, though. If Dean Blais isn't the answer in Omaha, who would be?

And that's the reason I think UNO should stick with Blais. If Blais isn't good enough, then what's the alternative? Guess on a hot assistant out there? Might work.  Probably won't, though.

I don't believe that coaching is the problem.  I think there have been some personnel issues the last couple of years that got this program out of whack. Dismiss a captain just as the fall semester starts? That's a problem. And Blais has had to do that two out of the last three seasons.

One thing that has changed in college sports over the last few years is the increasing lead time in recruiting. Players are now scouted and recruited as they enter high school, rather than during their senior year. Compounding that lead time is that many hockey players play junior hockey between high school and enrolling in college. So if you want top-tier talent, coaches have to invest years of effort to get those players.

And I think that's something Blais has been doing all along, but is just now beginning to produce. Minneapolis television station WCCO noted how Blais snagged four of Minnesota's top ten high school prospects this season. Assuming that Blais started recruiting those players three or four years ago, he's just now beginning to reap the benefits of his efforts.

So from my perspective, I see no reason not to extend Blais' contract. He doesn't sound ready to quit just yet; in fact, he told the World-Herald that he might want to coach another seven years or so .

If that's the case, why the heck would you not keep a coach like Dean Blais around?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meow! Nebraska's Spring Game Turns Into a Big Football Party

I admit that I've got a soft spot in my heart for the old-style spring games when the top units face off against each other. My favorite had to be the 1995 game when Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer tried to top each other. But television coverage has changed college football not just in the spring but year round.  Coaches now are too timid to show much of anything in a spring game. They've gradually been dialed down over the years. Bill Callahan even turned it into a farce, matching up the starters against the scout team to mask the clusterfool.

A lot of people stopped going to spring games for that reason. I know I skipped a few during the Callahan years for that very reason. Cleaning the garage? A better use of my time.  But even if there wasn't much to learn from a football perspective, there's always been one very good reason to go to the spring game.


Growing up, I remember my parents taking the family to the spring game. And now with children of my own, the spring game is a family staple of ours. It's a fun way to introduce kids to Husker football. Tickets are relatively inexpensive. The kids get to run around on the field at halftime, and the game is low pressure. There are no tense moments when you don't want to answer your children's questions because you are afraid to miss a play.

But the 2014 edition of the Nebraska spring game gave the non-parents a reason to come to Lincoln.  Fun.  And it started with Bo Pelini leading the tunnel walk with a cat.
@FauxPelini had no choice but to waive the white flag of surrender at that point.

Pelini detractors may not like the four losses a season. They may not like the emotion that sometimes runs overboard. But it's time to permanently retire the misperception that Bo Pelini is an angry, humorless sociopath. Pelini has kept that side of his personality under wraps for far too long. We've only seen little snippets of it here and there, but over the last year, we're finally getting to see it publicly.

And Saturday, we saw the fun side of Pelini. He challenged Kenny Bell to a passing contest to see who could hit the goal posts from 40 yards away.  Bell hit the posts on two out of three throws, while Pelini channeled his inner Mickey Joseph, coming up short on all three tosses.  Former players were invited to punt, pass, and kick.  Except graduating tackle Jeremiah Sirles turned it into an opportunity to propose to his girlfriend.
There was no way to top last year's Jack Hoffman touchdown run. So Pelini didn't.  He just made today a lot of fun for everybody.  It was a football party.

Oh, there was a little football in there. It's too easy to overreact to a spring game. (Remember Brion Carnes in 2011?) So let's temper everything we saw. Tommy Armstrong didn't have a great game, but he won't be in any danger of losing his spot as the starter based on today.  What we did see was Ryker Fyfe step up and lead the #1 offense on an impressive touchdown drive against the Blackshirts with a poised performance. Johnny Stanton looked OK as well in his first public performance in a Nebraska uniform.

We all know what Ameer Abdullah can do, so he spent almost the entire day on the sideline. Imani Cross looked really sharp, rushing six times for 100 yards. He showed great vision reversing his field on a simple counter play for a 39 yard touchdown. Adam Taylor looked OK, but I was impressed with Terrell Newby's improvement. He looks like he's bulked up a bit, but more importantly, he's really worked on ball security. 16 carries and nary even a bobble.  Brandon Reilly had the play of the day with a nifty catch that only got better when he was finally brought down after a 51 yard gain.

On defense, I liked what I saw from Byerson Cockrell in the secondary with four tackles and a pass breakup. It wasn't a great performance from the defense, but it wasn't bad either. Nathan Gerry did get off to a fast start. I suspect that Pelini had hoped to see a little more from the linebackers.

But considering the past history of spring game results, it doesn't really matter. The biggest takeaway from the 2014 Spring Game was that players and fans had a blast.
And that's not a bad thing at all.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NCAA Frozen Four: North Dakota Loses to Minnesota In Final Second

If you were watching ESPN2 last night, you might have caught the incredible ending to the second Frozen Four semifinal game between North Dakota and Minnesota. Two hated hockey rivals who now play in separate conferences thanks to conference realignment.

North Dakota is on a power-play, and then this happened.
That's right.  Minnesota's Justin Holl scores a short-handed goal with just 0.6 seconds to defeat North Dakota 2-1.

Last second losses are nothing new for North Dakota, though. UNO did it in November 2010 when Alex Hudson scored just before the clock hit 0:00.0 to give the Mavs a 1-0 victory.

Note that the referee signals goal just a fraction of a second before the green light lights up to signal the clock has run out.


No wonder North Dakota fans drink heavily.