Thursday, October 30, 2014

Congratulations to Kansas City Royals Fans

I'm not a Royals fan by any means; I'm a Cub fan.  But they are a regional team, so I've always kept an eye on them. Under the late Ewing Kauffman, the Royals were perennial contenders, but under David Glass, not so much. Glass, the former Wal-Mart executive, chose to run the organization the way he ran the discount store chain. It might have been profitable for him as an owner, but certainly not for Royals fans. "Always the low price" works when you are buying laundry detergent and toothpaste.

It doesn't really work that well in baseball.  Unless you have a really sharp baseball mind locating enough young talent to stock a major league team, cheap can't work in baseball.  And it didn't for most of the Glass era.  Oh sure, young players emerged from the Royals system...only to have the likes of Johnny Damon, Kevin Appier, and Carlos Beltran sold off to teams like the New York Yankees, for fear of having to pay them what they are deserved.

And Royals fans suffered.  And casual observers like me scoffed.  Said that the Royals would never be good as long as David Glass owned the franchise.

Sure, under Dayton Moore, the farm system has exploded with talent.  The former Omaha Royals AAA farm team have even won a couple of PCL league championships, but I've always been skeptical that it would ever translate to the major league level. Figured that the Royals would sell the talent off before they ever spent enough time in Kansas City to win.

Well, I was wrong.  They stormed through September then went on a rampage in October.  Made it to the World Series and nearly pulled the damn thing off. Royals fans are hurting now.  I know the feeling.  I felt it on January 2, 1984 after Nebraska's two-point conversion in the Orange Bowl came up short.  I really felt it on January 2, 1994 after Byron Bennett's field goal sailed wide left in that same Orange Bowl stadium.  It's a sucker punch to the gut like nothing you've ever felt when the team you love comes so close to the pinnacle, only to fail in the final moment.

Will the Royals bounce back next year?  I have no idea; I'm not sure how long Kansas City will keep this current pack of players around and whether they'll pay them to stay around.  It's not my call and not my area of expertise.

But at some point, Royals fans will grow to appreciate this magical run - even if it came up short.  Trust me, as a Cub fan who's felt the pain of missing out on the World Series in 1984, 1989, and's better to lose the World Series than not make the World Series.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Abdullah & Blackshirts Are Enough for Huskers to Defeat Rutgers

A thing of beauty it was not, especially on offense. Nebraska's 42-28 victory over Rutgers probably created  more questions than it answered about the Huskers. What did we learn?

Well, Ameer Abdullah is good. Really good. But we already knew that.

The Nebraska defensive line is becoming dominant. Take that second quarter where Rutgers simply couldn't handle Maliek Collins and Kevin Williams.

What are we growing concerned about?

Start with the offensive line, which was inconsistent at best. And awful at times. Penalties, bad snaps, muddled blocking. Substitutions didn't help this week either.

Tommy Armstrong was off most of the day, and awful in the second half. Overthrowing open receivers, locking onto recievers that were covered. All the things we've worried about all year were there and not getting better. And that interception was simply horrible; Kenny Bell was out of bounds before the pass was even thrown. At times, Tommy Armstrong is more YOLO than Taylor Martinez ever was.

What was more concerning was the play calling late in the 2nd quarter, as Tim Beck took the ball out of Ameer Abdullah's hands and couldn't resist letting Armstrong throw the ball. And badly. 

Don't blame the receivers. Alonzo Moore had a couple of drops, but those were unnecessarily difficult catches. There's no need to have to leap and dive when the receiver is that open.

As for Rutgers, they were completely bambozzled. I have no idea what Kyle  Flood and Ralph Friedgen were thinking when they decided to go shotgun from their own 2 yard line with only a minute to go before halftime. That boneheaded decision resulted in Gary Nova, his quarterback, getting his knee brutally twisted. If we hear he's out for the year with a torn ACL, you shouldn't be surprised.

The Husker secondary was rather inconsistent, especially early on. That 71 yard touchdown catch by Leonte Carroo was a cluster by nearly everybody in the back seven. It's clear that David Santos isn't 100%, so that's part of it. But it was a keystone Kops/Yakety Sax moment out there.

After the game on his radio show, you could tell that Bo Pelini was not happy with his team's performance. I can see why. The Huskers could get away with this performance against Rutgers. They won't against Wisconsin. And maybe not against Minnesota and the improving Purdue Boilermakers.

Yes, Nebraska is 7-1 and that's a good thing. Problem is that Nebraska didn't play like a 7-1 team today. A critical November awaits, and today's game was no way to head into it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

So Doug McDermott Hates Nebraska

During last night's Nebraska game at Northwestern, former Creighton basketball star Doug McDermott appeared on the Ryan Field jumbotron wearing a Northwestern shirt.  And if any Jaysker was still confused about where McDermott's loyalties were, he answered them on Twitter shortly thereafter by posting a picture of former Jays goon Grant Gibbs tackling Terran Petteway at the end of last season's basketball game.
Was McDermott wrong to do so?  Not really.  He has no allegiance to the University of Nebraska; he was born and raised in Iowa, and attended Creighton.  And now, his NBA career is starting in the city of Chicago, which is where Northwestern is located.   And he's gone out of his way to align himself with the other sports franchises in the Windy City:

So now he's a fan of Northwestern as well. Fine for him.  That's where he's making his money now.  He owes absolutely nothing to the University of Nebraska.  Might be a little awkward for the 10,000+ Jaysker fans who pull out their blue sweatervests in December, but that's their problem.

But by that same argument, it also reinforces my dislike of Creighton.  I have no ties to the school; my dentist graduated from UNMC.  I'm a fan of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an alum of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.  And just because I live in Omaha doesn't mean that I have to support Creighton.

After all, Doug McDermott made it perfectly clear that you don't have to be a fan of Nebraska just because you lived here.

In a Tale of Two Halves, Nebraska Dominates Northwestern in the 2nd Half

The first half of the 2014 Nebraska/Northwestern game was much like the previous three: a close game where Nebraska wasn't playing particularly well and Northwestern held a slim lead. Arguably, it was much like Nebraska's game against Michigan State two weeks' earlier.  The stat sheet told the story:

Ameer Abdullah: 9 carries, 39 yards
Tommy Armstrong: 8 for 16 passing for 132 yards and 6 carries for 34 yards
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson: 15 carries, 99 yards
Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian: 13 for 23 passing for 148 yards.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Abdullah couldn't get out of the backfield, thanks in large measure to some less-than-stellar offensive line blocking, while Armstrong was erratic with several of his throws. The defense was schizophrenic, it seemed.  Three drives where Northwestern went three-and-out, three more where they went eight or more plays and scored, and a fourth where it seemed the Wildcats were destined to score until Siemian decided to throw into triple coverage. Nebraska linebacker Trevor Roach was the poster boy for inconsistency: ten tackles to dominate the game in the first quarter, then finding himself out of position and missing tackles in the second before he was eventually benched in favor of Josh Banderas.

Just before halftime, we did get a nice outburst from De'Mornay Pierson-El as he caught a 46 yard pass in stride from Tommy Armstrong before Pierson-El and Armstrong switched roles.  Pierson-El, a former high school quarterback, took a reverse pitch from Abdullah and looped a pass to a wide open Armstrong to tie the game at 14.  But the quick strike left enough time for the Wildcats to drive the field and kick a field goal to give Northwestern a 17-14 halftime lead.

The second half was a completely different experience as Northwestern was held to just 28 yards of offense and three first downs.  Siemian completed just five of 19 passes for 25 yards while Jackson rushed seven times for 30 yards.  Siemian lost 37 yards on four sacks, so his net contribution in the second half was -12 yards.  All thanks to the Blackshirts, and specifically backup defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who replaced Vincent Valentine who left with an injured elbow.

The Husker offense also turned it around in the second half:  Armstrong completed 10 of 13 passes for 89 yards while Abdullah rushed 14 times for 107 yards. It all started up front, and specifically by calling on second stringers on the offensive line.  Chongo Kondolo, Ryne Reeves, and Givens Price all took over the right side of the line, with Mike Moudy sliding over to left guard to spell the suddenly ineffective Jake Cotton.  Nebraska took the lead in the third quarter and salted it away in the fourth.

The 38-17 victory probably doesn't reflect how close the game was most of the way; it was 21-17 at the start of the fourth.  But Abdullah finally got untracked in that final quarter, and Nebraska really coasted down the stretch.

What are our takeaways from this game? Nebraska's only as good as their offensive line plays. I suspect that when Rutgers comes in, you'll see some new starters on the line. Pierson-El is becoming an offensive weapon as well as Tim Beck keeps finding ways to get him the ball.  And we saw depth on the defensive line as Kevin Williams and Jack Gangwish made huge plays in the second half to take over the game.

But we also saw bad tackling on defense, Randy Gregory being helped off the field multiple times, and a revolving door at middle linebacker.  And an inconsistent offense.  The good Nebraska is good enough to get the Huskers back to Indianapolis; the bad Nebraska is bad enough to finish the season 0-5.  Even Purdue is a threat to win now that they've switched to Austin Appleby at quarterback.

Never a dull moment for the Huskers.  But that's the way college football is nowadays.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Real Question: Do Husker Fans Like or Dislike Bo Pelini's Policy on the Blackshirts?

This morning at CornNation, Derek Hernandez asked whether the Blackshirts are dead at Nebraska.

The quick answer is:  No. (shakes head) No.  (shakes head)  No. (shakes head)
 So far, most CornNation users are avoiding the Trollbait. Some, more strongly (NSFW language) than others.

Most Husker fans know by now that Bo Pelini doesn't view the Blackshirts as an entitlement, but rather as a reward:  they are something that the defense earns. If Nebraska had somehow won at Michigan State, we probably would have seen them awarded afterwards. The defense certainly played well enough, I believe, to earn them in that game.

That Bo Pelini is handling the Blackshirts differently does NOT mean that Bo Pelini is killing the Blackshirt tradition. He's changing it.  But he's not getting rid of it.  Last August, I toured the facilities as part of the Husker Football 202 program and I assure you, references to the Blackshirts are EVERYWHERE inside of North Stadium.  If Bo Pelini were trying to get rid of the Blackshirts, he certainly would not have Blackshirt mentions everywhere inside the complex.

There is a question here that's probably worth asking though.  It's not whether whether the Blackshirt tradition is dead or not.  (That's uninformed at best and pure trollbait at it's worst.)  Rather, it's whether Husker fans like Pelini's policy on the Blackshirts?

Yes, the past tradition was that the starters on defense got the Blackshirts before the season started. And that worked for the first 40 years or so.  Something changed though, and since Hernandez brought the subject up, I'll respond.
What if that devil Bill Callahan pulled something like this?
Well, gee... actually he did.  Didn't stop Kevin Cosgrove from sporting the black, even though the defense didn't in 2007.  (But hey, don't let actual facts get in the way of a good tirade against Bo Pelini. Oh wait, here comes another "four losses" debate in response. Nevermind.)

I think that is the source of why most Nebraska fans aren't up in arms over when the Blackshirts are awarded.  Hernandez even acknowledges it:
"Blackshirts are earned on the field," Pelini said.
Husker fans remember how bad the defense was under Callahan, and most don't mind that Pelini makes the players earn it each season. Not all fans, mind you. Deep down, it really comes down to your core feelings on Pelini.  If you like Pelini, you probably like Pelini's policy.  If you don't like Pelini, this is just one more thing that Pelini is doing to destroy Nebraska football.

Some members of the media used to always ask Pelini about the Blackshirts, though now, they've let up on the question.  I suspect they are tired of it as well.  Evidence shows that Pelini will hand them out at some point, and when it happens, we'll hear about it then.

And hopefully, it's next week. Because it would mean that Nebraska's defense treated the city of Chicago to an exhibition of great defense on Saturday night.

And isn't that what Husker fans REALLY want?

Friday, October 10, 2014

CenturyLink, Please Fix My Internet

I've been rather quiet this week, and it's not because I'm happy or even satisfied with Nebraska's game last weekend with Michigan State. (And don't get me started about UNO's exhibition hockey game against the Canadian NAIT team.)

My reason is more basic; I've spent the week moving into a new home. Just about everything has been moved.

Except for my internet service. CenturyLink moved the phone and Ptism TV service on Tuesday. But the internet didn't work. After fighting with it most of the afternoon, the CenturyLink technicians realized that the service had been disconnected from my account. So they told me that I had to add it back in with their customer support office. Which I did, and I was told it would be back on Wednesday.

But nothing happened all day. Wednesday evening, I called CenturyLink and was informed that the order was complete and if it wasn't working, it was something for tech support to resolve. Tech support identified an issue with how our service was provisioned and that he was forwarding it onto the team that configures that. After a lengthy wait for the other team without a response, we agreed that the tech could call me back once it was resolved.

No such call was relieved. Just before going to bed, I did notice that the internet light wasn't blinking red anymore.

It still didn't work Thursday morning, so I called CenturyLink again...and now was told that the install wasn't scheduled until Monday. And that I would have to wait.

Tried a couple of other CenturyLink phone numbers. Same response. I've even called CenturyLink's executive offices in Denver. No response.

So I called Cox, the other phone/internet/TV provider in Omaha out of desperation. My history with Cox isn't good: high prices that you are locked into after the initial period has expired. But I'm starting to get desperate.

And got what I expected. Higher prices for less service... And they'd be even slower to get me online.

So rather than risk the rest of my service getting screwed up, I'm sticking with CenturyLink.

Very grudgingly. And on a lot of faith that CenturyLink is actually going to fix things on Monday that were supposed to have been done three days ago.

Or really because I'm not able to spend a day to allow Cox to rewire my house next week. 

Frankly, I'm not sure either company really deserves my business. But it's kind of hard for me to go without these services.

So now it's back into my "come of silence"... Thanks to CenturyLink.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Huskers Miraculous Comeback Bounces Away at the End

Well, that got interesting all of a sudden.

Michigan State watched plenty of film of Nebraska and knew that to stop Nebraska, you had to stop Ameer Abdullah. But unlike Fresno State and McNeese State, the Spartans didn't need to stack the box. Just commit the linebackers, and more importantly, completely discombobulate the Nebraska offensive line.

How bad was it?
If it weren't so sad, it would be funny.  Certainly the rest of the college football world laughed at it.

And despite all that ineptitude, Nebraska somehow managed to get back into the game and nearly pull off the incredible comeback.

Tim Beck has taken a lot of criticism in the past for giving up on the run; tonight, he deserves criticism for sticking with the run as long as he did. It was clear that Nebraska wasn't going to be able to run the ball and that they needed to loosen up the defense deeper.  And when Nebraska did that in the second half, the offense started to move the ball a bit.  Screen passes weren't going to loosen things up.

Defensively, the Nebraska defense did what they could, save for two busted plays. Vincent Valentine gets his noggin' into Connor Cook's face on the second play of the game, with the ball deflecting to Randy Gregory.  You'd think that Nebraska would have the lead early, but Nebraska's offensive impotence scuttled that.

On Thursday in my preview, I worried the most about Cook, Tony Lippett, and Jeremy Langford. Nebraska did a decent job keeping Cook in check most of the night, as he only completed 38% of his passes...but when he did find Lippett early on, it was deadly after Daniel Davie had to leave the game. Out went Jonathan Rose after getting seared by Lippett, and in came true freshman Josh Kalu at corner who played really well.

So did Trevor Roach, in relief of Josh Banderas who continues to struggle.  When Michael Rose tore his ACL in August, I wasn't too concerned because I figured Banderas would be fine to cover for him. Well, he's not.  Zaire Anderson, David Santos, and Trevor Roach all have played better this season.  But that's a pretty good threesome to work with moving forward the rest of this season.

Want to take a moral victory over this game? I wouldn't. Nebraska nearly pulled it out of the fire, and while that speaks volumes about the moral fiber of the program, the scoreboard still reads 27-22.  The defense is progressing nicely, but the offense is simply too inconsistent.  It starts up front, and progresses to quarterback.  Tommy Armstrong was simply too erratic tonight; he doesn't look off his primary receiver, and when he's pressured, he throws off his back foot leading to underthrows.  And more than once, he overthrew a wide open Ameer Abdullah who could have made a huge gain.

It's a bad loss for Nebraska.  It doesn't eliminate them from the Big Ten race, and considering the number of upsets, it doesn't completely eliminate them from the college football playoff either.  Though as we learned today, it's rather silly to worry about the playoff two months ahead of time as we should realize that upsets are a given in college football.  So forget about that for the time being, and simply worry about beating the resurgent Northwestern Wildcats in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Does a Nebraska Win Mean the Huskers are Relevant Nationally? Or that Michigan State is Overrated?

A lot of people didn't think Nebraska would be 5-0 at this point in the season. I don't know if it's "most" or "some", but a sizable group of people had penciled in losses for the Huskers to either Miami or Fresno State. Not sure exactly why; I wasn't one of those people.  Frankly, I don't think there is a team on Nebraska's schedule they can't beat this season.

Including Michigan State.

No doubt in my mind that the Spartans are the best team Nebraska will face before the end of the regular season.  But I also harken back to last November, where five turnovers by freshmen - most, if not all, unforced by the vaunted Spartan defense -were the difference in the game. Nebraska outplayed Michigan State on offense and on defense.  Did Nebraska give the game away?  Bo Pelini won't say so, but when you go -5 on turnovers, you are going to lose. And lose badly on the scoreboard.  Certainly more than 13 points, if the two teams are otherwise even.
Now, Michigan State has been quite impressive offensively. But I have to take those numbers with a grain of salt; when you compare the opponents for both teams, I don't think Michigan State has defeated a team anywhere near as good as Miami.

Or McNeese State, for that matter.

There are elements of Oregon's offense in what Nebraska does, and that clearly gave the Spartans fits in Eugene last month.  But while Nebraska runs the ball MUCH better than Oregon, Marcus Mariota is in a completely different universe than Tommy Armstrong. Michigan State's defense isn't nearly as stout as they were last season, and Nebraska was able to run the ball effectively last year with a banged-up offensive line.

It's less of a question to me whether Nebraska can score on Michigan State than it is whether the Huskers can stop the Spartans on offense.  There are three players Nebraska must concentrate on:

Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, and Tony Lippett.

Nebraska's defensive line has been pretty good this season, and the setup is perfect for Randy Gregory to have his Ndamukong Suh/Missouri moment.  We've got national television and rainy weather in the forecast. And if you've seen Gregory in action the last two weeks, you know just how dominant he can be.  (Check out some of the photos that CornNation's David McGee took of Gregory being mugged and held by Illinois last week.)

But can Cook get the ball out to Lippett before Gregory sends him to the turf? That's the question, and it'll be incumbent on Josh Mitchell to lock up Lippett to give Gregory time to pressure Cook. Safety help will be important, because I'm less concerned about the other receivers as I am about Lippett making a play.  Cook will force the ball to Lippett, and you want Mitchell to have the freedom to go for the interception.

Last season, Nebraska had problems throwing the ball in the direction of Darqueze Dennard, so Kenny Bell dropped into the slot and ate Kurtis Drummond's lunch the rest of the way.  Dennard is gone, but Drummond is back.  That's another matchup that Nebraska can exploit.

Nobody expects Nebraska to win, except possibly Husker fans. That's fine.  If Nebraska does come away with the win, what does that say?  Husker fans want to view it as win that allows Nebraska to be relevant in the national conversation.  My fear is that some national writers will view it as another failure by the Big Ten.  They are already convinced Nebraska isn't great, so clearly Michigan State was overrated, since they lost to Nebraska.

But it's premature to talk about that much. Doesn't matter what is being said or going to be all comes down to the Huskers winning on Saturday night.