2017 Nebraska Football Offensive Preview

As the dog days of summer wane, the glory of fall gets closer and closer. Soon we will be celebrating game day, analyzing every snap, reacting and over reacting to each thing we see. Naturally, I am extremely excited. The 2017 Nebraska Cornhuskers are a big bag of unknowns on both sides of the ball. It is hard to believe that we go into year 3 of Mike Riley’s tenure and don’t know what to expect from his offense. Years 1 and 2 were a mish mash of the personnel’s strengths blended with what Riley and offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf were comfortable mixing in. The results were lopsided. Sometimes, the offense hummed. But against good defenses, like Ohio State or Wisconsin, this offense struggled. Mightily. As an avid observer I was often frustrated and sometimes infuriated with NU’s struggles offensively. This year the training wheels come off. What that looks like remains to be seen. There is plenty of potential. The realization of that potential is up to both the players and coaching staff and will determine the success of this offense and probably the team as a whole. This is big boy football. It is not little league. We aren’t here to play patty cake and slap each other on the ass. If the players or coaches can’t cut it, then we need to find those that will. Here is a look at each of the offensive position groups.

Quarterback

Out goes Tommy Armstrong, in comes Tanner Lee a Tulane transfer with loads of upside. Lee is big, standing 6-4, and by all accounts extremely poised with a precise arm capable of picking defenses apart. In his short time in Lincoln he has earned the respect of his team mates to a point where Riley saw fit to send him to Big 10 media days. That is no small feat. Former NFL GM Phil Savage recently gushed with praise for Lee, stating that he could be one of the top QBs coming out of college football by next spring. That would be a significant jump at a position that has seemed lost since the day Riley and Langsdorf took over. Lets be very honest, with all compliments to Tommy Armstrong, he was not a fit for what Riley and Langsdorf wanted to do offensively. In many ways it was like a shoe that was too small for the offensive staff. Apparently, Lee has both the skills and the physical tools necessary for success in this system and beyond. I’m extremely excited to see how he fares in this offense. It’s put up or shut up time, particularly for Langsdorf a noted QB guru. The door is open for him to produce. If he doesn’t, its time to push him out of it.

Running Back

This group is annoying the be-jesus out of me. I would like one of them to step up, become a true RB1. Take the bull by the horns for Christs sake!! The coaches appear to be begging for it as well. Still, no separation. What we have is a bunch of players who individually are pretty good at a few things, but none that are outstanding in every area. Mikale Wilbon is elusive, adept at making defenders miss. Devine Ozigbo is a horse, very difficult to bring down. Tre Bryant appears to have it all, but has been riddled by injuries during fall camp. Nobody has taken this job and asserted themselves as the feature back. It is to the point where incoming freshman Jaylin Bradley is gaining consideration for playing time. This chaps my ass. There should be more than enough talent from the 3 returning RBs to bury Bradley on the depth chart and cause him to redshirt. Why haven’t those 3 developed to a point where they can hold off Bradley and why can’t one of them separate himself from the others and take the spot as a clear #1? Something isn’t right with this group. I am not against a running back by committee approach, when done effectively. It has seemed clunky in the previous 2 seasons under this staff. Here is to hoping that by the time Wisconsin comes to town we have a horse we can count on every down.

Wide Receiver

Put a candle in the window for the WRs this fall. Make no mistake, I really like the overall talent WR coach Keith Williams has on hand. But there is absolutely zero depth. None. Stan Morgan, in my mind, has the potential to be an all Big 10 type receiver. He is a fantastic player that checks all the boxes for a great WR. I look for Stan to have a monster 2017. Demornay Pierson-El provides a terrific option that can be moved all over the field. Supposedly, DPE is finally healthy. If that is so, he can be a game breaker for this offense. J.D Spielman has drawn loads of praise throughout this fall camp. Tyjon Lindsay is the next Big Red superstar. Bryan Reimers and Keyan Williams will be solid rotation players who can cause problems in their own right. There is talent, but Lord it is paper thin. NU can ill afford any serious health issues at this position. At this point the top 6 are very capable. After that the drop off is substantial. If NU is to achieve its sizable potential this fall, it will require this group to remain in tact. Kenny Bell and Jordan Westercamp aren’t walking through that door. What you see is what you have. Mark my words, if this season goes to hell, it starts with one of the top WRs missing significant time.

Offensive Line

One of the most maddening things about the 2016 Nebraska Cornhuskers was the absolute lack of depth on the offensive line. As the season wore on, that depth was as obvious as the nose on your face. Cole Conrad was forced to play tackle, Sam Hahn played guard. Nick Gates was badly hobbled by an injured ankle. By seasons end this unit was a trainwreck for everyone to see. Fortunately, it appears this years line will have some depth. Along with returning starters Nick Gates, Tanner Farmer, Cole Conrad, David Knevel and Jerald Foster, there are a slew of seemingly competent backups. Matt Farniok, Brendan Jaimes and Christian Gaylord at Tackle, John Raridon, Jalin Barnett and Boe Wilson at Guard and Michael Decker at Center, form at least adequate depth. Thank freaking goodness!! Offensive line is so physical that injuries are inevitable. It’s just part of the game. There is simply no getting around it. The 2017 O-line at least in theory has a plan in place for when those injuries occur. It makes you wonder where that plan was at this time last year. Don’t get me started on that.

Key Themes Heading in to 2017

How good is Tanner Lee? It is perhaps the single biggest question heading into this season. Is Lee the kind of QB that can dissect Big 10 defenses with both his mind and arm? Some say yes. His numbers at Tulane, frankly, say no. However, the talent on hand in Lincoln is not even remotely comparable with what he had with the Green Wave. Stanley Morgan, Demornay Pierson-El and company have the talent to be a significant threat in the Big 10 west. But like so many teams, they need a point man. Lee is that guy for at least this coming season. NU’s offense the last couple seasons has been inconsistent at best. Pretty good against lower tier competition, but no match for the big boys in this league. It is Lee’s task to change that.

How creative can the offensive staff be with the newcomers? Players like Tyjon Lindsay, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal may not be ready for an every down role with the first team offense, but that doesn’t mean that their skills should go unutilized. I would like to see Danny Langsdorf devise a package to use Lindsay’s explosiveness in space. Jet sweeps, bubble screens, option routes, that sort of thing. Put him in situations where his explosiveness can be best utilized. Seems pretty simple. Apparently not. I’ve been routinely underwhelmed these last couple seasons at the creativity of the offensive staff. I also would like to see packages for our talented young Tight Ends. Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal measure 6-8 and 6-7 respectively. You can’t teach that kind of length. Surely it can be used somewhere. Cough, cough, red zone? Be creative and come up with unique packages to get these youngsters on the field. It could give this offense a major boost and perhaps swing a game or two this fall.

With a new pocket passer QB this offensive line will have to be better. The sack numbers last year weren’t bad but Armstrong was consistently pressured. Tommy was so good at avoiding rushers, he makes it seem like NU was a decent pass blocking team. That is not exactly true. Tanner Lee has limited mobility. We don’t want to see him running for his life behind the line of scrimmage the way Armstrong would. It is incumbent upon the offensive line to protect him better and to produce greater numbers in the running game. 6 times in 2016 NU failed to rush for more than 4 yards per carry. Specifically, NU rushed for 2.2 ypc against Tennessee, 2.9 against Iowa and 3.2 against Wyoming. Yuck!! In case you haven’t yet lost your lunch, Nebraska ranked 10th in the Big 10 in rushing yards per carry and 11th in points per game in conference play. That dog simply won’t hunt. If Big Red is going to be playing in Indianapolis on December 2nd this offensive line has to grow up and become a force. Can they do that? I believe there are horses in the barn. I detailed the improved depth earlier. But this unit, under the leadership of Mike Cavanaugh, must improve significantly for this team to achieve its goals.

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Big Loss For Big Red

A seemingly calm and relaxing Saturday afternoon nap was shattered with some truly horrible news. Chris Jones, Nebraska’s top CB, and my personal favorite defensive player is out 4-6 months with a bad knee injury. This is a major blow to the whole defensive unit. A unit who is already short on playmakers. Jones is a true ballhawk who was poised for a big fall before this setback. Jones’ absence leaves most of us scratching out head. This injury has a ripple effect on the defensive backfield, but it also poses an interesting question about Jones’ career path. It’s very possible we never see him in scarlet and cream again.

I’ve heard plenty of talk about moving Josh Kalu from Free Safety back to corner where he has played his 3 previous seasons in Lincoln. I could, potentially, get behind this. But there are a few factors. First, how do you feel about Eric Lee? Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams was quick to heap praise on Lee for his play this spring. If you feel good about Lee at that spot, lets see what he can do. Secondly, the eligibility of incoming recruit Elijah Blades is in jeapordy. Blades is still not in Lincoln and you have to wonder if he ever will be. Lets assume Blades does not qualify, who does NU for depth purposes? Dicaprio Bootle and Tony Butler are both young players who have yet to see action. Boaz Joseph has been a fixture on the 2-deep, but is light on experience. Are any of them ready for a role of any considerable size? If not, you really have to look hard at Kalu. Finally, how does Josh Kalu feel about it? I really dislike moving players repeatedly. Its not good for their development. Kalu has spent upwards of 6 months getting ready to play Free Safety in NU’s new 3-4 scheme. It is unfair to completely shift gears and expect him to play CB and not miss a beat. If he is alright with the switch, and you don’t feel good about the others, then do it. If he is even the least bit apprehensive, I keep him at Free Safety and get the youngsters ready to play.

This weekend on twitter, Chris Jones implied that he will beat the 4-6 month timetable. While I appreciate the attitude and enthusiasm Jones possesses, I don’t think its a good idea. This is his future we are talking about. He needs to do whatever it takes to get right in order to continue his career, whether it’s in Lincoln or in the NFL. I remember when Jerry Rice blew his knee out it 1997, rushed to get back, only to further injure it. I don’t want to see that happen with Jones. He needs to do what is best for him. There is some thought that he has a redshirt season to burn. So he sits out 2017, gets his knee in order, and comes back in 2018. If that is what is best for him, great. If he determines that going to the draft is his best path, fine. It is possible that Jones could rejoin the team after 4 months and be available for Penn State, Iowa, maybe Minnesota and the bowl game. Is that worth it for him? Again, I leave that up to him to decide. Personally, if I were him I would look long and hard at getting back to 100% and getting ready for workouts in preparation of the draft.

Let’s not mince words. This is a disastrous injury. One of the best players on this team is lost for  75% of the season, in all likelihood. That stinks. The hires of Bob Diaco and Donte Williams were roundly applauded by the Big Red faithful. Both bring serious moxy to the coaching staff. Well, the honeymoon is over for both of them. Diaco will more than likely have to adjust the way he calls defenses without a rock solid, lock down, playmaking corner on one side. Williams is charged with the task of getting youngsters ready to play, and in a hurry. What if there is another injury at that position? We have seen Williams recruit, but can he develop the talent on hand? If NU doesn’t have corners ready to play, Big 10 quarterbacks could have a field day. How much does that change the outlook of the 2017 season?

 

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The Case Against The Oklahoma Sooners

June 7th, Bob Stoops shocked the College Football world with his sudden resignation. Stoops had been a stalwart in this game. He took the Oklahoma job in 1999 and returned the program to the top of the College Football mountain. 10 Big 12 Titles and 1 National Title followed. He is one of the most respected coaches of my lifetime. Fortunately for Sooner fans, he did not leave the cupboard bare. The 2017 Oklahoma Sooners have the ability one of the best teams in the country. They have a QB who has been a Heisman finalist, twice. They return 6 of their top 8 tacklers from last year’s defense, not to mention a bevy of athletes at every conceivable spot. The present of Oklahoma Football is extremely bright. Prognosticators and experts alike are projecting this team to do big things. Very big things. National Title aspirations exist in the wake of Stoops departure. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. There are a few reasons to believe this team will underachieve in 2017. Questions with the coaching staff, their competition and the schedule loom over this program. Maybe OU goes out and mows down the competition, shutting this blogger up. That may happen. I’ll eat that crow sandwich when the time comes. Regardless, there is a case to be made against the 2017 Oklahoma Sooners.

Lincoln Riley

The rise of Lincoln Riley is extraordinary. He has rocketed to the summit of college football faster than any other coach in my lifetime. Consider, the man is 33 years old. He’s just a pup. But don’t let his age fool you. He has plenty of experience. Still, the jump from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach, particularly at a place like OU, is a massive one. For all the success that Riley has had both at East Carolina and the last 2 years at OU, none of it necessarily translates to his present position. The road is littered with hot shot coordinators that couldn’t handle the top seat. I think it is also unreasonable to think that the transition from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley will be 100% seamless. Sure, it looks great in June and July. Riley is undefeated. But suppose the Sooners get blasted by Ohio State, or fall to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Will there be dissension both within the coaching staff or in the locker room? Its highly possible, likely even. Bob Stoops had so many skins on the wall that he was above reproach. Lincoln Riley does not have that kind of credibility at this point. For all the inherit advantages Riley will enjoy, those shoes are mighty big. Heavy is the crown in Norman. Expectations are sky high. In Riley OU has a coach with tremendous upside, great potential. You know what they say about potential. At this point he has no experience as a head coach. Additionally, we have no idea how Riley’s role as a head coach will affect his previous role as OC. He has stated that he will continue to call plays. That is fine, but there is no way that he can have the kind of focus on the offense that he has in the past. Those are major questions this team will need to address. How Riley juggles his new role as well as his old one may end up determining whether this team can meet expectations. It’s a tall order.

The Field

The Big 12 is better in 2017 than it was in 2016. There are no less than 4 teams with an eye on the top spot presently occupied by OU. The target on their back is nothing new to the Sooners. They have run this league since the turn of the century. But this particular year the league is deep. Oklahoma State returns 7 offensive starters and are loaded at the skill position. Mason Rudolph ranked 10th in QB rating with a 63% completion percentage, 28 TDs and just 4 Ints last fall. Those are outrageous numbers. He is poised for a monster season. A look at the Cowboys receiving core is enough to make your grandmother blush. The fireworks the boys from Stillwater possess are certainly nothing to gloss over. 250 miles north Bill Snyder has something brewing. The Cats won 9 games last year and broke in a number of key contributors for this year’s squad. Snyder started more underclassmen than ever before in 2016. K-State brings back 14 starters. The last time they brought back that many they went on to win the Big 12. I like the look of another purple clad team, this one in Fort Worth. TCU brings back 5 of 6 top tacklers and 10 offensive starters. Thats right, 10!! If Kenny Hill can take care of the ball, the Frogs are to be reckoned with. The wild card in this league lives in Austin. Tom Herman, like Lincoln Riley, is a real x-factor for this league. Can he come in and restore this program? If so, how quickly? Since their last conference title in 2009, this team has been average at best, but more often than not, embarrassing. Shane Buechele looks like a prototypical QB. It’s natural to expect some improvement from year 1 to year 2. The defense is not short on bodies, but was absolutely putrid the last couple seasons. If Herman can work some magic, this team could contend or at least be a thorn in the side. All of this adds up to an improved league. One that will be much more difficult to run through. It represents quite a gauntlet when you put it all together.

The Schedule/Margin

First off, I want to say kudos to the Sooners for scheduling a top non-conference opponent. September 9th we will all be treated to OU travelling to the Horseshoe to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. As a fan of the sport, I begin to salivate. Last year, OSU came into Norman and blew the doors off the Sooners. It’s reasonable to believe that Ohio State wins in their own building. That is not a stretch. Additionally, OU has to go to K-State and Oklahoma State. Those teams went a combined 11-2 at home in 2016, probably more like 12-1 (Central Michigan shitshow) with K-State’s lone loss being to none other than Okie State. The point is that those teams are formidable at home and OU goes to both of them. The Sooners do have a history of winning in both places, but are those trends rendered meaningless with the absence of Stoops? There is also the annual meeting with Texas in the Cotton Bowl. In the last 12 meetings OU and UT have split the series. Take from that stat what you will. I’m not sure if it means anything, other than this game is no gimme. Those 3 games games occur within a 4 week span. Yikes!! Combine that stretch with the early season showdown and OU is sure to have their mettle tested. Sure, Oklahoma has the horses to win each of those games. But I think its completely reasonable that Oklahoma goes 2-2 in those 4 games. There are other opportunities for them to stub their toe at home against TCU and West Virginia. All things considered, I could see a 9-3 record for this team. Perhaps they would still be in play for spot in the contrived Big 12 title game, thus keeping their Big 12 Title hopes alive. Perhaps a 2 loss OU team makes the playoffs. That could happen. A 3 loss team, however, has absolutely no chance whatsoever. That early season showdown with Ohio State may give them a pass, but it also gives them no margin for error in the event of a defeat.

This will be an outstanding team, one certainly worthy of your attention. Personally, I’m incredibly interested in how this season shakes out. With a new head man, an ever improving conference, and a schedule that cuts them zero breaks, it’s going to be extremely difficult for this team to meet the lofty expectations set for them. Even a conference title is very much up in the air. Once again, if this happens I will eat my words on a silver platter. I’ll bring the hot sauce. But any kind of objective person has to look at the road blocks I’ve laid out and doubt that it can be done. Then again College Football is no place for the objective.

Follow on Twitter: @jakeanderson884

4 Questions for Nebraska Football in 2017

Will A More Suitable Fit at QB = Greater Production and Efficiency?
For all the love that Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf showered upon Tommy Armstrong last year, it’s clear that he was not their ideal QB. Langsdorf’s offense tried to cater to Armstrong’s strengths, with some success, but overall the offense was inconsistent at best. Against Big 10 competition, the Nebraska offense ranked 11th in points per game, 9th in rushing, 8th in passing, and 12th in completion percentage. That will simply not do if this program wants to contend for anything other than the Taxslayer.com bowl. Incoming QB Tanner Lee has drawn a substantial amount of praise from those inside and outside the program. Many say he has a prototypical NFL size and arm strength. Whatever. Will his physical attributes make for a better Husker offense?  It is clear he is a better fit for the type of offense Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf like to run. That counts for something. How much remains to be seen. Tommy Armstrong struggled with reads, at times with accuracy and always with the short pass. He only completed 51% of his passes, for just 7.4 yards per attempt and less than a 2-1 TD to Int ratio. I don’t want to beat up on Tom. He was a warrior for this program. 2016 would have been awful without him. But going forward, at least statistically, there is plenty of room for improvement from that position. It is put up or shut up time, particularly for Langsdorf.  This offense needs to be both more consistent and more productive. If substantial improvement is not seen, perhaps its time to show Riley’s buddy Dan to the door.

 

Can Stan Morgan Become an All Big 10 Caliber Receiver?
The Nebraska offense lost a boatload of WR talent from its 2016 squad. Gone are Alonzo Moore, Brandon Reilly and all-timer Jordan Westercamp. Those 3 combined for 1,313 yards and 9 of NU’s 14 receiving TDs. Yikes!! Filling those shoes will be no easy task. Nebraska is incredibly thin at that position. What this offense needs is a certifiable stud on the outside. Someone who can cause opposing DCs to wet the bed preparing for the game with NU. Fortunately for Nebraska fans, there is a capable player on this roster. Stanley Morgan has the tools, the physical stature, and the moxy of an alpha male #1 WR. For all the good things you can say about Tommy Armstrong, he tended to lock onto his favorite receivers. For the better part of his first 2 seasons, that has not been Morgan. Rest assured Morgan will be getting plenty of targets this fall. He has to. This offense needs for him to come through and be the true thoroughbred that I feel he can be. Morgan caught 33 passes for 453 yards, and just 2 TDs last fall.  This offense may need him to double his catches and yards and triple his TDs. Provided he stays healthy, he will have every opportunity. Will he make the most of it and become the true playmaker this offense sorely needs? It sure would be nice.

Will This Offensive Line Continue to Be a Liability?
I’m going to be straight with you. The offensive line was a big part of the problem in 2016. The lack of a consistent running game was a big reason why NU struggled against top level competition. Consider that 6 times last year NU averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. Specifically, the Huskers averaged just 3.2 ypc against Wyoming, 3.4 @Indiana, 2.9 in a beatdown to Iowa, and 2.2 in the bowl game. Thats right, 2.2 yards per carry against Tennessee!! Are you sick yet? Those numbers are enough to make anyone’s milk curdle. Overall, Nebraska ranked 9th in the league in run offense despite a substantial commitment and running QB. That’s not good enough. Believe it or not it could have been worse. I will say Tommy Armstrong’s allusiveness prevented both sacks and gained rushing yards. Too often he was the crutch that Danny Langsdorf leaned upon. That crutch will no longer be there. This line needs to stand on its own two feet. Push some folks around. Assert their will do some degree. Depth will, in theory, be improved. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh redshirted at least 3 players last year that will be on the 2 deep come September 2. That may not have been wise, but that train has long left the station. That’s a topic for another time. The fact is that this unit should have better depth this fall. But will that translate to more production/better protection. Tanner Lee will not be scrambling like Tommy Armstrong. They will need to protect him. Armstrong was as good as I’ve ever seen at alluding a rush.  Lee may not be a sack of potatoes, but he wont be evading a rush the way Tom did. Obviously, a solid running game would be beneficial. 152 yards on 44 attempts against your chief rival (Wisconsin) does not qualify. It’s reasonable to believe that NU’s, uh, experience should pay dividends in 17. That is true. But it is also true that a repeat performance will spell doom for this offense and most likely this team.

The Defense
Admittedly, this is a total cop out. This portion is a catch all for everything on one particular side of the ball. But its appropriate.  As of today we know absolutely nothing about this defense, beyond the roster. Bob Diaco has taken over and installed his versatile 3-4 scheme that was such a huge success at Notre Dame. This is a great hire. I applaud Mike Riley for making a change and going out and getting the top defensive mind available. Arkansas was hot for Diaco, but Riley (and the NU pocketbook) lured in a big fish. Beautiful!! Great news!! But we have no idea how NU’s current defensive roster will fare within the scheme. We have not seen any of these players in a 3-4. The roles and assignments are different all the way around. We do know that Chris Jones is pretty awesome. Aaron Williams is a ball hawk. Big Mick Stoltenberg is a load in the middle.  We know the players on hand. That’s about it. What we don’t know is how it will all come together. If Diaco comes in and works miracles, and this unit becomes a top unit in the Big 10, the ceiling for this season goes up dramatically. If this whole thing is a god damn dumpster fire, this team could struggle to win 6 games. The swing is that great. I personally don’t have a feel for this one way or the other. We saw absolutely nothing from the defense in the spring game. If you came up with something from that dog and pony show, it is a total fabrication of your imagination. The questions about this particular unit are plenty. Will this pass rush be able to generate consistent pressure? If so, from where? How will the defensive line will adjust to their new roles? How will Josh Kalu fare at Free Safety? Will this versatile defense be able to adjust to the vast array of offenses NU will see this fall? Let me make this plain. I trust Diaco. I really like this hire. He’s our guy. He is the kind of top shelf assistant all staff’s need. But as of today this defense as a whole is an enormous question. It could go to either extreme or anywhere in between. It’s that large of a variable. One that likely wont be fully answered until somewhere around Halloween.

follow on twitter: @jakeanderson884

 

Offseason

The College Football off season is a very strange thing. Shortly after the first of the year when it is staring you in the face, it seems daunting. It hovers over you like a dark cloud. How are you going to go 8-9 full months without the glory of College Football? It seems unthinkable. The beginning is the worst. Each Saturday taunts you. Then, before you know it, spring ball comes and goes. A little while later the temperature rises and all manner of polls, predictions and asinine guesses start flying. You look up and you are a mere weeks from the start of camp. During the months of July and August the anticipation is palpable. You can feel it in the air. Soon there will be fight songs, top 25 matchups, emerging stars, major disappointments, upsets and champions. Winners and losers. Coaches will be sacrificed to the masses, and others will take their place.  Everything the College Football scene annually gives us will once again be on display. As usual, I’m extremely excited.

Spring ball is the ultimate tease, not to mention incredibly misleading. Just because your team is wearing gameday colors and playing in their own stadium does not make it a game. Far from it in fact. I’ve been to several spring games and they are all about the same. They are enormous pep rallies. Fans get together, wave their pom poms, get drunk during the day, and talk about the fall. That alone is fine. I have no problem with that whatsoever. The problem is fans and media alike jumping to conclusions based upon a glorified scrimmage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a young player put into the hall of freaking fame because they made a few plays in the damn spring game against some Redshirt Freshman walk-on from nowheresville.  Its completely ridiculous. Then come fall when they fail to contribute anybody and everybody is to blame. The fact is that spring football is fine for a team’s development but it scarcely resembles the action in the fall.  It will also not quench your desire for College Football. So chill out, relax and remember, its a scrimmage on an April day against the bottom of the roster, not a prime time tilt with Notre Dame.

I have a tradition that Im not terribly proud of. It concerns my favorite preseason magazine. You see, every year I go through the pain of going to a minimum of 3 or 4 stores looking for the Phil Steele College Football Preview. The pursuit of this publication is a tradition all its own. Each year I storm into Barnes and Noble with a head full of fury, ready to own my copy of the College Football bible. Every year I am rebuffed. It’s out of stock or the truck crashed on its way to the store and its contents went up in flames, or there was a Presidential order preventing its release. Its always something. I never get it on my first try. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Flustered, and majorly annoyed,  I go elsewhere and the same scene is repeated. My fuse gets shorter and shorter. Inevitably, I twist off on somebody. Don’t they understand the importance of this magazine? Then I get smart and start calling ahead. Some low level employee making $8.00/hr will tell me, with all the enthusiasm they can muster, whether or not they have it. Even then its a toss up. My wife suggests that I order the magazine direct. A very rational solution to an outrageous problem. I’ve looked into it, but the shipping alone is absurd. The magazine itself is not cheap. I don’t mind that cost. It’s worth it, but to then tack on a shipping charge? I’m too frugal or hardheaded for that. So I put myself through this same damn scenario every year. I’m a glutton for punishment.

Once the magazine is in hand I spend a serious amount of time pouring over its contents. Who are the surprise teams? Who has the toughest schedule? Which team lost the most in the draft? Turnovers=turnaround!! Its sensory overload for the first week or 2. There is so much information in this publication that there is just not enough time to get to it all. I have a wife and kids and 2 jobs and I need to sleep so that really puts me behind the 8 ball. I do the best I can, which is still better than most. But the Phil Steele College Football Preview stokes the flames for the College Football season like little else can. He presents things in such a logical and reasonable fashion that its tough to argue with some of his predictions. Is he always right? Hell no!! In fact he hedges his bets quite often, which is smart. But I dont get the magazine for accuracy. I get it first, and foremost, for the excitement it provides. There is nothing like reading up on a variety of teams that have some interest for you. Then you look ahead at the schedule and drool over upcoming matchups. Then you look ahead to those teams. It’s really great stuff. Well worth the pain and aggravation involved with securing the magazine.

Soon after come the practice reports. As a great man once said “we’re talking bout practice man. Not a game!! Not a game!! Practice.” How excited can you possibly be for a vague description of a practice? You would be surprised. Before your College Football appetite is fully satisfied it’s crazy how much you look forward to this inconsequential morsel of College Football information. Then you talk with your idiot friends about the contents of such reports. Each person seems to have a different spin on the very same paragraph of information. How many different ways can you interpret a strained hamstring from a 3rd string WR? Again, you would be surprised. They give you these little nuggets which do little to curb your appetite for the sport.  By the time the first game arrives I’m foaming at the mouth. I’ve got a blank stare about me the entire week leading up to the first game. When I crack that first beer and we get that first kickoff, its sheer ecstasy.

Another Loss, What’s Next?

Bowl games can be such a pain in the ass. After maneuvering my schedule around a trip back to The Good Life for Christmas, I had absolutely no wiggle room for a 2:30 Friday kickoff. Most employers don’t want to hear about how your team is in the Music City Bowl and thus you need a 4 hour window to lock in. Thus, I was stuck with the unenviable position of attempting to go dark on the game until I got home. That was unsuccessful. Finally when I arrived home at 730, I was able to grab an oats soda and settle in. What I saw was an uninspiring, yet completely predictable performance. Tennessee owned this game from the beginning. That group of underachievers easily dispatched of Big Red. When you are missing 3 of your best 4 or 5 players, that tends to happen. Nebraska was utterly punchless for the large part of the afternoon. That fact was disturbing.

The Husker defense had absolutely no answer for Josh Dobbs. He did as he wanted all day long. NU defenders bounced off of him and, when he was surrounded, he easily escaped every time. Dobbs accounted for 409 yards on the afternoon, with 4 effortless TDs. He was a man among boys. There is no reason he should have burned NU the way he did. The Husker defense was pretty terrible all day long, contributing greatly to Dobbs prolific day. Basic tackling was a problem, a major freaking problem. This was easily the worst tackling this defense has had all year. Defenders were routinely out of position as well. This left GAPING holes for whoever UT gave the ball to. And they did, to the tune of 230 aggravating yards. Still, this team had its chances. Once during the 2nd quarter and again during the 4th, the Huskers pulled within one score. A stop would have had Big Red within striking distance and the ball. The Blackshirts failed to get a stop both times, spoiling any and all momentum. It was a pretty sorry day for that side of the ball. With the offense obviously hindered, the defense would be called upon to carry the load. Based upon various performances throughout the year, I felt confident going in. What a disappointment. This unit absolutely laid down and let the Volunteers have a glorious afternoon in the Southern Sun. Disgusting.

Offensively, the Huskers were exactly what I thought we would see. Missing Tommy Armstrong was going to be tough to overcome. He has been the workhorse for this offense. Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley have leaned too hard on Tom. This entire unit is dependent on him. As he has gone, this offense has gone. His absence was enormous. Add in the injured Jordan Westercamp and dinged up Terrell Newby, Alonzo Moore and David Knevel and you knew the results wouldn’t be great. Ryker Fyfe was, well, Ryker Fyfe. He was OK, but not the difference maker NU needed under center. The offensive line struggled, MIGHTILY, with the Tennessee front. Whether it was running or passing, NU could not handle Derek Barnett and the rest of the defensive line. Hell, there were times Barnett was not touched. He, and his cohorts, lived in the Husker backfield. It was painful. NU gained just 61 rushing yardsand allowed Fyfe to be sacked 4 times. That dog wont hunt. I knew the offense would struggle, but I expected NU to be able to run the ball and control the game. That did not happen. That did not come close to happening. Combine that with the awful defensive effort and you have a 14 point loss to an underacheiving squad in ugly ass uniforms…….Pass the beer.

So there you have it. Another loss. Thats 4 of Big Red’s final 6. Not good. It puts a very bitter taste on top of such a promising start. I actually have more questions about this team, and this program, than I do answers at this point. Part of me feels like the Mike Riley era is on course, but needs more talent, particularly at certain positions. Another part feels like we are just biding our time until this thing crashes into the mountain.  I’m extremely torn. I feel like it could go either way. Of course I want Riley and company to figure it out, but that is hard to see see through the fog of losses to inconsequential teams like Iowa and Tennessee. There are valid reasons for losing either of those games. In this sport good teams figure out ways to win.  It happens all the time, just ask the Gophers. It would have been great to win one of those games. I don’t feel like that is expecting too much. Instead NU gets manhandled in both. What does that say about NU going forward? I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.

Into the darkness of the offseason we go. 8 months without Nebraska Football. What am I going to do with all this extra mental space? What can we expect/hope to see in the coming months before taking the field September 2nd against Arkansas State? Be prepared to be beaten over the head with news about QB controversy. NU hasn’t had a real QB situation since 2010 when Taylor Martinez shocked Husker nation by winning the job over Cody Green and Zac Lee. Be prepared for a similar 3 way QB battle. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee has turned heads in practice. Many see him as the favorite to win the job. Do yourself a favor and don’t look at his stats from 2 years in New Orleans. Pee-freaking-eew. Lee apparently has a rocket arm, and ample size, but his experience is not good. Then there are the unknown commodities of Patrick O’brien and Tristan Gebbia. O’brien has the benefit of being on campus for a year, but Gebbia set California ablaze with his play in his final season. All commodities in this equation are major question marks, but the fact is that one of them will be the signal caller for the offense next fall. Its going to be a major story this offseason. You will probably be sick of hearing about it by the time camp starts next fall. Then, of course, there is the incoming recruiting class. I’m no recruiting guru, but it appears NU has lost a fair amount of steam on the recruiting trail. This program needs more talent. Its that simple. It is obvious, especially along the lines, that more horses are needed. It is completely unacceptable to be dominated up front the way we have against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Tenne-freaking-see. Line play should be a staple of Nebraska Football and for too long it has been mediocre or worse. The primary way to improve the talent level is recruiting. Time for this staff to hit the road and get more horses, preferably thoroughbreds, to Lincoln. The future depends upon it.

 

Unforgettable Embarrasment

For the most part, this has been a feel good fall for the Huskers. Coming off an abysmal 6-7 campaign, this season has been a breath of fresh air, a reason to believe that Mike Riley might be the right man to lead NU back to the mountain top. On their way to a 9-2 record, this team showed guts and moments of brilliance. Those moments seemed miles away during the Black Friday meltdown we saw yesterday. A very mediocre Iowa team trailor parked slapped the Big Red 40-10.  40-10!! Its difficult to believe. A few weeks ago when NU got housed by Ohio State, that was completely believable. Ohio State is amongst the very best teams in the country. A team that could win the national championship. Most of those players will be playing on an NFL team near you sooner or later. This is Iowa. A team that has lost in their own building to Northwestern, North Dakota State, and Wisconsin this season. Its a team that appears incapable, by their structure if nothing else, of blowing the doors off of opponents. Well forget all of that. This game will be a permanent blemish on Mike Riley’s ledger. Losses like this were unacceptable for Bo Pelini as well as Frank Solich and Bill Callahan before him. They damn sure are unacceptable for a team that, at one point, appeared to have turned the corner. The road to relevancy appears extremely long on this Saturday morning.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Lets start at the top. How was this team so ill prepared for a game that could have drastically altered the perception of their season? Its unthinkable. Offensively Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley formulated a lackluster game plan. With a gimpy Tommy Armstrong a strong game plan was necessary. Defensively, The Blackshirts got absolutely bullied around by the Iowa offensive line. It was painful to watch. The Hawkeyes ran for 264 yards and C.J Bethard was rarely bothered by the Nebraska front. Then there is the special teams. Bruce Reed’s special teams are fairly pathetic. Through 12 games, NU has virtually no punt return, no kickoff return, a shaky (at best) punt unit, and a punt coverage unit that got lit up Friday against Iowa. In short, Nebraska was poor in all phases of the game. Not surprisingly, this falls on the staff. Mike Riley and company did a piss poor job getting this team ready to play. Its that simple.

Tommy Armstrong deserves to stand before the firing squad as well. Tom was terrible, no way around it. I expect my 4 year starting QB to do better than 13-35 passing, regardless of his condition. Armstrong was all over the map. His accuracy and decision making absolutely killed NU Friday. At times there were open receivers. Tommy either missed them or threw the ball elsewhere. He was locking onto receivers all afternoon. It was one of the worst performances of his career. To make matters worse, Tommy was essentially a sack of potatoes in the pocket. There was no elusiveness nor explosiveness. Those are major reasons why Armstrong is a good QB. He was anything but Friday. Sure, he was injured. Nobody can deny the man’s will to play. But if he is so banged up that he cant be his usual effective self, then he shouldn’t have been playing at all. That is on both the coaches and Armstrong himself.

Ultimately a shit kicking like the one we endured Friday falls on the players as well. This senior laden group really messed the bed against the Hawks. From consistent over pursuit to knucklehead penalties, there were plenty of head scratching moments. After one of my many maddening runs by Akrum Wadley, I turned and said “who is this team?” They looked like impostors out there. I would have expected some of that sloppiness in week 2, not on Black Friday. This team was not mentally sharp, that is on them. Nate Gerry’s roughing the kicker penalty in the 4th perfectly summed up the day for the Huskers. Just when it seemed they had done something positive, an air head play negates the whole thing. Iowa is not immensely more talented than Nebraska, if at all. The fact that NU lost by 30 freaking points means something more is at play. It falls on everyone. The players are in no way exempt from responsibility for this monumental embarrassment.

So where, exactly, do we go from here? A good season seemed to go down in spectacular flames against the Hawks. There is no reason why Nebraska should lose to Iowa by 30 points. EVER!! Unfortunately it happened. Mike Riley and this entire Husker team needs to take a good, long look in the mirror. We have known for weeks that this was a flawed team. This defensive line, specifically, has played over its head for the better part of the fall. They got smashed against the adequate Iowa front. Likewise the Husker Oline was overmatched against the Iowa front 7. That is an area that this program has to improve. There is no doubt about that. To be honest I’m not exactly sure where we go from here. Its a debilitating, humiliating defeat. The kind that makes you want to bury your head in the sand. It hurts. Is this program ultimately headed in the right direction? I think so, but I was a whole lot more certain before 2:30 on Friday.