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?

 

follow on twitter: @jakeanderson884

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.

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.

Buckeye Beatdown

Well folks, it happened. Yep, that score and the impending soreness is very real. 62-3 is a reality. The Nebraska Cornhuskers got absolutely curb stomped Saturday night. It was every bit the scene from American History X. The Buckeyes told NU to bite the curb and the Huskers were left with no choice. I’m not going to make excuses. This thing was ugly from the outset. Any talk of OSU being a “beatable” team is completely laughable the morning after a 59 point ass kicking. I could go on about how horrendous the offense was under the direction of Ryker Fyfe and their meager 204 yards of total offense. I could point to the Buckeye drive chart and shudder at the amount of TDs given up or the OSU 11-15 3rd down conversion rate. None of that is worthy of my time and effort. I highly doubt you want to hear about it either. Rather than beleaguer the point, I’m going to look forward.

Ass kickings like this happen. It’s a part of sports. Over the years I’ve seen several. There was the 70-10 shallacking in Lubbock in 2005. Who can forget 41-6 to the Missouri Tigers in 2007 or the 52-17 shit kicking the following year? These things happen. It sucks, but its all part of being a sports fan. So where do we go from here? Its time for everyone, fans included, to put on our collective big boy pants and move forward.  Put the thorough domination of Saturday night in the rear view and focus on the windshield. This team sits at 7-2 with 3 to play. Those 3 are incredibly winable. The next 2, to the Minnesota Gophers and Maryland Terrapins, are both at home. Those are chicken soup games. After 2 games against excellent competition in extremely tough environments the Big Red come home to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium and all of their fans. That should give this team a boost. Then, of course, there is the Black Friday matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes who got their own wheels blown off last night. That game will be no gimme, but its a game NU should absolutely win. My point here is that these games are all winable. A 10-2 season is at their feet. That’s a great season. Especially when you consider the atrocities of 2015. There is still plenty to play for.

How does NU go about moving forward? Anyone who has ever tried anything has failed at some point. Perhaps it wasn’t as spectacular as 62-3 or seen by as many people, but we have all experienced failure. It’s a part of life. All there is to do is learn from it and move forward. That is all Nebraska can do. The naysayers and doubters will be out in droves, the Huskers will plummet down the rankings, and the criticism will the thick. So what? Its all bullshit right now anyway. This team needs to collectively look within, accept the ass kicking, and move on. The worst thing that can come of this is for the Huskers to throw a pity party. I’ve seen it too many times. A team gets beaten and it so thoroughly demoralizes them that they never get their act together. Mike Riley and the leaders on this team have to make sure that doesn’t happen. Don’t let Ohio State beat you twice. This is where the character and makeup of a team matters, not when you are 7-0 and in the top 10. Adversity has solidly landed on the Huskers and its incumbent upon them to get off the mat and prepare for the stretch run.

There are a few logistical issues with winning out. First, Tommy Armstrong needs to come back. Ryker Fyfe is awful. I’m not here to make it personal, so Grand Island people please save your ire. There is no way you can look at Fyfe and think that he is a workable piece. What does he do well? If there is anything, I haven’t seen it. Tommy needs to be back. We all saw him laying there motionless on the field Saturday night. He was out cold. It was a scary scene to be sure, but his subsequent actions indicate that he is going to be allright. One thing is certain, this offense needs him in the most serious way. For all Armstrong’s various flaws, he is the life blood of this offense and maybe this team. If NU is going to finish strong and salvage this season they will need #4.

As important as Tommy Armstrong will be to finishing the season strong, Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley need to recommit to this running game. These last few games it seems that NU has lost its way in that regard. Saturday night was a good example. Armstrong and Fyfe combined for 9/33 passing for 126 yards and 2 INTs. That is an average of just 3.8 yards per attempt. That should make everyone want to puke in their cereal. The NU run game was in no way good, but it averaged 3.3 yards per carry. The entire 2nd half I pulled my hair out wondering why Langsdorf insisted on chucking the ball around. More than anything, that philosophy led to the score being so extreme. Run the ball, and move the clock. Additionally, it helps the defense. The defense has been up and down, obviously last night was down, but the offense has to do their share. Doing their share involves not leaving a steaming pile in their lap time after time. A re-commitment to the running game helps everyone. Getting David Knevel and potentially Tanner Farmer back should help in getting a push, but also not playing 2 of the top 3 defenses in the Big 10 will make a difference as well. If NU can get the run game going, it will help the entire squad. That task falls squarely on the entire offensive staff.

This season is not lost folks. I had a pretty good idea that last night would go the way it did. Ohio State played angry. Nebraska offered little resistance. It’s tough coming off an emotionally draining game, like the one in Madison last week, only to play one of the best teams in college football. A beat down was foreseeable. Although, I must admit, I didn’t think it would get that out of hand. Mike Riley did absolutely zero damage control once the train went off the tracks. Whatever. It matters little. Saturday night happened and now we all must move forward. Live in the windshield. The next 3 games will go a long way to define just what type of season 2016 is.

 

Better Late Than Never, Heartbreak in Madison

I’m still here Husker fans. There were a few circumstances that prevented me from doing a write up Saturday night. A late start, a Halloween party, and a trip out to the high plains all contributed to my lack of sleep and inability to write a post. Never to be deterred, here are some thoughts from Badgers 23, Huskers 17.

I love Tommy Armstrong. He’s been a tremendous leader and a steadying presence during a very turbulent time in Husker Football history. I want so much for him to have an awesome performance in a big time game, for the whole world to see. Well, it didn’t happen Saturday night. Tommy was absolutely putrid through the air. His decision making was poor, his accuracy was worse. He passed for 153 yards and under 5 yards per attempt. Ugh. The numbers don’t accurately portray just how wobbly that performance was. He consistently missed open receivers on critical plays. He was a liability. It was extremely hard to watch. I have to believe that Armstrong is the difference between winning and losing this game. It brings me pain to say that, but its 100% true. If NU was better under center, there is no way you can objectively claim that the Big Red doesn’t win this game in regulation. What does the NU offense do with a replacement level, to borrow a baseball term, QB? There is no way it can be any worse than #4 was for the better portion of the game Saturday. Tommy missed simple throws and those INTs in the first half didn’t help matters. The Huskers were in the game despite Tom, not because of him. That hurts to say. Again, I’m a big Armstrong fan, but he was horrendous Saturday night. I’m really hoping for a big bounce back performance next Saturday against the Buckeyes. I’m hoping for it, but not banking on it.

Don’t look now, but this defense is turning into a top shelf unit. Sure, Wisconsin was able to gash the Husker defense occasionally, but there was nothing consistent. The Nebraska defense was consistently stout despite being put in tough spots by the offense. I figured the defense would hold up their end and keep NU in the game, but I was extremely impressed with how they did it. The Husker LBs, in particular Josh Banderas, flew around and made plays. There were several times where Badger ball carriers were greeted with substantial malice. This defense laid the wood several times. It was beautiful. The secondary made life difficult for which ever UW QB they decided to trot out, allowing just 114 passing yards. Nate Gerry came up with 2, enormous INTs to help the Husker comeback effort. Gerry in particular was terrific Saturday night (despite getting stiff armed by Corey Clement) both against the run and in coverage. His energy and leadership are invaluable to this unit. Most encouraging, this defensive line is molding into shape. This unit is getting better each and every week. Carlos Davis, in particular is a rising star up front. #96 is a star in the making. Hats off to the job John Parella is doing with that line. This group is getting better each and every week, despite working with a skeleton crew. That fact is a nod to the quality of Parella’s work. That hire looks fantastic 8 games into the season. The rise of this defense as a whole coincided substantially with the improvement up front. Its really exciting watching this defense improve each week. Saturday night was affirmation that this defense can lead this team to greatness.

A whole lot is being made out of the officiating Saturday night. The no call on the pass interference on 3rd down in OT is obviously at the center of it. But the officiating was extremely consistent Saturday night. By consistent, I mean non existent. The refs pretty much washed their hands of the action on the field. I’ve never seen anything like it. There were 3 total penalties Saturday night. A false start and illegal formation on NU and an offsides by Wisconsin.   Yes, all pre-snap. That is incredible. THERE WASN’T A SINGLE PENALTY THAT WAS CALLED DURING THE COURSE OF PLAY!!! This isn’t some kind of screw job. That’s the way the game was being called. It’s extremely odd that no penalties were being called, but don’t you think that may have helped NU as well? Especially with a beat up O-line against that Badger pass rush? Think about it.

If you are into moral victories this game had plenty of them. Other than the Huskers, I’ve watched more Wisconsin football than any team in the country. I find their hard nosed, smart, efficient brand of football especially interesting. The Badgers are incredibly physical as well. They went toe to toe with both Michigan and Ohio State in their only 2 losses. I think they are one of the very best teams in the country.  Coming in, I thought they might absolutely manhandle the Huskers. NU hadn’t seen anyone with that kind of physicality. Nobody close, in fact. My fears were alleviated early. This game was a brawl and the Huskers were landing plenty of blows. This game should have gone NU’s way. There is no doubt. For a number of reasons, NU just couldn’t come away with it. But a big picture view is appropriate here. If you wondered about the direction of this program under Mike Riley, you learned a lot Saturday night. Camp Randall has been a house of horrors ever since joining this league. Rightfully so, its an incredibly tough place to play. Saturday, NU showed the kind of toughness that it takes to play and win on the road in this league. That is something the Huskers can take with them going forward. That kind of belief can be program altering. I think we saw it the other way under the Pelini administration. It’s clear to see that Mike Riley and company have changed the course of this program for the positive.  Although a win Saturday would have been spectacular, a macro view of that effort reveals several promising signs about the direction of this program.

Next up, a trip to Ohio Stadium for a date with the Buckeyes. A few weeks ago I chalked this up as a certain loss. But the way NU played against the Badgers, and the way OSU has been staggering around, makes it not so certain. It’s going to be a hell of a challenge for this Husker team. A win still puts them squarely in the drivers seat in the Big 10 West. Armstrong will need to be better and the NU secondary is in for a big test against JT Barret and the slew of Buckeye offensive weapons. It will be tough. I hope this team is up for the challenge. If Saturday is any indication, they will be.