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.

 

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Another Saturday, Another Battle

My wife ran in an Oktoberfest run early Saturday morning. Naturally, I was there in red. I struck up a conversation with a Michigan fan. As it concluded, I wished him luck. He did the same. I confidently replied “I don’t think we are going to need it today.” I was that sure the Huskers would roll. In my preview I said that the Huskers would “grind Illinois into a fine powder.” I was eating those words, and my lower lip, as the Huskers trailed early in the 4th quarter. For the better part of the afternoon it seemed that Nebraska was hell bent on giving this one away. If it wasn’t penalties, it was a redzone fumble, or shotty defense. For the 3rd straight week the Big Red were in an absolute battle deep into this game. True to form, this club owned the 4th quarter and came away victorious. Give credit to the Illini. They did not play like a 1-2 team. They had this fella sweating bullets all afternoon.

Through 5 games it is now apparent that Nebraska has a few holes on defense. Specifically, the defensive line. Illinois, who had previously been listless running the ball, averaged nearly 6 yards per rush Saturday. The holes were gaping. The LBs can only do so much. We all knew that this DL would be under manned, but that is becoming painfully evident. The pass rush is poor also. If Mark Banker wants to get to opposing QBs, he has to blitz and expose the secondary. That is not a good spot to be in as a playcaller. As poor as the defense was at times Saturday, they answered the bell and made a few key stops. After Nebraska took the lead on an 11 minute drive, the defense stepped up with a 3 and out. Then after NU extended the lead to 8, the defense again forced a 3 and out. Those 2 series went a long way toward winning this game. Ultimately for all the blunders, missed assignments and poor play this unit made plays when it had to.  That deserves some kudos. This defense is far from perfect. It has a long way to go. Frankly I have serious doubts if it can be a dominating unit with the talent on hand. These problems aren’t going away.  But for today this defense played well enough. Not great, not by a mile, but well enough in key situations for this team to improve to 5-0.

The offense Saturday was not playing with a full deck. Wide Receiver Alonzo Moore and Guard Tanner Farmer did not play. Cethan Carter, Jordan Westercamp, David Knevel and Devine Ozigbo all left the game with injuries. Those are major cogs in the offensive wheel. That left the offense undermanned and it showed. The offensive line sorely missed Farmer  and then Knevel as it was unable to push Illinois around the way I thought it would. Tommy Armstrong’s safety blanket Cethan Carter would have come in handy as he escaped oncoming defenders all afternoon. Give the Illinois defense credit for confounding the NU offense for the better part of the afternoon with blitzes and other pressures. They had NU on their heels. But also give the Huskers credit for a gritty 2nd half. Down 16-10 the offense embarked on an 18 play, 75 yard TD drive that took nearly 11 minutes off the clock. That’s right, 11 minutes. Along the way Nebraska was twice bailed out by penalties on 3rd down and got an ultra favorable spot on 4th down inside the 10 yard line. Still, that is a big boy drive that completely flipped the momentum of the game. After a 3 and out, NU did it again this time with a 6 minute drive. That took the wind out of the sails of the Illini and secured the win.

During those 2 game winning, perhaps season saving drives Nebraska leaned heavily on Terrell Newby.  He wasn’t Walter Payton or anything, but the dude was durable and gutsy. This was his best game in scarlet and cream. Good for him. I’ve been tough on Newby. His performance does not change my ultimate opinion of him, but he did show incredible grit. Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf put this one on his shoulders. Newby ran 16 times for 113 yards in the 4th quarter alone!! I’ll admit, I did not think he had that kind of performance in him. With Ozigbo hurt, and Mikale Wilbon in the dog house after a red zone fumble, Newby ran 29 times for 140 yards and 2 Tds. He also caught 2 passes for 26 yards including a pivotal 3rd down reception on the go ahead drive. Newby’s biggest play was a 63 yard run that salted the game away for good. I’ve gained a new respect for Newby after this ballsy performance. On a tough day for this offense, Newby stepped up and was the difference.

Make no mistake, this was not a good performance. The defense was generally shotty, there was missed tackles, and assignments. The offense sputtered as well and there were a slew of missed opportunities. A performance like this will get you beat, especially against good teams. Illinois does not qualify. But, like last week, a win is a win. This team dug deep and collectively made plays when it had to. This is a game the 2015 Huskers lose. That is a good sign. When a team consistently plays close games they are able to draw from that experience.  This team is used to being in tough games after the last month. That experience is invaluable. It pays off. Next up is a bye. This team needs to get healthy first and foremost. There is also plenty of work to be done to improve. The race for the Big 10 west will no doubt get more and more interesting. Currently, the Huskers are in the drivers seat after Wisconsin and Iowa both lost Saturday. But performances like the one Saturday will not be good enough to earn a trip to Indy. I hope Mike Riley is pounding that point home this week.

SEASON OPENER!!!

It’s here. Finally. We are set to kickoff the 2016 Nebraska Football campaign. The Big Red will come rolling out of that tunnel to the cheers of 90,000 fans. It’s going to be beautiful. There is nothing like game day in Lincoln Nebraska. This team should be pretty good as well. That’s for another time. For now just enjoy the fact that the football season is upon us. Soon the balloons will be released and the pads will be popping inside Memorial Stadium. My favorite pastime will begin once again.  It’s a wonderfully exciting time of year. I know I plan to really soak in the excitement that accompanies the fresh, new season. Here is what you need to know about the ballgame Saturday night.

The Opponent

Fresno State has long had a reputation as being one of the best non power five football programs out there. It’s reputation was built off of star players like Derek Carr, Davante Adams and Ryan Matthews, as well as upsets of big time teams. As recently as 2013, Fresno was 11-2 and ranked as high as number 15. Since then Fresno is 9-17. Last year’s squad was downright awful. The Dogs went 3-9 with wins over Abilene Christian, UNLV (three wins), and Hawaii (three wins). The numbers are worse than the record if you can believe it. Both the offense and the defense finished ranked in the 100’s. They were out-gained in eight of their eleven games against FBS competition, gave up over five yards per carry for the season, and allowed their opponents to complete 62% of their passes. Yuck. If you look at this team on paper, they better resemble a three-legged mutt than the Bulldogs. As it does for everyone, hope springs eternal as the season begins. FSU coach Tim DeRuyter overhauled his staff, replacing all coordinators and six assistants in total. Perhaps that gives them a boost. They better hope that it does. This squad does not look promising. The Dogs return just two of their top six tacklers from that miserable defense, and they lost their top rusher. They do return their top three receivers, but those guys aren’t keeping me up at night. FSU tapped redshirt freshman Chason Virgil as its starting QB. Virgil completed 55% of his passes for 5.3 yards per attempt in limited action. He is a threat to run as well. Chason represents the future for the Dogs, and make no mistake there is promise there. Still, this is an extremely tough spot to put the kid in. Opening the season, in front of a packed house, running a new offense? Not a great spot to put that youngster in.

Prediction

Season openers are tough to gauge. Will Fresno be energized by the new coaches around them? How will the Huskers attack a previously woeful Fresno State defense? How about the young NU front four? The questions abound. My prediction is simple and clear: The Big Red comes out and smashes Fresno. This game will not be competitive in the second half. Nebraska will come out and grind the Dogs into a fine powder. They will lean on them with that shiny new offensive line that will have Husker fans salivating. Devine Ozigbo and Terrell Newby will gallop through this crappy defense with ease. Defensively the Huskers will be chasing Chason from the outset. Sacks and turnovers will result. It’s going to be pretty impressive, but don’t be fooled. If Fresno is going to be better this year, the improvement will come later in the season. This is a terrible spot to be breaking in a new QB, offense and defense. The Big Red will be the beneficiary. Huskers roll 38-10, in a yawner.