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Ugh. This game was a great example of how chaos theory (i.e. a butterfly flapping its wings in Thailand causes a blizzard in Montana) applies to football. Seemingly small errors combine and snowball into a 28 point loss. Dropped passes lead to failing to convert third downs, which leads to your defense spending 41 minutes on the field, which leads to easy touchdowns. Throw in a cornucopia of special teams errors, and the whole vicious cycle repeats itself all over.
So what did we learn?
Time of possession still matters. Due to injuries, Nebraska has serious depth issues on the defensive line. Additionally, Nebraska has struggled to stop the run this year. So when that defense is on the field of 21:30 of the first 30 minutes, and 41:13 on the day, it is no surprise that they gave up 238 yards rushing and 45 points. Let me be clear – this is not an attack on the quick pace the offense has used this year. Nebraska’s first scoring drive came when they went up-tempo, and I think they could have utilized their pace more to wear down Michigan. The problem is with not converting 3rd downs, dropped passes, and other miscues that led to short offensive drives. I’m not saying Nebraska wins if the time of possession was more evenly split, but I don’t think they lose by 28.
Michigan is not a rivalry game. Leading up to the game, a popular topic on the radio and internet was if the Michigan-Nebraska game would become a rivalry game. The opinion was it would because Michigan is a) a traditional power, b) likely to be NU’s main obstacle for winning the division, and c) Nebraska fans really, really wants to have a rival and many do not believe Iowa or Penn State will measure up to what we had with Oklahoma, but Michigan might. All lovely points, but c’mon – Michigan is not going to be a rivalry game. That is not to say the game will not be important; it will be. Most years, NU will need to beat Michigan to win the division, and from a bigger perspective, every win over Big Blue gets Big Red that much closer to the title of winningest program in college football history. But Michigan has Ohio State, and no other team will surpass that. Ever. And as much as Wolverine fans may not want to admit it, they absolutely do not want to lose to Sparty. Therefore, Nebraska is at best a third place rivalry game, and third place isn’t all that exciting to me.
The conference championship drought will reach 12 years. There isn’t too much to say here. Less than a month ago, Nebraska controlled their destiny to get to Indianapolis for a shot at the conference crown. Two losses and a 3 point win later, they are eliminated from contention. It is really tough to believe that there are 7th graders who have never known Nebraska to be champions of their conference.
So what don’t we know?
Is John Papuchis spread too thin? Let’s recap the off-season moves on the coaching staff: Bo adds a full time assistant (John Garrison) and a grad assistant (Vince Marrow) to work with Barney Cotton and O Line/TEs. Meanwhile, Carl Pelini steps away from his duties coaching the D Line to oversee the defense. John Papuchis adds the D Line to the DEs he previously coached. Papuchis is also given the title of Special Teams Coordinator, overseeing the multiple kick and return units. And since recruiting coordinator Ted Gilmore was let go, Papuchis is also in charge of Nebraska’s considerable recruiting efforts. Look: I think Coach P (or many other coaches) are capable of wearing all three hats. But a side effect of all that responsibility is being questioned when your units have an outing like Saturday, with several special teams blunders and inconsistent line play.
Can NU win back-to-back road games? Earlier this year, Nebraska travelled out to Laramie, WY and won. The next week, they went to Madison and got rolled. Last week, Nebraska went to Penn State and won. This week, they went to Michigan and got rolled. Fortunately, Nebraska does not play back-to-back road games every year, because when they do, it is usually means at least one loss. Since 2000, Nebraska has gone back-to-back on the road 10 times. Only twice did they win both games (2000 at Iowa State and at Texas Tech, and 2006 at Iowa State and at Kansas State). Three times, NU lost both games (2002 at Penn State and at Iowa State, 2004 at Iowa State and at Oklahoma, and 2007 at Texas and at Kansas). The rest of the time there they split the two games. The good news is Nebraska does not have back-to-back road games on the 2012 schedule.
Which team shows up on Friday? Through 11 games we have seen dominating Nebraska (MSU), indifferent Nebraska (Northwestern), self-destructive Nebraska (Michigan), average Nebraska (Fresno State), overwhelmed Nebraska (Wisconsin) and pretty much everything in between. Which Nebraska will come out on Friday against Iowa? My gut says the embarrassing loss and poor execution leads to a focused week of practice that translates into a strong performance on Friday. But given the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this team, I wouldn’t be shocked if their holiday break starts on Thursday.
5 Players I Loved
- Lavonte David. Want to think about something scary? Image what the score would have been, or how many yards Michigan would have put up without Lavonte David’s 17 total tackles (14 solo). Unfortunately, he can’t do it all by himself.
- Will Compton. Compton is playing like a worthy counterpart to David, and is doing a good job of making plays. His development is very reassuring given the lack of depth coming back in the linebacker corps.
- Ameer Abdullah. Not incredibly impressive numbers (2 rushes, 2 returns, 1 TD), but the stats are beside the point. Rex Burkhead is obviously not 100%, and only had 10 carries on Saturday. It was nice to see the freshman provide some fresh legs, and a mild spark in relief of Rex.
- Jim Ebke. The lone bright spot from the special teams units. Ebke had three solo tackles on kick returns, including the game’s biggest hit. No disrespect to Jim, but his inclusion on this list should give you a good idea of how the game went.
- Brandon Kinnie. I’ve been critical of BK this year, so I need to give credit when it is due. He made a big catch and walked into the end zone. At the time, it looked like a huge play. And frankly – there really aren’t too many others who deserve a spot here.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Special Teams. I don’t need to recap the list of ugliness that occurred on Saturday, mainly because it makes me a little nauseous. It was not all that long ago when the special teams units were a strength on this team. While you cannot pin the loss directly on them, they certainly played a huge role in the margin of defeat. That performance is quite concerning.
- Missed Opportunities. As poorly as Nebraska played, they wasted several opportunities to get back into the game. Chief among them: NU scored late in the 3rd Quarter to cut the lead to 14. Michigan starts in a hole, and the Blackshirts hold them on three plays, forcing a punt. Field the punt, and maybe NU can put a drive together and set up another Ohio State type comeback. NU almost blocks the punt but winds up with a 15 yard roughing penalty. Michigan keeps the ball and marches down the field for a touchdown.
- Third Down. NU converted just 3 of 13 3rd Down chances, while Michigan converted 8 of 18. The first NU conversion did not happen until midway through the 3rd Quarter. It is darn near impossible to win a game when you cannot convert a third down.
- Dropped Passes. This is getting ridiculous. Yes, Taylor Martinez is not the world’s greatest QB, but his receivers are absolutely killing him at times. These are some brutal, kick in the groin type drops: third down passes, potential touchdowns, things that are stalling drives and wrecking momentum and confidence. Sadly, it seems like it is a new person each week. This week’s contestant: the normally sure handed Kyler Reed, who dropped an easy touchdown as well as what would have been a first down.
- 11 a.m. Kickoffs. There are times when an 11 a.m. kickoff is good – like when you have plans that night, or there is a big game on that afternoon. Or when we don’t lose by 28 and you have to stew about the loss for the rest of the day. But for the most part, early kicks are a pain. You are barely getting done with breakfast and wondering if Lee Corso really just dropped an F bomb, and then the Huskers are kicking off.