To my followers, family, Facebook friends, and anybody else who ends up here:
Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate you taking the time read this. But I’d greatly appreciate it if you read this fine article on HuskerMax.com, as I earn a fraction of a penny per page view – and I’m hoping to earn enough this year to buy my wife a steak dinner – and I’m guessing she’d rather go to Misty’s over Steak ‘n Shake.
Wow. Did that really happen?
Unfortunately, yes it did. Nebraska was exposed, embarrassed, and humiliated on national TV. Again.
So what is the true representation of the 2012 Huskers? Do you focus on the bookends – the ugly losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin by a combined 133-69? Or do you look in between at the six game winning streak where the Huskers showed tremendous grit, determination, and the ability to come from behind to win?
The simple answer is both. This is a team that can be explosively dynamic in all three phases of the game. Sadly, no one can predict if those dynamic moments are going benefit Nebraska or their opponent. It is as frustrating as it is exciting.
I’d like to go back to something I said last week: “Regardless of if NU wins or loses the next two games, I think the 2012 campaign has been a successful season and Nebraska is headed in the right direction.” And while I would have been wise to slip in a disclaimer about giving up 70 points and over 500 rushing yards, I will stand by that statement. This has been a successful season. I know it doesn’t feel that way today, and I probably won’t on January 2 either, but it has.
That is not to say there isn’t room for improvement, because we all know there is a long list of things to improve upon – before the bowl game, and for 2013. But I don’t think you can define this team – or this program – based upon one game.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So what did we learn?
This is going to be a looooong month. Prepare yourself for a brutally long month of people attacking Pelini, his schemes, his assistants, Martinez, other players, recruiting, and everything under the sun. The glass-half-empty crowd has been fairly quiet during the last 5-6 weeks, but you know they will have plenty to say about this loss, the various failures displayed Saturday, and the ever ambiguous “direction” of the program. Once they finish beating the dead horse into a fine powder, they’ll move on to the bowl game with doom and gloom predictions of how badly Nebraska is going to get beaten by Georgia. Might be a good time to dial back from the blogs, message boards, and radio shows and turn your focus to the holiday season.
There is little consistency in how personal foul penalties are called. Daimion Stafford clearly leads with his shoulder when making a tackle and gets flagged. Kenny Bell makes one of the best blocks since Mike Rucker against Kansas State, and gets flagged. A Wisconsin player picks up Taylor Martinez and suplexes him to the ground (head first) and does not get flagged. A Wisconsin player goes helmet to helmet on Martinez by the sideline and does not get flagged. I absolutely do not think there is any ulterior motive or conspiracy against Nebraska. I do think that the Big Ten and the NCAA need to clearly define what will and won’t be called, because it sure looks like they’re making it up as they go.
Nebraska needs to adjust their coaching to avoid personal fouls for “targeting”, “unsportsmanlike conduct”, or the like. Without crunching the numbers, I’d guesstimate that Nebraska has picked up one or two personal foul penalties per game for some sort of hit that was deemed “flagrant” or “excessive” by an official. Again, this is more of a guess than a true stat, but it sure feels like a lot of those penalties end up turning into points. Since the officials aren’t going to be more lenient (or consistent) in their calls, Pelini and staff should coach their players to avoid these penalties. How? Go low. Instead of Stafford leading with his shoulder at the Wisconsin player’s chest, he should lead with his shoulder at the player’s legs. Ditto for Kenny Bell. Instead of putting your shoulder through the guy’s chest, explode through his knees. Sure, the guy Bell blocked would probably end up needing surgery, and Stafford’s guy might flip and land on his head, but it won’t be the violent hits that everyone is so afraid of. (sorry….rant over)
So what don’t we know?
What the hell happened? Tip you cap to the Badgers’ coaching staff. They had that team perfectly positioned to win – probably no matter what Nebraska might have done. Start with their “eraser game” mentality, then move into excellent game plans. Their defensive plan of stand-up linemen and threats of bull rush pressure was a great way to confuse an offensive line playing without their regular center. This gummed up the running game, and put some heat on Martinez. Meanwhile, the Badger secondary locked onto Husker receivers, forcing several coverage sacks. On offense, Wisconsin did a great job of attacking the perimeter with sweeps then using the threat of a sweep to clear linebackers before blasting it where Baker Steinkuhler should have been. Nebraska did not seem to know what was coming next.
How does Nebraska prevent this from happening again? To avoid a repeat in the bowl game, Nebraska needs to get healthy, (although better tackling and pursuit angles would certainly help). I like Cam Meredith, but he is not a defensive lineman. Offensively, the line needs help adjusting to different blitz packages, and in blocking speedy defensive ends. Going forward, recruiting is a big, big key. Nebraska needs more speed on defense. Bo’s defensive scheme is so much more effective when he gets good D-line play, and that has been very inconsistent this year. Finally, I love walk-0ns, but I think they should be accessory pieces – not the foundation of the offensive line.
When will Nebraska win another conference championship? At the risk of sounding like a Cubs fan, next year? With Martinez entering his senior season and many key offensive parts back, scoring should not be a problem. Question marks will remain on defense, but I like what I’ve heard about some of the redshirts and underclassmen who will be competing for starting jobs. With a friendly schedule (i.e. no Wisconsin or Ohio State) Nebraska should be a favorite to win the division again. Yes, they would still have to beat either Wisconsin or Ohio State (whom have each put up 60+ on NU this year) in the championship, but I’ll take my chances in a single game – especially where NU is a big underdog. As I said last week, it is tougher to win a conference title today that it was 15-20 years ago.
Where are my Keys?
At the beginning of the season, I laid out three simple keys for Nebraska to have a strong season: 1) Win the turnover battle, 2) Own 3rd Down, 3) Limit penalties. Throughout the year, I’ll be tracking Nebraska’s progress:
|Penalties||Penalty Yds.||3rd Down Conv. (NU)||3rd Down Conv. (Opp)||Turnover Margin|
|2012 Per Game||6.2||59.8||42.6%||34.2%||-11|
|2011 Per Game||7.2||57.3||42.3%||40.2%||-1|
The -3 in turnover margin hurt, but nearly as much as the various rushing statistics (total yards, yards per carry, rushing TDs, etc). Those things trump anything else that NU might have done.
5 Players I Loved
- Taylor Martinez. Say what you will about his turnovers (he can be sloppy with the ball, but I truly believe he tries to overcompensate for a porous defense and a sometimes leaky O Line), but he was Nebraska’s player of the game. That touchdown run was something out of a 1980s video game. If anybody wants to put the blame on his shoulders, I’ll be happy to point out a dozen other guys worth of your criticism too.
- Kenny Freakin’ Bell. That was a beautiful, epic, and LEGAL block. And I’d say the same thing if it was one of our DBs who got laid out.
- Backup Running Backs. I know it was some serious garbage time, but both Braylon Heard and Imani Cross had some nice moments in the fourth quarter.
- Joseph Carter. He’s had a very forgettable Husker career, but I thought he played one of his better games on Saturday. Admittedly, I’m hesitant to put anybody from the defense on this list, but you try to find five positives from that game.
- Fans who stuck it out. Look: I get it. That was painful and tough to endure. Nobody is going to judge you or give you a Husker fan demerit if you turned the channel, went to bed, or left the stadium before the final snap. But, I want to give some serious respect for those who stuck it out. Why? Two reasons: a) Over the years, Nebraska has been the one giving the whooping many more times than they have received it. If you’re going to take pleasure in a Husker rout, you should be able to endure the other kind of Husker rout. b) Call me what you will, but I believe that “we all stick together, in all kinds of weather” is more than just a line in a song.
Honorable Mention: Fans who made the trip to Indy, Rex Burkhead, Brett Maher
5 Areas for Improvement
- Offensive Line. Yes, NU rushed for 282 yards, but there were six sacks (including a seventh if Martinez doesn’t make the run of his life), several uncalled holding penalties, and a whole bunch of confusion.
- Defensive Line. The loss of Steinkuhler hurt, but let’s not kid ourselves – it is not like if Baker plays the defense only gives up 185 yards rushing and three scores. The lack of able (or capable) bodies really hurt NU.
- Tim Beck. Beck has had a great year, but this game was a disappointment. He did not have a lot of answers for the wrinkles Wisconsin threw at them.
- Ciante Evans. Rough night for Ciante. Struggled to get off of downfield blocks on long runs, and was the receiving end of a big stiff arm. But let me be clear, he had plenty of company.
- How many more do you want? I’m going to stop here before I bum myself out again.