Husker Hot Takes – 9/2/2015

Let’s await Game Day with another edition of Husker Hot Takes:

Jon Schuetz is in (and then right back out) as public address announcer.

This fiasco is not a good look – at all – for the University.  First off, are they really setting the precedent that  all social media posts are fair game, even those made months before you are a candidate for a job?  I completely get not saying anything negative while a UNL employee, but the idea that something posted months ago disqualifies somebody from a job is concerning.

Then, there is the perception that University leadership is does not tolerate those who publicly criticize University officials.  I am a supporter of Chancellor Perlman, especially for the things he has done for UNL (you know, the actual school – not necessarily the athletic department).  But by this standard I’m likely disqualified from ever holding a public-facing job at UNL – as are the majority of people with a Facebook or Twitter account.  I don’t recall bashing Perlman here or on social media, but the odds are good that somebody could find something they find objectionable.

Finally, how do you make the hire – let alone send out a press release – when you haven’t finished vetting the candidate?  If a review of the candidate’s social media accounts for questionable content is protocol, then you probably should let that process finish before making any announcements.  Had UNL done that, they find the “offensive” post, tell Schuetz that they’re going another direction, and both parties are spared public embarrassment.

As for Schuetz, kudos to him for taking the high road and handling this with nothing but class.  He didn’t try to say he was “hacked” – he owned what he wrote and respects UNL’s decision.  From what I’ve heard, that is the type of man and professional he is.  Long time company man Lane Grindle will be behind the PA mic on Saturday.  I haven’t read if he has the job permanently or on an interim basis.  In any case, it’s worth noting that Perlman is set to retire in June.

All the cool kids are wearing black

I’m happy to see the Blackshirts handed out – if for no other reason than avoiding the weekly Blackshirt Watch by the local media.  I’m also happy to see the tradition returning to its roots instead of the much maligned way that Pelini and staff handled it.  There are – to my knowledge – no written rules or criteria on when and how the Blackshirts should be handed out.  Although, I’m sure that given a choice, “how they did it in the mid-90’s” would be the preferred standard.

And that’s part of why this topic is close to “shark jump” status:  Had Pelini’s defenses maintained the high level of the 2009 squad, his method of giving out the shirts when they were “earned” on the field would probably become accepted as the right way.  But since his last few defenses had big issues, we almost universally reject his way of doing it.

Personally, I liked the Craig Bohl method of handing them out in a ceremonial type setting instead of just hanging them on a locker.  I think that method helps to underscore the legacy and exclusivity of the Blackshirt mystique (as well as creating a made-for-YouTube moment), but alas, Bohl’s defenses struggled too.

Jack Gangwish is my hero

Jack Gangwish had himself a pretty good Monday.  He endeared himself to the local media by offering some great quotes in the press conference (with “head-butting mother fathers” being a personal favorite) while displaying the passion that got him elected a team captain.  Then prior to practice, he received a Blackshirt and had an emotional reaction that has gone viral.

Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for in-state walk-ons who toil in obscurity, pay their dues, and earn key roles on Saturdays (see also: Makovicka, Jeff and Joel; Rigoni, Brandon; and dozens more).  Gangwish has entered that elite pantheon, and I’m excited to root for him this fall.

Mormons have a sense of humor (and Photoshop skills)

Husker fans on Twitter already know Faux Pelini (@fauxpelini) Tunnel Walk of Shame (@tunnelwalkshame), and Zombie Devaney (@ZombieDevaney) are some funny folks to follow.  But for the BYU game, you may want to consider following Boney Fuller (@boneyfuller).  He’s had some pretty funny tweets taking some good-natured swipes at the media guide head shots of Husker players (freshman TE Matt Snyder is a personal favorite, with honorable mention to kicker Drew Brown), as well as noting the resemblance between some Husker players and ears of corn.  My guess is he’ll have some more good content between now and the end of the game.

Husker Hot Takes – 10/22/2014

A heaping helping of hot takes to get you through until Halloween…

Bo Pelini thinks the ESPN / SEC relationship is “bad for college football”.
I won’t argue Bo’s point, as it remains to be seen just how much ESPN’s love affair with the SEC impacts the game.  But I hate to see the coach give fuel to the message board conspiracy theorists who believe every announcer hates Nebraska, and ESPN disrespects the Big Ten and every other conference north or west of Columbia, MO.

Look:  You and I may sometimes forget it, but I guarantee that ESPN always knows the “E” in their name stands for “Entertainment”, not Ethics, Equality, or anything else.  ESPN wants viewers (which leads to higher cable fees and more ad dollars).  They get those viewers by promoting and talking about winning teams.  And right now, the SEC (as a whole) is widely viewed as a winning team.

This is nothing new.  Before their love affair with the SEC began, ESPN fawned all over USC.  And Texas.  And Boise State.  And other top programs before that.  As some of those teams have fallen on hard times, ESPN quickly moves on to the next big thing.  For the most part, this is decided as much by the results on the field as it is by any financial implications ESPN may see from a team or conference’s success.

Remember, ESPN has a big, big stake in Texas’s Longhorn Network, so if the “ESPN only promotes what they own” conspiracy were 100% true, we’d hear a lot more about Texas than we do.  But since Texas is 3-4, and is far from the dominant team they used to be, ESPN’s focus is elsewhere.

I realize all of this gets confusing when SportsCenter is passed off as a news program employing traditional journalism like you’d find on the evening news.  In reality, SportsCenter is little more than highlight packages and talking heads providing their own opinions (or, for the tin foil hat crowd, the opinions given to them by ESPN executives) under the branding of Coors Light, Lowe’s, or some new movie.  SportsCenter is a news program much like The Daily Show is a news program:  Some of the things they say may be news to you, but you’re going to get a heavy dose of opinion and commentary that is anything but impartial.  It’s up to you to determine what is factual and what is not.

As for Bo, he’s perfectly fine in his opinion, and I respect him for speaking his mind and reminding everyone that the SEC is closer to the rest of college football than some would have us believe.  Pelini can continue to do his part by repeating what his team did in January:  beating an SEC team in a bowl game.  That is what will sway the perceptions of the SEC’s dominance and the B1G’s ineptitude

Dougie McWildcat’s Appearance Angers Some Fans

Former Creighton standout Doug McDermott appeared in a video wearing a purple Northwestern shirt at the battle for NU.  McDermott said he .had taped the thing a couple of months ago, and was not aware that it would be shown during the Nebraska game.  He also said he was rooting for Nebraska in that game.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on both of these (even if I think he should have expected the video to be shown when Nebraska came to Evanston).

Personally,  I don’t really care if McBuckets wants to support Northwestern, Notre Dame, or North Dakota State.  He was born in Iowa, went to college at a school without a football team (insert Jaysker joke here, if you wish), and now lives and works in Chicago.  He is under no obligation to support Nebraska because he went to college within our borders.  If he wants to, great.  If not, I won’t lose sleep over it.

But as a fan of all* Husker teams (and not just the winning ones), I love that he appeared on-screen at the Nebraska game in Wildcat purple.  Let’s face it:  there are Nebraska football fans who root for Creighton instead of Nebraska basketball.  These folks have a variety of reasons for doing this (Creighton alums, Omaha residents, like a beer with their hoops, want to watch a winner, attracted to Jesuit sports, whatever) but those really aren’t important in this context.  My point is these fans exist, and their existence rubs some Husker fans the wrong way.

*Admittedly, “all” is an exaggeration.  While I do want all Husker teams to be successful, to say that I am a diehard cross country fan or longtime supporter of the swimming team would be a lie.  That said, I do actively support NU teams beyond football and men’s basketball (notably, baseball, volleyball, and women’s gymnastics) – even when they are not competing for championships.  For me, it’s more about supporting the team and the university more than it is about identifying myself as a fan of a successful team. 

By having McDermott appear at a Husker event, in the colors of a third school, the folks who root for Creighton and Nebraska had to be a little conflicted, and possibly feel a little awkward.  I like that.  I’ve never understood the idea of a la carte fandom, picking teams from different schools to fit my needs.  So I like that some of these people – call ’em “Jayskers” if you wish – may have been a little uncomfortable during that video.  Kudos to Northwestern for realizing that red + blue = purple.

Pelini Continues to Push for Recruiting Reforms
In addition to his previous suggestion to eliminate National Signing Day, Bo also wants schools to be able to pay for a parent to come along on their child’s visit.  I love Bo’s quote from Monday’s press conference:

“I look at it from a parent standpoint. If a 17, 18-year old kid, is getting ready to make a life-changing decision, his parents should be with him,” Pelini said. “Because most kids, there are a small percentage of kids who are ready to weed out and make their decisions for the right reasons, but you have a large majority of kids who aren’t ready to make that decision because they don’t know what’s important yet. They should have their parents with them. They should have their parents with them to say, ‘it’s not about the uniforms here, bud.’”

Yes, if you want to be cynical about it, Bo is pushing these reforms because he’s lost some talented recruits in part because Mama didn’t want them going so far away from home to play in the middle of a cornfield.  But what he is saying makes perfect sense.  Where you go to college is a big decision in a kid’s life – often the biggest decision an 18-year-old kid has made in his life.  Having Mom and Dad there to provide guidance and recognize the things that a school like NU can provide (tutoring, training facilities, mentoring, etc.) is huge.

Besides, as adidas has proved time and again, it is clearly not about the uniforms here, bud.

Back in Blackshirts
Tuesday afternoon, several members of the Nebraska defense took to the practice field as Blackshirts – the first time the coveted practice jerseys have been issued in 2014.  Not to take anything away from the strong defensive performance in the second half of the Northwestern game, but it sure seems like the timing had more to do with the increased questions about when (or if) the Blackshirts would be issued that popped up in the last week.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the Pelini method of issuing Blackshirts arbitrarily after a midseason game.  Call me a stodgy traditionalist if you must, but I believe the Blackshirts should be issued towards the end of fall camp every year, not in late October.  Period.  If they need to be yanked after an ugly performance, that’s fine, but I disagree with using them as a carrot that the team may or may not reach.

As for the number issued, I don’t have a problem with issuing more than eleven jerseys, especially if you have a handful of key contributors that technically don’t start (such as a nickel back or third down pass rusher).  But I don’t think you need to give the entire two-deep a Blackshirt either.

I’d like to see Pelini and Papuchis embrace the Blackshirts tradition more, and make it a more integral part of the team.  That said, you know NU is having a good season if the logistics of issuing Blackshirts is a topic of conversation.

Husker Baseball gets a jump start on Halloween
The baseball team wrapped up the fall Red/White intrasquad series with all of the players and coaches in costume.  I could describe the awesome variety of costumes, but some of them really need to be seen to be appreciated.  Besides, how often do you get to see somebody in an inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man outfit get an at bat, hear the announcer say “now pitching, Thing 1”, or see a group of costumed baseball players recreate the De’Mornay Pierson-El to Tommy Armstrong, Jr. trick play (with Superman playing the role of Armstrong)?

I love the idea.  The players looked like they were having an absolute blast.  Ditto for the coaching staff – although I’m sure Darin Erstad had to be roasting inside a full Chewbacca costume on an unseasonably warm and sunny day.  It was fun to see the guys show off their personalities and put on a good show for the several hundreds diehard fans who came out (as well as those of us who work downtown and were able to take in a couple of innings over the lunch hour).

Plus, these are the types of things that help a program gain positive national exposure and help make Nebraska look good to recruits.  I hope this becomes an annual tradition.

Husker Concerns

Nebraska Football

Nebraska Football (Photo credit: echobase_2000)

With the start of the 2013 season a week away, many of the off-season questions are starting to be answered.  Newcomers are starting to assert themselves, position battles are being won, and focus is being turned to the opponents Nebraska will face.

But concerns still remain.

Some can find reasons to worry throughout the roster, but here are five major concerns for the 2013 season.  Simply put, these are the things that stand between a championship season, and a losing season.

1.  What happens if Taylor Martinez gets hurt? 

Love him or hate him, you must acknowledge one simple fact:  the biggest difference between a 10-2 season and a 6-6 season is a healthy Martinez.  The buzz is that Tommy Armstrong will be the #2.  He,  and fellow recruitnik darling Johnny Stanton, are the future of the program, but if Martinez goes down – especially early in the season – my money is on Ron Kellogg III being first off the bench.

Could RKIII become Joe Ganz, Jr. – the unheralded career backup who exceeds all expectations?  Maybe not, but I think Kellogg could be a serviceable replacement until one of the highly touted underclassmen are ready.  Regardless, Taylor Martinez needs to slide, run out of bounds, and avoid big hits until October, or even November.

2.  Can the offense limit the turnovers?

You know all the ugly numbers – the fumbles, the interceptions, the muffed punts, the sloppy ball handling, the reckless decisions, all of it.  In a normal year, excessive turnovers can cost a team games they should win (see also:  Iowa State, 2009) or ruin championship dreams (Texas, 1999).

But this may not be a normal year.  The defense likely will not be able to carry the burden of an offense that turns it over three times a game.  Limiting turnovers to point where the team could be *gasp* positive in turnover margin could be a huge benefit.

3.  Will the kicking/punting units be as strong as they have been under Pelini? 

The Pelini era teams have had some excellent kicking teams.  Alex Henery, Adi Kunalic, Jake Wesch, Brett Maher, T.J. O’Leary, and P.J. Mangieri have made sure that kickoffs, punts, field goals, PATs, and the long snaps behind them have been as automatic as possible.

But in 2013, Nebraska will have a new long snapper, a new place kicker, a new punter, and even a new holder.  With such a high standard, a drop-off is likely.  Mistakes will probably happen, but when they happen is the real concern.  A missed field goal against South Dakota State shouldn’t hurt too badly, but a bad snap in Ann Arbor could cost Nebraska a division title.

4.  Can Nebraska establish any sort of punt return game?

How bad was the punt return game in 2012?   In the first quarter of the Ohio State game, Ameer Abdullah returned a punt 43 yards.  The rest of the season (35 quarters – almost 9 full games) Nebraska had a TOTAL of 22 yards on punt returns, with a long return of 19 yards by Tim Marlowe in the Michigan State game.  That doesn’t account for the bobbles, bumbles, and fumbles that put the defense right back on the field.  

Here’s the thing:  Nebraska has some talented guys – Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, to name a few – who should be able to secure the ball and gain positive yards.  While I don’t think your starting running back should return kicks – even if there are two talented freshmen behind him – I think there should be somebody who can get the job done.

5.  Can the team handle success; staying focused and grounded? 

Many pundits are predicting Nebraska to start off 8-0.  Should that happen, they would go to Michigan full of confidence and likely ranked in the Top 10.  A loss to the Wolverines, followed by tough games against Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa, could send the season into a tailspin.  On the flip side, it is likely that Nebraska could roll through the non-conference season and start to feel real good about themselves.  After hearing the praise from the media, message boards, and fans, they may think they can just show up and win – until an unheralded team like Illinois, Purdue, or Minnesota steals a victory.

This is a fairly young team, with many guys getting their first taste of playing time.  Sometimes, younger players don’t know how to handle success, how to ignore their own hype, and take “one game at a team” from a cliché to a mantra.  The addition of permanent captains, as well as Pelini seeming to find comfort in his role should help.  Unfortunately, Pelini teams have a bad habit of losing games they should win.


*   *   *

You may notice that none of the concerns I listed are on the defensive side of the ball.  It’s not that I’m not concerned about a defense with 8 or 9 new starters, or one coming off of some historically bad performances in 2012.  Trust me, I have my worries.

But I also have a hunch on how the defensive performances will go:

  • There will be a couple of games where the D looks shaky, but is able to make a play or get a key stop.
  • There will be a couple of games where a running back is able to run right up the middle for 6 yards a carry, but the offense finds a way to win.
  • There may be a game or two where nothing goes right and they give up a ton of points.
  • And I fully expect a few games where everything clicks.  Guys are flying to the ball, making big plays, and the Blackshirts completely shut down the other team.

I just have no idea when, where, or in what order those games will occur.  And while that absolutely should be a concern, I feel oddly confident that the defense will be better than people expect.

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