Nebraska Football

2019 Nebraska Alternative Uniforms Reviewed

Nebraska and Adidas released the alternate uniform the Huskers will wear at some point in the 2019 season.  I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen it before – and no, I’m not talking about the photo* that leaked out from the hype video shoot a few weeks ago.

*How mad do you think the Adidas folks were about this image stealing their thunder?  The one time they shoot the hype video on location – instead of from the comfort of their ad agency’s studio – and the full uniform leaks out.  

How familiar are these uniforms?  Here is how I feel like the design process went for this year’s alts:

{Scene:  Adidas U.S. Headquarters, Portland, Oregon. A random Tuesday in June}

Account Rep:  Hey, Nebraska wants their alternate uniform to be black this year.  I don’t have a lot of requirements, other than they want to release it in time for their Fan Day in early August.

Lead Designer:  Um…It’s the middle of summer.  There is no way we can create a black alternate uniform in time.

Account Rep:  Don’t we have a single alternative uniform template that we use for colleges?  Usually the only thing you guys do is update the colors and logos, and send it off to the factory in Asia.

Lead Designer:  We’re trying to get away from that.  The guys on the Basketball Design Team were making us look bad.

Account Rep:  So what can we do?  Scott Frost has a history with Nike, and his A.D. has a policy to never tell Frost “no”.  Nebraska is our oldest, and one of our best clients.  Surely we can do something for them.

Design Team Intern (flipping through a book of previous Nebraska uniforms):  Look at these black uniforms they wore back in 2013.  What if we clean these up and pass them off as new?

Lead Designer:  Hmm…that could work.  There is definitely room for improvement on these.  Maybe incorporate some elements from their current practice jerseys.  What do you think?

Account Rep:  I really don’t care what they look like, as long as we can debut them before the season starts.

Lead Designer:  That’s what we do best!  We’ll have a sketch ready by the end of the day.

{scene}

How similar are the new set to 2013?  Here is a side by side comparison (image by @BrettSBaker)

sidebyside
As is the custom, we’ll go from the top down.

Helmet:

helmet side

The improvements from the 2013 set start at the top.  Adidas got rid of the weird gradient facemask that was black on the outsides and red in the middle, and replaced it with a basic black facemask that works much better.  Nebraska’s signature sans-serif “N” remains, but it is now black instead of red.  Both the 2013 and 2019 versions have a black helmet stripe that is noticeably thicker than normal.

Our video model has a red chinstrap, which I would suspect gets swapped out for black or white when the players get them.

I would have been okay with Adidas being a little more aggressive in their design on the helmet.  Possibly a black helmet with white “N”, or even the script Huskers in black instead of the helmet N.  That said, I have no issue with the lid.

Grade:  B

Jersey:

48572099382_f7ff061018_n

Yes, I am an unabashed old-school fuddy-duddy who thinks Nebraska’s uniforms are fine as they are, thank you very much.  But there is more to my dislike than me being averse to change.  My biggest objection is the black jersey, for two primary reasons*:

  1. Only the defense – Nebraska’s storied “Blackshirts” – should wear black jerseys.  Period.  Does it really make sense that some third string wide receiver gets to wear the same black jersey as Mohamed Barry and the rest of the defense?  What in the name of Charlie McBride is going on here?
  2. After the defense’s disastrous performance in 2018 (31.3 points per game allowed, 12th in the Big Ten) black is the last color Nebraska should be wearing against the majority of the teams on their schedule.

*Why yes, I did plagiarize and update my 2013 review of Nebraska’s uniforms for the preceding three paragraphs.  Hey, if Adidas gets to pass off old material as new, I can too.

The good news is my stance has softened a little bit since 2013.  While I still think only the first team defense should wear black, I really do like this version.  Adidas abandoned the “tire tread” motif, and they got rid of the numeral font that looked like it came from “The Longest Yard”.  I have my concerns about using red for the TV numbers on the shoulders and name on the back – but that is more about being able to read them from Row 47 instead of a stylistic concern.

My biggest gripe is the use of the Blackshirts logo on the sleeves.  In the press release, Adidas tries to spin it as “personifying the players’ relentless attitude, a skull-and-crossbones logo sits on the jersey’s sleeve caps”.  Filter out the b.s. and the takeaway is “we understand that this is a defensive logo, but it still looks cool, and we hope prospective recruits agree.”

Overall, I understand why black jerseys are popular.  And if Nebraska “needs” a black jersey, this is a pretty good version – even if it cheapens what “Blackshirts” once meant.   Allow me to plagiarize myself from 2013 one more time:  “Black will always be a cool color for young males, as it denotes toughness and strength.”  I guess that applies to third string wide receivers too.

Grade:  A

Pants:

pants

When it comes to the pants on their alternate uniforms, Adidas has really embraced a “less is more” approach.  I would have been okay with the 2013 version, with its black leg stripe and over-sized “N”.  Instead, it looks like Nebraska will wear their regular white pants.

At the risk of being alarmist, seeing the new jersey paired with the regular pants makes me a little concerned that this new ensemble will be used a more of a “third jersey” than a one time only alternate.

I really like Scott Frost, and I love how he is bringing the things he learned at his previous coaching stops back to Nebraska.  But I have no desire to see Nebraska getting into the mix and match “uniform system” that Central Florida has, let alone the weekly game of one upsmanship that Oregon plays.

Grade: B

Accessories:

In the hype video, we see three different Adidas accessories get some extended screen time.

  • The most notable item is a helmet visor that, when viewed from certain angles, shows a Blackshirts logo.  None of the pictures in the press release do it justice, so you’ll want to watch the hype video to see it in action.  Assuming such images on visors are game legal (and with the NCAA, one should never make assumptions) I would expect to see a lot of these throughout the year.
  • There are the (now) standard gloves that make a form a Blackshirts logo when the palms are placed just so.  It will be interesting to see if those gloves are reserved for defensive players, or if everybody gets a pair.
  • Finally, there is a pair a black cleats.  I’m no sneakerhead, but I think they look really sharp.

cleats

Grade:  A

Overall:

Put it all together, and this is what it looks like from head to toe.

head to toe

A big part of grading the alternates that Adidas produces for football is managing expectations.  With 2019 being the 150th anniversary of college football, and the 150th anniversary of the University of Nebraska, I had hoped for some sort of 1969 throwback uniform.  So from that aspect, I’m a little bummed at the missed opportunity – even if Nebraska wore a “fauxback” uniform last year.

When I first saw the leaked image, I was disappointed.  I’m not a fan of NU wearing black, and let’s be honest – the overall look is little more than tweaks to the 2013 alt.

But the more I look at it, the more comfortable I am with it.

Why?  Indulge me in one more flashback, this time to Nebraska’s last attempt at black – the horrifically bad 2015 set:

I could get on-board with an all-black get up similar to this.  Just simplify the look.  Lose the tire treads, the reflective numbers, the stripes that look like they survived an attack from Freddy Krueger, and you’d really have something nice.

It may not be as #HuskerBold as adidas would like, but I’d wager it would be better received.

Give Adidas credit. They checked all of the boxes and made an alternate uniform that should appeal to the coveted kids as well as the cranky traditionalists.  That is a win in my book.

Advertisements

2018 Nebraska Alternative Uniforms Reviewed

On Saturday, Nebraska will wear special “Memorial Tribute”* uniforms, which draw strong design influence from the uniforms the 1923 Huskers wore.  Why 1923?  That was the first season NU played at Memorial Stadium.

*Let’s take a second to address Adidas’s ridiculous name for this uniform.  At best, “memorial tribute” sounds similarly synonymous and slightly redundant.  At worst, it describes an eulogy – possibly for the days when alternative uniforms didn’t need their own identity branding story.

Due to a chaotic and stressful October, I wasn’t able to give these a proper review when they came out.  So let’s fix that.

As is the custom, we’ll go from the top down.

Helmet:

2018 helmet

From the reaction I’ve seen, the helmet is the most controversial piece of the ensemble.  The intention was to make it look like a stitched leather helmet of the time.  This apparently has not clear to all who have seen it.  In looking for pictures and reaction, I came across comparisons to a jock strap and a sleep apnea CPAP mask.  One glass half full fan suggested that the Huskers “can use the protractors on their helmets to knock out some geometry homework on the sideline”.  I’m all for adding to the list of Academic All-Americans.

As for me, I get – and like – the concept.  If you’re going to throwback to 1923, it wouldn’t look right with the regular “N” helmet.  You go big to complete the look, and that is what Adidas has tried to do.  I’m hopeful that, in person, the helmets look a little better than the handful of promotional pictures indicate.

As it is, this is one of the few times in Nebraska’s alternate uniform history that the helmet is not the star of the show.

Grade:  C+

Jersey:

Nebraska+x+adidas_Memorial_Jersey_006

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews of the Husker alts, you’ll likely know three things: 1) I am an unabashed traditionalist, 2) I dislike unnecessarily gaudy uniforms that choose to promote Adidas’s innovations instead of Nebraska’s history, and 3) any alternate jersey where you can’t see/read the numbers from the stands is a failure.

In other words, I typically use most of this space to tell you everything Adidas got wrong.  Today, it is my great pleasure to tell you everything that Adidas did right.

  • Adidas mercifully retired their sublimated “Primeknit” that looked like lightning bolts or tire treads.  Their new miracle fabric – which looks somewhat like corduroy in the pictures – is perfect for a throwback look.
  • The panels on the front are a great nod to 1923, and offer some nice visual interest without being over the top.
  • I love, love, love the numeral font which was influenced by the old Memorial Stadium clock – and not the 2018 Adidas Alternate Uniform Master Template.
  • As an added bonus, I feel confident that I will be able to read these numbers from row 47.

The only thing I would change would be to put the player names on the back – in the same retro font as the numbers.  That said, I have no issue with using the “In the deed the glory” inscription back there, as it helps tie the “Memorial Stadium” theme together.

This, my friends, is easily the best alternative uniform Adidas has produced for Nebraska Football.

Grade:  A+

Pants:

Nebraska+x+adidas_Memorial_Jersey_000

What color are these pants?  The Adidas marketing materials describe them as “buff,” which is “designed to resemble the first facade of Memorial Stadium.”  I take that to mean “buff” is a grayish limestone color.  Personally, I hope they are a shade of cream to really accent the gorgeous scarlet jerseys.

The pants do not have appear to have any stripes, bells, and/or whistles, which is great for staying out of the way and completing the throwback look.  Unfortunately, it’s really tough to give a fair grade to the sartorial equivalent of a neutral interior house paint.  Points are given for not stealing focus from the star of the show.

Grade: B

Accessories:

In a sharp departure from the last few alternate uniforms, the accompanying accessories are notably absent from the teaser images.  The apparently beauty of sporting a 1923 throwback is players 95 years ago didn’t bother with things like “base layers” or gloves that form a picture when put together just so) are not pictured.  The flexing uniform model has on a pair of plain red socks, and relatively plain black Adidas cleats.  I have no problems with this.

I’d be curious to see what the overall uniform would have looked like with red socks with a cream (or “buff”) stripe.  It may not have been what Nebraska wore in 1923, but it would have been accurate for the era.  As an example of what I’m talking about, check out the socks Iowa State wore with their Jack Trice inspired throwbacks.  That said, I’m on-board with the “less is more” vibe of these uniforms, so all red socks are fine by me.

Grade:  B

Overall:

If I have not been clear enough so far, I love this uniform.

This is the sixth Nebraska alternate I’ve reviewed, and every time before I’ve wanting something more, something better.  For example:

  • 2012:  “I expected to hate the alternative uniforms, to find them too futuristic, and too detached from the tradition-rich history of Nebraska Football.”
  • 2013:  “I continue to find it offensive that Nebraska’s athletic apparel partner…thinks so little of one of their flagship schools that they cannot create something unique for them; something that no other school wears.”
  • 2014:  “I didn’t expect Nebraska’s alt to be a true throwback, but I was hoping it would at least draw some inspiration from an old Nebraska jersey.  A faux-retro Bugeaters jersey would have been beyond amazing, which is clearly too much to ask….  I should expect adidas to provide Nebraska something that is on the line separating flashy and gaudy.  Something that looks like it came off a generic corporate template, instead of being inspired by Nebraska’s rich history.  I should expect a mediocre alternate from adidas, because that is all they have ever given us.”
  • 2015:  “One of my biggest criticisms of adidas is how they put all of their schools through a generic template and fail to do anything unique – even for a once-a-year special jersey.”
  • 2016:  “Finally, adidas seems to get that gaudy designs won’t play here. Superhero costumes that barely resemble Nebraska Football don’t work here. Numbers that are impossible to read are a failure to the 90,000 passionate fans that show up here.”

While I know that Adidas doesn’t give a damn about what some two-bit blogger has to say, the “Memorial Tribute” uniform is not only visually satisfying, but personally gratifying.

And with the final keystroke of the previous sentence, I’ve already started lowering my expectations for next year, because the only place to go from here is back down.  I’ll make my peace with this on one condition:  we bring these uniforms back out in 2023 for the true 100th anniversary of Memorial Stadium

Grade:  A

 

Moral Buckeyes & Progress

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not wordpress.feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

*   *   *

Let’s talk for a minute about “moral victories”.

Scott Frost doesn’t want to acknowledge moral victories, and I don’t blame him.  Most competitors would rather punch their mother than celebrate a moral victory.  You either win or you lose…and unfortunately this Nebraska team will end the season with more losses than wins.  Nobody wants to be a part of team that leads the league in moral victories.  That mindset percolates down to the fan base to the point where a moral victory has become taboo.

Personally, I don’t care if fans want to recognize or applaud a moral victory.  Because no matter if it is sarcastic (“Nebraska forced Ohio State to punt for the first time in three games!”) or honest (“Nebraska played well enough to beat a top ten team on the road”), you’re really doing the same thing:

You are acknowledging the progress this team is making.

And let’s be realistic:  while we all want to win – and win now – this program is not currently built for that.  If you’re still hinging your satisfaction with the 2018 Huskers strictly on wins and losses you will be disappointed.  Period.

But if you choose to acknowledge where this program has been – both in the last few years, and in the last  few months – I suspect you can see the signs of progress.  Forcing Ohio State to punt, not getting blown out on the road by a top 10 team, fighting until the very end – these are not thing you could count on previous Husker teams giving you.  We all want the wins, but I won’t apologize for being happy with the manner in which NU loses.  I won’t judge you if you want to do the same.

So what did we learn?

The offense can spread the touches.  It would be very easy for Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters to lock in on their proven offensive talents (Martinez, Ozigbo, Washington, Spielman, and Morgan) when calling plays on the road against the #10 team in the country.

And to be sure, that happened as Martinez, Ozigbo, and Washington combined for 47 carries, while Morgan and Spielman led the team with seven and six receptions, respectively.  But look at the other guys who got yards on Saturday:  Jack Stoll, Austin Allen, Bryan Reimers, and Mike Williams.  In addition, Spielman and Morgan each had a carry, and Washington and Ozigbo both caught a pass.

This approach is such a win-win.  It opens the field up for your playmakers and gives guys the experience to prove themselves to the coaches and their teammates.  Give credit to Frost and Walters for putting guys in positions to make plays, and to Martinez for being willing to find the open man.

The Blackshirts are capable of carrying their weight.  One of the narratives for this team is the offense can be explosive, which is necessary because the defense is a work in progress.  Some of that work seems to be paying off.  The defense is more aggressive, more sound, and much better at making big plays then they were a month ago.

Example 1:  After the botched onside kick gave Ohio State prime field position at the NU 31, there had to be a 90% chance of the Buckeyes scoring at least three points.  Instead, the Blackshirts stood strong and stopped the Buckeyes on four downs.

Example 2:  The Blackshirts forced several fumbles and recovered two.  The much maligned Lamar Jackson intercepted a pass in the end zone.  I’ll take my chances being +2 on turnovers on the road any week.

While NU seemed to run out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter when it was obvious the Buckeyes wanted to run, the progress shown should not be ignored.

Ohio State’s black jerseys are perfection.   As somebody who is typically not a fan of alternate uniforms – and especially those that are black just for the sake of being black – I love Ohio State’s all black look.  Seriously, look at this picture.  Those are simple and clean, with crisp stripes that tie everything together.  They don’t need a space age custom font that can’t be read, nor any other unnecessary bells and whistles.  I challenge you to show me a better all-black look.

I’ve long been on record that only the Blackshirts should wear black jerseys, but I would happily reverse that decision if Adidas stole this design from Nike.

So what don’t we know?

What’s up with Caleb Lightbourn?   I ask this not to disrespect the young man, but out of a sincere sense of concern.  To put it politely, Lightbourn has had a very rough season.  He lost his punting job to Isaac Armstrong.  He’s had some big miscues in key moments that have cost the team valuable field position.  And after what I will generously call a botched onside kick attempt, he now has two entries on the list of Worst Husker GIFs of the 21st Century.*

*A list headlined by the undisputed champion titled (and I’m not making this up) “Nebraska lineman false start by falling on his ass“.

Personally, I feel for Lightbourn.  While I have no idea what the heck happened on that onside kick – or what it was supposed to look like – I feel strongly that his other blooper (the slip and fall against Purdue) was not his fault.  If you’ll remember, that was a damp, misty day and several other players were slipping and falling to the point where several people suggested NU had the wrong footwear on for the conditions.

But more to the point, I feel bad for Lightbourn for how his NU career has unfolded.  He came here in 2016 fully expecting to redshirt behind a senior starter.  Those plans changed dramatically on July 23, 2016 when Sam Foltz died.  After that, he had to replace not only one of the best punters in the conference, but a beloved team leader.

I doubt he’ll ever say it, but I think that redshirt year would have done wonders for Lightbourn’s skill level and confidence.  Instead, he’s ridden a roller coaster with more downs than ups, lost his primary job, and has “fans” openly mocking him and calling for him to never see the field again.  I hope he can find confidence, success, and end up in a GIF making an incredible play.

Just how aggressive is Scott Frost?  On NU’s first drive, Frost goes for it on 4th and 2, keeping a scoring drive alive.  He follows it up with an onside kick attempt.  Late in the third quarter, facing a short 4th & 1 from their own 13, Frost appears to ponder going for it, before calling a timeout and punting it away.

In the fourth quarter, down by nine, NU has a 4th and goal from the OSU 1.  Frost elects to take kick the field goal and cut the deficit to six points.  Ohio State takes the ensuring drive and scores at touchdown, and Nebraska responds with a touchdown of their own.  Down by five, with 1:55 left and two timeouts, Frost opts to kick it deep.  Nebraska never gets the ball back.

I offer these points not to question or criticize Frost’s decision making.  Obviously, hindsight plays a big role in determining if a decision was good or poor.  But nine games into Frost’s tenure at NU and I don’t feel if I have a good indication on if he’s going to be an aggressive, go win the game coach or a more conservative, don’t lose the game leader.  Certainly, there is a time and place for both, but it has felt inconsistent to me this year.  Maybe this will change as Frost becomes more confident in each of his three units.

Has the college basketball concept of “make up calls” come to football?   In the first quarter, Ohio State was called for offensive pass interference on a very questionable play.  Two plays later, Dicaprio Bootle was flagged for an equally questionable pass interference penalty.

In the second quarter, OSU’s Jordan Fuller was kicked out for targeting.  On the Buckeye’s next drive, the replay booth (with a possible assist by Urban Meyer) initiated a targeting review against a Nebraska player.

The only thing worse than making a bad call is making an equally bad call against the other team to try to balance things out.  Big Ten referees have enough to worry about without trying to make sure their bad calls are distributed equally.

The best thing I saw on Saturday:  Ohio State’s band is known for fun and creative performances that become viral sensations.  On Saturday, they spelled out the name of Tyler Butterfield, a Cornhusker Marching Band member who died last week in a car accident.

The worst thing I saw on Saturday:  The broadcast itself.  For most of the first half, Fox’s director seemed more interested in winning an Oscar for cinematography than showing a football game.  There were low angle shots, sky cam shots, close ups, and other unnecessary bells and whistles.  Just show me the game, and save the fancy camera angles for replays.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Adrian Martinez.  Performances like this are the reason Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia transferred.
  2. Devine Ozigbo.  The best way to appreciate how far he has come is to think what the 2016 or 2017 version of Ozigbo might have done in this game.  I guarantee those previous editions do not get 86 yards, a touchdown, and some key short yardage gains.
  3. JoJo Domann.  Some guys just have a knack for making plays.  JoJo Domann certainly appears to be one of those guys.  Kudos to Erik Chinander for recognizing this and getting JoJo on the field.
  4. Lamar Jackson.  “Development” can mean getting a walk-on to outshine a scholarship guy.  It can also mean getting one of the program’s top recruits to perform up to his potential.
  5. Tight ends Jack Stoll and Austin Allen.  Historically, Nebraska tends to ignore the pass catching (and mismatch creating) abilities of their tight ends.  So it was great to see Stoll haul in three catches – including a clutch one-hand grab on 4th & 2 – and Allen get behind his man for a 41 yard gain.

Honorable Mention:   J.D. Spielman, Stanley Morgan, Mohamed Barry, Aaron Williams, Jacob Weinmaster, sideline reaction shots of Urban Meyer looking upset.

5 Areas for Improvement – Special Teams Edition

  1. Punt protection.  A simple breakdown in protection led to a block and a safety that played a big role in the game.
  2. Kickoff returns.  No disrespect to Nebraska’s return specialists, but until you can consistently get a kickoff return past the 25 – without flags – I would much rather have you take advantage of the new fair catch rule.  To use a baseball analogy, it seems silly to swing for home runs when you struggle to hold the bat correctly.
  3. Onsides kicking.  Here’s the thing: if you have the confidence in your kicker to call a surprise onside in the first quarter, you should have an equal amount of confidence calling a traditional onside late in the fourth.
  4. Punt Returns.  Good news:  NU forced four Ohio State punts.  Bad news:  the lone return lost two yards, and another punt should have been fielded before rolling inside the 10.
  5. Punter Flopping.  Memo to Isaac Armstrong:  We all hate it when soccer players flop after the slightest contact, but if you can pick up a free first down by displaying your stunt man skills, you will be a hero.

 

Rejected Tunnel Walk Songs

In the era of paywalls, Patreon, and other content available only by subscription, everything I write is available for free.  While I would definitely accept cash, PayPal, or a six of Boulevard, I’ll gladly settle for you clicking to read this on HuskerMax.com.  I’m not going to retire on what I get per page view, but it is definitely better than nothing.  Best of all, it doesn’t cost you anything.

This link will take you to my articles page on HuskerMax.

As always, thank you so much for reading, following, commenting, sharing, and putting up with me.  It is truly appreciated.

* * *

Change is coming to Nebraska’s beloved Tunnel Walk. It appears that “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project (by way of the Chicago Bulls) is on it’s way out and something new will be pumped over the speakers Saturday night.

But what is that new song?  Athletic Director Bill Moos wouldn’t say, only hinting that it goes with NU’s theme of  “Honor the past, live the present, create the future”.  I don’t really know what that means, but it is probably not code for “we’re bringing back the Mikey Bo Remix“*

*Am I the only one who thinks Mikey Bo looks a lot like Taylor Martinez?

Inspired by these two hilariously brilliant tweet by @IanAeillo, where he plays “Spanish Flea” and the Chipmunks performing “Funkytown” over a video of the Tunnel Walk, here are some other rejected Tunnel Walk songs.

“Let It Go” by Idina Menzel

After 20 years of bitterness and division within the program and the fanbase, it is time to come together. It is time to unite. It is time to to let go of all of the past failures and animosities. Plus, think of all of the Frost references!

If this doesn’t work, the Frozen soundtrack several other good options including “For The First Time In Forever” and “Fixer Upper”.

 

“1999” by Prince

What better way to “honor the past” by playing a song titled for the last time Nebraska won a conference championship?

 

“99 Luftballons” by Goldfinger

With one song, we can upgrade the Tunnel Walk – AND – satisfy the folks who think releasing balloons after the first touchdown is an environmental tragedy. That is efficiency, people!

I like the Goldfinger version better because it’s newer (we want to be accused of being stuck in the 90s, not the 80s) and a little heavier than the original Nena version.

 

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who

We have been duped by Callahan’s West Coast Offense, Riley’s Pro Style passing attack, and whatever the heck Shawn Watson and Tim Beck tried to do.  It’s time to go back to old school ways and principles – even if the fullback is dead.

And speaking of dead, since this song was famously used for CSI:Miami, just imagine the opportunities to start the Tunnel Walk off with a trademark Horatio Cain pun leading into the big “YEEEEAHHH!”

 

“Black Betty” by Ram Jam

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a horrible stadium song.  Heck, the Huskers have used this song for football and basketball in recent years.  But I just cannot pass up an opportunity to link to the most hilarious videos of all time.

 

“Yakkity Sax” by The Edwin Davids Jazz Band

Yakkity Sax – otherwise known as the theme music from “Benny Hill” – is one of those songs that just makes any video production more entertaining.  For example, nobody on this side of the Missouri River would willingly watch a video of all eight Nebraska fumbles in the 2008 Iowa State game…unless it is set to Yakkity Sax*.

*And even then, I only made 2:37 before I got so frustrated by that game I had to turn it off. My apologies, folks.

 

“Eye In The Sky” by the Alan Parsons Project

Did you know that our beloved “Sirius” is just the introduction for another song?  One would assume that any song that immediately follows a stadium pump-up anthem like “Sirius” MUST be an even bigger, badder, goosebump-inducing-ier song, right?  Right?

 

“Willie’s Chant” by William P. Wildcat

When I think of kick-ass entrance music, I think of our former conference foes in Manhattan, Kansas.  They knew how to get a crowd worked up to a medium frenzy.  This video fully encapsulates the awesomeness that was the Ron Prince Era.

Northern Illinois Reaction and Recap

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

*   *   *

How do you sum up one of the most shocking losses in school history?

How do you accurately account for all of the things that went wrong?

How does a loss like this impact the big picture – for Mike Riley, Shawn Eichorst, and the program as a whole?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I’m still processing it.  So I’m going to pass on any sweeping proclamations, knee jerk reactions, scalding hot takes, or calls for anybody to be fired.

For now.

So what did we learn?

This is going to be a long year.  Think back on the time between the end of the Spring Game and the start of the season.  It was one of quietest and most drama free summers of recent memory.  The vast majority of the news was positive – big name commitments,  positive reviews about Bob Diaco’s defense, and several glowing reviews of Tanner Lee’s skill and potential.  Some folks refer to the summer months as the “Kool Aid Season”, and this year’s batch was as sweet and delicious as it had been in years.

And then the season started.

We’re just three weeks in, and have already endured two painful losses and a very close call, several key injuries, a defense that can allow yards (and points) by the bushel, an offense that is maddeningly inconsistent, and a coaching staff that seems to make a questionable decision every week.

Off the field that has a been a controversy about a coordinator not talking to the press after a game, a controversy about potentially losing the Black Friday game, angst over a contract extension signed a few months ago, and coaching seats that get hotter by the hour.  The athletic director – who prefers to stay out of the spotlight – has spoken publicly twice this week.  Fans are becoming divided on the future of the program.  And it’s technically still summer.

Let’s say Nebraska wins eight of their last nine games.  Even in what appears to be a best-case scenario, it still seems likely that the drama and division will continue to grow.

The offensive line is not good.  Nebraska finished with a total of 85 yards on 36 carries – an average of just 2.4 yards.  Tanner Lee was sacked three times, hurried on seven other plays, and finished with one of the weirdest stat lines you’ll see:  7 carries for -18 yards and 2 touchdowns.

In addition, three of Nebraska’s five penalties were against the offensive line.  I’d love to know which lineman graded out the highest, because I honestly have no clue who played the best – or, the least worst, if you prefer.

The defense came to play.  One of the biggest questions from the Oregon game was if the second half shutout was a fluke, Oregon taking their foot off the gas, or a turning point for Bob Diaco’s defense.

While not conclusive, the Blackshirts made a strong statement against NIU, holding them to just 116 yards (and zero offensive points) through three quarters.  Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t get the big stop they needed after Nebraska took the lead.  Northern Illinois flew 75 yards down the field in 2:28 to regain the lead.  But the defense certainly held their own.  The key – as with everything on this team – is consistency.

So what don’t we know?

Where are the substitutions on the offensive line?   I know Mike Cavanaugh prefers to keep the same five linemen on the field throughout the game, as he feels collective unit benefits from the continuity.  In theory, I agree with this approach.

But in real life, the approach raises more questions than answers.  How do you develop players and build depth?  When a player is clearly struggling to handle what the defense is throwing at him, doesn’t his presence weaken the entire unit?  And then there are injuries…

During the game, center Cole Conrad left briefly with an injury.  He returned shortly after, but could be seen limping in the fourth quarter.  Right tackle Matt Farniok apparently broke a bone in his wrist at some point during the game.  Yet, both played almost the entire game.

I’ve made my peace with Conrad, a former walk-on, starting over other highly touted recruits.  If he’s truly the best man for the job, he should play.  But the equation changes when a guy is hurt.  Is Cavanaugh telling us that a starter at, say, 80% health is still preferable over his backup?  If so, that raises some serious questions about depth and player development – especially of former four-star recruits.  If not, doesn’t that put more of a burden on the rest of the offense to compensate for an injured teammate?

Is DeMornay Pierson-El the best option at punt return?  Wow, that is sentence I never thought I would type.  But there is a part of me that wonders if that role is based more on what he did in 2014, than on what he’s done since.  Here are the numbers:

2014:  34 returns; 17.5 yards per return, three touchdowns.
2015, 2016, first three games of 2017:  32 returns; 7.2 yards per return, zero touchdowns.

In fairness, the 2015 and 2016 version of Pierson-El had to battle multiple injuries, as well as punt return schemes designed by Bruce Read.

But his senior season as a returner has not gotten off to a great start.  Against Oregon, he broke a cardinal rule by fair catching a ball inside his own 10.  Later, he appeared upset with himself after calling for a fair catch late in the game with his team needing a spark.  Against Northern Illinois, he fielded a ball at the 7, fumbled a return, and appeared to be pressing.  His best return of the day was negated by a penalty.

I have nothing but respect for DPE, his abilities, his potential, and how he has come back from injuries that may have ended the careers of other players.  But I have a nagging feeling that if it wasn’t for a special season before those injuries, somebody else would be returning punts for NU.

How do we account for Tanner Lee’s struggles?   On the season, Lee is completing just 52.5% of his passes, with a upside-down TD:INT ratio of 5:7. None of this matches up with the expectations Husker fans had going into the season.  So what is going on?

To my eye, there are many factors at play.  From biggest to smallest, I would point towards:

  • A porous offensive line.  Lee has been sacked six times in three games, and has faced constant pressure.  Lee appears to get flustered by pressure, which leads to bad throws and interceptions.
  • Drops by his receivers.  I haven’t found a good source to count drops and “shoulda caught its” by backs and receivers, but it certainly feels like there have been several – and often at critical moments.
  • Over-aggressiveness.  Lee has a strong arm and the potential for pin-point accuracy. In the Arkansas State game, he had a couple of passes that went through a narrow window.  Against Oregon and Northern Illinois, those passes were knocked down or intercepted.  Additionally, Lee appears reluctant to throw the ball away when under pressure.
  • Mechanics.  I’m no QB coach, but it appears to my untrained eye that Lee occasionally throws off his back foot.  I’ve also noticed a tendency to stare down a primary target.

There are probably others that I’m missing, but those seem to be the biggest culprits.  The good news is, these are all things that can be corrected.

 

5 Players I Loved

  1. Caleb Lightbourn.  It certainly felt like a day where the punter should be the MVP, and Lightbourn delivered.  He averaged over 47 yards on six kicks, which played a big role in the shutout the defense pitched for three quarters.
  2. Antonio Reed.  Going solely off the stat sheet, one would think Reed played a pretty decent game (second on the team with 5 tackles, including one for loss).  But the stat sheet doesn’t tell you that Reed, who is battling injury, was essentially playing with one hand.  His recognition of Northern Illinois’ trick play prevented a big play.
  3. J.D. Spielman.  I really like this kid.  He made big plays in the passing game.  He had an impressive 50 yard kickoff return.  And he had the presence of mind to get Tyjon Lindsey to take a touchback after bobbling the opening kickoff.
  4. Khalil and Carlos Davis.  The twin defensive lineman made a big impact on the Northern Illinois offense.  Carlos had five tackles and part of a sack, and Khalil played his best game as a Husker with a half sack, another TFL, forced fumble, and a deflected pass.  The defense needs pressure on the quarterback and the twins delivered.
  5. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE had one of his best games as a receiver, racking up 101 yards on eight catches.  It’s great to see him making big plays.

Honorable Mention:   Former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson carrying the American flag, Mikale Wilbon, yards after catch by the receivers, Tanner Lee scoring two rushing TDs, Stanley Morgan Jr., biased announcer Les Miles, all of the fans who held their balloons through halftime until NU scored.

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Offensive Line.  Yes, this is the third time I’ve called out the line in this piece.  But I believe it is warranted.  Any discussion about benching Lee is worthless until we see what he does with good protection.
  2. Tanner Lee.  That said, Lee needs to make some better decisions.  Throw it away or check it down to a back.  Stop forcing passes unless your receiver is the only one who can catch it.
  3. Receiver drops.  And speaking of the receivers, there were some very savage drops and passes that probably should have been caught.  It would be easy to point at some of the bigger moments – Spielman dropping a sure thing on 3rd and short; Connor Ketter short arming a wide open touchdown – and point to the inexperience of the players involved.  But if that is the case, the QB (and/or offensive coordinator) should not be putting those guys in that position.
  4. Lamar Jackson.  The young cornerback is here for two unfortunate plays.  The first was his attempt to shove a NIU receiver out of bounds after a catch.  The problem was the receiver was 4-5 yards in bounds, so the shove didn’t accomplish anything.  The second is an unsportsmanlike penalty that resulted from his frustrations boiling over.
  5. Memorial Stadium atmosphere.  11 am games suck.  We all acknowledge this.  The crowd is late to arrive, and slow to provide any sort of home field advantage.  On Saturday, it was obvious by halftime that the team was in trouble and could use a jolt.  Going into the fourth quarter, it was almost painfully silent.  Nebraska needs to do something to spark the crowd.  As my buddy Nate observed, “Wisconsin has ‘Jump Around’, and we have the Hy-Vee tailgate of the game”.  Nebraska can – and should – do better.

[COLOR=#FF0000][I]Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog ([URL=”http://www.feitcanwrite.com”%5Dwww.feitcanwrite.com%5B/URL%5D). Follow him on [URL=”http://www.twitter.com/feitcanwrite”%5D%5BU%5DTwitter%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D or on [URL=”http://www.facebook.com/feitcanwrite”%5D%5BU%5DFacebook%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D.

[/I][/COLOR][HR][/HR]

Ah, Duck

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

*   *   *

So….that didn’t exactly go as planned, did it?

The good news, if you want to see it, is in the big picture this loss doesn’t really hurt Nebraska.

Nebraska wasn’t ranked, so the loss just puts them lower in the “Others receiving votes” wasteland.  Only the most rabidly passionate fans believed Nebraska would make it to the College Football Playoff, so I think we all can accept that is not going to happen this year.  The big prize for the year – a West Division title, and a shot at that elusive conference championship – is still in play.

I know it is jarring to consider Nebraska in these terms, but this is where the team is.  No amount of complaining, denial, or anger is going to change that.  And with that uplifting lede, let’s dive in….

So what did we learn?

Nebraska’s offense must do a better job of helping the defense.  As you know, Oregon scored six first half touchdowns.  While you may choose to blame Bob Diaco’s defense for that, I’m here to tell you that Danny Langsdorf’s offense didn’t exactly help the situation.  Take a look at what the offense did in their drives following Oregon scores:

1st half drives following Oregon Touchdowns
Plays Yards Result Time of Poss
1 0 INT 00:12
3 3 Punt 01:35
4 75 TD 01:34
3 4 Punt 02:33
3 -5 INT 00:53
3 7 Punt 00:39
17 84   07:26

I’m not suggesting that Nebraska must answer every single score with a score of their own.  But I wonder if Langsdorf shares that opinion.  It certainly appears as if his reaction to the other team scoring is to try to score, and quick.  Heck, even the lone touchdown drive covered 75 yards in just four plays.

I can understand feeling like the offense needs to score every time out, but I also see value in a slower, grind it out drive that gives the defense a chance to catch their breath and make adjustments, slow momentum, and establish a field position edge.  It may not be as exciting as a quick strike answer, but in the long run it may be more effective.

There was improvement in the defense.  Aside from the obvious improvement from the first half (42 points) to the second half (0 points), there were some signs of growth from the Arkansas State opener.  In one of Oregon’s first quarter drives, they ran the bubble screen that Arkansas State used to gain a billion yards.  That play was stuffed for no gain, and Oregon mostly stayed away from it.  I saw some good examples of the defense “rallying” to the ball.  On one play, I counted seven defenders surrounding a ball carrier on the sideline.

Obviously, there is still much improvement needed – finding a way to pressure the quarterback would be a great place to start – but there were some positives to take away.

Mike Riley’s teams do not quit.   Raise your hand if at halftime you thought Oregon was going to hang 70 on Nebraska, and beat them by 50.  But the Huskers came out after half and did their best to save face.

And while I suspect my counterparts in Oregon are railing on the Ducks for taking their foot off the gas too soon / playing too conservatively in the second half, I think the second half result was more about the Huskers continuing to fight hard than Oregon coasting in.

I’m in no way suggesting that we as fans should be pleased with “only” losing by seven points.  Nor am I trying to carve a moral victory trophy out of the giant turd the Huskers dropped in the first half.  As poorly as NU played in the first half, they probably deserved an Ohio State style ass kicking.  That they refused to let it happen tells me a lot.

So what don’t we know?

How will Diaco’s defense look against a non-spread team?   We’re still way to early in the season for sweeping generalizations, but the early results suggest that pass-happy spread teams are bad for the Blackshirts.

This is another spot where the second half shutout can be encouraging to Nebraska fans.  Very few of the teams remaining on Nebraska’s schedule will throw it as much as Arkansas State and Oregon did – especially in the West division.

Where was the screen game?  In basketball, when a shooter is off, they often are able to get back on track with some easy shots like layups or free throws.  When Tanner Lee was struggling with accuracy, and Oregon’s pressure was getting more aggressive, it seemed like some short passes to the running backs might be a good way to get him going.  Instead, only one ball was caught by a back – a four yard gain by Mikale Wilbon.

Will there be a hangover?   This week’s game against Northern Illinois has the potential to be really good – or really bad.  Between any lingering effects from a frustrating loss, the sluggish nature of 11 am kickoffs, and a team looking ahead to the conference season, Northern Illinois could put a scare into the Huskers – especially if the defense continues to struggle.

Or, the Huskers, coming off a strong and focused week of practice, jump out early and put the game away early in the 3rd quarter; allowing the reserves to get some snaps.  I know which one I pick.

 

5 Players I Loved

  1. Tre Bryant.  A fourth quarter knee injury kept him from fully living up to the “All Day Tre” moniker, but 107 yards on 20 carries provided some much needed offensive balance in a game where NU threw 41 times.
  2. Luke Gifford.  Gifford is one of those players who just has a knack for the ball, and seems to always be around the action.  There were not a lot of bright spots in the defense’s performance, but Gifford was one of them.
  3. Stanley Morgan, Jr.  On Nebraska’s first drive of the second half, Tanner Lee proved that Stanley is his favorite target, as four straight throws went towards #8.  The last two accounted for a huge 4th down conversion and a statement touchdown.  Morgan added another touchdown catch on the next NU drive, and finished with team highs in catches (7) and yards (103), becoming the first Husker to open a season with 100 yard receiving games.
  4. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE was just behind Morgan for receptions (4) and yards (67), including a highlight reel grab over the top of an Oregon defender.  His catch on the first drive lit the spark for a big second half.
  5. Nebraska fans.  Did you see all of the red?  For a fan base well known for showing up on the road, that was an impressive performance.  It was fitting that Saturday’s game was the anniversary of the legendary Nebraska takeover of Notre Dame’s stadium.  Kudos to all who made the trip.

Honorable Mention:   Eric Lee, Jerald Foster, Caleb Lightbourn, Aaron Williams, Matt Farniok, Matt Farniok’s hair, JD Spielman, Luke McNitt, Oregon’s duck stomping cancer logo

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Pass rush.  Want to know how Justin Herbert managed to be 21-25 for 313 yards and 3 TDs – in the first half! – on Saturday?  The stat sheet has the answer:  zero sacks, zero QB hurries, and clear passing lanes.  That puts the defensive backs in a situation where they need near perfect coverage, which for a young and inexperienced group, does not end well.  How little was Herbert pressured?  If Autzen Stadium had a grass field, Herbert’s uniform would have ended up as brightly white as it started.
  2. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  If I could describe Nebraska’s day in one word, it would be inconsistent.  And nobody personified that inconsistency more than Pierson-El.  His first touch was a punt that he fair caught at the five.  95 yards later, he made that crazy, over-the-top catch.  In the second quarter, he had a false start penalty that turned a drive-extending 4th and 1 into a punt.  Speaking of punts, you could see DPE immediately regretting his decision to fair catch a 4th quarter punt, with NU in big need of a spark.
  3. Stanley Morgan, Jr.  On Nebraska’s first offensive play, Lee found Morgan 20 yards down field and put the wall in a great position for the catch.  Instead, the ball bounced off Morgan’s hands, his face mask, and into the arms of a Duck defender.  Above, we talked about Stan’s big day – 7 catches for 103 and 2 TDs.  But his first half was a very forgettable one catch for five yards.
  4. Tanner Lee.  Let’s be fair:  prior to Saturday, Lee’s last road start was November 21, 2015, at SMU, in front of what had to be a raucous crowd of 14,954.  So I think we can understand somewhat if nerves played a role in a day with four interceptions and a completion percentage under 50%.  While interceptions 1 and 4 were not Lee’s fault, no one will argue that Lee struggled throughout most of the game.
  5. Destro helmets.  By now, the shock factor from anything Oregon wears should be long gone.  But whenever they wear a shiny chrome helmet, as they did on Saturday, I cannot help but think of Destro from the G.I. Joe cartoons of my childhood.  And in finding that Destro image, I realized that almost every Oregon uniform is a homage to a one of the many great G.I. Joe characters.

 

An (Arkansas) State of Panic?

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

Husker Hot Takes – Offseason Edition

Thanks for reading! As you probably know, I get a couple of pennies per page view if you read this content over at HuskerMax. If you would be so kind, click here to be magically transported to my page on HuskerMax.  If not, no worries – you can hand me a penny or two the next time you see me.

B1G Friday Night Lights?

Jim Delany has announced that Big Ten schools will play six games on Friday nights, starting in 2017.  The Chicago Tribune broke the story, and their report has good information on what is known so far.

As for what is unknown, here are my thoughts and best guesses:

This is a perk / nasty side effect of the ginormous TV deals the league signed with ESPN and Fox.  What, you thought the networks were going to shell out all of that money and not ask for more?  That’s precious.  Consider these Friday night games a cost of doing business.

What games make the Friday night slot?  All we know so far is three of the games will be league match-ups and the other three will be non-conference games.  I doubt that the marquee match-ups move away from a prime Saturday time slot.  ESPN doesn’t gain anything by moving Ohio State – Nebraska from a Saturday night to Friday.  The same could probably be said for most of the league’s 2:30 games.

If I had to guess, the Friday slots will be primarily filled by the “Beth Mowins rejects” – the mid-level league games that would normally end up on ESPN at 11 am.  Think Indiana – Northwestern or Rutgers – Maryland.

Should Nebraska participate?  In the Tribune report, Teddy Greenstein notes that Michigan has refused to participate in Friday games – home or away.  I would suspect other schools may have similar agreements – or at least veto power before dates and times are announced.  The Tribune also reported that the conference will be “reluctant to ask schools with giant seating capacities to host” Friday games.  NU certainly fits that bill.

From a NU perspective, it’s hard to see hosting the average Friday night game being that enticing – especially now that NU has to publicly work to maintain the sellout streak.  And as always, there are recruiting implications to consider.  I imagine it would be tough to get a lot of recruits to campus on a Friday night.  My guess is with the right circumstances – such as the Friday of Labor Day weekend, or their annual Black Friday game – Nebraska could be convinced to host a Friday night game.

Will Nebraska participate?  Probably.  Nebraska is new enough where they may choose to play nice, and not take a hard-line like Michigan.  I can definitely see Nebraska being willing to play a Friday game on the road.  For the sake of calling my shot, I’ll predict that Nebraska’s game at Illinois next fall will be NU’s Friday debut.

As a Husker fan, how will this impact me?  Honestly, it’s too soon to tell.  From what I’m seeing, you should expect at least one of Nebraska’s games in the next three years to move to Friday.  My guess that it will be a road game that most of us would not attend in person.  For those with busy social calendars, fans of high school teams, or those not home from work, it will create some tough choices.  But my guess is the random Friday game will be an unexpected treat, opening up a weekend to do other things.

This also means one extra Saturday in the fall where you don’t have to worry about a wedding interfering with Game Day – and that is always a win.

Pur-fection

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint).  

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK.

*   *   *

Do you remember back in the pre-BCS days – probably when it was called the “Bowl Alliance” or some nonsense like that – when margin of victory was important?  If memory serves, at least one of the computer polls in used margin of victory to help determine which team was best.  As a result, the Steve Spurriers, Bobby Bowdens, and other coaches of contending teams would make a point of trying for a late garbage time touchdown.  The way the computer saw it, 31-14 was a more impressive win than 24-14.  Heck, the same could be said for several writers and coaches filling out their Top 25 ballot every Sunday.  After some hand-wringing that coaches were sacrificing sportsmanship in the name of running up the score, margin of victory went away.

But the perception lives on.  We’ve been so conditioned to look at the margin of victory (and if the Vegas spread was covered), that anything failing to meet our expectations is reason for concern and complaining.  A 13 point win over a 3-3 team that just fired their coach?  Clearly Nebraska is no good, vastly overrated, and due for a blowout loss against a “real” team.

It’s time to embrace the NFL “just win” mentality.  Outside of Alabama, there are very few teams in college football with the talent and depth to steamroll opponents week in and week out.  What matters are the wins and losses.  There are no figure skating judges looking at degrees of difficulty or deducting points for sloppy education.  No, in the big picture of championship football – and that is the standard we all want, right? – the only thing that matters is if you won.

Obviously, the coaches, players, and you the fan all want perfection – or at least improvement – week after week.  But don’t confuse failure to meet a standard of play for a lack of success.  It’s okay to be critical of how Nebraska plays – and you better believe I’ll continue to be critical where needed – but at the end of the day the wins and losses are the most important thing.

And right now, Nebraska is a perfect 7-0.

So what did we learn?

Don’t worry about rankings or perceived snubs. Each week, the amount of Husker fans up in arms over Nebraska’s national ranking and/or perception seems to grow. They’ll wonder why teams with losses are ranked ahead of NU.  They bristle at the criticism that Nebraska is a sham that has not been tested.  They get fired up over a comment or tweet from some national pundit or talking head who discounts Nebraska’s first 7-0 start in 15 years.  Every employee at ESPN – down to the cafeteria guy serving Chicken Curry – hates Nebraska.  Heck, some of that disrespect is here at home. The lone AP voter in the state (the World-Herald’s Sam McKewon) has the Huskers at #11 in his poll. Only three other voters have Nebraska lower.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.

Once more for emphasis: It. Does. Not. Matter.

Why, you ask? There are two key reasons: 1) Nebraska gets two prime time chances to prove itself against top competition. Even with the losses they’ve suffered, playing at Wisconsin and at Ohio State are big games against tough conference foes. Should Nebraska win one (or both) games, a lot of the perceived negativity will go away.

2) In the College Football Playoff world, rankings are irrelevant. Yes, it’s great to say that Nebraska is a Top 10 team (regardless of if you believe it or not), but NU’s ranking today, tomorrow, or next week has zero implication on their chances to win the Big Ten West, win the conference, or – dare to dream – make the Playoff.  I firmly believe that an undefeated team from a Power Five conference will ALWAYS make the playoff.

If you want to revisit this if/when Nebraska clinches the West, we can. But for now, sit back and enjoy a 7-0 start without getting caught up on snubs, slights, and stupid banter from an overrated pregame show.

It is time to fully embrace Terrell Newby. For much of his Nebraska career, fans have been slow – if not reluctant – to embrace Terrell Newby as NU’s feature back. There are many reasons for this, both in his control (his reputation as a “dancer” reluctant to run to contact) as well as things he couldn’t change (he followed one of the all time greats, and fan infatuation with other backs on the roster). He’s spent most of the last five years hearing about how fans and pundits (myself included) would rather give the ball to anybody else.

But I would hope that we can now recognize that Newby is deserving of our respect and praise. He has destroyed the old narrative that a player cannot improve between their junior and senior seasons. Newby is more decisive and shows greater acceleration through holes. Instead of running around would-be tacklers, the 2016 Newby is running through them. In the fourth quarter, when Nebraska has needed to burn clock and put away games, Newby has been a stop-him-if-you-can workhorse. You can discount the teams he’s owned in the fourth quarter (Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue) but respect the performance. More importantly, respect the player who never gave up and worked hard to improve himself.

The Blackshirts are improving.   All in all, this was one of the defense’s better games.  Purdue marched 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on their first full possession (ignoring the “what are you doing?” halfback pass that was intercepted on the first play).  Early in the second quarter, Nebraska gave up an 88 yard touchdown.  After that, the Blackshirts locked down allowing just 128 yards on 46 snaps (2.8 yards per play).

In the stretch of almost three full quarters, Purdue was 3-11 on third down and 1-4 on fourth down.  The Blackshirts picked up two sacks, hurried the quarterback twice more, broke up six passes, intercepted a pass, stopped a fake punt, and allowed zero points.  Heck, after their first touchdown, Purdue only ran eight plays in Nebraska territory.

The most impressive part was the contributions at all levels of the defense.  The tackles clogged running lanes and allowed the linebackers to run free.  The linebackers made tackles all over the field.  The secondary turned in two interceptions, broke up a half-dozen passes, and should get credit for at least two of Nebraska’s sacks.

Discount the opponent if you wish, but this is a really good time for the defense to hit their stride.

So what don’t we know?

Where is the depth on the offensive line?  Do you remember Greg Austin? He was a left guard on the 2006 team who battled injuries for most of the year. He would limp on the field, block somebody to the best of his abilities, and limp back off when the possession was done. I remember seeing him hobble down the field after big gains, unable to keep up with his teammates. It was sad to watch a guy struggle that badly, and frustrating that a guy who could barely walk was apparently Nebraska’s best option.

Ten years later history is repeating itself. Nebraska’s offensive line is really banged up. Right tackle David Knevel could not finish the game due to injuries. Left tackle Nick Gates arguably should not have finished the game. The current line is chock full of walk-ons, some of which have their own injuries.

Look: I get that throwing a freshman in at tackle is much different from having a frosh play running back or receiver. It takes time to develop an offensive lineman, and apparently youngsters Jalin Barnett, Michael Decker, and Christian Gaylord aren’t there yet. But…are those guys worse than Nick Gates at 70%? Is the gap between sophomore walk-on Cole Conrad and redshirt sophomore Barnett (a highly touted four-star recruit) that big? With two season defining games coming up, wouldn’t it be good to rest an injured player and give valuable reps to a youngster?

Can Nebraska win in Madison? Of Nebraska’s four wins over Wisconsin, only one has occurred in Madison – 50 years ago in 1966. Since joining the Big Ten, the Huskers are 0-2 in Madison, with a combined score of 107-41. The 6 pm kickoff (and the full day of tailgating beforehand) will make it tough on the Huskers.

Personally, I so no reason why Nebraska cannot win. Yes, NU’s injury situation is dicey, but I’m sure Badger fans would tell you the same thing. It really comes down to the (on-field) issues that have plagued this program for years: turnover margin, penalties, and third down. If Nebraska can win in those categories, they can win anywhere.

Is Wisconsin a “must win” game?  On the surface, it’s odd to think that an undefeated team playing a team with two losses is anywhere close to “must-win” territory. However, that may be the case for Nebraska – especially for their plans of winning the Big Ten West. Right now, Wisconsin has two conference losses, and Nebraska (obviously) has none. But a loss to Wisconsin puts the Huskers’ title hopes on a tight rope with Wisconsin owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Considering that Wisconsin closes out their schedule with Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota, the Badgers may not lose another conference game. The Huskers would have to win at Ohio State and at Iowa (while avoiding slip ups against Minnesota and Maryland) to win the West.

This game may not be a true “must win”, but a NU victory gives the Huskers a healthy lead going down the stretch.

The best thing I saw on Saturday: The two F/A-18 Super Hornets flying over Memorial Stadium. I love pregame flyovers, they can make even games against Purdue feel special. I wish they occurred more often.

The worst thing I saw on Saturday:  A young Husker fan losing his lunch in the North stadium concourse at halftime.  Aside from being a somewhat apt metaphor for how many fans viewed the first half, I felt bad for the little guy – and his dad.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Brandon Reilly.  With Jordan Westerkamp and Cethan Carter injured, Reilly has embraced the role of “go-to receiver”.  His four catches for 73 yards led the team, and he contributed some key plays.
  2. Caleb Lightbourn.  After the punt game woes at Indiana, you could hear some whispers of criticism about the true freshman who was thrust unexpectedly into a starting job. The addition of a rugby kick was a great way to boost his confidence.  He responded with a 43 yard average on four kicks, with three landing inside the 20.
  3. Kieron Williams.  Frankly, I was tempted to put him on here for his celebration after rushing the passer on Purdue’s fake punt (a sweet cross-over dribble, fade-away jumper combo).  But his pass break up, tackle for loss, and two interceptions are certainly deserving.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  if a big play is happening on defense (or special teams) the odds are good that Kieron is in the middle of it.
  4. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE operates so well in space.  It’s what makes him an elite punt returner, and it’s why Danny Langsdorf should keep the quick slant route in the playbook.  Give Pierson-El the ball in the middle of the field, set up a couple of blocks, and let him do the rest.  Additionally, Pierson-El is becoming a skilled perimeter blocker.
  5. Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young.  Nebraska’s linebackers combined for one heck of game.  Banderas led the team with 13 tackles, and Young was right behind him with 11.  Bando is playing some of his best ball as a Husker and Young just keeps getting better and better.

Honorable Mention:   Terrell Newby, Mick Stoltenberg, Nate Gerry, Sam Cotton, Stanley Morgan, Alonzo Moore, Tommy Armstrong, Tre Bryant, 70 degree days in late October

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Red Zone Scoring.  The good news is NU was 3-3 on red zone scoring chances.  The bad news is two of those were field goals.  The horribly ugly news is that it took a 51 yard field goal to salvage points from a first and goal on the 10 yard line.  13 points in three red zone trips may not be enough to get it done the next two weeks.
  2. Offensive Line.  I get the injuries.  I saw that Purdue played most of the game with eight or nine guys in the box.  I know that Nebraska was able to exert some of their fourth quarter dominance to seal the game.  But nobody can – or should – be happy with the performance of the offensive line.  The level of play needs to be much higher in the next two games.
  3. Husker Fans. The stadium vibe was rather relaxed on Saturday. Even though Nebraska trailed for a good portion of the game, I never got the sense that sellout crowd 352 had a strong desire to get overly involved. I would describe the atmosphere as “an 11 am BTN game” where the prevailing attitude of fans toward the team was “Please don’t make me have to work today.” Additional demerits to fans attempting to start the wave during what was then a three-point game.
  4. Purdue Fans. Did Purdue bring anybody to the game? The visiting team section was quiet and appeared to have as many people wearing red as black and gold. Before, during, and after the game, I saw as many fans wearing Iowa gear as I Purdue clothes (two of each). I get this is not a prideful time in the Boiler Nation, but couldn’t you find a couple of hundred people to put on a black shirt and feign interest?
  5. Ed Cunningham.  I joked that if I had $1 for every incorrect, inane, or ignorant thing Ed said during the NU-Purdue telecast I could pay for my ticket. By randomly scrolling through Twitter during TV timeouts, I got up to about $20 – a number I’m sure I could double if I watched the game at home. There are announcers Husker fans dislike because of a perceived bias. And there are announcers who just aren’t very good. Mr. Cunningham falls in the latter category.
%d bloggers like this: