Friday, November 19, 2010
Barney Cotton, Nebraska's neighborhood simpleton and offensive line coach, wants to "go 1-0 this week" against Texas A&M. How trite, how uninspiring, how unmotivating. That crap may work for some 14-year-olds, for about two weeks. But this is seriously the best a D-I coach can come up with? (If you consider a job under Frank Solich, at Iowa State, and a sympathy gig with Bo Pelini's squad a real D-I stint.) We heard him use this tired mantra on the Bo Pelini Show a few weeks ago, and it was an equally horrible line at that time. Anyway, we digress and will use Coach Cotton's laughable cliche, for lack of any better ideas at 5:27am this fine Friday morning: How can Nebraska go 1-0 this week in College Station? Read on for our cogent analysis, and consider that we haven't watched the Aggies too closely this year.
Can anyone watch a Texas A&M game though, outside of their fans? There has not been a more boring team that is more meaningless to the major college football landscape the last 15 years, that is supposedly among the nation's elite. We remember them as unwatchable, even when they were the only game on over Thanksgiving weekend. We think we watched them in a drunken stupor a couple weeks ago, but were so amazed by Bob Stoops' horrible play selection inside the 10 yard line that we forgot who the Sooners were playing. Shades of OU's choke job against Florida in the 2009 BCS game. Anyway....
Let's begin with our favorite, yet highly deserving, whipping boy Shawn Watson. The NU offensive coordinator further proved his ineptitude last week against Kansas, as he proved he could not get a grasp on pounding an inferior Jayhawk team with the base running game. Instead, he butchered the playcalling by dialing up a variety plays out of many needless formations. The Wildcat that got four yards at a minimum against Iowa State? Forget it. Let's run Taylor Martinez on a bum ankle, and while we're at it, let's have him throw the ball 26 times against one of the worst teams in the nation while his plant foot is dangling like a snapped tree limb. Good plan.
Watson's insistence on being the one to 'discover gold' each game is maddening. Rather than just do what works, Watson wants to prove to everyone that it was his idea--whether it's slinging the ball 30 times (sometimes in the rain at Missouri) or finally going to a power game and utilizing his two stud running backs and hugely improved offensive line. The front five has shown it can be dominant in base run formations, when given the chance to find a rhythm---which comes from good playcalling. Sadly, not Watson's forte.
While we're dealing with simpletons and simple topics, the next key for the Cornhuskers is to quit fumbling. NU leads the nation with 33 fumbles, and have been lucky enough to recover 21 of those. That won't play on the road, especially at Kyle Field with the rabid dorks in the crowd ready to explode at any moment in hopes of tongue-kissing their girlfriends. How does a team stop fumbling? It's not as easy as giving it lip service and is unlikely to stop Saturday. So far it has cost NU one game (against Texas, when Roy Helu pulled a Niles Paul and dropped the ball for no reason), and could very likely cost it another. Stay tuned.
Most importantly, the offense's success (cliche warning) hinges on the right ankle of Martinez. He looked very injured last week, as he didn't have his usual ability to shift into high gear and turn a 12-yard run into a 50-yard touchdown. Of course, Pelini says Martinez is fine, but we saw what we saw and we know that high-ankle sprains don't go away in seven days. ESPN has told us this is so. So without a fully healthy Martinez, NU will need its best from Watson, the offensive line, Helu, Rex Burkhead and will need for Paul to stay out of the way. If he adopts his Superman with Division III skills mentality, it will be curtains for the Cornhuskers.
Defensively, it will be simple. NU will have to generate a pass rush that has been nonexistent against any team not named Kansas this season. The Blackshirts will also have to slow down the run. Give the Aggies some momentum, like NU did against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and trouble will ensue. Ryan Tannehill has been hot since becoming the starter, and has completed 69 percent of his passes.
Cyrus Gray provides a significant running threat that could keep NU off balance, much like Kendall Hunter did in helping OSU rack up 41 points against Carl Pelini's unit. Gray ran for 137 yards against a bad Baylor defense and 122 yards against a poorly-coached Oklahoma squad (Don't believe me? Watch the playcalling inside the 10 from that OU-Texas A&M game). Sure tackling will be paramount, as turning five-yard gains into 25-yard outbursts will produce the same result that NU got against the Longhorns.
So, like we said, simple. Just like NU's offensive coaches. Don't fumble, call good plays, tackle and pressure the quarterback, and a second-straight trip to Dallas for the Big XII Championship game is in store. Forget to do those things, and Nebraska will have to beat lowly Colorado the next week to punch that ticket back to Texas. Which NU team will show up? The eyes of Tejas are upon you. Man or mouse?