Friday, December 31, 2010
New Year's Resolution
After a horrifying, mystifying and embarrassing Nebraska performance Thursday night in San Diego, PYB is making a resolution for 2011. After this column, there will be no mention of Cornhusker football as long as offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is still a part of the program. We've banged our head against the wall for too long while watching the same mistakes and limitations hound the Huskers. Nothing will get better until he's jettisoned, and the OWH's Dirk Chatelain says it best.
Let's go down the list of the contributors to last night's debacle, and we apologize ahead of time if there is no rhyme or reason to our rant. But then again, if NU's coaches don't have to be organized and NU's players don't have to try, why the hell should we?
Taylor Martinez is absolutely terrible. He has been for the last two-thirds of the season. Unless he has a 10-yard wide hole to run through with a straight path to daylight, you can count on one of the following:
--Going into a turtle shell and taking a sack whenever a defender gets within five yards
--Missing a cutback lane that would get him five to 20 more yards
--Trying to force a pass to a covered receiver (or even do a Favre flip pass)
--Gaining three yards less than he should because he shies away from contact
It is now apparent that Martinez is a one-trick pony, with that trick being running straight ahead as fast as he can. PYB would have never thought it possible, but he has fewer moves than Eric Crouch. Throw any situation at him that requires toughness, decision making, lateral movement or leadership, and he's shot. You can expect shaky times out of young QBs, but when Martinez continually folds under pressure, it's time to go to senior Zac Lee and hope ball security and sound decisions will pull you through a tough situation.
Martinez should not have a future as a quarterback at Nebraska. Offer him another position, or let him transfer to a mediocre team where his daddy can meddle in daily operations and where he can play the Big Man on Campus.
As much as PYB loves the upside that Bo Pelini can bring to Nebraska, his act has begun to wear thin on us. Is he too stubborn? Too loyal to his subpar assistant coaches? Whatever it is, 100 yards of penalties and multiple turnovers in every big game will simply not cut it. Last night, it was 12 penalties for 102 yards, three fumbles and an interception. Of the three fumbles, NU lost one. But the other two were lost plays in an offense that is so bad that it can't afford to give away downs.
Pelini keeps saying the turnovers and penalties are unacceptable, but nothing ever changes. It cost NU losses against Texas Tech, Iowa State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma the past two seasons. It embarrasses the school and the state on national televison--over and over again.
Last night's no-show was an addition to alarming pattern. Does Pelini's fiery style leave the team prone to peaks and valleys? In 2010 alone, NU lost or nearly lost to four awful teams: Texas, Washington, South Dakota State and Kansas. Throw in the near-loss to a not awful, but subpar Iowa State team this season and the 9-7 loss at home to the Cyclones in 2009, and something doesn't add up. Regardless of talent, championship teams rely on consistency. Can Pelini get his team's attention every week? That remains to be proven.
Finally, the coach's future at NU will rely on making the tough calls about his questionable (being very kind here) assistant coaches. First, you have Watson, who we'll address later. Then you have Barney Cotton, who's flown under the PYB radar for the majority of this year. His line showed flashes of dominance, but has been mostly bad the last four games. Is that more of a product of a flawed offensive game plan, where the linemen can't get a rhythm of run or pass blocking (Todd Blackledge intimated this last night on the ESPN broadcast)? Or is it a lack of good coaching and player development. That's for Bo to decide, and quickly.
The same goes for Ted Gilmore and the receiving corps. Nebraska hasn't had a deep threat in ages. Is Gilmore the problem, or is it the talent level? Or the poor pass routes that require NU QBs to throw the ball 35 yards across the field to gain five yards? PYB suspects it's the latter two elements, but Pelini will again be the judge and jury on this one.
Admittedly, PYB bought into the propaganda--that NU came to San Diego with victory on its mind. The DUI arrests of Baker Steinkuhler and Rickey Thenarse should have told us different. Nebraska's defense was good this year, not great. The Blackshirts didn't make many plays in 2010. Didn't cause turnovers. Didn't score touchdowns. They will have to be better, whether or not NU improves its offensive ineptitude. Too many games were marred by missed tackles, and Thursday night was another. So much for Pelini's claim that the unit could be better without Ndamukong Suh.
That being said, NU held ESPN's dear friend Jake Locker (who, according to Chris Fowler and Blackledge could be the second QB in history to be drafted because he's a nice guy and stayed for his senior year) to 5-for-16 passing for 56 yards. They did give up 268 yards rushing but got ZERO support from the offense.
We are not sure how players can be starters for half a season, then not play a down the last six games even though their replacement is clearly overmatched by Division I competition. Safety Austin Cassidy was a big reason why NU surrendered its big lead over Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, and he was equally bad against Washington. He looks scared of contact, is two steps slow and finishes plays by playing patty cake instead of lowering the shoulder, bringing back horrifying visions of Philip Bland and Dion Booker. Guys like PJ Smith better find their way out of Pelini's doghouse, and quickly, or the defense will be playing its first season in the Big 10 with some glaring holes.
There's no question that Pelini has improved the team's talent immensely in his three years. The main question is where is the fire? Where is the leadership? Where is the badass that makes sure the team is fired up to play a meaningless game? PYB sees none. Are there too many young players? Too many soft players from the West Coast? Roy Helu, Eric Hagg, Prince Amukamara, Cameron Meredith, Rickey Thenarse, Dejon Gomes. All are nice guys and above-average players. But do they have the internal fire to get nasty, overcome the fear of failure in pressure situations and do whatever it takes to win? The results say no. When NU needed a big play, nobody made one.
Can PYB beat this dead horse any more? It's possible, but not productive. The bottom line is that Watson needs to be gone. And for lack of any more words to describe his ineptitude, we'll defer to former 49er Head Coach Mike Singletary: "Can't run with him, can't pass with him, can't win with him......can't do it."
Rather than string us along for four quarters last night, Watson showed the world in one drive why he no longer belongs at Nebraska. The team had engineered a nice first drive to cross the 50-yard line for one of the few times, and he went back to the Wildcat with Rex Burhkead. Instead of hammering the run at the Husky defense that had surrendered 56 points to NU in the first game and was reeling from injuries, Watson called for a trick pass play. Ben Cotton was wide open, but Burkhead fumbled. Washington recovered and scored to make it 7-0. Game over.
That drive should have been about imposing the offensive line's will on UW, convincing them that they were again going to be dominated and be forced to like it. Instead, Twats got fancy and screwed the pooch. Just like the Oklahoma game.
NU fans can only hope that he gets the Miami Ohio job. Pelini says he expects all his assistants to be back. Hopefully, he's lying. If he's not, we say: "You cannot be serious!"
By the time Nebraska went out with a whimper on its final drive, Blackledge was again making fun of Watson's playcalling...asking why the OC would dial up a play-action pass on 3rd and 11 when the run game had been unsuccessful all night. PYB made fun of Watson, because Mike McNeill was running wide open all drive and then on 4th and 16, Watson felt it was absolutely necessary to throw a 50-yard bomb instead of trying to convert the first down. Proof positive that something has to give.
The evidence is too strong and too consistent. The offensive line can't open holes against above-average teams. The quarterback play is embarrassing. The playcalling is atrocious, and the game planning is nonexistent. Even the defensive effort and tackling were wildly inconsistent. Turnovers remain a burden that become too heavy to bear in close games.
Does Pelini care enough to change? Does he want to face the fire in the cauldron of NU football. Lord knows it has to be annoying. Will he forge the Cornhuskers into championship steel? Will he be content to let them flounder as also-rans? Or will he himself run for the hills for more money at another school or the bright lights of the NFL? So many questions, and no answers.
After each uninspired effort, we're sick of asking them. Can't ask 'em, can't answer 'em, can't do it......