Sunday, September 25, 2011
Faith No More
Alfonzo Dennard's return, one week before Nebraska's biggest game of the season, was supposed to shore up the team's defense and build confidence for the trip to Madison. Amazingly, though, Bo and Carl Pinelli gave players and fans all the more reason to doubt the Cornhuskers' chances next Saturday.
The brothers Pinelli gave us a Solich-esque show of ineptitude from the open last night. First, and most embarrassing, was the inexplicable move of Corey Cooper from safety to cornerback. Cooper, whose body type tells even casual football fans he's a safety, has no business out on the corner. It was an unfair move for a kid who, to this point, hadn't played any meaningful reps outside of special teams. The plays he did have under his belt were at SAFETY. A couple series into the game, Cooper was puking on himself at the 50-yard-line while the Brothers Pinelli were shitting themselves on the sideline.
Coaches say Cooper's move is permanent -- proof of their arrogance and apparent detachment from reality. Bo Pelini, even tried to big-league those who called him out for the laughable move with the "I coached Deion Sanders" card. Whatever. John Sanders is on Line 3 talking about how he coached with Whitey Herzog.
Next, in what should have been a positive switch, they moved Daimion Stafford from safety to nickel. The Juco transfer, however, seemed to be on the field less (couldn't find the participation chart on huskers.com) and was definitely less involved in the defense. Stafford had only three tackles. Not good, when he's one of only four good players on this year's Blackshirt unit and two of those are hurt. The move will hopefully pay off against better teams with more speed, where the nickel is needed.
Dennard controlled his side of the field, for the most part, but pulled up lame twice. Once on a long incompletion and a second time on Wyoming's 46-yard TD when Cooper was doing his Justin Blatchford impersonation. PYB is suspecting that coaches rushed him back and that the injury is lingering and could worsen. We'll find out soon enough.
Jared Crick didn't play. The rest of the defensive line didn't show up. Either that, or they just aren't very good (the more likely scenario). The starting front four of Cameron Meredith, Terrence Moore, Baker Steinkuhler and Jason Ankrah combined for 10 tackles. Not good, considering the physical edge they had over the Cowboys.
Austin Cassidy is so fucking bad he now deserves his own paragraph. The senior has parlayed what began as sympathy playing time into a career blessed with full immunity. Cassidy is burned at least five to seven times a game, costing his team stop after stop, yet continues to play...and play...and play. NU's other safeties are either so bad (Justin Blatchford) or blow enough coverages and tackles (PJ Smith) that this will continue. From here forward, this will be called the Philip Bland / Dion Booker corollary.
The entire Pinelli premise that every starting job is up for grabs every week is dogshit. Sure, it's great to have players push each other. But if a player can be a starter for the first four games, then have one bad one game and not play again that season, doesn't that show that the coaches can't evaluate talent properly from the outset? How do players who continually miss tackles and assignments and give up scores keep playing, while others are benched for less glaring offenses?
Eight paragraphs in, and we haven't even gotten to the offense. Here goes. Taylor Martinez was himself last night in Laramie. Missing wide open throws and underthrowing the ones he did complete. His receivers (Khiry Cooper) helped with a couple drops. Either way, Martinez's inconsistency is killing this unit.
For once, the offense is loaded with guys who can make a play and Tim Beck has no way to get it to them. Kyler Reed, wasting a potential All-American career just like Mike McNeill. Jamal Turner -- two meaningless touches per game. Braylon Heard / Aaron Green / Ameer Abdullah ..... can't get it to them in space because Martinez couldn't hit a screen pass five times in a row if his life depended on it.
PYB would take Wyoming's true-freshman QB Brett Smith over Martinez in a heartbeat. The offense would flourish. The offensive line could concentrate on its run blocking, since the focus would be on the talented running backs and not T-Wat. And, in a novel concept, he'd be able to distribute the ball to the team's playmakers on the edge.
Adding to that, Martinez continues to lay the ball on the turf. Nebraska has 13 fumbles in four games. Barely good enough against cupcakes like Wyoming and Chattanooga. Good only for a loss in Madison. Heard and Abdullah got in on the act as well, nearly fumbling the secure lead away in the second half. Inexplicably, sure-handed Rex Burkhead was continually taken out of the game when all the coaches had to do was feed him 30 times and get on the bus with a win. Even Bill Callahan was smart enough to use this formula on the road -- some times. That said, Burkhead still got 170 yards on 15 carries.
After nearly 2.5 seasons of the same, fans should know that the only reliable trait of NU's teams is inconsistency. Inconsistent coaching breeding inconsistent play due to lack of confidence and repetition. Players don't get the repetitions to build their in-game fundamentals and lose confidence because, game-to-game, they have to idea what's coming as far as strategy and playcalling are concerned.
Pinelli's over-substituting in efforts to 'battle the altitude' was laughable. Sure, it's great to give the starters consistent breathers. But when you're putting players in positions where they can't succeed, with no rhyme or reason, then it's a detriment to the overall performance. Just ask Mike Anderson how that worked out in the College World Series a few years ago, with Jake Opitz at bat and Curtis Ledbetter on the bench.
We've heard that it's all about competition. To us, it looks haphazard. We've heard that ball security is a priority, ever since the turnover-laden, home-loss debacle against Iowa State in 2009. Nothing changes. The program is centered around a self-centered flake who doesn't understand schemes well enough to succeed at college football's top level. And Nebraska's supposed hardass coach is rapt by his spell, saying every week "I'm glad he's on my team."
PYB isn't glad. Anyone who values winning over individual accolades shouldn't be. But Wisconsin surely will be, when he's fumbling and bumbling all over Camp Randall next week. It's what he does. And sadly, it's Nebraska's only identity in this first Big Ten season.