Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fool's Gold

Nebraska's football season is in no better place than it was before Saturday night's game against Ohio State. But it could easily be in a lot worse.

Players and fans both rejoiced from the school's largest come-from-behind win, celebrating a 34-27 victory that was expected before the game and saved the season for at least another three weeks when Michigan State visits Lincoln.

Still, we know no more about the 2011 Cornhuskers than we did prior to the contest, other than that they are a complete enigma that can play well one moment and horribly the next. They are, in short, a personification of their flake of a quarterback.

PYB let the win sink in for a couple days before offering its analysis, so let's bullet-point this thing in the interest of time....and because you've read half this shit 10 times by now...albeit from lesser football minds and the high-school-level reporters at the Lincoln Journal Star.

--Bo Pinelli filled his evening with his usual number of game-management blunders, the first being his decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Suckeyes' 41-yard line trailing 10-3 early in the second quarter. It was a panicked, ill-advised move that put more unnecessary pressure on a crumbling Blackskirt squad. One play, one missed assignment and four missed tackles later, it was 17-3 Ohio State as Carlos Hyde sprinted 63-yards to the end zone and showed the national primetime audience just how slow Austin Cassidy is.

Worse yet, after hitching his entire season to Taylor Martinez for the second straight season, he took the sophomore QB out on this play. He instead opted for the formerly effective, but now-little-used Wildcat formation and ran the play to Kyler Reed's side. Reed, a great receiver, is seldom (never) mentioned as a great blocker and whiffed on his attempt to kick out the defensive end. Blocking TE honors go to Ben Cotton, as coaches try their best to justify at least one of the three Cotton full ride scholarships.

Pinelli didn't wait long for an encore. With NU trailing 17-6 and 52 seconds left in the first half, the head coach decided to dust off the offense's vaunted two-minute drill. On the second play of the ill-advised drive, Taylor Martinez forced a pass into coverage and into the arms of an OSU defender for another crushing interception. Apparently, Pelini forgot that Martinez is no Harrison Beck and the meltdown in Madison didn't reinforce the lesson on when to roll the dice and when to swallow one's pride and head to the locker room with minimized damage.

Bo continued his latest amateur hour by dismissing boos with a wild wave of his play sheet....boos he apparently thought were intended for young Taylorina. This time, however, they were directed at Pinelli's lethal combination of arrogance, boneheadedness, hardheadedness and stupidity and not the quarterback. What the hell was he doing passing? Not even Frank Solich thought this was a good idea, and Pelini thankfully copped to the idiocy during the watered-down, unwatchable Bo Pelini show (another PYB rant entirely) after the game.

Apology or not, this could have been a game loser had the Buckeyes had a real offense. Maybe PYB is being shortsighted here and missing the bigger picture. The Cornhusker coaching staff did show improvement from the week before at Wisconsin: they handed the opponent 14 free points and the game while only relinquishing three points and their self-respect against Ohio State.

The second half started as badly as the first ended, as OSU took a 27-6 lead and the defense looked as lost as ever. Something is certainly amiss here. The defensive line is very slow and very bad. Cameron Meredith has still been AWOL since Chattanooga, opting instead to get caught inside on every misdirection play and to get dominated by the opposing tight end on run blocks.

LaVonte David, as great as he has been trying to make up for all the shortcomings around him, blew two glaring assignments in the first half. One gave up the long Braxton Miller run that set up the Buckeyes' first TD; the other surrendered the 63-yard TD run. His strip of an OSU runner did save this game, and this season, for three more weeks. We'll grant him some deserved leniency.

Yet another point of amazement for us at PYB is the fact that players were logging Twitter posts within two hours of kickoff. You can pencil Yoshi Hardrick and Antonio Bell as the culprits here. Bell is one matter, since his was three hours before kick and he never plays. Hardrick, however, is a starter and is tweeting inane shit just two hours prior to the game. There shouldn't have to be a rule preventing this. If players don't know better, they're obviously not cut out for playing on a Top 25 team.

As we ramble on, another question: Where was Corey Cooper this game? We thought his switch to cornerback was permanent? So a starting CB two weeks ago no longer can see the field when Andrew Green continues to be burned again and again? Stanley Jean-Baptiste was this week's guinea pig in the secondary and made a couple plays, including the INT that started the winning drive. He also chipped in a personal foul penalty, borne mostly from his inexperience than poor decision making.

Anyway, we'll give the offensive coordinator and his players credit here. Once they saw the opportunity to come back and eventually win, they seized the momentum and kept calling plays that worked. The "Diamond" formation looked great, and hopefully it is used as a staple in the offense. It gets more playmakers on the field and allows NU's scatter-armed, shot-putting QB to get the ball to them with less risk and more consistency.

Tyler Legate and Kenny Bell did a spectacular job blocking on Rex Burkhead's second-half runs. Bell showed the fire and domination that hasn't been seen out of the receiving corps since the 1990s. Burkhead was his normal, clutch self and was finally allowed to use his steady hand to take this unsteady ship into port for an unlikely comeback win.

Alfonzo Dennard locked down his side of the field like the Dennard of old, even if the other team's QB was as dangerous as Zac Lee during his prime. Still, it's good to see him move without hobbling and allows the defense to concentrate on the rest of its myriad of problems.

So, as we go forward, NU can get fat off by feasting on the Gophers in two weeks. What happens in the games following is anyone's guess. We still don't know any more about this team than we did before Saturday. Can they beat a Top Ten team with Martinez at the helm? Doubtful. Can the defense be fixed, or at least taped together? Unlikely. Would Nebraska had lost had Miller not been injured? Certainly.

We will be watching and waiting, surprised by nothing. Alamo Bowl, here we come.

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