Sunday, October 2, 2011

Send in the Clowns

Nebraska football was good enough for Barry Alvarez in building a program. Saturday night in Madison it was good enough for Wisconsin to destroy the Cornhuskers 48-17, as NU took its 16th bottle blasting in 18 games against Top 10 teams.

The only place Nebraska football is not good enough these days is Nebraska itself. The Badgers used the power running and timely passing that NU once used to dominate and demoralize teams, shoving it straight up the Cornhuskers' collective ass in a beating that was best described by NU alumni Fabian Washington's twitter account as "No Vaseline." NU, on the other hand, tried to roll out its Texas Tech offense in the second quarter and came up with Matt Cassell results.

The game started out well enough, with Nebraska mixing the run and pass and taking early leads at 7-0 and 14-7. Even when the Badgers scored to make it 14-13, it was because UW had been lucky to pull down some jump balls and continue drives. The Blackshirts looked like they had come with a Pinelli-type effort, with defensive linemen pressuring Rusell Wilson and defensive backs managing to stay within five yards of receivers.

Anyone with a football brain figured the deep passes were going to set up the power runs between the tackles in the second, third and fourth quarters. Wrong. Over a 14-play span in the second and third quarters, Tim Beck called 15 pass plays. Was he not around to watch Shawn Watson lose game after game after game in Lincoln?

The first interception was bad, but if NU was going to pass on that third down, it should have been deep down the field so an interception would have pinned the Badgers deep in their own territory like a punt would have. The second pick was inexcusable, as three run plays and a punt would have put NU in the locker room down six points with a chance to rest the defense and adjust strategy.

The third interception, on the first drive of the second half, when it was quite apparent that Pinelli & Company needed to shorten the game and establish the run to have any shot at all, was unfathomable. Moreover, how does every 22-to-40-year-old, who has played EA Sports NCAA Football from 1993 to present day have better game-management and playcalling skills than the meathead coaches pulling down between $500,000 and $3.25 million? We'd offer our coaching services for a mere $250,000 and promise we have bigtime connections in Nebraska's C-2 high schools to keep the defensive backfield stocked.

Obviously, we could go on and on and on about the shortcomings last night. Let's hit some more specific points, in order to keep this diatribe under 10,000 words:

--The defensive back situation is tragic. The only good DB is hurt, as Alfonzo Dennard continues to limp noticeably. He still manages to keep the ball away from his receiver. Every safety sucks, as they all miss tackles, consistently blow assignments...or both. PJ Smith, Austin Cassidy, Lance Thorell. The only safety with potential, Daimion Stafford, is getting exposed more each game as he is forced to take on more responsibility prematurely while not being surrounded with the talent and depth to ease his transition. Remember Dejon Gomes? He didn't start impacting games until late in his first season. Stafford has been forced to play from day one without a safety net.

--Bo's specialty, defense, is a huge liability. The number of holes on the Blackskirt squad is alarming. If they didn't have LaVonte David, they would give up 50 points a game--to Fresno, Wyoming, Northwestern, whoever. The defensive line doesn't have a player that is even average outside of Jared Crick. Outside of David, the linebackers aren't worthy of low-Division-I scholarships. Sean Fisher does not belong on the field and looks foolish on nearly every snap he plays. He makes Cassidy look like Ed Reed. The defensive ends are nonexistent, the safeties can't cover anybody, neither can the cornerbacks, and nobody outside of David can tackle. Not a good formula. In year four of the Pinelli era, how can so many key components of a defense be missing?

--Added to NU's game management woes are its personnel management. Remember NU's new starting cornerback in Laramie, Corey Cooper, and his "permanent" move from safety? Didn't play Saturday. So in a matter of two weeks, Cooper went from backup safety and special teams contributor, to STARTING cornerback, to can't even see the field? Andrew Green and Ciante Evans both look awful, but were good enough to start three games, then ride the pine against Wyoming, only to be deemed good enough to start the very next week? PYB remembers Tyrone Williams struggling mightily as a sophomore before eventually becoming one of the best CBs in NU history. Of course, he had a lot of talent around him to help him through the learning curve. Do Green and Evans have that in them, or are they overmatched, or is the Pelini system not taking hold like it used to? Probably a combination of the latter two factors.

As we said next week, healthy competition is necessary to keep players vying for playing time throughout the season. But when 25 percent of the travel roster changes from week to week, and players have no idea when or why they will or won't play, that will crush confidence and consistency in a heartbeat. Cornerback Antonio Bell, left of the travel squad Saturday, says so here. Mutiny can't be far off.

--Taylor Martinez played one of his vintage games, completing a couple big pass plays early, dodging first-quarter trouble when a teammate jumped on yet another one of his fumbles, then eventually panicking over and over when things got tough and melting down with three interceptions in 10 plays. Whether or not Martinez is the best option for the rest of this season is immaterial. NU will lose games it shouldn't with or without him, and they surely won't win a game against a good team with him under center. It is IMPOSSIBLE to imagine him as the starting quarterback and face of this team for 2.5 more years. If he does stay, it may just be the most painful span Husker fans will ever endure.

The sophomore is inept at running the option. Can't make proper reads on the zone run plays. Fumbles often. Can't read zone pass defenses. Throws a lot of interceptions in critical situations. Can't evade even the slightest pressure in the pocket. And he must be the slowest player in the nation when running in any direction that is not straight ahead. In all honesty, NU would be better offensively if it had any of the starting QBs from its 2011 opponents--outside of Chattanooga. Derek Carr, Keith Price, Brett Smith. All better. Fewer turnovers. Distribute the ball. Focus on getting the ball to the running backs. It's time to start whoever could be a long-term solution, obviously to anyone who is not a Nebraska coach--Jamal Turner.

--Even though Martinez is not the answer and sends NU into a deeper spiral with each bad start, what the coaches did to him Saturday night was unacceptable. Tim Beck refused to support his quarterback with the interior run game after NU staked its 14-7 lead. Inexperience, arrogance and panic all arrived in that second quarter. Most importantly, the $3 Million Man, Bo Pelini, was too stubborn or too shell-shocked to rein Beck in. Three turnovers later, it was game over. For the first time, Pelini had the Frank-Solich-deer-in-the-headlights look on the sideline. The only thing missing to complete the look was the wide-eyed, Leprechaun-like jump following the pre-game jet flyover.

NU has been badly outcoached by Fresno State's Pat Hill, Washington's Steve Sarkisian and now UW's Bret Bielema. Tom Osborne keeps raising the bar on Pinelli's salary, and Pinelli keeps lowering the results on the field. Other coaches play chess against Nebraska, while Pelini keeps playing checkers. Too many meltdowns. Nine penalties for 80 yards, with Courtney Osborne's cheap shot capping the night. Another negative turnover margin game (-2) on the road. Another embarrassment on national television, against a team that is not that good but doesn't beat itself. What NU used to be, even in the worst of years. Welcome to the Big Ten, they say. Thank god, because if NU played the Big 12's best team last night they would have lost by 55 points.

Most disappointing is that there is finally depth of playmakers on offensive, and they're wasting away, unutilized: Kenny Bell, Turner, Quincy Enunwa, Kyler Reed, Aaron Green (DNP), Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard (DNP). And, oh yeah, Rex FUCKING Burkhead....who got 18 carries for 98 yards while Taylorina got his requisite 20 carries that included two bad sacks.

The capper Saturday came with NU on the goal line, down 48-17 and trying to punch it in to reward all the bettors with the 2H overs on their wager card. After calling timeout, then failing to score on the next play, NU inexplicably let the clock expire instead of calling another timeout and going for the score one more time. In essence, quitting. Rolling over and playing dead--a trait that is all too familiar with recent NU teams. If you doubt us, just watch Dennard's post-game comments.

Has Pelini already lost this team? Has his hair-trigger-benching tactics for some players with full-immunity-for-others created a double standard that has divided the program? Who knows. All that is certain is that something ain't right, and it's something big. In addition to all the mental and physical errors, the consistent effort and fire is not there--not even close.

NU has a chance to get healthy next week by blasting a bad Ohio State team in Lincoln. Changes needs to happen next weekend...establish some defensive consistency and get the ball to those who can be prime-time players---not Martinez. A loss to the Suckeyes would be disastrous, but we're certainly in for the 'just another game' speech. Just another game of more poor coaching, poor throws, poor ball security, poor tackling, poor coverage. Send in the Clowns.

And for one more season, the 14th straight, we sadly say: Maybe next year.

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