Sunday, September 15, 2013

An Early Frost

A chill came to Lincoln, Neb., early Saturday, as another epic meltdown and loss guaranteed Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pinelli another frosty fall in the Heartland. Cornhusker fans were subjected to more missed tackles, blown assignments, stumbles and bumbles during the game and got the same mystifying responses from coaches and players after the carnage was complete. (Side note: how does a team that hasn't won a big game in at least five years "lose its sense of urgency" against a higher-ranked opponent?)

UCLA's easily dispatched of NU in the second half, outscoring the home team 31-0 in the final 30 minutes on the way to 38 straight points to finish the game. At this point, Husker fans are prone to sit back and enjoy it, and Bobby Knight would be proud. We will document the blow-by-blow below, but one series in particular proved once-and-for-all how far over his head Pinelli truly is and why Oregon Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost should pace the sidelines at Memorial Stadium next year.

--Trailing 38-21, a 40-yard pass from Taylor Martinez to Ameer Abdullah put the ball deep in Bruin territory. On the following set of downs, Martinez missed a wide-open Quincy Enunwa and took a sack in typical T-Ragic fashion. On the next play, Enunwa fumbled a reception which tight end Jake Long luckily recovered. Facing a 3rd and 2, Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck threw sideways in the flat to Long. Bobbled. Dropped. 4th and 2. 

Instead of kicking the fucking field goal to cut UCLA's lead to two possessions with 13 minutes remaining, Pinelli delved into his amateur-hour bag of tricks and went for the first down. Beck dialed up a dropback pass which, after a lengthy scramble, was luckily converted. Most amazing to us, however, was that starting at 3rd and 2, Beck ignored the run and supposed power I-Back Imani Cross (mysteriously absent after a 100-yard season debut against Wyoming). If he wanted to make the first down badly enough to go for it on fourth, he damn sure should have run it on third down. 

Two plays later, Abdullah put the ball on the ground, sealing his fate as a career fumbler instead of just fumble-prone. UCLA recovered. Game over.

As far as what follows in this entry, we can't promise organization, level-headedness, or any sort of plan. If NU's coaches aren't required to do it, we damn sure won't. Pinelli makes $3 million a year to be unprepared. We're doing this pro bono. So, here goes:

--Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage. The defense swarmed (kind of), and generally kept the UCLA offense in front of it during the first 25 minutes of the game. Still, in a prominent bit of foreshadowing, the Blackskirts bungled several pass coverages.

--Beck showed the Diamond formation early, but about three times all game and fewer than 10 all season. Was the set too successful to be used consistently this year? Reading quotes about how predictable the UCLA players knew NU and Martinez would be, mixing up formations would have been a smart twist.

--NU's first drive took a total of 34 seconds. T-Ragic's first two passes both could have been caught, but were too high to truly expect receivers to catch them -- given the fact they have no clue where the football will be going once it leaves Martinez's hand. 

--Beck fell in love with a side-to-side offense, throwing laterally less than six yards downfield FIFTEEN times by our count. Holy fuck.

--Still, Stanley Jean Baptist intercepted a pass, Avery Moss sacked Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley, UCLA cornerbacks inexplicably bit on NU's only red-zone play, the fade pattern, NU overcame mental errors (Andrew Green's block in the back, T-Ragic's fumble after getting rocked because he continues to run like a pussy with a popsicle stick up his ass, T-Ragic's inexplicable pitch to a UCLA defender and another nearly-lost fumble, Jamal Turner's continued butchering of punt coverages) and led 21-3 after Kenny Bell's touchdown reception.

--UCLA's next offensive series, had we known what was ahead, showed some cracks in the foundation of Nebraska's straw hut. Somehow, John Papuchis' unit got a stop on that series, but the familiar shortcomings began to sprout: the pass rush slowed, the defense tired, and calls came in late from the sideline, leaving defenders unprepared at the snap. No matter, after a blitz on 3rd and seven, NU got a stop and go the ball back with 4:39 remaining in half. We're fine. Right?

--Instead of stepping on the Bruins' neck and snapping it, Beck let his soft Pac-12 opponent off the hook on the ensuing series. First down, handoff. Second and seven, handoff. Third and four, false start. Third and 9, mail-it-in quarterback draw which finished with T-Vagic falling to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Fourth down, punt and 25-yard UCLA return with punter Sam Foltz making a nice tackle. 

At this point, we were alarmed at how not ONE of his 10 other teammates congratulated him or showed excitement after the play. Unsurprisingly, it was Foltz's last good play of the game. Surprisingly, Turner lay on the turf with a leg cramp -- on a 74-degree day -- proving again how horribly conditioned the team is.

--After Hundley escaped a Moss tackle attempt, UCLA scored to make it 21-10. NU got the ball back with 57 seconds remaining in the half and gave it back with 18 seconds left. Luckily, the Bruins missed a long FG attempt.

--Nebraska started the second half with the ball and an 11-point lead. A couple first downs, three sideways passes and a poorly thrown ball to an open wide receiver later, NU punted. Missed tackles and blown coverages piled up. The defensive linemen stood around, playing patty cake, as we've seen countless times before. ABC Color Analyst Chris Spielman raved about NU's mental errors and its coaches leaving their cornerbacks out to fry on the edges and refusing to blitz - time after time after time. We've been watching this shit for five years.

Still, the 'Skirts had gotten to a third-and-15. Bo urged the crowd to get louder. And then, in a backbreaking moment, the defensive line gave Hundley all day to find a receiver, convert the first down and score uncontested three plays later. (see image)

--Oddly enough, with NU leading 21-17, fans, coaches and players alike knew it was over. We'd seen the movie countless times before. Mathematically, if it had a strategy, Nebraska should have been right in the game. However, the next offensive series went: handoff-bomb-sack (after T-Ragic froze in the pocket yet again). Bad punt. One-minute possession.

--UCLA then feasted on NU's defensive backs, who did as they told and gave 12-yard cushions. The front seven was completely gassed. Bruin blockers got to the second level. Gregory crashed down the line, just like Porky Meredith did for years before him, and lost containment for a big Hundley gain. Josh Mitchell offered no resistance as Shaquelle Evans ran right past him for a touchdown catch. 24-21 UCLA.

--Surely, after losing the lead, Beck would show some urgency and try to score. Instead, he channeled his inner Kirk Ferentz. T-Ragic threw behind a wide-open Turner on yet another lateral pass on first down. Turner showed disgust and took himself out of the game, proof that the NU receivers are tired of their quarterback's scatter-shot bullshit and evidence of division within the team.

Two more incompletions followed, one being a drop by backup receiver Tyler Wullenwaber on third down. More concerning than the drop on third-and-long, was the fact that neither Turner or Bell (starting WRs) were on the field. Another poor Foltz punt later, Nebraska put a cap on a 26-second drive. Amateur. Hour.

--UCLA ball. No pass rush. More 12-yard cushions. Mitchell torched again. Ciante Evans missed multiple tackles. Spielman urged Pinelli to blitz, again. The defense quit, and we all realized that UCLA's offensive players were men among 'Skirts. A soft-ass Pac 12 team was mauling a mentally softer, shittier Big Ten team. The Bruins lost five games in 2012. They did nothing special. They just beat a poorly-coached team on the road.

--STILL. Still. Still. NU had a 3rd and 5 with a chance to get the all back. They got a stop. Until, that is, the overmatched, plodding Corey Cooper thought it was a good idea to headbutt Hundley after he'd thrown an errant pass. Personal foul. Andrew Green was promptly burned by five yards on a five yard flat pattern. 31-21.

--Now, with nothing to lose, Nebraska would surely go for broke or at least try to score on offense. Right? Run. Run. Run. Sideways pass. Run. Two-minute possession. Punt time. Instead, Pinelli decided not to settle for another 28-yard punt and reached into Frank Solich's bag of trick plays and direct-snapped the ball to 305-pound Brodrick Nickens, who ran a few yards, then fell on his face a half-yard short of the first-down marker. And you thought Solich having a left-handed fullback who had never
practiced the play throw the ball on a fake punt against Ole Miss was bad? Could we make shit this ridiculous up?

--Three plays and no resistance later, UCLA took a 38-21 lead. Fans left. Spielman raved again about the lack of pass rush and Pinelli's lack of any attempt to create one. Buckeye! We're fine.

--McDonough laughed when NU opened its next drive with a long bomb, which was overthrown like every single downfield pass that Martinez has thrown this season.

--NU racked up a couple more personal fouls for good measure, running its total to 80 yards versus UCLA's 21.

And that, is how a team gets pounded 31-0 in a half. At home, after leading 21-3. The defense and its guru coach just ain't working. If they can't get good enough athletes to cover opponents in space, the offense had better control the ball with a power game. Not a mistake-prone menagerie of inconsistency. Even the pre-season sunshine pumpers have seen the light at this point.

But sadly, the offense has taken on its quarterback's persona. Can't run. Can't pass. Inconsistent. No identity. Unintelligent. Countless wasted weapons: Turner, Bell, Newby, Cross, Abdullah, Carter. Loss by loss, Nebraska is coming Colorado of a decade ago. All the weapons. No heart. No coaching. Soft as fuck. Welcome to Boulder.

And slowly, with every nationally-televised embarrassment, we learn that when NU got on its knees to suck that Big Ten dick for a few hundred million dollars, it forfeited any chance it had of again becoming a viable football program on a national level. Instead, Nebraska fans get to watch their Three-Million Dollar Man play checkers against the Bobby Fischers of the FBS coaching world, as the last shreds of state pride get doused in gasoline and burned to ashes.

Welcome to Hell.


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