Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sponge Bo, Square Peg

PYB pops in this Sunday with limited time due to a failing laptop battery and a flight to catch later today. We'll get to it, with no promise of an organized series of thoughts. But, as always, we'll offer our keen insight fresh off watching the game a second time on DVR at 4:15 this fine morning:

--Nebraska's offense, led by Tommy Armstrong at quarterback, looked great on its first drive. Its scripted drive. Hell, there was even a Terrell Newby sighting. NU cruised into the endzone, using (Gasp!) the Diamond formation, for a 7-0 lead.

--Armstrong, unfortunately, channeled his inner Taylor Martinez and threw three more picks to make it six in the last two games. Again, he had no help from his offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, who insists on turning another running quarterback into John Fucking Elway. Armstrong isn't overly fast, but he's a crafty runner who can keep defenses off balance with his option acumen. 

PYB takes solace in the fact that most of his interceptions thus far have come from poor reads that are typical of a freshman quarterback. PYB is sad that Beck keeps forcing his run-first QBs to drop back and pass, time and time again despite repeated failures. He keeps dialing up passes outside the hash marks or deep slants where opposing safeties wait, champing at the bit, to step in for an easy interception.

In no way are we excusing the mistakes, but the three INTs came on: a dropback pass, a 3rd-and-20 where Armstrong was forced to try to make a play and the turnover served as a punt, a last-minute drive where he was dinged up on the prior play before Beck called another dropback pass.

On at least three occasions before the waterfall of interceptions, Armstrong made ill-advised throws into tight coverage and got away with it. Most fans had to see that as a cue to protect a young signal caller with a better mix of plays, but an offensive coordinator making $800,000 a year made no such connection.

--The Blackskirts embarrassed themselves on the first Northwestern drive, blowing multiple assignments as is par for the course and relinquishing an easy touchdown as the Wildcat offensive line pushed the entire defense four yards backward.

--Jeremiah Sirles said he had a panic attack at the bottom of the dogpile after the game-ending Hail Mary touchdown. This, the same week that the Miami Dolphins lost a starting lineman to a seventh-grade cafeteria prank that we all went through ourselves. PYB thinks it’s safe to say football players are softer than in years past.

--Bo Pinelli actually described the injuries that his players sustained during the game. Kenny Bell – groin pull. Jake Cotton – MCL sprain. Will Richards – broken ankle. There. Was it that fucking hard? Was national security put at risk? Did he look more like a real, sane person to the media and the fans? Yes.

Hell, he even admitted taking a page from Andy Reid's book and mismanaging the clock on Northwestern’s last drive. He lamented the fact that he only had two timeouts remaining on that drive – guess it’s not prudent to blow one on defense every single half of every single game. Especially the close ones. Groundbreaking revelation there.

--Ndamukong Suh attended the game. He did a BTN interview. The growth on his upper lip made it look like he’s been munching on some of the finest stripper box in all of Detroit.

--It’s quite apparent that opposing offenses are targeting David Santos with an “isolate him and then just toss it up because he can’t cover anyone” strategy.

--Somewhere along the line, the Nebraska defense turned awesome. It decided to follow its assignments. There were still several breakdowns that relinquished yardage, but the massive series of consecutive errors went away. The ‘Skirts got stops. They got sacks. They 'got off the field.' They kept Northwestern from scoring from the Wildcat drive that began at 6:37 of the second quarter, all the way until the field goal in the final two minutes on a short field following Armstrong’s turnover.

--That said, PYB may soon require to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to turn in his chess pieces and sidle up to Pinelli at the checkerboard. After Kain Colter gashed Nebraska in 2011, he hardly played last season and played sporadically at quarterback yesterday. The Wildcats became the only team (and that includes South Dakota State) that couldn’t gain at least eight yards on every 3rd-and-1 play against the Blackskirts. So, did the ‘Skirts get awesome in the middle of the game, or did Fitzgerald piss away another win?

--Beck kept dialing up long bombs, after none of the preceding bombs had been open all day. None were even close.

--With Nebraska trailing 21-14 and on the ropes, Beck got the ball back with 1:01 remaining in the second quarter. Pass. Pass. Pass call and sack. Shanked punt. Ball back to Northwestern at midfield. Christ! Run the ball, force Fitzgerald to waste his two timeouts, and get to the fucking locker room!!

--PYB read that NU was hosting a big tight end prospect from New Orleans. Good thing almost every pass play called was outside the hash marks and that the Huskers completed zero passes to tight ends. We remember just two TE targets during the game, one being a drop by whichever Cotton plays tight end and the other a flag route to Cethan Carter – who by the way is quickly going the way of Kyler Reed and Mike McNeill in the wasted talent department.

--At some point watching the replay of the game, we had a horrifying thought cross our mind: If Jenny Manziel played against Nebraska, how many yards would she have and how many points would aTm score?

--Does Nebraska try to make any plays on special teams? Ever? Don’t rush punts. Fair catch nearly every punt received. Horrifying.

--Can the Imani Cross experiment be terminated?

--Reminder to Beck: when Armstrong is continuing to force throws into coverage and throw off his back foot, it’s time to change it up and help him with some easy reads, and a stud running back. Wait, NU has a stud running back? The one that averaged 8.7 yards a tote last week averaged five yards a carry this week. His name is Ameer Abdullah.

--We’re pretty certain we saw the Blackskirts swarm and gang-tackle a ball carrier on more than one occasion but can’t be certain.

--Abdullah was actually gashing the Wildcat defense, as NU drove toward a game-winning score on two occasions. With the defense playing well, of course the Huskers had to screw up in another facet. Two holding penalties and a chop block penalty killed those opportunities. If it ain’t one thing with a Pinelli team, it’s another.

--On its final drive, NU worked the ball down the field four yards at a time. Abdullah made a great play to convert a 4th-and-15. Quincy Enunwa let a pass that would have put the Huskers in field goal range slip through his hands at the 28-yard line. Tough chance, but at some point, winners make at least some of those plays.

--Alas, Ron Kellogg came through, tossed it as far as he could, and Jordan Westerkamp found the ball. We’re just glad he caught it inside the endzone. We’re not sure he knows how to run after catching a ball.

So, we’ll enjoy the win because it was a fucking amazing ending. But, we all know this was a stay of execution. Unless the defense can prove that its mid-game turnaround was an “Aha!” moment instead of an aberration against a beat-up quarterback whose backup is a statue for a team playing its fifth-string running back, blowouts will ensue.

Unless Tim Beck decides to take care of his young quarterback and prove that he can keep defenses off balances with a decimated offensive line, good defenses (Michigan State) will annihilate the Husker offense.

Unless Private Pinelli has a surprise-ending to his formulaic scripts, a 7-5 record is definitely in play. The nine-win chant won’t, then, be in play as a safety net to another season-ending turd.

Whatever, let’s enjoy this one. Enjoy that the flawed team that we hate to hate won a game for the program we all love so much. For all the misery we endure, one play like Saturday’s Hail Mary can make it all better for at least a few hours, a few days.

Pinelli and Co., regardless of what we say, will make it or break it for themselves. We’ll figure out the rest later.

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