PYB got close to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Saturday, as we visited the Cornhusker State for a weekend with friends at a pregame tailgate. We had a free ticket offered our way an hour before kickoff. We knew better than to accept.
During all the back and forth chatter that goes along with each Nebraska football season, fans debate whether or not Head Coach Bo Pinelli has a signature win during his tenure. It’s a pointless back-and-forth, but if we must answer, the answer is no.
What he does have, however, is a full series of signature losses. Losses so bad that they're all of the worst, piss-the-bed variety. From opening kickoff to final gun, his teams have come out scared. Sloppy. Disorganized. Plug the leak in the dike with one finger, and another leak springs up elsewhere. As a friend of ours eloquently stated when we discussed it Sunday morning: “He’s about out of fucking fingers.”
What we learned on our fall vacation and from another horrible loss, this time to an overrated Michigan State team, is that the problems aren’t chance occurrences. They’re systemic. They start from the rotten core of the NU football program. Because as we’ve seen, the actors in this tired play change, but the director, and the horrible-yet-predictable outcome stay the same.
Let’s continue on today with a free-form flow of ideas as they occur to us. We’re on an airplane without WiFi access, so can’t refer to the internet to statistically back another post-mortem. At this point, any numbers outside of wins and losses don't mean much.
--Three turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game. Five total. The piss-the-bed feeling on Saturday was the same as when NU came out and laid eggs against a bad Texas team in 2010 and an even worse Iowa State team in 2009. It was immediate. It was repeated. It was fucking embarrassing.
--Tommy Armstrong had another turnover-laden game. A bad pitch to Terrell Newby (who comes in for one play on every opening drive and is not heard from again) started the festivities. A poor decision on a 2nd-and-1 pass play resulted in an interception. Why, you ask, was Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck throwing a two-yard pass on 2nd-and-1 when Ameer Abdullah was slicing through the Spartan defense up to that point and Beck had been crowing all week about taking deep shots against MSU’s press coverage. We have no clue, and we’re certain he doesn’t either.
Either way, Beck does Armstrong no favors while trying to develop a freshman quarterback with less than half a season under his belt. Despite its early mistakes, NU was still in the game and trailed just 13-7 with a chance to head to the locker room. Instead of kneeling the ball and then punting, Beck ran a quarterback draw—a play he usually favors on game-deciding 3rd-and-long situations. Inexplicable.
Armstrong fumbled again. 20-7. Holy shit. A guy who makes $800,000 a year can’t see what every fan across the country can see needs to happen? Take a breath. Thank your lucky stars. Get to the locker room. Regroup. Hope to play a cleaner second half. Stop the madness.
Also, how about mixing a tight end into the game plan? Even better, add a few patterns where the tight end goes over the middle of the field. Diamond formation. Rollout passes. Option pass. Play action. Instead of throwing deep on every 2nd and 3rd-and-long play, take a few yards and keep a young quarterback in manageable conversion situations.
After four years of Taylor Martinez, PYB would think Beck would have learned that getting a mistake-prone quarterback to play Hero Ball does not work. Build a young player’s confidence slowly but surely. We’re not ready to give up on Armstrong this early, but if Beck continues to refuse to protect his players and keeps setting them up to fail it won’t be long before TA's days as starting quarterback are over.
--Private Bo Pinelli was his normal, reactive self Saturday. He failed to challenge a crucial first-half spot that gave the Spartan offense a first down, when it was clear the referees gave MSU at least an extra yard-and-a-half. Hell, if the brain trust in the press box can’t understand they need to kneel the ball before halftime, can we expect them to grasp advance concepts like instant replay? Tech-MOL-ogy….what is it? Either way, the Spartans continued on to score a touchdown. Seven charity points, courtesy of Youngstown.
--Speaking of wasteful, Jordan Westerkamp fumbled another punt return. What, exactly, does he bring to the table in this role? He sways around like he’s on roller skates before fair-catching damn near every ball. Lose the ha-ha mustache and play some fucking football.
Nebraska continues to lose huge yardage in the punt game and refuses to try to impact games on special teams, and nobody seems to think anything of it. This is a level of negligence that is unfathomable for a Division I college football coach.
--Abdullah ran for more than five yards a carry. And his team lost. At least it wasn’t nine yards a carry, like the Minnesota loss. Sadly, his stellar season may end up as one of the quietest, underappreciated and wasted in Nebraska history.
--PYB has heard some folks say NU could have used Martinez yesterday and would have likely won with him. That’s laughable. A quarterback who lost at Minnesota when his running back averaged nine yards an attempt is going to beat one of the nation’s best defenses when he can’t run, pass or manage a game?
--Thad Randle got hurt.
--The Big Ten is a pathetic menagerie of shitty football teams. Instead of playing its own brand of football when joining the conference, NU tried to be more like its fellow Legends and Leaders. They got fatter and slower and have fallen to the middle of the pack, behind such stalwarts as Michigan State and Wisconsin, and ahead of pigs like Illinois and Indiana. Circling the drain….
Need we go on? Coaches couldn’t explain the most recent Husker turd. Sadly, fans could believe another unbelievable meltdown was happening in front of their eyes. If they’re like us, they’re too tired to fight anymore. Let Pinelli and his merry band of Buckeyes sink or swim. Right now, they’re wearing a lead vest that they designed for themselves. It’s apparent that nothing has changed for the better. Mistakes of all sorts arise at the worst possible time, every time. Players lose confidence. Players don’t get better. Many times, they get worse. The program gets false confidence by beating a couple awful teams in a row and somehow gets local media to spew propaganda heralding NU's return to relevance. The next week, another on-air meltdown ensues.
By no means does PYB want Nebraska to have to undergo another brutal coaching turnover, but Pinelli has produced teams with the same warts year after year, while offering no proof improvement is likely. Will he be back on the sidelines in Lincoln next year? In the next few weeks, that’s a decision that much richer, but not smarter, men than us will have to make.
But we do know that any organization needs a vision and an ultimate goal, with a clear, step-by-step process to get there and a leader powerful enough to drive it. Exactly where the Nebraska football team stands in Pinelli's process is anybody's guess.
For now, we'll all suffer the pain of another horribly mismanaged loss and another wasted season on the Plains.