Sunday, November 24, 2013

You Cannot Be Serious

Nebraska beat Penn State Saturday in Happy Valley 23-20. Cornhusker fans and local media outlets rejoiced. Apparently, another nearly blown victory was more proof positive that 'something special is going on in Lincoln.' The Omaha World Herald's Tom Shatel said so, just like he did two weeks ago. Apparently, he forgot that Nebraska pissed the bed last week and got blasted by a mediocre Michigan State team.

Steve Sipple, Lincoln Urinal-Star columnist and renowned NU athletic department mouthpiece, said so. (Who can blame Sipple? If we wrote at the level of a ninth grader and stayed employed, we'd be loathe to upset that apple cart too.)

The only thing special about
yesterday's victory was just how fantastically Private Pinelli's crew botched another opportunity to take home an easy road win. Only a crew this poorly managed can manage to turn 14-point wins into overtime 'thrillers.' Only teams this devoid of fundamentals and instincts can turn should-be 45-3 romps into 27-13 Buckeye Blowouts. Only teams without a leader can turn down-to-the-wire games against other so-so teams into 21-point losses or outright disasters.

So for everyone painting a Rosy -- or Wild Wing -- picture, save it. In the words of the great Johnny Mac -- You cannot be fucking serious! Answer these questions:

1. Is Nebraska a well-managed football team? We offer the following items as proof that the answer is a resounding 'No.'

--Offensive coordinator Tim Beck continues to ruin Tommy Armstrong's confidence, with a bevy of shitty play calls and poorly designed strategies. They even pulled the "Roy Helu" on Armstrong yesterday, convincing him he was hurt enough to sit out, despite the fact that he jogged off the field without any sort of a limp after his last play in the first quarter.

--On NU's first offensive series, Ameer Abdullah broke a 24-yard run. Obviously, he tapped out of the game. Strength and conditioning, anyone? Imani Cross stayed in the rest of the series, even on 3rd-and-4. Drive over.

--After backup Ron Kellogg III came into the game with seconds left in the opening period, Beck called 34 pass plays. Those plays averaged 5.5 yards per attempt. Hello, Blaine Gabbert. PYB thinks it's safe to assume that both a freshman quarterback and his walk-on backup could use some easy throws to build confidence and create a rhythm.

The most glaring example: 3rd-and-3 from his own 24. Kellogg standing in the shotgun at his own 19. Seven step drop. Hold the ball three counts too long. Fumble. PSU recovers at NU's 8. Scores easily. Instead of leading 14-6 early in the second half, NU trails on the road 13-7. Luckily, Kenny Bell hadn't dropped any balls yet and was healthy enough to return the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

In another shockingly positive development, NU's tight ends did catch two balls for 19 yards. Sadly, all of their targets were outside the numbers on the field. How about using the middle of the field with tight ends? Seems to work for every other team in college football.

--Punt returns. Nebraska tallied exactly zero yards on its returns. They went as follows:

  • Minus three yards before Jordan Westerkamp took a knee when he got scared.
  • Fair catch on knees.
  • Four players halfheartedly rush, zero yard return.
  • Penn State dropped the snap, and NU still barely got a finger on the kick.
  • Fair catch.
  • No return, ball not fielded.
  • Fair catch, Westerkamp fell on his ass.
  • Fair catch from a knee.
  • Fair catch, let the ball hit the ground, no return.
  • Fair catch.
Do we need to expand on just how bad the above list is, considering Big 10 football is terrible and is all about field position every damn game? At least Penn State's kickoff coverage was bad as usual and gifted NU an important touchdown. Somehow, Nebraska uses its starting running back and wide receiver (despite the fact that they're both allegedly battling injuries) to return kickoffs but then uses a punt returner who has no chance to make a play with the ball. Most amazingly, Private Pinelli continues to overlook a phase of the game that many times means 14 points and countless yards.

--Turnover margin. Nebraska began yesterday's game ranked last in the conference and added another -1 to that. Sound familiar?

--Beck used the Wildcat formation for the first time all season yesterday. Remember, the formation that was so successful with Rex Burkhead for the last few seasons but was horribly underused? Well, it hadn't been worthy of usage until yesterday -- on the goal line. Unfamiliar formation. Unfamiliar situation. Fumble on the goal line. Blown opportunity at a touchdown. Familiar result.

2. Does NU consistently capitalize on its opportunities during games? Yesterday's results were indicative of the pattern we've witnessed during the Youngstown era:

  • Blocked punt. Ball at midfield. Wildcat formation for the first time all season on Penn State's goal line. Abdullah: Another back-breaking fumble.
  • Ciante Evans interception at midfield. Drive stalls. Field goal.
  • First and goal at the two-yard line with a chance to take a lead late in the fourth quarter. Cross in at running back. Stuffed on first down. False start. Two Kellogg runs sandwiching a blown timeout. No touches for Abdullah. Field goal ties game.

3. Does Nebraska play smart football?

  • Four fumbles Saturday. Two lost. Two inside its own 15-yard line. One giving up an easy touchdown and the other on its own one-yard line when all NU really needed to do was run clock.
  • Seven penalties for 54 yards.
  • Corey Cooper lets a receiver run right past him for a touchdown, supposedly because he didn't want to hit him close to the sideline and get a 15-yard penalty.
  • Sam Burtch ruins a 62-yard touchdown run with a meaningless block five yards behind the play. And YES, we know it was an awful fucking call but well-coached teams with smart coaches and smart players don't give stupid officials any opportunity to take over a game with an awful fucking call. We all know that if officials get the opportunity to impact a game at the worst possible time, they will. Leave it alone.
  • On its final drive in regulation, Nebraska was fortunate to convert a first down on a pass interference call after being pinned deep in its own territory. Just like last week against Michigan State, Beck was too dumb or too proud to leave well-enough alone, force Penn State to use all of its timeouts, punt, and go to overtime. Still in a precarious position, but with the Lions having just one timeout remaining and just over a minute to go, the sequence went as follows:
    • Pass. Abdullah runs out of bounds.
    • Kellogg forces pass between two PSU defenders in zone coverage. Near interception
    • False start.
    • Droppped screen pass
    • Holding
    • Now it's really time to get the fuck outta Dodge, riiiiight?? Nope!
    • 2nd-and-25. Abdullah goes out of bounds to stop the clock once more. Penn State keeps last timeout and is looking at getting the ball near midfield with a timeout left and needing only a field goal to win.
    • 3rd-and-20. THROW the fucking ball ONE MORE TIME!!!! Even BTN color announcer Chuck Long nearly blew his load at this point.
    • 4th-and-20. Punt and luckily PSU coach Bill O'Brien pulled a Pinelli and decided not to field the punt and let the clock expire instead of trying to set up a game-winning field goal drive. Dumb and Dumber.
  • On its winning 'drive' in overtime, Nebraska gained five yards on first down. On second down, Diamond formation with Cross, Abdullah and Terrell Newby. What does any smart play caller do? Of course -- hand it to the worst of the three! (Cross) No gain, but with the ball in the middle of the field, all is still well. What does any smart play caller do at this point? OF COURSE -- throw a four-yard pattern that was dangerously close to an interception. Had NU even caught the damn thing, it would have created a bad angle for the NU placekicker. This really happened.
  • Alas, Nebraska kicked the game-winning field goal -- twice. No game would be complete without one final error for the day. This time it was a false start on a field goal, forcing Pat Smith to make a 42-yard kick in swirling winds after he'd just kicked one from 37. Luckily, in a rare glint of clutch play from Nebraska, Smith booted the second attempt right down the cock and sealed the result. 
So, let's take stock. NU won, despite all its injuries and in spite of itself, to move to 8-3. Apologists point to what heart the team must have to beat all the bad teams on its schedule while losing to any that are mediocre or better. PYB did take away some positives:
  • The defense, despite being pushed around to the tune of 149 yards by a slow running back, can now at least follow assignments.
  • Penn State dropped three key passes, all on third downs where receivers would have made first downs
  • No matter what NU would have done to embarrass itself Saturday, it couldn't have topped the fact that PSU had a male cheerleader tiptoeing around midfield at halftime twirling flaming batons. 
  • The young defensive tackles look like up-and-comers
  • The defensive backs are decent, for the most part.
  • The offensive line is Nebraska's best in 15 years, despite a myriad of injuries. John Garrison took over most of the teaching duties from Barney Cotton before the season. Coincedence? Paging Sherlock Holmes...
  • NU may have the best running back in the Big 10. If he could just quit fumbling at the worst possible moment, that would be swell. UCLA in 2012 and 2013. Georgia in 2012. Minnesota in 2013. Penn State in 2013. 
  • No Taylor Martinez. It's amazing what a team can do, even without a great starting quarterback, without a pussy like T-Ragic at the epicenter of the dysfunction. Despite all the team's warts, we'll root for a team with a chance. A team with Martinez taking the snaps has no chance at all. NU fans saying T-Vag haters "didn't know what they had until it was gone" are either stupid or dishonest.
Does PYB look for reasons to nitpick every Nebraska performance? No, and yes. We don't nitpick for sport. We do so, because with today's watered-down state of college football, teams can't win on talent alone. Teams must maximize every opportunity and competitive advantage. An opportunity lost is one that will bite you in the ass by the fourth quarter.

If excellence ceases to be the goal, all direction is lost and a fan base becomes happy with eking out a win against a bad team just because it has a big stadium. Private Pinelli's 3M System: Missed Opportunities, Mismanagement and Mistakes can turn just enough solid road wins into nail-biters and just enough close wins into bad losses to get him fired. 

For another week, a Nebraska fan base can see what it wants to see instead of seeing the obvious truth. It can use a narrow win against a bad team from a bad conference without a good win all season as a convenient smokescreen to commend another subpar coaching effort. Or it can root for the best from this flawed bunch, while demanding better from future teams. Teams that are organized, effiicient, and well-coached.

Whether that fan base will demand better or conveniently forget the past, remains unanswered. Whether Pinelli and his staff can deliver better than their current poorly-managed product, remains doubtful.


1 comment:

  1. Damn it- we're going on two weeks, PYB. Need. New. Posting. Now.