Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Nothing Old Can Stay

As PYB pondered possible directions for a post-Wisconsin-loss recap and rant, we realized that our bitter critcism of Nebraska football had diminished in 2016 for a couple reasons. Most notably, on the home front, is a lack of leisure time. Second, improved results based on improved play, fewer mistakes, better overall talent and a cushy schedule full of Big Ten stiffs. It's not as easy as it once was to watch the game tapes again on Sunday mornings, make a laundry list of errors between laughs of embarrassment and cries of dismay, and share them with our dear readers. That's a credit to NU coach Mike Riley, we suppose.

Following NU's 23-17 overtime loss to the Badgers, many fans described the loss as hard to swallow. We were surprisingly unaffected. The result was what we expected, after years of watching Nebraska kill itself against equal or inferior competition -- a close game against an opponent that had difficulty scoring against any team fielding 11 defenders that eventually ended in a loss.

NU finally had a defense good enough to stay close in Madison, and PYB didn't think the Blackskirts would shit the bed like on many prior nationally broadcast occasions. We didn't think Nebraska would win, legitimizing itself by beating a team best known for not getting blown out by a Michigan team with a quarterback named Wilton.

After the clock expired, it was also apparent that NU had few of the other intangibles required to beat top competition, other than that improved defense. Least of all, a difference-maker at quarterback.

Sure, Tommy Armstrong will make some good plays. In year four as a starter, however, he still hits too many lulls, has too many inefficiencies and makes too many crippling mistakes to hide his team's many other shortcomings. Those include, but are obviously not limited to:

-Shaky Special Teams: Punter Caleb Lightbourn had the best game of his young career, thankfully. But a moribund kickoff return team, led by a shaky freshman running back, regularly saddles the Huskers' inconsistent offense with poor field position.

-A lack of offensive playmakers, with De'Mornay Pierson-El being the only home-run threat. Not having the ability to score quickly puts a premium on mounting multiple sustained drives against good teams, and having a quarterback that completes less than 50% of his passes in meaningful games won't get that done. (See an awful missed pass to Brandon Reilly, two midfield drive-killing interceptions and three incomplete Hero Ball heaves as the most recent evidence of this).

-Injuries depleting an already-mediocre offensive line.

-Below average running backs.  After boasting three straight RBs that could gain 1000 yards a season without blocks (Helu/Burkhead/Abdullah), the cupboard is now bare. Thanks, Bo Pinelli.

-Lack of physical dominance - Since Riley arrived in Lincoln, NU has made great strides in strength and conditioning, in our estimation. But there are still more Huskers than their opponents writhing on the turf against top-tier teams. Time for the needle to tip the other way.

-Poor playcalling - Much less prevalent than last year, but against Wisconsin, Danny Langsdorf's selections ranged from mistimed, to limited by personnel, to uninspired, to bad. How about one pass deep over the middle late in the fourth quarter and the chance to win the game?

-End-of-half clock management - Riley is apparently content with Armstrong's continued Hero-Ball antics, but has passed on chances to utilize timeouts, throw Hail Marys, or both near halftime of multiple close games. Mystifying.

-Leaky run defense - The Blackshirts have made significant progress from 2015, but have been bad all season in yards relinquished per carry. Mark Banker's crew gave up several long runs Saturday. Two went for touchdowns, one gave the Badgers an opportunity at a potential game-winning field goal, and one let Wisconsin escape a deep hole late in the first half instead of giving NU's offense a chance to score before intermission. Eliminating any of those may have turned a loss into a win for Nebraska.

None of the above are, on their own, egregious enough to lose a game or ruin a season. In the Pelini Era, they'd have been cause for celebration. But all are the perfect loss-making ingredients when an unreliable quarterback with a penchant for disastrous decisions is under center.

In the end Saturday, it was a little bit of everything. Nebraska gave another opponent a free pass, and Riley relinquished bragging rights to his protege-turned-huge-headed eyesore Paul Chryst.

We understood Armstrong's limitations long ago. Saturday, we knew those limitations would continue to lead to more empty hearts across Husker Nation and to emptier trophy cases in Lincoln.

On to Columbus, against a better, more talented opponent in Ohio State, with the same quarterback calling the shots for Nebraska. Husker fans will hope for different and get more of the same.

Other Quick Hits:

-Dildo on the field in Buffalo. Top Ten Sports Moments of All Time.

-Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers by working pitch counts, getting to the World Series for the first time in 70+ years. Now they're swinging at every pitch against Cleveland. Good times.

-Sam Bradford remembers he's Sam Bradford and loses to Jay Cutler on Monday Night Football.

 All for now.


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