Even before the last regular season game, the Huskerís rookie Big Ten campaign can be officially tagged a bust. But before assuming this is just a shred job for shock value, these arenít just my words; theyíd also be Bo Peliniís if he werenít obligated to motivate a bunch of kids for a little-more-than-pride game against Iowa on Friday.
"We want to win a championship this coming fall," Bo said in early August. "We haven't done that yet, and I came here and said we're all about championships. We're not playing around here for second place.
"We're right on the cusp. Now we have to make a few more plays. We're going to do certain things to get over the hump," he added.
After almost four seasons we know for certain Pelini isnít a shades-of-gray guy and even if NU destroys Iowa and their bowl opponent, heíll preach no moral victories about the Huskers idling in Lincoln when a B1G Championship Game will have been played in Indy without them. For Bo, no championship equals a failed season and that reality is already written.
From the Chattanooga game, where the FCS Mocs won TOP by five minutes, through the Michigan debacle NU has never passed the eye test (the MSU game the exception that proves the rule) and the on-field performance has left a substantial number trail to confirm our eyes havenít been deceived. With the sulfur smell of confetti cannons still lingering from Shawn Watsonís bon voyage party, it was inconceivable that Tim Beckís ďdonít go to the bathroomĒ offense could produce fewer yards, much less fall from 35th
nationally, but it did.
In the last three games, the arguably over-maligned Taylor Martinez escaped an average of 6 initial tackle attempts (per game) while under constant, immediate pressure. NU was 19 of 46 on third down conversions, possessed the ball for only 73 out of 180 minutes, and had 17 fewer first downs than their opponents in what was advertised to be a ball control offense.
Calling the new O a failed experiment after one year would be inane, but after 11 games there are unsettling sights such as an offensive line that has shown minimal retention from game to game and seem incapable of reacting to any D scheme that doesnít mirror what they walk through in practice. Likewise, Beckís play calling was frequently rapt with tunnel vision, running the same two or three plays for long stretches into waiting defenses and frequently leading to jettisoning game plans in desperation.
The monotonously unimaginative UM run right strategy and indefensible pass-happy Wisconsin game plans were outright egregious in their conception and obviously failed miserably. Far more improvements are still needed across the board than wouldíve been hoped after 11 games and with next to nothing ever gelling on offense itís time to stop hearing cryptic, fantastic visions and start seeing some well-coached execution.
The defensive collapse has inspired more head scratching in Nebraska than dandruff and psoriasis combined. For one lone game after 8 weeks, Peliniís subjective calculus equaled having officially licensed Blackshirts and seven days later the D tanked. Lightly regarded Northwestern mauled the Blackshirts for 25 first downs, only seven of which even required three downs to convert. Now factor in that 207 yards came on the ground and you know you werenít just imagining that the Blackshirts were getting gashed inside and out. Fast forward to the next multiple threat QB and Michigan amassed 238 rushing yards while collecting 24 first downs with only eight requiring a 3rd
In NUís three losses the Huskers gave up 121 points and were outscored by 62 points, which is only an 8 point differential from Frankís three blowout losses in 2003 that Steve Peterson deemed hatchet-worthy (and the 2011 team still isnít out of the woods just yet).
Faster than you could say Ďadios Gomes, Hagg, and Amukamura,í NU nosedived nationally in yards surrendered from 10th
which includes being 73rd
against the run. In points allowed, the only stat Bo admits matters, NU freefell from 8th
in the nation. Preach ďsystemĒ all you want, but Iíll question every time how any ďprocessĒ could be deemed reliable with that amount of flux. The shock is that in four years thereís never been a reason to question the Pelini D approach but now all witnesses seem a bit unsureÖincluding the Pelinis.
Even buying into Boís ďstats donít matterĒ philosophy and ignoring the numbers canít blind the eyes to the obvious inability of the front four to generate pressure or slow the run between the tackles. The LB positions have played well, but are often schemed out of stopping gut runs inside of 4 yards and the secondary has been strangely undisciplined and repeatedly burned. With Crick sidelined, NU clearly has only two all-conference caliber players in David and Dennard and all three of the aforementioned will graduate with no heir-apparents jumping off the roster. 2012 will no doubt be the ultimate challenge of process versus talent and most interesting will be how heavily the Pelinis bank on 2011 being just an anomaly.
Season being a bust aside, the final two games arenít meaningless albeit the stakes just arenít as compelling as competing for a trophy. Win out to finish 10 - 3 and most fans probably shrug and hold their breaths for next year.
Few however, have an appetite for losing to border foe Iowa and finishing the regular season 8 - 4 which would magnify the teamís regression in many ways beyond just two fewer season wins that the previous year. NU would likely fall from the rankings for the first time since November 2009 and a third tier bowl game would be the reward for permanently inking a 4th
(possibly tied for 5th
) place finish in the inaugural Legends Division annals.
A 9 - 4 final mark sends a lot of fans into 2012 with extreme caution and little patience. Lose both games to finish 8 - 5 and no doubt a significant contingent begins to question loudly just how much rope the Pelini administration should be given moving forward.
As unsavory as those numbers sound, the Huskers are probably lucky not to be sitting at 6 - 5 and possibly 5 - 6. Not factored in is how NU would likely have fared had Braxton Miller not blown a tire in the OSU game or just imagine if Terrell Pryor and several others kept their original dates as starters. What if PSUís world and operational infrastructure as they knew it hadnít bizarrely collapsed just days before the Huskers arrived in a game where PSU owned the second half after an unavoidable first half lag? What if NU didnít catch a few breaks at home in a nail biter against U-dub? In short, as icky as 8 - 3 might feel, itís not a big stretch to suggest the 22nd
ranked Huskers may still be getting handed too much credit.
In another column Iíll debate the virtues and potential slack Pelini maybe should be afforded based on his seemingly firm commitment to education, discipline, and doing things the right way. In the wake of ugly scandals of every gag-reflexing variety running rampant, thereís one shining record NU still owns that it should vigorously protect. NUís spotless record regarding major NCAA violations is perhaps worthy of prioritizing over winning titles, but that is a conversation for another day. Likewise, talking about the next season before the current one is officially over is usually reserved for another day as well, but that brings us back to the point of this article.
No one is saying fans canít, wonít or shouldn't enjoy watching and hoping NU lands a no-shame-at-all 10 win season, but when the biggest prizes still on the table are border state bragging rights and knowing the location of the Huskerís pre-New Yearís Day bowl game, you couldn't convince Bo Pelini himself that itís too early to stamp the 2011 season a bust.
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