In the first four years of the Pelini Administration we’ve heard everything from “we’re all about winning championships” to “there’s more to life than trophies.” We heard the defense would be better post-Suh (wasn’t) and better again after losing Gomes, Hagg, and Prince (really wasn’t). Concerns about a moving to a bruising, run-happy B1G were brushed aside with “football is football” and now we hear this year will be easier with a B1G year under our belts.
So, what do sound bytes teach us? Not that Bo Pelini double-talks; you don’t crucify a guy who’d give half his salary for a media opt-out clause because he talks the required talk. You learn why Vegas lines don’t move based on coach-speak. You learn to cover your ears and open your eyes when assessing your team. No, you don’t tell a guy like Bo Pelini to shut-up
, but headed into year five, you expect to witness a good measure of put-up
The unrealistic expectations of NU competing for annual National Titles faded into the sunset with Tom Osborne, while at the same time no one expected to be competing for 3rd
place in the Unpunished Division of the B1G or to have the only intrigue left in late November be which 3 guys will draw short straws and have to lug the Heroes Trophy off the field.
Put-up, for purposes of this article, is not about winning National Titles, but about feeling a sense of “program” that’s been lacking since 2002’s rude 7 - 7 awakening and seemingly started to gel in '09 - '10. Consistency and competitiveness that can be expected game over game with minimal usherings off the field by drunken fans chanting “Big Ten Football” after being blasted by 31 points.
Last year’s 9 – 4, that was a few heroic ‘Vonte plays and a Braxton Miller ankle sprain away from 7 – 6, felt more like a fall than a one game flutter from the year before. The defense regressed visually and statistically in a year you would like to have seen “system” better compensate for major personnel losses. You give a little slack for a new OC and new conference, but major college football waits for no man and it’s year five where you watch in hopes of seeing "system" breed consistency.
The first game thoroughly entertained, while etching nothing in stone, bad or good, about what late November will feel like. The impressive absence of yellow flags made room for figurative red flags all over the field, which you expect in game one. NU has about the same chance of being a very good team as they do of giving us that 2011 feeling all over again.
The offense had a wing-dinger of a day. NU’s QB and OL executed at an extremely high level and Beck called an exceptional game. The last time a debut was this exciting was two years ago when a Frosh named T-Mart ran for 127 and passed for 136, so we know no one’s out of the woods just yet.
SoMiss’s D wasn’t imitation, but genuine 100% vanilla and they lined up, just as NU drew it up; complete with infrequent, predictable blitzes and LBs cheating on the run while they watched in disbelief as T-Brady sailed the ball over their heads.
The very few recent, dominant OL games NU has had were also curiously void of D wrinkles. When Ds masked coverages and got all stunty, the OL starting playing 80s music, spinning right round, like a record baby as four rushers blew by five blockers. Vindication for the OL comes after Halloween if/when NU has passed multiple tests from Ds with good disguises.
T-Mart did everything he was asked, pitching to catchers under minimal duress. The shoulda-been pick six was not as concerning as the pressured pass he completed going across his body and the middle of the D showing he’s not fully cured of ill-advised-ad-lib-itis. But, he also took a sack he needed to take when every part of him wanted to chuck it up for grabs. He got away with some very short long balls, which always cause collisions and luckily didn’t get picked or keep Reed down very long. Overall though, a career day, but T-Mart’s not officially a changed man until he throws calm in the face of real pressure.
Tim Beck didn’t throw a jab, he threw a wheelhouse left into SoMiss’s jaw. It was a sick and nasty blow. The football season however, is a tag-team event and defending a passing game, often out of a two tight-end set isn’t hard when you know it’s in the playbook. In short, the next guy’s going to punch back. Tim is confident he can counter any counter, which is good because he’ll have to.
The gunslinger call to go for a first down on 3rd
and 23, forcing your kicker’s first FG attempt be 44 yards instead of tossing an underneath route to get 10 easy yards and a sure 3 points could’ve been lethal in a close game and worst case maybe blew Maher’s confidence for the season. I would’ve liked to hear Tim really regret that move, but 632 yards is rarely followed with deep self-analysis.
Best case for the Huskers’ offense is Beck can stick and move in a maniacal, multiple offensive gameplan that the players continue to execute at a high-level while points rack up. Worst case, NU reverts back to bad habits once the pressure steps up. Reality will probably fall in the middle, but one thing no one can deny is that the O put-up in week one.
The D showed so many red flags they looked like they were playing a metaphorical game of flag football. The interior DLs got pushed around like blocking dummies in the first half, even resorting to a desperation spin move on a run play or two (ask Jason Peter about those from the Wizard of Coz days). As a whole the front four did little to alter the Eagles’ attempted gameplan which was fortunately a three-headed mess. The OL was SoMiss’s strength, but the operative word there is SoMiss. NU will see better OLs, much better.
Watching Alonzo Whaley cover a WR on one play gave me more Magnificent Coz flashbacks when OLB Stewart Bradley at 6’ 4”, 255 was frequently forced to cover wideouts, which was about the only way to make Stew’s freakish skills and 4.6 speed look slow and clumsy. Whaley looked equally challenged trailing TEs and RBs by 3 yards as SoMiss left well over 100 yards of offense on the field by over-shooting wide open guys. No doubt Alonzo is a tuned athlete and a gamer, but while listed at essentially the same dimensions as 'Vonte, his game seems a bit oversized to be at WILL.
My ears heard Bo praise the D because there was zero film on SoMiss under Johnson, but my eyes saw a Blackshirt D with no obvious difference makers. In recent years NU has lost Suh, Hagg, Gomes, Dennard, ‘Vonte, and Prince, and if the Blackshirts don’t shore things up fast, you have to start doubting the ‘Peso’ and wonder if those talents would’nt have thrived in any system not concocted during the Callahan reign of terror by the clown prince of DCs sporting three pairs of glasses and holstering 4 clipboards in his waistband.
If NU’s scoring explosion hadn’t broken SoMiss’s spirit by the 3rd
Q and turned the Eagles’ offense into a QB audition, Johnson would have stuck with Alford and sat the two other stiffs that couldn’t find Mexico if they started out in Tijuana. Pretty easy call when Alford and Johnson were averaging 6 yards/carry while helping the Blackshirts carry forward 2011’s tradition of making the zone read play look indefensible.
On special teams, Bo suggested the mistakes that led to a 100 yard KO return were easily fixed, to which my only response is: If it’s that easy why not fix it two years ago?
Anyway, Game One is one game. The good guys won and it entertained which is all you can really ask in early September. Soon, possibly Saturday, it becomes a little more about deciding whether or not the Huskers represent Nebraska’s hallmark character traits of striving for consistency and excellence in victory (and defeat). In Year 5 it’s time to put-up and that determination won’t be made by coaches and what they say (refer: Bill Callahan, The Coz, Craig Bohl
). How will we know if we’re nearing that level? We’ll see
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