I had planned to throw in a line about how the boring part of the schedule (October games against Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota) was over, and with games against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa, it was about to get very interesting.
But then Nebraska goes up to Minnesota and gets smacked in the face to the tune of a 34-23 loss. The doubt and drama that clouded this team after the UCLA game has resurfaced, and likely will grow more intense in the next five weeks.
My original thoughts still hold true: this stretch run will define Nebraska's season, and it is about to get very, very interesting. But the stakes have been raised: instead of make or break for the season, it is increasingly looking like make or break for this coaching staff.
Who knows how it all turns out? The same folks who were predicting a 5-0 or 4-1 month are now seeing three or more losses in the final five games.
So what did we learn?
Taylor Martinez is not 100%. The foot speed was clearly not there, his immediate acceleration was MIA, and he sure appeared hesitant to attack running lanes that were there. It's tough to nitpick Minnesota's defensive game plan, but I have no idea why the Gophers paid any attention to the threat of Martinez running on any of Nebraska's option plays. It was quite obvious that he was not full speed, nor was he very intent on testing it.
This loss was not Taylor Martinez's fault.I think that are some of you who should read the previous sentence again. First and foremost, Martinez was not the one who gave up 271 yards rushing - most of which came eight yards at a time - or 34 points. He didn't allow a 4th and 10 to turn into a 33 yard, momentum swinging touchdown. Martinez did throw an interception, and was off-target on other throws, but he was not dropping catchable passes. Some of the four sacks may be Taylor's fault, but some of the others - notably where Minnesota's RaShede Hageman plowed over Mike Moudy - are not.
Clearly, this was not Taylor's finest game, but he could not control his shaky blocking, dropped passes, or his defense getting blown up. Anybody who thinks that #3 lost the game needs to set aside their feelings for Martinez and take a more objective look.
Some of our "fans" are unbelievable jerks. Saturday night, Kenny Bell tweeted that his dog had been hit by a car, and was vomiting blood in his house. A jerk who claims to be a "huge fan" responded with "sorry about your dog, but you guys basically did the same thing on the field today. Embarrassing. Huge fan. Disappointed".
People like that absolutely disgust me. You have no business calling yourself a fan if you're going to take a personal shot at a player (especially one as universally loved as Bell), or seek them out to unload your anger. I don't know Kenny Bell, but I'm sure he was hurting enough without one of his "huge fan(s)" kicking him while he (and his dog) were down.
Now I'm sure there are some folks who think I'm hypocrite for calling out this piece of garbage when I'm a couple of hundred words away from the "5 Areas for Improvement" section where I critique players and coaches. I understand that criticism, but there are three key differences: 1) I don't tweet out my work directly to those I've criticized. A player (or their family) may find and read my work, but I'm not seeking out players to rub my words in their face. 2) I try to write things that I feel are accurate, and things that I would say to somebody's face. Partially that is because I'm posting under my real name, but its the right thing to do. And most importantly, 3) I never, ever go personal on a player or coach.
This jerk has deleted the original tweet, and has apologized profusely, but I believe it was only because he was getting a ton of negative feedback from Husker fans who are human enough to understand that Mr. Green's actions were indefensible. Personally, I think anybody who uses social media to directly attack a player should get a 1 year ban from Memorial Stadium - or have to serve as a scout team player during a full contact practice.
So what don't we know?
What the heck happened? I just don't really understand what happened. Nebraska was coming off of a bye, playing a less talented team in a decidedly non-hostile environment. Did they underestimate the Gophers? Were they looking ahead to the November gauntlet? Was the emotional boost of coach Jerry Kill returning to the press box enough to inspire the Gophers to victory? Did they decide to coast when they got up 10-0? Or is Nebraska's defense so bad that they cannot stop 3-4 basic plays run from a variety of formations?
Why didn't Tommy Armstrong get a series or two?I have no idea. There were several moments - specifically in the second and third quarter - when it sure felt like the team needed a spark, something to get them going. I have no idea if Armstrong (or Ron Kellogg III) would have been able to do anything more than what Martinez did, but given the QB rotation of the past three games (and the pregame acknowledgement that "all three will play") I would have liked to see them get a chance, especially when there were times that Martinez was clearly not 100%.
I absolutely do not believe there is any conspiracy by Nebraska's coaches to play Martinez no matter what, or to keep one of the backups from looking "too good". Seriously, what is worse for this coaching staff? A QB controversy because Ron Kellogg rallies the team to victory, or losing to Minnesota? Exactly.
How much do the officials really care about protecting players? In the 3rd quarter, Taylor Martinez broke loose on a long run and was taken out of bounds. The Minnesota defender made first contact in bounds, then became Martinez's personal back pack until landing on top of him - 10 feet out of bounds. The refs initially threw a flag, but it was picked up for some horribly illogical reason.
Later in the 3rd, Martinez got drilled after throwing a pass. The hit was in that grey area of late/not late - sometimes it gets called, and sometimes it does not. I can deal with a late hit not being called, but there is absolutely no excuse for the hit itself to not draw a flag. The Gopher defender went facemask to facemask with Martinez. It was apparent during live action and was blatantly obvious during a replay. Without sounding like a sour grapes fan, it was more flagrant and potentially more harmful than the hit that got Stanley Jean- Baptiste ejected two weeks ago.
We keep hearing about how the officials are going to be vigilant in protecting players - especially quarterbacks - but their efforts are woefully hit and miss.
How Full Is Your Glass?
Given the divide I’m seeing between the “Pelini Apologists” and the “Bo Bashers”, I’d like to provide a stat, quote, observation, or factoid that best illustrates the position of these two diverse groups.
Glass Half Empty: Absolutely nothing has changed since the Big Ten Championship game. The defense is still a mess and the offense is incapable for carrying the load.
Glass Half Full: Frankly, I've got nothing. It's not that I'm firmly in a "fire Bo" camp, but I did not see many things that give me a lot of optimism for the rest of the season.
5 Players I Loved
- Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah tried to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. He put up 165 yards, with a very impressive 8.7 yards per carry. The only thing he didn't do was play linebacker. Simply put, Nebraska's defense wasted a brilliant performance by Ameer.
- Pat Smith.One of the few surprise bright spots was the field goal kicking of Smith, who hit from 45, 42, and 37 yards. It certainly appears as if Nebraska will need to have a kicker who is automatic inside of 45 yards. Hopefully Smith is that guy.
- Mauro Bondi. Six kickoffs. Five touchbacks and an end-of-the-half dribbler. I wonder if the guys on the coverage team get to count those kicks as part of their conditioning?
- Jordan Westerkamp. Nebraska's longest punt return in a year - a jaw-dropping 19 yards. I'm so excited by this that I'll overlook how Westerkamp lost two yards over his next two returns for finish with 17 yards for the day.
- Sam Cotton.Since I'm running out of special teams players to recognize, let's go with the tight end who got his first career touchdown on Saturday. Without doing the research, I'm guessing there are not too many sets of brothers who have both caught TD passes for Nebraska.
Honorable Mention: Alonzo Moore,Husker fans who made the trip to Minnesota,
5 Areas for Improvement
- Defense. Give credit to Minnesota for having a good game plan and using some odd formations and shifts to confuse the defense, but that was an ugly, painful performance by the defense. I won't deny that Nebraska's youth played a role, but it wasn't hard to see that Minnesota used a lot of Wisconsin's plan from the Big Ten Championship game - with similar success. Those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
- Offensive Line. A disappointing effort by the O line. They allowed four sacks, which would have been more, had Martinez showed some nice pocket presence a few times to avoid the rush. I realize the loss of Spencer Long is huge and leaves a void that cannot be immediately filled, but I'd like to think the overall unit could have performed better.
- Wide Receivers.I won't argue that Taylor Martinez could have (and should have) been much more accurate with many of his throws, but that does not excuse the large number of passes that hit a receiver's hands then hit the turf.
- Body Language. There was a point in the second half when I knew Nebraska was going to lose. I forget the exact moment, but I think it was during the 3rd quarter. ESPN showed the Minnesota sideline and I saw an energetic team. Then they showed the Nebraska sideline and I saw a scene from a women's clothing store: a bunch of disinterested guys standing around while their girlfriends are trying on clothes, looking like they'd rather be someplace else. I saw the same thing during the UCLA game too. We've learned in the past few years that Nebraska is capable of a come-from-behind win. But not when the players look defeated with more than 20 minutes to go.
- Pink Everything. I am very happy to have October ending so we can be done with breast cancer awareness, everything pink month. I'm all for trying to finding cures and treatments to diseases, but how about we share the wealth a little bit? Instead of a bunch of pink accessories, can we have players wearing blue for epilepsy awareness or grey for pediatric brain cancer?
Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog (www.feitcanwrite.com). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.