Nice post, nice to see a passionless view of what you have seen.DISAPPOINTMENT = EXPECTATIONS - REALITY
I expected us to beat Colorado, and I thought that we'd beat them badly if we played well, and I thought we would play well: I was wrong and right. We lost, but we dominated them when we played well. Since more seriously diving into Nebraska's schedule in June, I had expected us to win 8-9 games and to lose a couple of games like this, so not much has changed for my season's expectations, except that right now I'm leaning more towards 8 wins rather than 9. There was a thread started in August on this board about which posters were predicting 10 wins, and there was another that was highly critical of Moos for saying that at least 6 wins were necessary for a successful season. After watching Nebraska lose to Colorado on the same weekend that Maryland crushed Syracuse, it's worthwhile to take a moment and re-evaluate what we expected then and why, and to reassess our expectations going forward. We have a lot of tough games ahead of us, and I think that we're going to have an entire season of close games. We're not yet the type of team (like Northwestern has been in recent years) that knows how to consistently win close games, so we're likely going to lose more games this year that are close, and at least one or two will likely be to teams that most of us thought we'd beat. You're free to disagree with any of that, but I don't take posters seriously who told us in July that we'd win at least 10 games and then turn around and predict that we'll lose to Northern Illinois because we lost on Saturday. If that's you, you should get your house in order.
Here are the things that I see that apparently go against the flow, in no particular order:
No Nebraska fan likes how the Colorado game ended, so that doesn't need to be broken down in excruciating detail anymore. I didn't like how the coaching calls on both sides got more conservative in the second half, and I especially didn't like Frost going against his own mantra by calling plays in OT so as to avoid an interception. He knows that as well as anybody, and I wouldn't expect it to be an issue going forward. I don't know if it was just being gassed or what, but the sloppy tackling late in the game hurt a lot. There were an incredible number of things that had to go wrong for us to lose that game, but what encouraged me the most was that our guys looked fired up and ready to go during the game and p'd off afterwards. Teams that are used to losing will expect to lose, and their body language often gives it away. I didn't see our guys quitting, and I didn't see them looking scared. They expected to win, but they failed to execute, so they didn't, and now they're upset with themselves. If you're going to lose, that is how you want things to be coming out of a loss. I expect Northern Illinois to be the hapless victim of that energy, anger, and re-focus on Saturday. I expect our mistakes this week to be from going too fast rather than having a sleepy hangover effect.
- Cam Jurgens is going to be better than I thought. I need to preface this by saying that I didn't think that he should have started either game, and that I thought that he disrupted the entire offense against South Alabama with poor snaps, so this isn't necessarily high praise. Still, I want to acknowledge that he looked much improved against Colorado, and I'd guess that most of us forgot to worry about snaps being an issue until he had the low snap on 3rd down in OT. If he stays healthy, things will continue to steadily improve in this position over the rest of the season and for the next few years. I'm very glad to be able to say that.
- Adrian Martinez is still Adrian Martinez, but I don't think that Justin Fields is actually the Justin Fields that you've been seeing. Both sides need to be explained. Because Nebraska runs so many Run-Pass Options (RPOs), other teams can force Nebraska to do certain things if they know what the QB has to read before the snap. I don't know enough about the specifics of how the Nebraska staff teaches his progression, but one example would be "Five defenders in the Box = Run." If a defense can technically line up with only 5 defenders total (D-line and LBs) in the Box at the snap, Nebraska will run the ball. I don't know, but I've heard that that call is an automatic "Give" call to the running back on an Inside Zone. If the defense has a stout NG (and both opponents so far have had one), and our Center is struggling, they can force us to run right at our weakest O-lineman and their best D-lineman simply by lining up with what looks like an advantage for the offense (5 OL + QB + RB vs 5 defenders), but isn't. It's hard to tell on TV with such tight camera angles, but if there are Safeties lined up shallow just outside the Box and OLBs cheating towards the Box, it's possible that we end up running against 9 defenders as the ball is snapped. We should already be able to attack this by 1) including a QB Read for when all of the defenders are attacking the RB and nobody is taking Martinez (which happened a lot against South Alabama), 2) throwing more Bubble Screens and swing passes to the RB out of the backfield (if the Safety and or OLB is too close to the Box to cover outside), and 3) attacking the deep seams of the defense with the TE or Slot WR faking a block on a Safety before running past him, which is what Stoll did right away for a big play against South Alabama. Martinez didn't suddenly become a poor QB, but the combination of so many Inside Zone running plays with Martinez holding onto the ball so much longer tells me that the defenses have been dictating his choices by formation but then moving after the snap to take away what is supposed to be open. Frost, Walters, Verduzco, and Martinez will fix this. It's good to get this fixed now rather than later.
I don't think Justin Fields has been tested yet. I include him here for a couple reasons. First, we play OSU in a couple weeks, and I think that we'll match up better with them than we do against teams like Iowa, right now. Second, everything that I said in the paragraph above will also be true of Fields when he goes against Chinander's defense. We will try to attack him in the exact same ways that defenses have been confusing Martinez, and I believe that it will work equally well or better. Chinander's defensive scheme thoroughly confused Haskins last year, and I think that Haskins is a much, much better QB, especially at the cerebral aspects of recognizing what a defense is doing and faking.
- Our O-line is bad, right now, but they'll steadily improve. It really, really hurt the chemistry of the whole unit to have Jurgens starting without having had him taking the majority of the snaps in the spring and the fall camps. The communication between O-linemen along with timing and expectations of one another are the foundation of solid O-line play, and right now they're still learning that as they get used to playing with each other.
- On a related note, I hope that Benhart is able to start playing Right-OT as soon as possible. Matt Farniok is an excellent Guard, but we're asking him to play OT, where he hurts us against teams with quicker edge rushers. This is going to be even more glaring of an issue as we start getting into the heart of our schedule and start seeing teams with better edge defenders. I have no idea how close Benhart might be to being ready, but as long as we're taking our lumps with Jurgens learning Center, I'd prefer it if we could get our entire future O-line settled into where we expect them to be playing by the end of the year as well as next year. Having Benhart at R-OT will hurt us in some ways, but Farniok is hurting us in others, right now. Farniok would shore up the interior O-line immediately, and he'd likely help both Jurgens and Benhart grow into their positions. It might mean that we're weaker now, including against Ohio State, but we should be stronger in October and November because of it.
- Mills is a better RB than what he has looked, so far. Mills is still learning how to be a RB in a zone-blocking based offense. He was able to run to a hole when he played at Georgia Tech, and he could do that very well as he would hit the hole hard and quickly. The Inside Zone running play requires him to follow a path at first while reading the defenders to figure out where the hole will be. There were multiple times against South Alabama where he was seeing the initial target closing up, so he would turn his whole body towards the next option; this is bad because it tells the whole defense where you're going (versus staying on your path while using your peripheral vision to see where the hole is forming), and they can react and be there waiting for you. Mills' quickness to the hole and power running through it will again be an asset as soon as he learns the discipline of staying on his path for his first few steps without giving away when and where he'll make his decisive cut. It will be much easier for Mills to learn this than it will be to turn Maurice into a good interior RB. If Mills doesn't pick it up quickly, I expect to see more of Rahmir Johnson (I actually expected to see a lot of him already) because he grew up in a zone-running scheme, and he was already showing maturity in how to run inside and outside as a high school RB.
- Our WRs are not on the same page as Martinez, but that, too, will improve. A lot of our WR routes are combo-routes where the WR decides (sometimes pre-snap and sometimes on the fly) which route he is running based on where the defenders are. I think that a lot of the issues with Martinez standing so long in the pocket without throwing the ball is because the WRs aren't ending up where he's expecting them to be. Watching film and communicating better will help everyone to get synchronized better. With Hunt off the team, plus Warner and Woodyard not playing due to injury, there has been too much upheaval to have everyone consistently on the same page. Combined with the rotations that the defenses have been using, and it's been baffling for both Martinez and the WRs when people aren't coming open when expected. Fans at the games have seen and replays on TV have often shown a WR coming wide open, but Martinez's eyes were elsewhere. That's not necessarily Martinez doing something wrong so much as somebody didn't properly identify what the defense was going to do, so they weren't on the same page. Much like the O-linemen getting to know what to expect from one another, the WRs and the QB will improve as they get used to each other and learn from what went wrong on the game film. There are still legitimate concerns about most of our WRs' abilities to get separation while running their routes, but Woodyard's speed and Warner's route-running abilities will each help with that. We need Wan'Dale to be a bigger part of the offense to take the pressure off of both JD and Maurice, and I think that that will happen immediately. Wan'Dale has no trouble getting open, and he's incredibly elusive with the ball in space. We need him to have more touches.
- Our defense is pretty good. The lack of depth at LB is still terrifying, but we're pretty solid everywhere. We're still lacking consistent playmakers at OLB, but our D-line is consistently holding their position while getting double-teamed, which has freed up everybody else to go make plays.
We're still likely to win 8-9 games, and we're still likely to lose to somebody that we expect to beat. I thought that in June, July, and August, and I still think that in September. That's why I asked those poll questions about which 3 teams would you choose to lose to if we're going to lose 3 games. It might be a good time to rethink what you thought then and now, and recalibrate expectations.
Take this FWIW, my mother and Christian Gaylord's grandmother are good friends. Dad and I went to HS together. She told my mother that the coaches had informed him he would be starting the day he injured his knee. Don't know if it is true, but it would mean they had decided to mover Farniok inside.
I still think Martinez is pressing and trying to live up to the hype, he needs to relax.