Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I'm not going to bother bringing Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy into the conversation, as it seems that losses in their respective conference title games have seemingly knocked them out of position to win it. In reality, Tebow's decreased stats this season and McCoy's poor performance against better pass defenses is what set them back more than any one game.
Which brings me to Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska's All-Everything defensive tackle. First off, for those of you who don't read my work, I'm going to admit I'm biased. I'm a Nebraska fan, and so anything I say can be taken with a grain of salt.
After the Missouri game, when Suh's name first began to pop up in Heisman conversation, I wrote that for him to have a realistic chance from the defensive tackle position, not only would he have to continue to put up monster statistical games, but his team would have to win in order to keep him on the national radar.
If Nebraska has a banner season, there's an inevitable flood of media love touting their return to prominence. With that would have been coverage of Suh, the cornerstone of a defense that just two years ago ranked 112th in the country but now is #2 in scoring defense.
Months later, Nebraska sits at 9-4, a victim of an offense so putrid that if it were the offspring of skunks, even the parent skunks would have disowned them because of their stench.
The thing about 9-4 teams is that, well, there's a lot of them. They tend to get swept under the rug later in the season as the media inevitably turns it's attention to the BCS hoopla.
A look at Nebraska's four losses this season:
Virginia Tech, 16-15
Texas Tech, 31-10
Iowa State, 9-7
What do you notice about those losses? Well, other than that eyesore against Iowa State?
Three of Nebraska's losses are by two points or less.
In the Virginia Tech game, the Husker offense managed to go from first-and-goal to punting the ball on a possession that included two penalties and a dropped touchdown pass and an 11-for-30 performance by Zac Lee that included two interceptions.
The loss to Texas Tech, while more one-sided, wasn't because of defensive shortcomings. The Huskers held the Red Raiders to 259 total yards, the lowest total in Mike Leach's tenure since his first game. Also, one of the Tech scores came on a bad Nebraska pass that was returned for a touchdown.
Against Iowa State, Nebraska's offense put up a performance for the ages. The Dark Ages. In a game that should have been a four-score margin of victory, the Huskers managed to turn the ball over eight times. Yeah, eight. Like, the number 8. Oh, and four of those turnovers came inside the Iowa State five yard-line.
Finally, in the Big 12 championship game, the Huskers managed a paltry 106 yards for the entire game, wasting a Hurculean by Suh and the defense and costing Nebraska the Big 12 championship.
The point of this whole rant is this: Heisman winners come in three forms.
One is the stat monster, a person who, despite perhaps being on an 8-4 team, puts up numbers that are so far above and beyond anyone else's that it catapults them to victory. An example would be Tim Tebow in 2007, when the Florida quarterback took home the trophy on the strength of having over 50 total touchdowns despite the Gators going 8-4 before the presentation.
This is where Gerhart comes in. First off, he's racked up over 1700 yards rushing and has 26 rushing touchdowns. Sure, Stanford is 8-4, but they've won some games in dramatic fashion, most of it while riding Gerhart's (extremely) broad shoulders.
The other Heisman winner is someone who puts up stats that aren't mind-boggling yet still are noteworthy, but fall in the best-player-on-the-best-team argument. Think Chris Weinke in 1999 or Troy Smith in 2006. Not that either of those players didn't deserve the award, because they both had great years. But would they have won if their teams weren't leading the national title conversation? That's tough to say.
Mark Ingram fits this mold, though I think comparing him to Smith or Weinke isn't fair to him, because Ingram is, at least in my opinion, a much better player than those two were. Also, he had a great performance against that stout Gator defense in the SEC title game.
The third is the guy who puts up ridiculous numbers AND plays on the best team, a'la one Reggie Bush in 2005. Sure, Vince Young put up quite a fight that year, but when a guy puts up 9 yards a carry and makes ankles break and jaws drop on a weekly basis, it's tough to top.
And so we come back to Suh. If Nebraska wins those three close games and is sitting at 13-1 with a Big 12 title, he rides the wave of Nebraska-is-back stories to a potential Heisman win, which would be the first legitimate win for a defensive player in history of the award.
Yes, I know Charles Woodson won in 1997, but let's be honest: if he wasn't taking snaps as a receiver and punt returner, the media doesn't let him leave New York with the trophy.
However, because Suh's offense plays with the precision of a drunken (and perhaps mentally challenged) surgeon, Suh stands little chance of winning. The media, convinced that everyone should be happy that a defensive tackle is invited at all, will award the trophy to either Gerhart or Ingram. Either of them are deserving choices.
But dammit, so is Suh. I challenge any Heisman voter to watch every defensive series from the Virginia Tech, Missouri, Kansas State, and Texas games and come away thinking anything but this:
The nation's Most Outstanding Player (which is what they are supposed to be voting for) doesn't reside on the offensive side of the ball. It's just a shame that Nebraska's offense couldn't help them realize that.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I feel like I'm Nancy Kerrigan after she got her knee busted by Tonya Harding's strongman. You remember the clip, where Kerrigan sits crying on the ground, asking in a horrifying voice....Why?
When Nebraska lost to Virginia Tech earlier this year, I hadn't felt that kind of wrenching pain in my gut for a long time. But that was a simple non-conference game. This was for a championship and a trophy, rewards this defense desperately deserved for carrying one of the moribund offensive units in the country all season.
If Nebraska had lost by three touchdowns, I really wouldn't be all that torn up about it. Hell, we were expected to get our asses kicked, so to see it actually take place would have at least been tolerable. Sure, it would have been embarrassing, but at least all of Husker Nation wouldn't be on suicide watch.
Instead, we saw a pantheon-level performance by the defense (and the defensive coaching staff) get wasted yet again by an offense that belongs in a local intramural league.
I don't know how the offense lives with itself. I know that I shouldn't be upset, because really what else would I expect? Zac Lee and company have shat themselves all season long, and this time they were against one of the best defenses in the nation.
But if I were a member of that unit, I'd be taking a long hard look in the mirror and be giving serious thought about buying an "I'm sorry" gift for every member of the Blackshirts.
For the third time this year, Husker fans are left to pick up the pieces after watching a game that Nebraska SHOULD have won.
Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda. Those words don't count for much when you watch a team go from BCS-bound to the Holiday bowl in the span of two plays.
Before I get to those two plays, let's stand back and think about just how unbelievable it is that Nebraska was even in the game during the 4th quarter.
Nebraska put up 106 total yards of offense.
106 total yards. On 55 plays.
That's 1.92 yards per play, or about the distance covered by walking two small steps. You would think just by pure odds and statistics that Nebraska would get lucky and get one big play to boost that number over the 2-yard threshold, but you'd be wrong.
There were people on Twitter joking about the Huskers starting the winner of the Dr. Pepper halftime throwing contest at QB. Another person said that the offense could overdose on Viagra and still be impotent. And they were right.
Zac Lee continues to amaze me with his inability to do even the most simple of tasks on a weekly basis. After the Blackshirts intercepted a pass in field goal range, the only thing the Huskers could not afford was a turnover. So what does Lee do on the very next play? Throws it directly to a Texas defender in the end zone.
The question here is, what the hell is Watson thinking with that play call? I can understand taking a shot when you are on you're own 30 and are trying to make something happen, but to do it when you're in field goal range is unacceptable. Hell, he's been watching this abortion of an offense all season, just like we have, and he should have known that 3 points is a priceless commodity when your unit smells like a burnt diaper filled with Indian food.
That wasn't the only atrocious throw Lee made. Earlier in the game, Niles Paul got a couple steps on a Texas cornerback, and Lee had about a 15-yard window to throw into before the safety came over to break up the play. If Lee throws that ball to Paul's outside shoulder (by the sideline), it's a potential touchdown.
Instead, Lee must have thought the Huskers switched to their colors to burnt orange, because he managed to hit the safety in stride on the right hash mark. Never in my life have I seen one team be screwed so consistently by one player, and it's been happening all season.
So when taking that complete ineptitude into account, it's astounding that Nebraska was even in the game, let alone 1 second away from winning it. The Blackshirts held Texas nearly 300 yards below their season average. They forced 3 turnovers. They harassed the most winning quarterback in college football history into one of the worst performances of his career, likely costing him the Heisman in the process.
Then there was the last defensive series. Nebraska had kicked a field goal to take the lead with 1:44 to play, and all of a sudden, the Huskers were one more stop away from being Big 12 champions. I didn't know whether to scream or vomit. Scream because surely our defense wouldn't let us down after this Hurculean performance, and vomit because over the past few years I have come to expect that the worst possible thing that could happen for Nebraska always comes to fruition.
So it was no surprise when Adi Kunilac, Nebraska's kickoff ace, managed to do the one thing he couldn't afford to, and sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving the ball to Texas at the 40. Even if he merely sends the ball into the end zone again, the Huskers force Texas to go 60 yards for a game-winning field goal.
Then Texas completed a 10-yard pass that was stopped by a horse-collar tackle, giving the Longhorns the 15 yards they desperately needed to make a game-winning field goal. With two bone-headed plays, the Huskers went from hoisting the Big 12 championship trophy to going to the Holiday bowl.
To make it even worse, the clock had seemingly run out on the Longhorns' last play, setting off a celebration that had been a long time coming for this program. Ah, but there was one second left, and that was all Texas needed to punch their ticket to the national title game.
And about that Heisman....
Any person who watched the game in it's entirety Saturday night can't deny that the "most outstanding" player in the nation doesn't reside on the offensive side of the ball. Ndamukong Suh had 12 tackles, 7 for loss, with 4.5 sacks. Read that stat line again.
It's downright jaw-dropping, only this has been the type of performance that Suh has been putting up all season except for one or two games. Yet because Heisman voters think that the award is a beauty contest, it will likely go to Mark Ingram, who is an incredible player but isn't the best in the land.
The only hope here is that the Downtown Athletic Club and the voters see fit to at least invite Suh to the ceremony, because no one player has been more integral to his team's success than him. If he doesn't get invited to New York, than they can take a baseball bat to that award as far as I'm concerned, because the damn thing is a farce.
The tragedy here is that for the briefest of moments, Nebraska fans were once again back in the spotlight they have for so long clamored for. For a few seconds, they were relevant again, a conference champion headed to the BCS with a defense that is (along with Alabama's) the nation's best.
But for some reason, the football gods decided that the Huskers and their fans have not suffered enough. Sorry Nebraska, you have to get off the field so Texas can kick both it's field goal and you in the nuts at the same time.
After the game, I didn't know whether to cry or vomit. To be angry or destitute. The first drink I ordered after the game was a double of Jack Daniels, and I drank it in a catatonic shock, unable to talk to anyone for a good half hour because my chest hurt too much to acknowledge just how close Nebraska had come to pulling off an upset for the ages.
It's a pain that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life, something I acknowledge is both depressing and, at least to non-Nebraska fans, probably pathetic.
But that's what makes Nebraska special. I don't have a pro team to root for on Sunday. I don't have a baseball team to follow during the summer, or a basketball team to look forward to in the cold months of winter.
All I have is Cornhusker football. To watch them lose a championship in the most cruel of ways is heart-wrenching, because I know that I'll still be lamenting this loss next July, wheres fans with multiple sports to follow can simply transfer their passion to the next one.
The Huskers lost by 1 point to Virginia Tech, 2 points to Iowa State, and 2 points to Texas. 5 points away from being 12-1, a top-5 ranking and Big 12 Champions. Thanks, Nebraska offense, for blowing a potentially great season.
Nebraska returns 16 starters next season, and may be the favorite for the Big 12 title. But that's not going to assuage the pain of this loss. I don't know if anything will.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
And what better way to do that than by putting it to the tune of Johnny Cash's classic song, "A Boy Named Suh". And yes, I've actually been practicing this on my guitar to play for my Husker-hating friends.
Deep in the middle of the nation's heartland
stands a massive mountain of a man
it takes three men just to make him move.
He leaves lines and QBs terrified
offensive coordinators can't help but cry
When they try to stop the Boy Named Suh
Across the Big 12 they run in fear
from the man who's name means House of Spears
and the fun part is there's not a damn thing they can do.
With a wingspan that measures three miles wide
and a tenacity that never subsides
There ain't no way of stopping the Boy Named Suh
He came to Lincoln from way out west
there ain't no doubt that he's the nation's best
and I'm talking bout the boys in Florida and Texas too
he may not carry or throw the ball
but come April he'll go trump 'em all
when the draft 'rolls round they'll all want the Boy Named Suh
It's a shame the media loves the O
because every opposing coach knows
the best player in the land's helmet bears an "N"
he carries a whole state on his back
batting down passes and racking up sacks
and if he doesn't get a Heisman invite, it's a sin
the tragedy is we know he won't
because the writers are nothing but dolts
who never gives the defensive guys their due.
But the talking heads can say what they want
and when I say this I don't mean to be blunt
but the best damn player in the country is Ndamukong Suh!
Friday, November 27, 2009
That said, in times like these, I'm just thankful to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, considering there are so many people who wake up and wonder if they are going to be able to find a job that day. I'm especially fortunate because I only have myself to support. My heart aches for the man who has three kids and a wife and doesn't know how he's going to feed them that night.
We as a populace are extremely fortunate to live in the United States, even if we aren't kicking ass and taking names like we have in the past. Times are tough, but even through the darkest of hours, there are silver linings to be found.
Which is why I'm going to move on to a brighter subject. I started thinking, after the Callahan years, there is so much going on in Nebraska football right now that we are fortunate to be witnessing. So why not compile an impromptu list of things that we, as Husker fans, can say thanks for this week?
The Huskers Play in The Big 12 North
The North has long been the whipping boy of the conference, the ugly sister to the glamourous and star-studded Southern division.
They have Bob Stoops and Mack Brown. We have guys who resemble the Goodyear blimp (Mangino) and a humanized version of Lord Voldemort (Bo Pelini).
They have Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, we have Joe Ganz and Todd Reesing. And it's not just recently, this goes back through pretty much the entire decade of the 2000's.
But this year, the North went from putrid to downright offensive. The lack of good or even decent teams is appalling, especially considering how good Kansas and Missouri were just two seasons ago. So while I really do believe Nebraska is a very good team, there's no doubt they've benefited from playing in the local intramurals division .
He's changed the way I watch football. I've always appreciated good defensive line play, but never in my life have I seen someone single-handedly take over a game from the defensive tackle position.
He won't win college football's glamour award, but if the man doesn't get an invite to the Heisman Trophy presentation, you can tell the voters and the Downtown Athletic Club to stop giving out the trophy. It'd be an outright crime if the most dominant player in college football doesn't get to sit at the ceremony.
Healthy Running Backs
This cost us dearly in the Texas Tech and Iowa State losses, but with Roy Helu finally back to strength and the return of Rex Burkhead, the Husker's stable of running backs is again deep enough to harbor hope of knocking off Texas.
I thought Nebraska's defense would jump from 55th into the mid-30's range this year. Instead, Pelini molded the Blackshirts into an aggressive, attacking unit that is lethal, particularly when the opposing offense is threatening to score.
It's refreshing to watch, since for most of the Kevin Cosgrove era I was watching the defense play the catch-and-release method of tackling.
Say what you want about Suh's greatness, but the best player on the Nebraska roster just might be it's game-changing punter and kicker. While he hasn't been as consistent on his field goals this year, Henry has flipped the field position throughout the season, especially in the Oklahoma and Kasnas State games.
Notre Dame Sucks
What's that? Oh, yea, I know this isn't Nebraska-related. But surely all college football fans are reveling in watching as the Golden Domers are relegated to another crappy bowl and a coaching change.
So much for Lou Holtz's prediction of 12-0 and a loss in the national title game, eh?
Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
There’s a scene in the movie Gladiator that for whatever reason popped into my head after
"There was once a dream that was
I bring that movie up for a reason. For weeks, Husker fans have watched as the defense has carried a moribund offense through games against Baylor and
Now, I understand that OU fields a great defense with some terrific athletes, but when the Huskers put up a mere 39 yards passing and gained the bulk of their 180 total yards on one Roy Helu run, even I couldn’t believe the ineptitude. But then I remembered the
Even the oft-maligned Shawn Watson, whose performance has been questioned throughout the conference slate, finally realized that to win he needed to play the hand he was dealt and stop throwing like Ganz, Peterson, and Swift were still around. Those double tight end sets, the option game (AND the option pass), it was as if a light finally went on above his head.
If Texas Tech last year was the game that the Husker offense finally figured out it’s winning formula, perhaps the
So the zone-read hasn’t been as effective as we hoped it would be. That is to some extent the byproduct of an offensive line that is erratic and inconsistent, and Watson made a smart move offsetting it by putting in a fullback and extra tight end. Is it as sexy as the spread? Probably not. But the spread is only sexy when you have the personnel to run it, otherwise it’s like Lindsay Lohan circa 2009.
Nobody ever accused the option and power run game of being sexy, but ask the man in the athletic director’s office if he cared when he was racking up 60 wins in his last 5 seasons. The best coaching staffs are the ones that adapt to their personnel, something Watson may finally be doing over halfway into this season.
Which brings me to the Gladiator quote. With the improved offensive performance, there is now a dream, something that has begun to fester inside every
That last sentence? I whispered it. Because what if
Hell, in reality
Don’t tell anyone though…..I don’t want this opportunity to vanish.
Monday, November 9, 2009
My, how one year can change things.
At the end of last season, the Big 12 was considered by many to be best in college football, based of it's top-to-bottom depth and the insane amount of firepower in the South Division.
I can hear the SEC fans complaining already: But Florida won the National Championship over Oklahoma, your conference champion! Ah, but what about Texas, the team that beat OU but was denied a shot because of the Big 12's ridiculous tiebreaker policy? Who knows for sure if the Gators would have beaten the Longhorns?
In addition to Texas and Oklahoma (12 wins each), you also had Texas Tech at 11-2, Missouri at 10-4, Nebraska and Oklahoma State both at 9-4, and even Kansas finished 8-5.
It would be one thing if only the Big 12 North sucked. I mean, after all, people are used to that. But for whatever reason, this year the South has been dragged down as well.
Oklahoma, for so long one of the sure things in the top 10, has stumbled to a 5-4 record and is in danger of matching the worst season of the Bob Stoops era, when he went 7-5 in his first season in Norman.
Texas Tech, while no slouch at 6-3, stood no chance of matching last year's storybook season, when Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell launched them to the best record in school history.
To it's credit, Oklahoma State is still playing well. Sure, people were quick to dismiss them as overrated when they lost to Houston, but it warrants mentioning that the Cougars are 8-1 and ranked 12th in the nation. OSU's only other loss is to the undefeated Longhorns.
Once again, the stench that accompanies any "Big 12 stinks" argument is yet again emanating from the North Division. The leader of the division, the Kansas State Wildcats, are a stout 6-4, with one of those losses coming to Louisiana- Lafayette.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of their wins have come against their equally-hapless competition in the North.
Missouri, the winner of the division the past two years, is currently 5-4, with all four of those losses coming against fellow Big 12 members, which is the exact same situation that the Kansas Jayhawks find themselves in.
Nobody is even sure that Colorado is still fielding a division I football team, what with most of his team apparently opting to play the intramurals that coach Dan Hawkins so famously condescended a couple years back.
And Nebraska, despite having a defense ranked #2 in the nation in scoring defense and being led by probable #1 NFL draft pick Ndamukong Suh, has managed only a 6-3 record in a year many hoped it would help balance the scales away from the South.
Me being a Nebraska fan, I have to mention that the Huskers are two plays away from being 8-1 right now: a blown coverage at Virginia Tech and any one of the 4 fumbles inside the five yard-line against Iowa State. That will happen when you have an offense ranked 84th in the country.
Unfortunately, there's that familiar saying about excuses: They're like assholes, and everbody's got one.
And so no matter what kind of way I break down the schedules, no matter how much I extrapolate on the parity in the Big 12, it can't distract from a terrifying reality: The Big 12 has become the Big 10 West, a conference that simply beats itself up until there's only one relevant team, and the rest, no matter what admirable traits they may possess, simply aren't that good.I guess if there's one thing Big 12 backers can take solace in, it's that unlike the Big 10, at least we don't get massacred in our bowl games.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Like any Husker fan, I don't like to dredge up memories of 2007. Nobody likes remembering massacres of Biblical proportions or watching Bill Callahan stand seemingly indifferent on the sidelines as opposing teams rang up the scoreboard like they were playing Madden on XBOX instead of facing a once-proud program.
While Kevin Cosgrove led the Husker defense to the septic tank of the NCAA rankings (including giving up 38 points per game), the other side of the ball was an entirely different story. In the last three games of that doomed season, the Huskers rang up 39, 73, and 51 points.
The fans were only left to wonder what the team would be able to do if they had a defense that could even play in the top 50, let alone an elite unit like the one that resides in Lincoln this season.
When Callahan got the axe and Pelini was hired, many fans were thankful that Watson was retained. The thought process was that with Pelini fixing the moribund defensive unit and Watson keeping his job, the offense would continue humming until the defense was on par. When a team's offense and defense are both ranked in the top 25, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that you're going to win your fair share of games.
Last year, with the offense still residing in the top 25 and putting up 35 points per game, the defense rose halfway up the rankings to the mid-50's, and that led to 9 win season and a (perhaps unwarranted) large amount of optimism heading into this season.
Halfway through, well......let's just say things haven't worked out quite as well as we had expected.
On the defensive side, the Huskers took another quantum leap under Pelini, jumping into the top 25 in nearly every defensive category. The only one where they still haven't cracked? Um....turnover margin. Having Zac Lee and Team Anvil Hands in the offensive backfield isn't helping that cause.
What has been stunning has been just how far the offense has regressed. It would be one thing if only Zac Lee was playing poorly. However, the fault can't be piled on his efforts alone. The ineptitude has been spread all across the skill positions.
Nebraska's offense now finds itself ranked 58th in the country, which is funny, because that's pretty much exactly where their defensive counterparts found themselves last year.
How did we get here? How on earth do we have the best Husker defense in 10 years, only to watch it completely wasted by an offensive stink bomb that nobody saw coming?
To think, if we had last year's offense was still here, we very well could be undefeated. I guess the lesson to take away from this article is that I really miss Joe Ganz and Nate Swift. Who knew Watson's offense would fall so far so fast?