Monday, September 10, 2007
First off, everybody take a deep breath. Seriously, go ahead, breathe deep in and let it out. It's important that Husker nation takes a collective sigh of relief after the unexpected nail-biter that we had to sweat through on Saturday. Husker fans, believing they would win comfortably (not a blowout, but a nice two or three touchdown win), instead were treated to a mistake-prone Big Red squad that sputtered throughout the game with untimely miscues and defensive lapses that were maddening to watch. Still, it's important to remember something: WE WON. Yea, it wasn't as good of a performance as we had all hoped. Every unit struggled in some form this week, so as much as the naysayers want to look at the faults right away, let's keep what's important in mind, and that is that the Huskers are 2-0 heading into their much-ballyhooed matchup against the USC Condoms this Saturday in Lincoln.
That said, here are my thoughts on Saturday's victory:
- Keller's inability to hit simple out routes and end-zone fades. While he has arm strength that NFL scouts salivate over, one couldn't help but notice the struggles he had on Saturday, where he sailed several throws over the heads of open receivers. Whereas Taylor was proficient with the end-zone fade, Keller was throwing some uncatchable stuff where we needed it the most. Also, there were several out routes where he overthrew wide-open receivers. I don't know if Keller simply had a tough time getting into a rhythm (could be, considering the drops he had to deal with), but either way, this is something that needs to be fixed ASAP if the Huskers are to pull off the upset this weekend. With Purify back, it is imperative that they work on the fades this week. When we have a the 6'4" Mo on a 5'9" corner in the red zone (like we did against Wake), the Huskers have to be able to make that play, and half the battle is Keller throwing a catchable ball, not one that ends up in the first row of the stands. Also, that "interception" that was really a fumble where Keller didn't get rid of the ball but didn't pull it down and protect it either? By far one of the more boneheaded plays I've seen from a QB in a while. Any QB at the college level is supposed to know that you don't flail the ball around like that when the pocket is collapsing around you. For the record, I am NOT one of those people who thinks we should throw Ganz in already. I think that would be a colossal mistake on so many fronts. Keller is the guy. Let him play and prove himself, it'd be stupid to give up on him 2 games in, and I know that Callahan would never do that anyways. I'm just saying to all the fans who think a change is in order, give it time.
- What was with the drops? Swift, Mo, Phillips, and others had timely drops this week, several of which stalled drives when we needed to kill more clock. We might have gotten away with it against Wake (barely), but we will have no such luck against USC. Every play that is there to be made, the Huskers have to make it to pull off the win. I don't know if the staff needs to keep the wideouts after practice with a couple JUGS machines or what, but whatever is causing the stonehands, it needs to be remedied this week. This was one of the main reasons that NU managed to convert just 3 out of 15 third downs, a stat that needs to vastly improve if the Huskers are going to be in contention for any kind of championships. I have to say, the play of Swift through spring and fall has been one of the more disappointing things to follow personally. After his freshmen season, I thought Swifty would become an All-Conference performer, but until he fixes these drops, that's obviously not going to happen. To his credit, he did rebound nicely and finish with 5 catches for 45 yards, which should help boost his confidence.
- I don't care if he got Cosgrove's blessing, Cally's decision to go for it on fourth may have been ballsy, it was also incredibly stupid. It's great to have faith in the defense (which paid off), but I still think the smart play is to punt it and play the field position game in a situation like that. Your defense has been tougher the longer their drives are, so why not make them go 90 yards in that situation? But if there is one thing that Callahan has showed during his tenure here in Lincoln, it's that he hates punting when he is within 40 yards of the end zone. While I didn't agree with it, I can't say I was surprised at all.
- In the pre-game buildup last week, the Husker defense made it a point to say that they were prepared for all of Wake's trickeration and end-arounds. Obviously, that was not the case. The Huskers were burned repeatedly on runs by Deacon WR Kenneth Moore, who finished with 116 yards on the strength of several long jaunts: 18 yards, 34 yards, 39 yards, and some shorter scampers to complete his day. For a guy who never once lined up in the backfield, that's a pretty good day running the ball. What is most troublesome is the fact that NU prepared for this during the week. They KNEW what was coming, and for 3/4ths of the game were powerless to stop it. Said linebacker Bo Ruud: "We were prepared for that play, but they executed it well."
Really? You were well prepared for that? Because it sure didn't look like it. Plays like that are stopped by one thing: discipline and sticking to assignments. I have no doubt that you prepared for those plays Bo, but where the hell were the people assigned to slow-play the ball and stay home? Where were the d-ends and outside backers? It was troublesome to see, especially when one takes into account that Pete Carroll and his staff were most likely watching the game. If a guy like Moore can burn us, what is USC and it's thoroughbreds going to do to us? I have my doubts, but hopefully Cosgrove can cook up something that will slow the Trojan offense.
While it was hard to watch the defense struggle on some aspects, it was equally uplifting to see them step up when the team needed them most. Several red-zone and goal line stops took place Saturday, and while a fan never even wants to see his team in that position, it was nice to see the front seven respond like they did. Hopefully USC never even gets those opportunities, it'd be nice to limit their red zone chances and force them to beat us with the big play (although they can probably do that too).
-What a great moment for Zach Bowman when he intercepted Hodges's pass in the corner of the end zone on a key series. For a guy who has been through so much trying to get back onto the field, it was great to see him make a play like that. Here's to hoping for a repeat performance this week.
- The secondary did little to assuage the fears that still persist from last year. The Husker defensive backs were fooled twice by the same play-action bootleg pass. Luckily the Demon Deacons missed on one of the wide-open opportunities, but NU was still burned by the other, a 61 yard completion on Murillo. I've tried to talk myself into believing that this year will be different, but thus far I remain unconvinced. Our safety play is still shaky, and until Bowman is 100%, I don't know if our corners are capable of stopping good (or even solid) receivers. And speaking of safeties, why was Eisenhart in instead of Thenarse or Wilson? I'm sure Cosgrove has his reasons, but I just thought we'd be seeing more of Ricky and Brian than we have.
-While it's nice to see a couple of field goals from Henery, I'd feel better about the whole thing if Nebraska has simply finished the drives with touchdowns. We can't get 3's against USC and Texas and expect to win, we need 7's in those situations. Hopefully Keller and Mo can fix this with some fade route work during practice.
While my prediction for the final score may have been off (I predicted an 18 point NU victory), I wasn't wrong in thinking that NU wouldn't be able to run the ball as effectively against Wake, which would allow Keller to throw the ball more (and he did, 41 times). And while he sailed a few balls, the drops didn't help his cause, and on a few occasions, he seemed to get into a rhythm before the drive stalled thanks to receivers. Sure he had two picks, but one of them was basically a fumble. If he gets two or three of those drops back, he finishes with 275+ yards and maybe another touchdown if the drives had kept going. He wasn't as great as we all had hoped, but I think he is developing and will be more efficient as the season goes on.
Let's look at this past week's game and hope that it was simply an aberration, a one-time slew of mistakes from a team that was looking ahead to a matchup with the #1 team in the country. Yea, we had some breakdowns in discipline. We were inconsistent, sloppy, and failed to finish in certain situations. But we won. We won, and that's the important thing. And aside from a few mental mistakes, the Huskers didn't do too bad. The Deacons only had two or three plays that were really working for them, and once corrected, they were sufficiently shut down. So let's tuck this tough win away, and move on to the Trojans. Bring it on.
Posted by Husker Guy at 7:13 AM