Sunday, October 18, 2009

Not "Back" Yet: Reality Sets in After Loss to Tech

So much for going into the Oklahoma game 7-1. All the good will and warm fuzzy feelings from the win a week ago were effectively killed Saturday by a unbelievably bad offensive performance and the development of a quarterback controversy.

When you look at the stats, you wonder not only how Nebraska lost the game, but how it wasn't even close. If someone had told me that the Huskers would hold the Red Raiders to just 260 yards of total offense, I would have been thrilled. I would assume that it would be a 14, maybe even 21-point victory for NU. Which goes to show just how misleading statistics can be.

After the win in Missouri, many Husker fans (including yours truly) were so giddy about the fourth quarter comeback that we shrugged off what had been a putrid performance by the offense for the first three quarters.

Sure, we knew we had struggled, but we reasoned that when challenged, the offense would get back on track and Zac Lee would find a way to make the necessary plays to win. And really, if you look at his statistics from yesterday, you would come to the conclusion that he really didn't play that bad. He completed 16 of his 22 passes, after all. But go up two paragraphs and re-read that line about stats being misleading.

Because if you watched the game, you saw the same thing as everyone else: a tentative QB who seemed to lack any aggression or resolve to rise to the moment when his team needed him most.

Where is this "gunslinger" I heard about through camp, the guy who wasn't afraid to air it out deep? The one who was so confident he bordered on cocky? Because that's not the guy we've seen the past two games under center for Nebraska.

To be fair, it wasn't a banner day for anyone on the offense. There were drops, the most glaring one by Niles Paul. After batting down a bubble screen pass (that was actually a lateral) with the skill of a defensive back, Niles and the rest of the Huskers watched it get taken back by Tech for 6 points.

I would go so far as to say that the receiving corps disappeared, but that would be inferring that they had actually shown up to the game. At least Chris Brooks decided to put in an effort.

In addition to poor performance by the players, an equal amount of blame lays upon the shoulders of Shawn Watson, whose play calling had many fans scratching their heads. And by scratching their heads, I mean hurling obscenities at their TV screen.

Last year against the Red Raiders, Watson called a perfect game in a 37-31 loss that helped the Husker offense establish it's identity the rest of the season. Yesterday seemed as if he was experimenting on how to do the exact opposite.

When the Red Raiders gained a two score lead, Watson decided that the Huskers needed to throw the ball every play, which was odd because it was still the first quarter. Oh, and the fact Nebraska has arguably the best running back in the Big 12 is another reason one would want to continue to use the ground game.

I know Roy Helu was banged up. However, the abandonment of the running game was a harbinger of doom for the Huskers yesterday. Without an effective running game, Tech's defense was able to drop everyone in coverage because they knew we were going to throw it every time.

Even more frustrating was Watson's decision to try to run it when Nebraska was down 3 scores in the fourth quarter. THAT is when you start throwing the ball every play.

It was if he had a sheet of situational play calls for each quarter but accidentally put the "4th quarter, down by 21" plays on the first quarter sheet and placed the 1st quarter running plays on the 4th quarter sheet.

It was truly bizarre to watch a team that can be so diverse at times be reduced to running two plays. Those two plays were either a zone read (which becomes easy to stop when it's apparent the QB has no intention of keeping it), or a shotgun pass where Lee would dance around, become flustered, and either take a drive-breaking sack or throw to a (well-covered) guy in the flats for three yards.

Then there's Cody Green. To be honest, he didn't look all that amazing yesterday. He overthrew receivers. He seemed to be unable to take any velocity off his throws when it was needed.

But unlike Lee, there was no hesitancy. Green always looked authoritative on his delivery. He stepped up in the pocket with purpose and delivered missiles, albeit inaccurate ones sometimes. There was the sense that, even if there would be bumps in the road with him in the game, he believed that he could handle them. Lee has shown that he shrinks in those moments.

After watching Lee stumble his way through another hesitant and uneven performance, people will be calling for Green to start, and that's completely understandable. Halfway through the season, the decision needs to be made whether or not we continue to give Lee a chance or whether the future is now and it's time to let the freshmen try his hand.

The schedule is friendly for such an experiment. Green would be in the confines of home, playing against an Iowa State team that ranks 95th in the country in passing defense. So it will be interesting to see how Pelini and Watson handle the quarterback situation.

Do you give Green the nod but still put Lee in for one or two series a half? Do you stick with Lee but let him know Green will be getting a few series? It's a difficult situation that Nebraska finds itself in, but that is what happens after you lay a bomb like the offense did against Texas Tech.

With Oklahoma coming to Lincoln in three weeks, one thing is for sure. Nebraska had better establish it's offensive identity quickly, or that Big 12 North title that once seemed assured will be in serious jeopardy.

No comments: