Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Boy Named (Ndamukong) Suh

I thought that with the college football awards show coming up, it would be fitting to hype up Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh, given that he is the most dominant player in the country and yet somehow isn't getting the publicity he deserves.

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

Things I Am Thankful For as a Husker Fan

I'm sorry for my lack of writing as of late, but that will tend to happen when you go from being unemployed and having all the time in the world to working 60 hours a week and being too exhausted to do anything when you get home.

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 .

Ndamukong Suh

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.

Bo Pelini

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.

Alex Henry

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

Big 12 Title Aspirations Fester after Offensive Performance Against Kansas

There’s a scene in the movie Gladiator that for whatever reason popped into my head after Nebraska’s victory over Kansas. In it, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius is talking to General Maximus about what people once dreamed Rome could be, a dream that was extremely fragile. The exact quote:

"There was once a dream that was Rome, you could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish. It was so fragile and I fear that it will not survive the winter."

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 Oklahoma. So putrid was the performance against Oklahoma, I thought that perhaps Nebraska had grabbed a local Lincoln high school team to face the Sooners.

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 Iowa State game, and I realized that this was definitely the Nebraska offense.

However, against Kansas, for the first time, there came a faint glimmer of hope. Niles Paul came out of his shell, continuing his “I-tear-it-up-every-four-weeks” act that has gone on throughout this season. Zac Lee looked confident and efficient for the first time since the fourth quarter of the Missouri game. And a re-energized Roy Helu, with an assist from some power formations that we haven’t seen enough of, looked like he did against Virginia Tech.

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 Kansas victory is this year’s “Eureka!” moment. Zac Lee can’t throw the simple slants and outs that Joe Ganz could. But he throws one hell of a deep ball, which happens to suit our fleet receivers much better than the dink-and-dunk offense of 2008.

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 Nebraska fan. They don’t want to admit it, for fear it would vanish just as the Roman empire did. And that dream is defeating Texas in the Big 12 championship game.

That last sentence? I whispered it. Because what if Nebraska could pull it off? What if Nebraska has the tools to keep Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley off the field long enough to give Nebraska a chance? The season has proven that with Nebraska’s defense, the Huskers have the opportunity in every game.

Hell, in reality Nebraska is only 2 plays away from being 9-1 right now, so it’s not as if they are a bad team. Sure, the offensive slump hurt, but the tools are there to make a run just as they did at the end of 2008. If the Huskers can use the power formations they used against Kansas and continue to slip in play action passes (and Zac Lee can continue to show those wheels we saw against the Jayhawks), Nebraska could maybe, just maybe, pull off something truly special.

Don’t tell anyone though…..I don’t want this opportunity to vanish.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Big 12: From Powerhouse to Punchline

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.