Category Archives: Bowl Championship Series

Nebraska Lacks Focus Required of a Championship Team

BY TODD NEELEY

It was a amusing to watch a local reporter tell readers Sunday to not make too much out of Nebraska’s lack of performance against South Dakota State in Lincoln Saturday.

Excuse me?

Well, maybe he’s right. Maybe this 17-3 win against a I-AA opponent doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. But it should.

SDSU showed the college football world how to beat Nebraska.

It doesn’t take great analysis to figure out that championship teams don’t play the way NU did on Saturday. From the opening kickoff Nebraska should have delivered a knockout blow against an opponent that should have been outmanned.

Still waiting for that one.

If Nebraska played like it did at Washington it would have been 70-3.

Every game matters when it comes to playing championship football. That’s why anyone with the reaction that Nebraska’s performance was shocking or “embarrassing” as Bo Pelini said afterwards, knows instinctively that there’s a bigger issue at play here.

To win championships you can’t have letdowns and you have to play at a consistently high level. So far in 2010 Nebraska hasn’t done that. NU should have hung 60 points on the Jackrabbits, but for whatever reason Nebraska didn’t come to play.

It would be hard to make the case that Nebraska was looking past SDSU to that first conference game at Kansas State because of a bye week before the trip to Manhattan. Sure, even great teams have close calls. But you expect that to come from opponents that match up with Nebraska athletically, not from an 0-2, I-AA team.

Texas’ 34-12 loss to UCLA in Austin Saturday is a prime example of a team looking ahead. UT plays Oklahoma Saturday.

Nebraska proved it can easily get off course and lose focus if it chooses to.

SDSU was flying around on defense and they stuffed the Nebraska running game for the most part. On offense SDSU was able to run the ball with way too much success, finishing with 141 yards including 112 from Kyle Minett.

Who? Did you say Walter Payton? Unfortunately not.

If ever there was a reason for Pelini to take back the Blackshirts he issued just before this week’s game, this performance is screaming for it.

Nebraska defensive back coach Marvin Sanders offered the only positive comment following the game. He said that if you look across college football there have been several big upsets. His point was that Nebraska found a way to grind it out and pull out a win. With all due respect to coach Sanders, Nebraska put itself in a position to lose that game.

In fact, if SDSU had even a couple more playmakers on offense it could have been a much different final score.

No one has been able to figure out Nebraska’s zone read all season — until Saturday. There should be reason for concern here.

Of all teams, SDSU showed the college football world how to defend the new Nebraska offense. It takes complete team defense and discipline. All 11 guys on that Jackrabbit defense knew their assignments and stuck with it for four quarters.

For the rest of the season Nebraska will have to find much better success in the passing game. That’s because SDSU showed that if you play eight or nine guys up at the line of scrimmage and every player stays in his lane and lets the Nebraska offense come to them, then you eliminate the overpursuit that has led to big running plays by Taylor Martinez, Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.

SDSU held Nebraska at bay with a group of average athletes who gave great effort — that’s why there’s reason for concern.

Pelini obviously misread his team in practice last week. In the postgame he had no answers as to why his team played so poorly, especially since he said it was a good week of practice.

So, has this team reached a point where it is believing all the hype about being a top 10 team?

Pelini has been good at pushing all the right buttons to get his teams to play hard. Did players just not listen this week?

Unfortunately this lack of focus could come back to haunt in the big games down the road.

Nebraska will either take this game as a loss and step up the intensity, or this is the beginning of a bad habit.

Does anyone know where to find a good sports psychologist?

Nebraska Poised for Return to BCS?

By Todd Neeley

Well, finally, fall camp starts Saturday for Nebraska.

We’ve heard a lot about NU’s pending move to the Big Ten, but what about the 2010 season? What will this huge transition season hold for the Huskers?

I’ll take a crack at a few predictions.

First, the big question — who will start at quarterback?

Ultimately Nebraska needs a guy who can lead this team through sometimes rocky waters. Yours truly was critical of senior-to-be Zac Lee’s seeming incompetence under center as a playmaker in 2009. NU’s offense was awful at times, but for good reason. Lee played pretty much the entire season with a bum elbow on his throwing arm.

The guy has guts and he played masterfully in Nebraska’s 33-0 shutout of Arizona at the Holiday Bowl. Sure, he missed all of spring ball, but I believe Lee did enough in that bowl game and showed plenty of toughness to be Nebraska’s starter to start this season.

Let’s face it though, NU has to get the ball moving and put up points.

Here it is — Lee will start, Taylor Martinez and Cody Green both will see playing time early in the season, but ultimately Lee will have a solid senior season in an improved offense.

At running back, much of the attention centers on Roy Helu Jr.

But he’s had a hard time avoiding the injury bug, and durability is critical in the Nebraska offense. Rex Burkhead had a huge Holiday Bowl, and deserves to split time with Helu — maybe 50-50 — to start the season. Ultimately though, Burkhead is the franchise guy who will earn a starting spot sometime during conference play, and he’ll benefit big time from what will be a much-improved offensive line.

Nebraska coaches and players have been raving about the progress made by receiver Brandon Kinnie. Expect Kinnie and Niles Paul to be one of the top-three receiver pairs in the conference in 2010, as Paul will play much more consistent than he did in 2009 when he had some huge turnovers and dropped passes at times. Kinnie, along with TE/WR Mike McNeil will make it much more difficult for teams to crowd the box to stop Helu and Burkhead.

This offense won’t have the production that the Joe Ganz-led Huskers had three seasons ago, but much improved compared to 2009.

To me it’s a big concern that Husker coaches may play the three-man quarterback competition too far into the fall. Nebraska would serve itself well to hand the ball to Lee and play Martinez and Green at least every game.

NU will need a starter solidified by the time they head to Seattle to face what should be a much-improved Jake Locker-led Washington team. This is a huge early game for Nebraska — win it and set yourself up nicely in the national picture, lose it, and all the national critics of the Big Red will back off NU in the polls.

The loss of Ndamukong Suh — It will be impossible to replace the big man in the middle, but if you look across the board at the Nebraska defense, it is deeper than last season and I’d expect the defensive backfield in combination with Jared Crick and Pierre Allen up front to still shut down opponents consistently for the most part.

Nebraska coaches have been pretty confident the Blackshirts will again be very good, if not better than 2009.

I’m not jumping to that conclusion just yet.

As we saw in the spring game, this defense just has a different look to it without Suh. I think that early on in this season we’ll see the Blackshirts play well, but hit a bit of a tough road once conference play starts. That’s when the competition hits a whole other level, but the defense will rise to the occassion.

By the end of 2010, I’d expect Nebraska to rank in the top 10 nationally in total defense and likely in the top two or three in pass defense.

Nebraska may stumble at Washington and possibly once in conference, either at Kansas State, Texas A&M or Oklahoma State. After coming so close many times, Nebraska finally gets over the hump and beats Texas in Lincoln Oct. 16 (but who’s marking the calendar for that one?)

A Turner Gill-led Kansas team comes into Lincoln and hangs with Nebraska for four quarters before falling, Bill Snyder at Kansas State will return the Wildcats to a bowl game and maybe even a repeat No. 2 in the north, and Nebraska will put a hurt on Iowa State to prove the eight-turnover debacle in Lincoln last season was but a blip.

Nebraska wins the North, falls to Oklahoma in the final Big 12 title game (a little throwback to NU/OU of old). But, at 11-3 or 12-2, Nebraska finds itself back in the BCS.

At season’s end, chances are good Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson finds a head coaching job — maybe at Colorado depending on whether Dan Hawkins can turn a corner this season.

Speaking of turning a corner, Bo Pelini will continue to prove himself as one of the best in the business and a tough interview in the postgame, and more than likely this crack prognosticator will be proven mostly wrong.

Count on it.