Category Archives: Nebraska

Real Question, is Wisconsin Ready for Nebraska?

BY TODD NEELEY

I’m not totally buying into the hype.

Pundits have given Nebraska hardly a chance against Wisconsin in Madison Saturday, but in all the excited fog surrounding the game is a dose of reality.

There are plenty of reasons to believe the Huskers have a shot to beat Wisconsin.

Sorry to upset the Russell Wilson apple cart here, but tell me one time early in this 2011 season that the Badger quarterback has had so much as a hand in his face.

Yeah I didn’t think so.

Wilson will face a much more athletic, physical defense than he’s faced all season. Wisconsin has barely broken a sweat in going 4-0, but things will change with Nebraska coming to town.

The Badgers may not face a better, more physical, faster team this season unless they play in the national championship game.

The Blackshirts will need to come to play this week, but defending Wisconsin is not impossible.

Week in and week out the Nebraska defense was challenged by the likes of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas and Texas Tech.

Let’s face it, Nebraska hasn’t lived up to its standards in 2011 – they rank an embarrassing 52nd in the country in total defense. These are the kinds of numbers that once got Craig Bohl fired as defensive coordinator, and proof that Husker coaches are pounding on their
defenders in practice.

Bo Pelini has a history of making adjustments on defense, and usually has that unit peaking by midseason. The fact that Nebraska hasn’t played very well on that side of the ball yet means its best game is yet to come.

It would be a great week to put it all together.

Setting all the hype and history aside, Nebraska has a clear path to its first Big Ten win.

First, the Nebraska defensive line must get a push against a mammoth Wisconsin offensive line – one of the biggest at any level of football. This means Husker all-American Jared Crick has to somehow find a way to re-establish the line of scrimmage two to three yards in the Badger backfield, forcing Russell Wilson to run. The guy is a better passer than he is a runner.

If Nebraska can force Wisconsin into third and long, then the Huskers can bring the heat and get hits on Wilson.

Nebraska has to make the Wisconsin defense make decisions on the perimeter. The Badgers have to be made to choose between containing Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead – making the option the perfect play to run against what appears to be a good, but fairly slow defense.

Nebraska has a lot of speed at receiver and will need to take shots downfield and exploit holes in a Wisconsin zone defense.

NU has been outstanding on special teams with kicker/punter Brett Maher and kick returner Ameer Abdullah. Nebraska will need to win the field position battle to put pressure on the Wisconsin defense and these guys can make a huge difference.

The Huskers have to force at least two turnovers in this game. Simply put, Wisconsin hasn’t made mistakes and that will have to change. Conversely, Nebraska has to hold onto the ball – they laid the ball on the ground four times at Wyoming last week. What’s more, Nebraska has to not beat itself with dumb penalties.

If you watch Russell Wilson during his days at North Carolina State, he had plenty of games when he made knuckleheaded mistakes with the ball – proving defenses can get to him.

Finally, Nebraska can’t allow the Wisconsin offense to just pound away in the running game and control time of possession.

Though Husker fans are up in arms about Nebraska’s slow defensive start that may be the silver lining heading to Madison – this is a Nebraska team that hasn’t come close to reaching its potential on defense.

The Nebraska offense has improved significantly from game one – finally finding an identity that includes a power running game and a big-play quarterback. NU holds a speed advantage on both sides of the ball and Nebraska’s special teams have been special, Wisconsin’s not so much.

With all the talk about how NU is facing a balanced and disciplined team in a hostile environment, you’d swear Nebraska has yet to play in the kind of atmosphere it will see at Camp Randall Stadium.

Nebraska fans remember well playing at Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Washington, Oklahoma, you name it. Kids come to Nebraska to play in the big games on a big stage with a lot on the line.

Wisconsin has been good, really good, but championships aren’t won by playing softies. So far the Badgers have been playing weekly scrimmages, but this week they face an opponent that will punch them in the mouth – win or lose.

Is Wisconsin ready for Nebraska?

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Playing Freshman at Nebraska Could Signal Trouble, or Solid Recruiting

BY TODD NEELEY

Is it just me or is there a renewed sense of urgency for Nebraska football?

The Huskers’ struggles on offense in 2010 have been well-documented. Nebraska arguably could have won two Big 12 titles in consecutive seasons had NU been even remotely productive in moving the ball.

The overarching theme coming out of Nebraska fall camp has been a youth movement across the board. Taylor Martinez is the only veteran at quarterback, and he’s just a redshirt sophomore. Behind junior Rex Burkhead at I back is a stable of freshman running backs in Aaron Green, Braylon Heard and Ameer Abdullah. At wide receiver freshmen Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner are likely to play a lot, and now this from the Lincoln Journal Star Friday.

Freshman offensive lineman Tyler Moore is in the hunt to start at tackle, http://dld.bz/amYxe. This is significant for two reasons. First, the O line was a penalty machine in 2010, and became famous for melting down at inopportune times. Second, Nebraska couldn’t consistently pound the ball at teams when it needed to last season.

Moore isn’t the only young lineman to enter the discussion this fall. Freshman Jake Cotton has turned heads as well. At the least Nebraska will be playing more freshmen up front, and we could see a couple of them starting.

Although Bo Pelini has said he’s hesitant to play freshmen, his willingness to put the best guy on the field at any position, regardless of class, points to a coaching staff trying to push all the buttons it can to get the offense rolling again.

We’ll see if it works.

Playing freshmen comes with its fair share of risk. Most young guys are not ready for Division I football. So either Nebraska really has been masterful in its recruiting efforts in the past few seasons, or the offense still is full of question marks.

I tend to think the latter is the most likely scenario.

Officiating Debacle? No, Pelini’s Nebraska Needs Discipline

BY TODD NEELEY

Was it really a conspiracy?

Well, if you believe officials had it out for Nebraska Saturday night at Texas A&M, there is plenty of evidence to support that.

NU was penalized 16 times for 145 yards. A&M, just two penalties for 10 yards, propelling the Aggies to a 9-6 win.

Is A&M really this disciplined? Is Nebraska really THIS self-destructive? I’d say no and yes.

The first thing that jumps out about this game is that it clearly wasn’t evenly called by officials. In fact, there were times when the zebras were blatantly targeting the Huskers.

Heck, for that matter officials haven’t been even-handed with Nebraska all season long. NU has been penalized 86 times for 797 yards, while the opponents have been flagged far less — 48 times for 420 yards.

Cases in point: Late in the game Nebraska safety Courtney Osborne was called for a personal foul for a hit on A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, on what was a crucial third down play that saw the Nebraska defense hold. Osborne clearly made a clean hit that wasn’t even late — shoulders squared, head up, square in the chest as Tannehill released the ball.

Second, earlier in the game Nebraska linebacker Eric Martin was called for two personal-foul penalties on special teams.

OK, may be just a coincidence here, but Martin was suspended earlier this season for a supposed helmet-to-helmet hit against Oklahoma State. And if you remember, Osborne drilled Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert on what was a perfectly legal hit. Following that game Tiger Head Coach Gary Pinkel said that maybe conference officials should review the Osborne hit — which it never did.

Were officials in College Station specially targeting Osborne and Martin? We’ll never know.

The 2010 season has been a dramatic sway against Nebraska from officials, no doubt.

Yet it would seem to be over-simplistic to say officials are out to get NU because of the move to the Big Ten, or for any other reason.

I think it’s more likely that Nebraska really is its own worst enemy, especially since Bo Pelini has taken over the reigns. Let’s be honest, Pelini has brought the return of physical play by Nebraska on both sides of the ball — balls to the wall, every play for four quarters.

Unfortunately, this team has taken on the personality of its coach in a bad way.

Pelini was all over the officials, in fact looking downright out of control at times. There were more F-bombs dropped by Pelini in one game than maybe his entire career at Nebraska, combined. Pelini spent most of the game jawing at officials, in fact drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game.

Did officials at A&M focus squarely on Nebraska? Sure looks that way, and in fact there are games like this all the time when one side gets called for more than its share of penalties. Conspiracy? Probably not.

While Pelini has brought a lot back to this program, his players are undisciplined and commit their share of stupid mistakes.

This has been the case since day one.

Football has to be played with focused anger, but Pelini’s Nebraska has been borderline dumb.

Statistics don’t lie.

Before Pelini’s arrival in 2008 there was little penalty disparity between Nebraska and its opponents.

From 2000 to 2007, Nebraska opponents averaged 83 penalties for 647 yards per season, compared to 79 penalties for 656 yards for NU.

Since 2000 Nebraska has been flagged for more penalties than its opponents on what will be six seasons including 2010 — three of those by Pelini-coached teams. In 2008 and 2009 Nebraska piled up more than 800 yards in penalties, the two highest totals since 2000. Unless NU doesn’t commit a single penalty the rest of the way in 2010, the Huskers will again eclipse 800 yards.

That reflects a serious lack of discipline more than bad officials.

Following the loss Saturday Pelini again indicated that officials were horrible, without actually saying it. He was ticked and actually tracked down one of the officials for a little chat following the game.

The Omaha World Herald declared this morning that the 12th man at Texas A&M in this game was the officials, http://dld.bz/72vD. Don’t just cater to the readers here, let’s be honest.

Enough already.

Pelini has to let off the officials. It’s no wonder Nebraska couldn’t buy a break all night — the coach was in a fit of rage all game long. If the coach is poised and cool under pressure his team will respond that way. Unfortunately Pelini wasted a great defensive performance by the Blackshirts with his sideline antics.

You gotta love the football intelligence Pelini brings to the game, but now it’s time to look in the mirror.