Husker Heartbeat 12/7: Rumorville, Bo, Martinez and Watson

By at December 7, 2010 | 10:43 AM | Print

Welcome to Husker Heartbeat – a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward – so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more – we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

*Bo Pelini is frustrated by persistent rumors surrounding Taylor Martinez, says LJS Steve Sipple.

A quote:

"It's hard to deal with it, because people are going to believe what they want to believe. It affects the whole program, that's what people don't understand."

Pelini also says it's "crazy" to think Martinez operates under a different set of rules. But he adds that: "I'm going to do what I feel is in the best interest of a kid and the team at the same time."

I've talked to Bo about this issue once before, and he's spoken about in press conferences, too: Different players need different approaches. And he's right. They do. Bo's approach with Taylor isn't the same as his approach with Joe Ganz. The principles behind it are the same, but the application of those principles has to change based on the personality of the kid.

What the column doesn't mention – and perhaps Sipple didn't ask – is why Bo thinks it is a good idea to let Martinez run silent with the press, which in turn is forced to ask all of Martinez's teammates about the kid. And they're tired of talking about him.

Part of the maturation process is doing the hard work of answering for your mistakes. It's called accountability. Bo's disregard of the press – and by proxy Nebraska fans who like to read about the team – creates a bad perception around Martinez.

*The Omaha World-Herald is officially turning in all of its stock on Shawn Watson.

Tom Shatel calls Watson's playcalling in the Big 12 Championship "indefensible." Shatel isn't one to veer mindlessly into a harsh, caustic opinion (I've been known to do it from time to time) so his words would represent a sea change:

This was a flashback to the days of Bill Callahan, where a smart guy outsmarted only himself by trying to change up what was working. In a three-point game, the best kicker in the country was left wasting on the sideline. Like the Yankees not calling on Mariano Rivera in game seven of the World Series.

There’s something Norv Turneresque about Watson. Smart offensive guy. But there’s always a flaw in execution or plan or management. One game it looks great, the next leaves you wondering. By the end of the season, you’re right back where you started.

Watson’s had some very good games this year. But after
Martinez’s injury, it was like the offense was based on the 80-yard run. Where was Plan B?

Or he can’t stand prosperity. Against Iowa State, the Wildcat was brilliant. Then it went away. Watson rammed the ball down Mizzou’s throat. But he couldn’t stick with that plan against Oklahoma?

Offensive coordinators are like Thanksgiving turkeys. They all get picked apart until there’s nothing left. But at some point you ask: What’s going on here? Where is this going? This isn’t just about scheme. Being an OC is about development, adjustments, game management. Sometimes it’s there. Sometimes it’s not. Winning championships is about consistency.

Those aren't small words.

*Meanwhile, the OWH's Dirk Chatelain, who often does a terrific job of marrying stats to a larger narrative, looks at what Shawn Watson did in pressure situations – when trailing or tied during the second half. The results are not encouraging, although perhaps a big small in sample size.

We'll stand on this: It's easy to point the finger at Watson and suggest he doesn't know how to call plays, that he refuses to stick with the Wildcat.

But let's be perfectly clear: The only team I've ever seen run Wildcat for a whole half is Arkansas in 2007. And let's recap the three guys the Hogs had running it:

Darren McFadden, two-time Heisman runner-up, first-round draft pick and the NFL's 11th-leading rusher this year.

Felix Jones, first-round draft pick and the Dallas Cowboys' top running back.

Peyton Hills, the 2010 breakout star of the NFL who's 10th in rushing and tied for second in touchdowns.

Arkansas used McFadden as the trigger man, Jones as the sweep back and Hillis as the dive back. Three NFL guys – all the best running backs on their respective teams – running the triple option.

Now, yes, that combo will work for a whole half.

Rex Burkhead out of a single wing with Tim Marlowe as the sweep back and Roy Helu as the dive back will not.

So, at some point, you gotta pass. And if that's Taylor Martinez, with his bad mechanics and injured feet, you roll the dice.

The question: Is it Watson's call to play Martinez? Or Bo's?

Furthermore: Watson has changed the offense five times in three years.

-After the 2008 Mizzou game, Watson shifted from his preferred, two-tight, ace-set running game to a shotgun-based running game that he had begun to develop in 2007.

-After the 2008 season, he further refined the shotgun running game, adding counter sweeps, more of the zone read and a two-back running game.

-Midway through the 2009 season, because of injuries, he switched to the most conservative offense known to man, a triple-tight power running game with a deep playaction passing game.

-Before the 2010 season, to accommodate Martinez, he switched to a heavy heavy zone read game with playaction passing sprinkled in.

-Before the Iowa State game, he reintroduced the Wildcat and has run it quite a bit since then.

Watson's done himself no favors by putting the sunniest possible disposition on everything, including Martinez's passing skills. And he vacillates too easily between conservative and desperate.

Maybe Watson's biggest weakness is that he's too amenable. He had an offense in mind when this season began, and it looked like the offense in the 2009 Holiday Bowl. Instead, Nebraska rode Martinez in a West Virginia/Michigan offense, without any of the easy throws that Michigan and West Virginia use to help a quarterback. Why? Because Watson adheres to a West Coast passing principle that emphasizes big receivers running combo routes.

There's a lot of details to examine, of course. And if Watson's the guy who has to go, then Bo better find someone

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