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2009 Nov 06

Commentary: A Measuring Stick for Bo


By HuskerLocker

We're 21 games into the Bo Pelini era – please, no counting the 2003 Alamo Bowl – and we've got a pretty good handle on the guy as a coach.

Where Bo's good – namely, defense – he's performed as advertised. He's a little rough on the media, but we can take it. He'll pull the trigger on off-the-field issues (booting Quentin Castille off the team) and playing freshmen.

He left the offense fully in the hands of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson for more than a year, but now he's got his fingers in it a little bit, and the Cornhuskers will, bit by bit, eventually define itself by the same kind of power running game imposed on Watson by Gary Barnett in Colorado. It worked at CU. It'll work here.

The recruiting wonks say Bo needs to work a little harder in the summer, press kids more effectively on their official visits and build more bridges. Eh, maybe. I say Bo's smart not to sell kids a bill of goods, which they repay with a bill of effort.

Pelini's 14-7 overall, and only one those games – Iowa State - was an unexpected loss. NU isn't “back.” It's not eating worms, either.

But here comes the first mid-term. Here comes the measuring stick, being pulled from the closet of expectation, to see how Nebraska stacks up with Oklahoma. How Bo stacks up against Bob Stoops.

"I'm at the infant stages of my tenure," Pelini said Thursday. "I'm not in a position to measure up to what Bob's done. He's won a national championship, he's won Big 12 Championships. I'm finding my way and trying to build a program here. Obviously, he's set a helluva benchmark on how to go about that."

Fair enough. Beat Oklahoma. Or hang with OU for four quarters. Start there.

Considering the variables - reputation, control of the Big 12 North, momentum, a nice TV audience, a huge recruiting weekend – games like this are either a big step forward or several steps back. They don't often break you. But they can make you. And they usually define you.

The process may not be complete, but Bo's put his imprint on the Huskers, no denying it, shaping the emotional and athletic makeup of the team.

It's Bo who redshirted the entire 2009 recruiting class, and Bo who's chosen to burn the redshirts of several freshmen this year. Bo who adjusts like a demon on defense, and Bo who wastes timeouts on that same defense. Bo who argues too much with game officials. And Bo who riles up with players with passionate pregame speeches.

Some of his strengths can be weaknesses, and vice versa. So it is with most of us. The man is who he is. The team is what it is. Time to find out if that's enough to handle the Sooners.

Bo was hired to win the pitcher's duels, the low-scoring games often played in the SEC. Bo knows stalemates and four-quarter games.

Stoops used to win those games without much sweat. These days, the longer a game remains in doubt, the more you can count on the Sooners falling apart.

Can NU keep OU on the burner long enough to hit its melting point?

This is no vintage Oklahoma squad – its weak offensive line and speed remind me of Clemson in the Gator Bowl – but it's still the best team Nebraska's played since the last dance with the Sooners in 2008.

The best lesson from 62-28? Don't get buried early. Stick with the gameplan. Eat clock. Stop momentum. Get some first downs.

Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson seemed to have a pretty good handle on how the game might unfold by calling it “a NFL game.” Manage the clock. Don't waste timeouts. Don't waste time, period, bawling out the referees.

Watson's bound to get cute with Saturday's gameplan at some point. These West Coast Offense guys, God love em, might call three running plays in a row only to switch each of them to a pass because a strong safety might be creeping into the box. It's on Bo to tell Watson “run it anyway.” It's on Watson to know it without being told, which goes back to planning during the week, knowing the hook on which you'll hang your hat.

We'll be watching NU's discipline in the game, too. How about a night with zero personal fouls, false start and illegal motion penalties? How many yards do the Huskers just hand to Oklahoma?

Does Bo switch quarterbacks if Cody Green starts cold? Does he remember to look for crafty punt fakes and onsides kickoffs? When does he dial up blitzes? Do they work?

Remember Clemson? Nebraska was rocked back on its heels by the faster, more athletic Tigers. Ask the NU conditioning crew, and they'll say it was that game that opened their eyes to reality about Nebraska's speed and power. Folks, it's not there yet, as Oklahoma's speed and athleticism will make clear.

But Bo won all the coaching points in the Gator Bowl. Made the right blitzes. Seemingly had plays diagnosed before they occurred. Got field goals instead of gambling for touchdowns. Watson won some, too, pounding Castille in the power run game and schooling then-quarterback Joe Ganz into stepping up in the pocket, and buying enough time to hit big passes.

Coaching won that game. Saturday could boil down to that, too. For either team.

Nebraska isn't favored to win. It shouldn't be. But this game could reveal so much about the team, Bo, Watson and their direction together.

See also: 10 Key Players and Commentary: A Big Measuring Stick for Bo and Five Keys: Oklahoma and OU scouting report and video breakdown.

Tags: bo pelini, shawn watson, bob stoops, oklahoma game

Comments (1)

Profile image for tgr

Good article. Now lets play the game.

– Nov 6, 2009 at 7:47 pm

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