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  1. 2011 Jan 05

    Commentary: On Bo - and Patriots


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    The media falls in love with itself sometimes. Reporters, crafty at creating scenarios, skillfully paint, point and persecute with words. It's a privilege and a kind of power. The press is a simple steward of the truth, but there are ways to gum it all up.

    A Fox Sports columnist lambasting Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini for “lying” to Minden naval officer Morgan Ryan at the Holiday Bowl reeks of a hatchet job.

    It's sadly common – although not often in sports – to pit the lowly, volunteer American soldier against a head-in-the-clouds millionaire who makes a promise he can't keep – then chuckles the joke's on the naive plebe. That's a staple of American journalism these days. Everything's “for the boys.” We can't get our heads unstuck from the Middle East in part because the press plays both sides of every war against the soldier, constantly trying to bend the emotions of young, impressionable patriots into a tidy subplot.

    It usually involves painfully purple prose like this:

    Every time Morgan Ryan prepares to disembark from his ship, he stops before the gangplank, turns solemnly toward the American flag and slowly salutes it, his hand steady at his brow for what seems like an eternity.

    Every time he returns to his ship, he repeats the routine. It's not a reflex, and it's more than just protocol.

    Old Glory means the world to a U.S. Navy seaman. Its place is permanent in his heart. It stands for respect, honor and commitment to his country, one he will defend with his life, without reservation or regret.

    You read that, and you know a broken heart's about to come. That there's no real dawn to the tale to tell, so here's a false dawn of patriotism that sets you up for the wanton cruelty to come.

    In Pelini's case, he told 20-year-old kid on the USS Reagan in San Diego he could call a play during the Holiday Bowl. Bo said he was joking; and I agree. But then I know how Bo jokes. The kid doesn't, and Bo is often oblivious to the effect of his words.

    So Morgan Ryan stood on the sideline that Thursday night, apparently believing Bo would stroll over for a playcall.

    Of course that wouldn't happen. “Special” playcalls are set up before games. And they're usually the first play. A 20-year-old kid wouldn't know that. But if it hadn't been set up beforehand, hey – it wasn't happening. I'm not even sure it's technically OK by NCAA standards. Otherwise, hell, stick Milt Tenopir down there as a “guest coach” and let him accidentally “wander” over to the offensive line huddle on the bench.

    So, anyway, Fox columnist Lisa Horne follows up on the issue with Bo after the game. Why? Simple. A chance to tell a good story in the face of an ugly game. I suspect Horne's original intent was above board.

    Then Bo called the whole arrangement a joke. Not the best word for it. Pretty stinking average word for it, actually. That's Bo. But at least he followed it up with an actual joke referencing NU's awful offensive performance that night. Rueful, sarcastic – but I thought it cut the tension.

    Lisa Horne clearly did not. She went to work from afar, going back to the solider several days later to read all the crestfallen lines on his face when she told him it was all a joke.

    When I informed Ryan that Pelini told me the whole thing was a joke, his face fell.

    He sat in front of me, looking a bit stunned. He displayed no anger, just sat there, staring into space.

    Finally, he spoke: "I would've thought something else if I had asked him about it (calling a play).”

    Ryan looked upward, searching for words, when his trained discipline kicked in. "I would rather not think about that," he said firmly.

    It was a gut-wrenching moment to witness. Ryan had been let down by the head coach of his favorite team. In front of his peers. But Ryan kept his emotions in check. He was not going to dishonor Pelini.

    After all, it's not every day you get to meet your favorite team's players and coach, are given an authentic jersey, a field pass and, you're led to believe, the chance to call a play.

    Military discipline to fight the sheer humiliation of not calling a play?

    It's a hatchet job. Because the truth is incomplete. And not just a little bit.

    The writer doesn't mention that before the Holiday Bowl Pelini invited several Navy SEALS to talk to his team. The writer doesn't mention that Pelini allowed the one Iraqi Husker veteran on the team – defensive end Tyrone Fahie – to carry the American flag into Memorial Stadium for the Sept. 11 game vs. Idaho. The writer doesn't mention that Pelini was part of a campaign encouraging Husker fans to buy Holiday Bowl tickets for soldiers in San Diego. NU followers bought 1,685 tickets. Nebraska gave 500 more to Marines who unfurled a giant American flag at the Holiday Bowl.

    Pretty heartless, huh?

    To Fox Sports' credit, the Web site added some of those notes as a sidebar in the column later.

    To Fox Sports' discredit, it let purple prose get in the way of a balanced story.

    Tags: bo pelini, holiday bowl

  2. 2011 Jan 03

    YEAR IN REVIEW: Highlights and Lowlights


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Our big season-in-review commentary is yet to come at the end of the week. For now, we bring you the superlatives of the 2010 season. Highlights and lowlights. Enjoy. We'll have lots of year in review content this week:

    Offensive MVP: Quarterback Taylor Martinez. The numbers don't lie: When Martinez was healthy, he was T-Magic, and so was NU's offense. After he got hurt, he was T-Muggle, and the Huskers lost three of their last four with him starting the games and taking the majority of the snaps. As dynamic a runner at the quarterback position as any in Husker history, Martinez's acceleration and instincts killer slower, less disciplined defenses. But when defenses slowed down his zone read game and forced him to throw downfield in the Big 12 Championship and Washington games, he really struggled. Still, it's hard to argue that he's not the most “valuable” player on NU's offense in 2010. He clearly was. Should he have been? That's a different question. Runners-up: Rex Burkhead, Roy Helu.

    Defensive MVP: Linebacker Lavonte David. He stepped into a nearly impossible position: Starting his first major college football game just four weeks after he began practicing with Husker coaches watching. And yet David, a junior, did just that – spectacularly, setting the team's single-season tackle record. David's instincts in stopping the run were a major reason why NU could afford to have what amounted to six defensive backs on the field for most of the game. He struggled in pass coverage during a 20-13 loss to Texas, but improved as the season wore on. Linebacker could have been a disaster after injuries to Sean Fisher and Will Compton. David erased all those concerns. It was some feat. Runners-up: Prince Amukamara, Jared Crick, Eric Hagg

    Special Teams MVP: Kicker Alex Henery. It's not everyday that a kicker is the team's most popular player, as Henery was on Senior Day when the Memorial Stadium crowd cheered loudest for his introduction. It's not every day a kicker truly earns that distinction. But Henery – with his talent and his humility – really did.

    Best Individual Offensive Performance: Taylor Martinez, Oklahoma State. He accounted for 425 total yards and five touchdowns, and Nebraska needed every last ounce of both. On a day when the Blackshirts' tackling and coverage took a day off, Martinez bailed out the Huskers with one big play after another, especially in the passing department, as he threw for a career-high 311 yards. Martinez had a chance to go in the tank after OSU took its first lead late in the first half. But he answered instead with a two-minute touchdown drive. It was the moment when Martinez seemed capable of anything.

    Best Individual Defensive Performance: Eric Hagg, Washington. He didn't make a ton of plays in the game, but he made the two that counted – a perfectly timed interception in two-deep coverage, and a spectacular deflection of a sure completion in the second half (Hagg was beaten on this same play in the Holiday Bowl). It's one of the best defensive plays of the year in all of college football.

    Best Coaching Decision: Bo Pelini's daring call to replace both safeties, Rickey Thenarse and P.J. Smith, with Austin Cassidy. It was a wholesale switch right before NU's biggest game to that point: Missouri. Until the Holiday Bowl, Cassidy and Osborne played really well, tackling with force and nabbing key interceptions in the Iowa State game and the Big 12 Championship, respectively. It was a classic Bo move: Shift on the fly, and commit accordingly.

    Worst Coaching Decision: After Nebraska closed to 20-13 in the Texas game, Bo, with the full force of the Memorial Stadium crowd on his side, chose to try an onside kick despite having two timeouts to call and three minutes remaining. UT recovered deep in Husker territory, the air was sucked out of the crowd, and the defense never had a chance to pin Texas deep. An onside kick – even with Alex Henery booting it – is one of the lowest-percentage plays in college football.

    Best Win: 31-17 over Missouri. Nebraska pounced all over the previously-undefeated Tigers with a 24-point first quarter, then frustrated Mizzou's pass-happy defense with a “spinner” defense that included using walk-on Kevin Thomsen and two new starters at safety in Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne. NU adjusted to Martinez's injury by managing the game with quarterback Zac Lee. Helu set the single-game school rushing record with 307 yards. Simply put, the Huskers' best game from an execution and coaching perspective.

    Worst Loss: 9-6 to Texas A&M. Nebraska played worse vs. Washington. The loss to Texas and Oklahoma were more painful. But the Huskers – especially head coach Bo Pelini – lost control that nutty night in College Station, and we're not sure NU ever really recovered from the feeling of persecution and poor execution that night. Pelini melted down on the sideline, upbraiding referees and Martinez on national TV. The officials screwed the Huskers on a late-hit penalty that set up A&M's game-winning field goal, but we can't help but think Bo's management of the game contributed to that bad call.

    More Year In Review Features
    The Best in Pictures, Part 1, Highlights and Lowlights

    Tags: year in review, taylor martinez, lavonte david, eric hagg, alex henery, bo pelini, texas am game, holiday bowl, missouri game

  3. 2011 Jan 03

    Husker Heartbeat 1/3: Ted's New Toys


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    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.

    *Terrelle Pryor has a sharp message for ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit. Lots of talent on this kid. Lots of brass, too.

    *Why RichRod must be fired - and his replacement must be chosen wisely.

    *Could Jim Harbaugh land at Michigan? Go to the NFL? Stay on at Stanford?

    *Another Steve Pederson coaching search goes down in flames, as Pedey is forced to fire Mike Haywood after Haywood gets jailed for domestic violence.

    *The OWH looks ahead to 2011. It's not a real promising look at wide receiver, offensive line or secondary.

    *Ted Gilmore girds to lose two of his top receivers and replace them with redshirts and young cats from this year.

    *Nebraska loses kicker commit Niklas Sade who chooses to commit to NC State because his dad couldn't relocate his job up here.

    It's a loss - but not as big as one thinks. You can't just recruit "the next Alex Henery." The next Alex Henery is just as likely to come in the form of a walk-on - like Henery did - as a scholarship player.

    NU's had success with scholarship kickers - Josh Brown and Kris Brown are two - but less success in recent years. Jordan Congdon transferred out, and he had no leg anyway. Adi Kunalic was beaten out by Henery.

    *Although he got to start as a true freshman, Penn State's Rob Bolden wants out of Happy Valley.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, ted gilmore, holiday bowl, bo pelini, richrod, terrelle pryor, steve pederson, rob bolden, penn state, kris brown, josh brown

  4. 2011 Jan 01

    Husker Heartbeat 1/1: The Road Ahead


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    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.

    *LJS Sipple writes one of his best columns in some time on NU's offense while getting additional (damning?) comments from offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

    *OWH's Dirk Chatelain continues his incisive look at the program, calling for Watson's dismissal.

    *OWH's Tom Shatel goes a little softer and suggests putting the offense under a microscope.

    *KLIN's John Bishop has tough talk for the Huskers after an apparent failure to prepare.

    *Rampant inconsistency hurt the Big Red in 2010.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, holiday bowl, shawn watson, bo pelini, barney cotton

  5. 2010 Dec 31

    HOLIDAY BOWL: Report Card


    By HuskerLocker

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    Here's our report card after the Holiday Bowl!

    OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: None. Kyler Reed made one excellent catch, but it's one play, not a whole performance.

    DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Played his corner spot with verve and anger all night, and made the game's best defensive play by stuffing Jake Locker on a goalline bootleg run to end the third quarter. Dennard was a blanket on his receivers, and the pass interference penalty called against him was garbage.


    QUARTERBACK: D Taylor Martinez didn't get much help from his offensive line – virtually none at all, in fact – but his decision-making in the pocket was often poor. He took bad sacks in the second half after he was told by coaches to hang in the pocket more and bail less. Gee, that was a good idea, taking away the kid's scrambling talents. Martinez is not an intuitive quarterback when it comes to managing a game, down and distance, play clock, huddle, all that. He'll have to learn it – fast. Next year's schedule will not be kind. Cody Green played OK in mop-up duty, but missed too many open receivers downfield. Asked to run a two-minute drill against a fired-up defense, Green didn't deliver.

    RUNNING BACK: C Rex Burkhead's first-quarter fumble was costly. He played OK for the rest of the game. Roy Helu seemed gimpy and uncertain and turned in another poor bowl performance. These guys just couldn't get untracked because of the lack of holes.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: F As bad as any NU offensive line performance since the 2005 Kansas game in Lawrence, when the Jayhawks humiliated the Huskers 40-15. Washington's defense, however motivated it was, was depleted and awful, and the simplest power plays that gained 8 or 9 yards per play in the first game didn't make a dent this time around. Barney's bunch looked beat up and tired to boot. Where's the depth?

    WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: C Kyler Reed made a nice grab, as did Mike McNeill on a fourth down play. As a group, the wide receivers fall down too much, leave their feet too often, and give away their routes too soon. Niles Paul was, as we predicted, a non-factor.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: D Pierre Allen made eight tackles and Jared Crick seven, but they were the quietest tackles you'll ever see. No push against Washington's power running game. No pass rush on Jake Locker. Poor pass rush discipline that allowed Locker to scramble. Two personal fouls on Crick and Allen, too. One of the poorest performances of the year, frankly.

    LINEBACKER: C Lavonte David got sucked inside on a couple of those zone read plays that Locker broke to the corner. He made his share of athletic tackles, too, capturing the school's single-season record in the process, but David didn't always make his run “fits.” Only a fair performance.

    SECONDARY: C The pass coverage was strong, as usual, although Eric Hagg got beat on a costly corner route that eventually turned into a Washington touchdown. The tackling was shoddy, especially from safeties Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne. Normally sure-handed, boy turned into Rickey Thenarse for a night with their one-shoulder takedowns.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: D Alex Henery shanked a punt and never got the chance to kick a field goal. NU struggled in kick coverage again, handing the Huskies 30 free yards thanks to two face mask penalties. This unit, as a whole, probably underperformed this year.

    GAME MANAGEMENT/PLAYCALLING: F Martinez doesn't manage a game very well, and the coaches can't do all of the game management aspects for him. Shawn Watson called a terrible game full of conservative power runs that never paid off and static-looking dropback passes that didn't pay off. He used the Wildcat sparingly, but it didn't hit for much. Time to put back the Rex Burkhead passing plays for the winter and think hard about dusting them off next fall – if Watson's still around. The 12 penalties have sadly become a common occurrence for the Huskers. NU looked flat, played like it, and lost soundly accordingly.

    Tags: holiday bowl, report card, alfonzo dennard

  6. 2010 Dec 31

    HOLIDAY BOWL: Winds of Change


    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini will gain exactly one thing out of Thursday's night awful, no good, very bad 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl. It's not a small thing, either. It's a vital thing. And we'll watch closely to see what he does with it.

    Freedom. To ask hard questions and make hard choices. About his staff. About his quarterbacks – all of them. About the discipline of his team. About everything from the offensive coordinator to the guys who can't cover a kickoff. And do it within the framework of preparing for a new league and NU's toughest schedule in a quarter-century.

    Some task, huh? Well, this was some loss.

    Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy column.

    Where to start? Here. Defense. Yeah, there, because I know you, Husker fan, and just where you want to go. The offense can wait for a second.

    The Blackshirts were flat, soft and unfocused. They played a step slow and with their butts to the ground. No leverage. No urgency, except from Alfonzo Dennard. None of the stuff that made Nebraska great at times in 2010 and good enough almost always.

    Why? What happened? Why was Dennard the only soul of the Blackshirts Thursday night, practically throwing jabs at his receivers, daring the refs to throw flags and Jake Locker to throw the ball? Dennard played on the edge, like he always does. Who went there with him? Who? That's where these Huskers lived, man. That's how, for two years, they earned their bread.

    Washington wasn't cute. A mildly-sentient frog had to know Locker – who only completed five passes - couldn't a put a dent in NU's secondary, and thus UW coach Steve Sarkisian would load up on running plays. Fifty-two runs? That's a dare. The 268 yards is an injury. Kneeling down inside NU's 10-yard line at the end is an insult.

    Big Ten power teams will play this game tape at summer picnics.

    Now the offense. Awful. Maddening. The same old stuff.

    *Barney Cotton's line has sloppy technique, commits bad penalties, and apparently doesn't have a shred of depth. The angry, physical, athletic line that plowed holes in Seattle and the Little Apple is gone, replaced by tired, beat up bodies who don't get enough rest in games and don't have suitable backups to push and replace them.

    “We were lousy up front," Bo said.

    *Ted Gilmore's wide receivers leave their feet a lot, don't look in ball and struggle to track poorly-thrown passes. They're not canny. That's part of the job, man. At least they block well. Usually. Gilmore shuttles so many of them in and out that it's no wonder NU's play clock troubles persist.

    *Shawn Watson was far too predictable on first and second down. His playcalling lacked continuity and a sense of urgency in the second half once Nebraska fell behind 17-7. He again put Taylor Martinez in passing plays that he can't execute. Washington took away Martinez's primary read by jumping the quick slant, and Martinez panicked again. More bad sacks. Two almost-insulting backhand flips into the defense. Same kid as the Big 12 Championship. No development in three weeks.

    “I'm embarrassed,” Watson said after the game. Asked if he'd return to the program, he simply said “we'll see.”

    He shouldn't. This offense is not his forte. The transition is unsuccessful. He's no longer a fit for Bo's vision.

    Martinez ran the ball better. But he's still not 100 percent. His natural lack of wiggle – this insistence that he outrun tacklers instead of setting them up and breaking them down – will get him hurt again. He makes bad decisions. He struggles to throw the deep pass. He carries the ball like a loaf of bread.

    Under Martinez's leadership and Watson's guidance, Nebraska's offense atrophied from a mean machine in September to a jalopy in late December. It's a stunning deconstruction. It speaks to confusion, mismanagement, torn loyalties and wasted talent.

    NU needs an alpha dog on offense. A strong, clear voice, a take-no-crap personality. A guy who calls plays, but more importantly identifies leaders. Offenses don't always work, but they need to make sense, and Nebraska's doesn't.

    Bo can't be stubborn here. He can't force this arrangement anymore, or just think he can immediately solve it with a quick in-house promotion. He need make the right hire – who then gets to make his own hires at every position. Whoever they are. Period. Tom Osborne needs to open the checkbook. Period.

    It just won't work any other way. Bo needs only to look at his defense. His hand-picked guys. His methods. His style. His personnel. One philosophy. One voice above the rest.

    Dozens of high-profile guys would consider the job. But we'll talk names later. Names are just names. Bigger question: Who does Bo know?

    Another: Why was Nebraska flat? Was it the late, delayed start? The familiar surroundings? Alex Henery's impromptu rumba session with ESPN's Erin Andrews?

    I think NU was just tired. It's been a long, emotional season, packed with weird highs and lows, and playing Washington again just didn't have real stakes attached to it. The goal was a Big 12 title, not a Holiday Bowl consolation prize, and Nebraska played like it. A win wasn't going to change NU's program.

    But a loss certainly will.

    Tags: holiday bowl, bo pelini, shawn watson, alfonzo dennard, barney cotton, ted gilmore

  7. 2010 Dec 31

    HOLIDAY BOWL: UW Humbles Huskers


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Nebraska's football team spent most of the week in San Diego smiling, relaxing and insisting it couldn't wait for a rematch with 6-6 Washington in Thursday night's Holiday Bowl.

    Evidence to the contrary: Thursday night's Holiday Bowl.

    In every phase – but especially, once again, on offense - the Huskers played a game as sloppy as the Qualcomm Stadium turf in a 19-7 loss to a team they smashed 56-21 in September.

    Turnovers, penalties, defensive miscues – and even a safety – snowballed on 10-4 NU in its ugliest performance of the season – and arguably one of the worst in the three-year Bo Pelini era. It was as bad as Nebraska's 33-0 pounding of Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl was good.

    Washington recovered a Rex Burkhead fumble on Nebraska's opening series, turned it into a short touchdown drive and never trailed on a wet, cold night in San Diego. The Huskies' defense, abused in Seattle, returned the favor on NU's offensive line, overwhelming it and quarterback Taylor Martinez all night.

    Aside from one second-quarter touchdown drive, Martinez - who threw an interception, dropped the ball twice and threw two first-half, side-armed flips that would have made Brett Favre blush - struggled mightily until he left the game late in the third-quarter with a reinjured ankle. Cody Green led one drive into Husky territory that ended without a touchdown. Burkhead and Roy Helu, Jr. rarely found running room. UW's beleaguered, thin defensive front - 103rd against the run – stuffed the Huskers' ground game, holding it to 87 yards.

    Quarterback Jake Locker and running back Chris Polk gashed through NU's defensive line, then eluded Husker defenders in the secondary. Locker's 25-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter – which gave the Huskies a 17-7 lead - featured four missed Nebraska tackles. UW rushed for 270 yards.

    "We stopped the run and ran the football," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "You win football games up front. I'm really proud. Our offensive lines and defensive lines had fantastic games tonight."

    Special teams weren't much better. Alex Henery shanked a punt and two face mask penalties on Washington returns helped give UW better field position.

    For the night, NU committed 12 penalties for more than 100.
    If not for a goal-line stand, two missed Washington field goals and the Huskers' typically excellent pass defense, the score would have been more lopsided.

    Tags: holiday bowl

  8. 2010 Dec 30

    Husker Heartbeat 12/30: San Diego Super Huskers!


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    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.

    *OWH Tom Shatel writes the essentially the same Holiday Bowl preview column we did several days ago, but he turns it into the list, so we guess that's OK.

    *Steve Sipple thinks Taylor Martinez can silence doubters with a big performance Thursday. We guess we said that, too, but we certainly didn't write this:

    Pelini said Martinez in time will become more comfortable doing interviews. He seldom did them this season. In fact, I can't remember the last time.

    "He's ready to do it," Pelini said.

    This season, Pelini said, he wanted to protect Martinez a bit. The coach essentially wanted to ease the kid into the spotlight. Nothing wrong with that.

    "I think now you see a young man who's a lot more comfortable in his role than he was in September," Pelini said.

    "He's grown up a lot."

    We can remember the last time: After the Kansas game.

    Beyond that, well, Pelini's plan to "protect" Martinez didn't exactly work.

    First, it didn't actually seem like a plan. It seemed like Martinez not wanting to talk. The press requested Martinez all the time; we were never told we couldn't. If it was a plan, then just announce it to the press, so the LA Times doesn't waste its time and money flying to Lincoln and trying to interview Martinez. (We'll get to the LAT in a minuto.)

    Second, Bo's protection disappeared the second he unleashed fury on Martinez during the Texas A&M game. Was it part of the plan to upbraid the freshman on national TV with curse words and spittle?

    We hope you're seeing a narrative form over several weeks in the Heartbeat section. We're not frustrated with Martinez's off-field behavior; we're frustrated for him. If Bo understood, as he suggests in the Sipple column, all of the inherent risks in starting a brand new, young quarterback - when he had a ten-game starter and fifth-year senior on the bench - then he mismanaged, in our view, the situation by allowing multiple negative opinions to bloom and persist about Martinez. Then he compounded it with that sideline sermon delivered two inches from Martinez's face.

    Bo's a better head coach now than when he started. But he's also trying to control more aspects of the team than he did in 2008, when Joe Ganz, Matt Slauson, Todd Peterson and Nate Swift essentially led the offense, under the direction of Shawn Watson. As rotten of a head coach as Bill Callahan was, he still managed to cultivate this small handful of leaders who made Bo's job in 2008 easier than we can appreciate.

    *Now, more on Martinez - from his dad, who admits he called Martinez during the Texas A&M game (c'mon, man) and T-Magic skipped the "team shakeout" the following day for reasons the story doesn't make entirely clear.

    "Maybe [that] wasn't the politically correct thing to do," Casey now says."

    Maybe not.

    *If you know the way, let Curt McKeever say so.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, holiday bowl, taylor martinez, bo pelini, shawn watson, joe ganz

  9. 2010 Dec 30

    HOLIDAY BOWL: Guess The Score!


    By HuskerLocker

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    Here's Samuel McKewon's prediction for the Nebraska-Kansas State game! Enjoy!

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Now - make your guess - along with an explanation, perhaps, in the comments area below. Anybody who hits the score (and the winner) right on the nose goes into a drawing for two free tickets to Nebraska's non-conference game with Fresno State next year!

    Tags: holiday bowl, guess the score

  10. 2010 Dec 29

    Husker Heartbeat 12/29: Bo's Management Skills


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    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.

    *LJS Sipple believes Bo Pelini matured in 2010, especially in managing the quarterback situation.

    *Tom Osborne talks about a tough Big 12 season. Interesting quote here.

    "There were certain crews and officials that we had asked for, and that didn't happen. If there was any concern on our part, that was it."

    Translation: Greg Burks worked many more games than Nebraska wanted him to work.

    *Why the Holiday Bowl lost its luster.

    *College football rematches are rarely kind to the team that won the first game.

    *How will Washington's defensive linemen hold up against NU's offensive line? Here's a hint: They won't.

    *Dejon "Houdini" Gomes has a high football IQ.

    *David Ubben's Three Keys for NU in the Holiday Bowl.

    *USC in a bowl game is ratings gold.

    *Bowl committees feed on universities.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, bo pelini, tom osborne, holiday bowl

  11. 2010 Dec 29

    HOLIDAY BOWL: Big Game for Taylor, Wats


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    The Holiday Bowl is not a must-win game for Nebraska's football team.

    But it's a darn-well-better-win game.

    NU doesn't want to invite the nine months of shadows and fog that would hover over the program should Washington pull an upset in the muck and moisture of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium. The winter just may be interesting enough without the taste of that foul brine in the Huskers' mouths.

    Bowl Pelini – the kinder, warmer, gentler version of Nebraska's head coach - seems at ease. The weather? The absence of the pressure cooker? The time off? The lack of TV cameras? Something.

    Maybe this: The Dub doesn't have NU's talent, its coaching, its playmakers or, most importantly, its beef in the trenches. And the Dub can't be too hard to scout. Contrary to popular cliches this week, UW didn't really get better toward the end of the season, it just faced three Pac-10 teams – UCLA, Cal and Washington State – that had more turmoil, discord and mediocrity than the Huskies. And the Dub is perfectly mediocre at 6-6.

    Some San Diego scribe swooned so over the Dub that he forgot Jake Locker was in town.

    He asked Bo about Arizona's quarterbacks.

    “I guess I'm not following the question,” Bo said.

    “We're playing Washington,” NU media relations director Keith Mann said.

    “My bad,” the reporter said. “That was last year.”

    If you really want to know what's going on down there.

    It's Sea World, the Zoo, Belmont Park, Reagan's big Varyag. Walk the beaches of San Diego and see tide pools where octopodes lurk, one arm hanging out from under a rock for kids to poke with a stick. Hit the seafood joints. Veer off to Tijuana for a mixture of overwhelming poverty and thoughtless tourism to see how both halves live, beg and bemoan. Witness purple and azure skies as the sun goes to bed on continental American shores.

    That is a what a Husker booster sees, thinks, feels. Mix in local color, vodka made from premium potatoes and Cubans smuggled from the cigar shops just beyond the main bridge in Tijuana, and it's why the bowl experience still thrives. You, craven, middlebrow Husker fan, want the payoff of a playoff. But have you seen winter vacation slideshow of your local gilded lily?

    Yeah, there's a game, but it's not quite the thing until the day (or night) of it, and this year, shoot, it may only turn into a conversation piece if Washington gives Nebraska a run. Which it might. Which would turn a lot of San Diego vacationistos and nistas on their heads.

    I could see an upset if not for the Huskers' overwhelming advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Even without Baker Steinkuhler, NU's defensive front four is stout and athletic. The Dub's defensive line is small and banged up, which is a perfect fit for Nebraska's Wildcat game, mixed with some power counters and traps. Washington's average corners will struggle to body up the Huskers' big wide receivers.

    If quarterback Taylor Martinez can settle himself in the slightest and deliver balls on time, Nebraska's offense should frolic up and down the field like it did in Seattle – regardless of whether Locker puts a charge in his troops and plays well.

    Martinez needs a good game. His talents and weaknesses are equally balanced right now, and he must tip the scale in his favor. He needs better mechanics and media lessons, too, but it behooves him more to remind his teammates – not the seniors – that he can bounce back from a tough month of poor on-field play and persistent off-the-field rumors. That he can live up the considerable, arguably unwarranted trust that Bo's put into his abilities.

    "What kind of gets lost in the shuffle a little bit is that this guy's a freshman, a first-year starter," Pelini said Tuesday. "He's been through a lot. He's learned a lot. And all those experiences are going to make you better and stronger. Hopefully, over time, that's the case with Taylor."

    It hasn't been lost on any Husker fans. They've been paying close attention.

    But they also know Bo chose a first-year starter over a fifth-year senior in a season where NU had its finest senior class in a decade.

    Snipers win individual battles. They don't always, however, define the entire military campaign.

    Shawn Watson needs to call a good game and have his offense – with Martinez leading it – do some damage. Yards, points, all of it. The media, having chosen Watson as the official scapegoat of the 2010 season – because it's fun to cook meals when you don't get to pick all the groceries every week – will flog him again for a poor performance. Unless, of course, he runs 63 Wildcat plays in a row. I suggest he call a Globetrotteresque triple-option weave with T-Magic, Rex Burkhead and Niles Paul.

    Thursday is yet another head coaching audition for him. They all are, from this point forward, wherever he's calling plays. Watson may make a good head coach. He has a note of humility in him that makes for a thoughtful steward.

    The quality is less useful in a coordinator.

    Nebraska needs the momentum of a victory, and don't be stunned if ESPN, sensing the storyline, spends much of the night talking about the Huskers' integration into the Big Ten.

    But don't be taken in by the suggestion, should they smash the Dub, that the Huskers are Big Ten favorites in 2011. It'll be a popular note to strike, and I suspect Jim Delany and the TV suits wouldn't do much to dissuade it.

    Ohio State is the annual favorite, of course – provided Terrelle Pryor returns for a senior season. That's no sure thing, with a five-game suspension looming.

    Michigan State will be my favorite – that's a tough-minded team that played one bad game all year – unless the Spartans punch the pooch vs. Alabama on New Year's Day.

    But NU is a sexier name with a returning starter at quarterback. A big win Thursday heaps all that pressure and focus back on the Huskers. Just like an easy win over Arizona did last year.

    Can Bowl Pelini deliver again?

    He'd darn well better.

    Tags: holiday bowl, bo pelini, shawn watson, taylor martinez

  12. 2010 Dec 28



    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Breaking down the matchups for the Holiday Bowl, position by position:

    QUARTERBACK: Injuries and inconsistency have plagued both Jake Locker and Taylor Martinez during the last half of the year, and yet both are superior athletes capable of spectacular individual plays when healthy. Locker must atone for the worst game of his career – a 4-of-20 effort with two interceptions vs. NU in September – to give Washington any chance at victory. Martinez, meanwhile, will test a muddy field with an ankle that's closer to 100 percent than it's been in two months. Martinez easily won the first matchup, but the element of surprise is now gone. EDGE: EVEN

    RUNNING BACK: Roy Helu (1,211 rushing yards) and Rex Burkhead (912) form one of the nation's best 1-2 punches at running back, especially since they have different fortes. Helu is the big play artist with rare vision while Burkhead is a Swiss Army Rex of versatility. He'll operate out of the Wildcat in the Holiday Bowl. Washington counters with the tough-but-explosive Chris Polk (1,238 rushing yards) and speedier Jesse Callier, who gave Nebraska trouble in the first game. NU has the more proven tandem, but the Huskies bring some talent to the table. EDGE: NEBRASKA

    WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END: Washington's Jermaine Kearse is one of the nation's best deep threats with a 16-yard average and 12 touchdowns. His speed and quickness make him a tough guy to consistently cover, although Nebraska's secondary snuffed him out in the first game. D'Andre Goodwin and Devin Aguilar are solid 2-3 receivers. NU's top pass-catcher, Niles Paul, will be limited by his still tender foot, recovering from a break one month ago. That leaves Brandon Kinnie and Mike McNeill to carry the load; they have pretty consistent hands, but of course must actually get the ball thrown to them. The Huskers' best deep threat is tight end Kyler Reed, who had 20 catches for 364 yards and seven touchdowns. EDGE: WASHINGTON

    OFFENSIVE LINE: NU's budding Pipeline had its best, most dominant game in Seattle this year. We don't see that changing in San Diego. Nebraska's at its best when guards Ricky Henry and Keith Williams can get out and pull on power counters, traps and dive plays. The Wildcat attack fits well into that. Expect a heavy dose of all of it. UW's line has struggled with consistency all season, but they generally keep Jake Locker well-protected. EDGE: NEBRASKA

    DEFENSIVE LINE: Even without Baker Steinkuhler, the Huskers' front four should be hitting on most cylinders. Terrence Moore has much talent – if not production – and Steinkuhler, and Jared Crick finally started to find his mojo during the last half of the season as defensive coordinator Carl Pelini moved him around to different spots on the defensive line. Cameron Meredith is a versatile player whom Pelini likes to stand up and play as a “spinner.” Pierre Allen is a tough-minded, physical anchor at base end. Washington's defensive line is basically awful. It's small, banged up and incapable of slowing down a power running game. 383 to NU. 298 to USC. 279 to Oregon. 278 to Stanford. It's a sieve and UW's biggest weakness. EDGE: NEBRASKA

    LINEBACKERS: You can't ask Lavonte David to make more plays than he's made or learn more quickly than he has. He's one of the best stories in college football, even if Bo Pelini has been stingy with praise. Washington counters with an All-American of its own in Mason Foster, who is flanked by smart, tough Cort Dennison. NU doesn't rely as much on linebackers as the Huskies do. EDGE: WASHINGTON

    SECONDARY: Nebraska has the best secondary in the country and the pelts on the wall to prove it. Washington doesn't. EDGE: NEBRASKA

    SPECIAL TEAMS: In terms of coverage and return units, neither Nebraska nor Washington has been particularly effective or consistent throughout the year. Callier is a good kickoff returner for the Huskies with a 23-yard average. Paul has a 25-yard average, but he may not return kicks for the Huskers. NU's primary advantage are two of its newest Blackshirts: Kicker Alex Henery and specialist Adi Kunalic. On a wet field, it's good to have kickers of their skill. EDGE: NEBRASKA

    Tags: holiday bowl, matchup

  13. 2010 Dec 28

    HOLIDAY BOWL: Five UW Players to Watch


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Five Washington players to watch in the Holiday Bowl:

    Linebacker Cort Dennison:
    He missed the first Nebraska game, and NU's ability to plow over the Huskies run defense was evidence of his absence. Dennison isn't the most athletic guy, but he can slow down a power running game, and he serves as an emotional rallying point for his teammates. Washington will stuff the run better with him in the game.

    Linebacker Mason Foster: Coming to a NFL Sunday near you for many, many years. Foster, an All-American in some publications, is the Huskies lead woofer, and he probably did more talking than producing in the first game (although he did force a Cody Green fumble). Foster doesn't get much help from a terrible defensive line, but he still shows up on film.

    Quarterback Jake Locker: A lot is on the line for the kid. NFL scouts will be watching to see how well Locker manages a muddy track and one of the nation's best secondaries for a second time. It's a rare opportunity for a college player to show “hey, I've learned from my mistakes.” To us, Locker is still a surefire first-round pick – you've seen some of the bums playing NFL quarterback this year, right? - but a big game in San Diego would confirm it.

    Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse: Largely shut down in the first game – save for a long touchdown reception – Kearse is one of the nation's purest, best deep threats, averaging 16 yards per reception. He gets in and out breaks quickly, and if the track's muddy at Qualcomm Stadium, that could favor him on certain routes. The Huskies win when Kearse gets his. He's Locker's key, primary target.

    Running back Chris Polk: NU fans will be very tired of seeing this kid by next September, when he's played the Huskers for a third time. At 5-11, 215, Polk is a bruiser with good speed, as his 1,238 rushing yards attest. UW will try to establish a between-the-tackles running game with Polk as the centerpiece.

    Tags: holiday bowl

  14. 2010 Dec 28

    HOLIDAY BOWL: Five NU Players to Watch


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Five Nebraska players to watch in the Holiday Bowl:

    Running back Rex Burkhead:
    Clark Kent off the field, Burkhead is finally blossoming into that “Superman” character on the field. He'll get 20 touches – rushing and receiving – in San Diego, possibly taking over that feature back role from Roy Helu one game early.

    Linebacker Lavonte David: He'll be asked to make a lot of plays in the box against quarterback Jake Locker's designed runs and running back Chris Polk, who has NFL written all over him. Washington will try to use three wide receivers to spread out NU's Peso defense, then attack a five-or-six-man front, with David being the focal point. You'd like to think the Huskers' most pleasant surprise is up to the challenge.

    Peso Eric Hagg: Washington tried to test him in the first game, and came up completely empty. Watch for the Huskies to try to take Hagg deep on slot go routes and wheel routes, much like Oklahoma did. Hagg has the athleticism to adjust.

    Quarterback Taylor Martinez: T-Magic no longer is a brand new act wowing and confusing packed houses on the road. Defenses have figured out a few of his tricks. Washington will have a plan to slow him down – which means Martinez will have to adjust. He's had a whole season to learn and grow in the role. The Huskies are hardly a difficult defense to face, but Martinez needs a strong performance for his own momentum heading into the offseason.

    Defensive end Cameron Meredith: Look for Nebraska's defensive coaches to get creative with the sophomore in San Diego. Playing relatively close to his home, Meredith is due for a breakout game. He's the next great Husker defensive tackle and his biggest strength is versatility.

    Tags: holiday bowl, taylor martinez, eric hagg, rex burkhead, cameron meredith, lavonte david

  15. 2010 Dec 28

    Husker Heartbeat 12/28: Wats, Cody, Taylor and Bo


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    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.

    *As Shawn Watson waits to hear whether he's the head coach of Miami (Ohio), OWH's Tom Shatel thinks it could be time for Watson to move on, either way. He writes:

    Here's why a change might do everyone good: Watson still looks like he has one foot in the West Coast and another in the Pelini offense.

    One selling point to the West Coast offense is its versatility. But that, in this opinion, is the inherent problem with it: There's no bread-and-butter identity. It also tempts a play-caller to get too fancy and stray from the hammer that is currently working.

    Case in point: the Big 12 championship game.

    With a half-speed Martinez playing on two bad legs, and a tight game in the balance, NU's offense stalled because Watson continued to put Martinez back in pass plays. The Kid was sacked seven times. Thunderfoot Alex Henery was wasted on the sideline with a Big 12 title on the table.

    When I asked Watson on Monday if he would have run the ball more in those situations, he concurred.

    “To help out Taylor?'' Watson said. “Absolutely, I would.

    “Taylor was struggling. You needed to help him out the best way you could. Obviously, Rex was there. But I also think Taylor needed to look at it a little bit, take a breath away from it. He got caught up in a lot of stuff going on. He's hurt. It's hard for him.''

    Bottom line: In that situation, with a league title on the line, Watson went back into West Coast mode. The Sooners will expect NU to run, so let's fool 'em.

    With much respect to Shatel, I think he missed Watson's money quote in there. Let's recap:

    "But I also think Taylor needed to look at it a little bit, take a breath away from it. He got caught up in a lot of stuff going on. He's hurt. It's hard for him.''

    Translation: Martinez probably shouldn't have been in the game.

    But that's not Watson's call. It's Bo's.

    Beyond that, this romance of running the ball to daylight is bit much. What play is Watson supposed to call on 3rd-and-8? A counter trap?

    Understand, there are ways to protect a young QB with certain passing plays. Screens. Swing passes. Martinez can't execute them. Defenders knocked down four swing passes Martinez threw during the year. He gives away the route. That may change in 2011. But, for now, Martinez throws more difficult routes better than he throws the simpler ones.

    That's not to knock Martinez. He is who he is. We had no beef with him playing in the Big 12 title game. We had plenty of beef with his play, but chalk it up to a learning experience. Bo has his horse. He's going to ride Martinez. Live with it -or file a grievance with the guy calling the personnel shots. Bo.

    *Cody Green defends Watson in this particular story.

    Green said Watson isn’t the type to respond publicly to his critics.

    “And I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want us to either,” Green said, “but there’s a time and a point where you’ve just got to stand up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s time to back off a little bit.’”

    Meanwhile, the starter has declined interview requests all week. Again - not Martinez's fault. He's been led to believe he can do that. Only one guy can say "talk to the press."

    *Would Mark Mangino be a good fit as Nebraska's offensive coordinator? The Lawerence Journal-World's Tom Keegan thinks so.

    *Here's a look at NU's QB position from a Seattle perspective.

    *Washington's receivers wants to hit back at the Huskers' physical, aggressive secondary.

    *Niles Paul says that "trash talk" from the Huskies will motivate NU for the Holiday Bowl.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, bo pelini, shawn watson, taylor martinez, cody green, niles paul, holiday bowl

  16. 2010 Dec 28

    Podcast 12/28: Here Comes Heard


    By HuskerLocker

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    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Tags: podcasts, holiday bowl, shawn watson, braylon heard

  17. 2010 Dec 27

    HOLIDAY BOWL: More RexCat, Please


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson sidestepped questions Monday about whether he's still in the running for any college head coaching jobs as NU prepares for its rematch with Washington in the Holiday Bowl.

    “That's not what's important this week,” Watson told reporters after the Huskers' workout at UC San Diego Monday afternoon.

    Asked again, he said: “I don't want to talk about it.”

    Watson was among the candidates for the Vanderbilt job that went to Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin. His name figures prominently in the open job at Miami(Ohio), where Watson coached as an assistant.

    The third-year OC under Bo Pelini preferred to focus on the task at hand: Beating up a Husky defense that hardly offered any resistance in September, when the Huskers steamrolled to a 56-21 win.

    “It was one of the better (games of the year),” Watson said. He added that NU has a better grasp of its scheme than it did on that Saturday afternoon.

    The more polished playbook includes the RexCat – the Wildcat formation operated by running back Rex Burkhead that has accounted for several touchdowns since its unveiling in a 31-30 win over Iowa State.

    Watson had previously said Burkhead's services in the formation weren't needed when quarterback Taylor Martinez was healthy; Martinez served much the same function and was a better passer to boot.

    Monday, he changed his tune.

    “(Rex) is so good at it, that it's an element you want to keep,” Watson said. “There's an element of misdirection and different things he allows you to do because he can ball handle...we'll keep that element alive.”

    Nebraska may need it to combat what could be a sloppy, muddy field at Qualcomm Stadium. Rains flooded the stadium one night before the Dec. 23 Poinsettia Bowl. Crews cleared it off, but Watson said a Holiday Bowl committee member told him that the field – typically home to the San Diego Chargers – could be “pretty chewed up” by halftime of the Holiday Bowl.

    Which means it would look much like NU's practice field at UC San Diego, a lush-but-spartan complex that's not exactly hip to the amenities of meticulous field maintenance.

    “This track? It's been challenging,” Watson said. “Yesterday it was hard to stand up...really slippery. Today was a lot better. Drying out.”

    NU held its annual bowl clinic for area high-school coaches. About 175 coaches attended the workshop.

    Tags: holiday bowl, shawn watson, rex burkhead, taylor martinez

  18. 2010 Dec 27

    Husker Heartbeat 12/27: Alfonzo, Bubba, Lavonte, Locker, RichRod, Rich Peeps and the Power of Perlman


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    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.

    *Alfonzo Dennard's back for a senior season. So is Lavonte David. Jared Crick will look more closely at the NFL Draft.

    *In naming him Midlander of the Year, the OWH examines Harvey Perlman's ability to plow through adversity.

    *Lee B says blaming bowls for being corrupt and rife with waste ignores that schools happily lap up the bowl's unfair deals. This is true, we suppose, but it's not a particularly profound truth.

    *No one beats Bubba Starling on the Kansas gridiron. Or diamond. Or hardcourt.

    *LJS Sipple sees no chance for a letdown in San Diego. We do.

    *Jake Locker came back to college to play in a game just like the Holiday Bowl. Good kid.

    *The wealthy make out when it comes to the BCS title game. Nah. You're kiddin.

    *RichRod is always looking for the greener grass, says the Detroit Free Press, which has made his life a living hell in Ann Arbor.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, bubba starling, jared crick, lavonte david, alfonzo dennard, bcs, richrod, jake locker, holiday bowl

  19. 2010 Dec 27

    Podcast 12/27: Niles Good to Go?


    By HuskerLocker

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    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Tags: podcasts, holiday bowl, niles paul, bo pelini

  20. 2010 Dec 27

    Husker Monday Takes: The Recruiting High Road


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Six takes as you drag those bones out of a three-day weekend and into the final stretch of 2010:

    ***After turning in three decent-to-good recruiting classes in the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska appears headed for a boffo class in 2011. All according to plan, if you ask NU recruiting coordinator Ted Gilmore.

    “You're just looking at three years of work – or recruiting kids and getting to know kids,” Gilmore said. “These kids are people we identified a long time ago.”

    Well, it's that and a few other things. Bo tweaked the organization and recruiting personnel in the last 18 months or so, Ndamukong Suh's Heisman run provided a bounce, Tim Beck works the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex like he's Ricky Roma and Barney Cotton – a surprisingly underrated recruiter – has collected some flat-out studs for this February.

    I frankly don't see a lot of “misses” in this class. Nor can there be. Nebraska isn't particularly in the business of running non-contributors out of the program.

    Some top programs certainly are. Alabama signed 111 players to scholarships of one kind or another in Nick Saban's first four classes. Saban creatively turned over the entire roster. He massages the numbers with greyshirts, medical redshirts and by simply informing some players that there's no more room at the inn – unless they want to pay their own way.

    Or how about Arkansas, which has signed 135 players over five years? Compare that to Sugar Bowl opponent Ohio State – which has signed just 99 during that same time period.

    ESPN's Outside the Lines recently focused on LSU.

    You're seeing a SEC theme here. The Big Ten frowns on oversigning.

    So does Nebraska.

    “That's not a program we run here,” Gilmore said. “That's not what we're going to do. If we recruited a kid – hey that's on us. If the kid isn't what we thought he was talent-wise, you know what, it's not the young man's fault. That's on us. But we're not going to spend a lot of time crying and feeling sorry for ourselves. We're going to develop what we've got. Whoever that is. Coach em up.

    “If the young man is doing what he's supposed to on and off the field and handling his business, his scholarship – as far as it being renewed – is not going to be based on his athletic ability. If he's doing what he's supposed to be doing, we're going to honor it – hold up our end of the deal.”

    Doesn't get much clearer than that.

    But it will put NU at a slight disadvantage. There are a few reaches in that 2008 class who are longshots to contribute for the Huskers. They still have two more years on the scholarship rolls; those are roster spots Nebraska could use to retool its team for the Big Ten transition.

    The high road has its costs. Worth paying, in this case.

    ***More from Gilmore. Asked if Nebraska would hotly pursue a running back recruit if a certain someone – that is, 2010 signee Braylon Heard – didn't academically qualify, he said: “We're not going to take a guy just to take a guy. And if he's not that caliber of player who can change our program, we're going to take a better player at a different position.”

    A political answer that still probably points to this reality: It's Rex Burkhead, Tray Robinson and a rook of some flavor – be it Heard or 2011 commit Aaron Green – next season. Burkhead's the stuff, but Robinson played sparingly in 2010 after a promising fall camp. Heard and Green are, heretofore, just potential. If Heard doesn't make it, Green becomes NU's only – albeit illustrious - running back recruit over two years.

    Whoever coordinates the offense in 2011 – Shawn Watson still could grab that Miami (Ohio) head coaching job and take Gilmore with him – will have to do more with less at running back. A 70/30 run/pass split – with a heavy emphasis on the Wildcat – just doesn't seem feasible if you want to keep Burkhead healthy.

    ***Just out of interest, I recorded several of Ndamukong Suh's games this year to see how the former Husker was adjusting to the NFL as a young Lion. I shouldn't have been surprised, of course, but I was: The kid is an astonishingly good football player for a rookie defensive tackle, one of the most punishing, demanding jobs in one of the most punishing, demanding sports.

    Still developing a consistent technique, Suh is agile, brutally strong and smart about pursuit angles. Just like at NU, he's still peeling back downfield to slow down screens and draws. As his situational statistics show, he consistently makes plays in every quarter of the game and on every down – although his forte is on first and second down against the run. That's where an interior defensive tackle earns his paycheck so the defensive ends can pin their ears back and attack on third down.

    Of course, Suh is still a sack machine. By the end of the year, he may reach double digits – from the interior position, against a tough diet of NFC North, NFC East and AFC East teams.

    He gave his heart to Nebraska – on the field and in the weight room – and no pro stat ever dims the light of that contribution. But it's refreshing to see that Suh's is just the opposite of a bust. He's a Motor City Boom with two pythons for arms and a perfect defensive coordinator in Gunther Cunningham, who led the very best Kansas City Chiefs defenses in the 1990s.

    Within three years, the Lions win a playoff game. Provided a quarterback stays upright for a whole year.

    ***Speaking of defensive tackles, you'll notice junior Jared Crick has admitted to at least dipping a toe in the NFL Draft waters after this year before deciding whether he'll return for a senior campaign. Though the smart money is on him coming back – the NFL surely seems headed toward a potentially long, painful lockout, no matter what sweet honeyed lie agents try to peddle – Crick owes himself the look.

    He'd be one of the top interior pass-rushers in the Draft. He has the speed to slide outside to a 3-4 defensive end, or the frame to stay inside and play a two-technique in a 4-3. His versatility frankly expands the number of teams that could draft him. His first step is freaky fast; he butchered Oklahoma's offensive line the Big 12 Championship. All the Sooners could do was tear at his jersey.

    Crick is no Suh – and yet he's underrated by college standards.

    Either way – in five years, Husker fans will better appreciate just how talented the 2009 and 2010 defenses truly were. Pros all over. Truth.

    ***Hidden inside the delayed suspensions of five Ohio State football players is much of what you need to know about how college football really works.

    The NCAA announced last week week that quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other Buckeyes broke a bevy of rules when they sold apparel, merch and gifts for profit. The governing body put off the five-game benching until the 2011, thus allowing Ohio State to file an appeal – which could not possibly be heard and processed over the holidays, apparently – and field its best team for the Sugar Bowl.

    That's not really the interesting part. That's par for the mercurial NCAA course.

    But this is intriguing: OSU, which held itself as a paragon of “never again” virtue after the Maurice Clarett fiasco, has chosen not, as of this writing, to suspend them for the bowl game, either. Even though one of the gifts some players allegedly sold were “gold pants” awarded for beating rival Michigan.

    Would many Buckeye fans truly blame athletic director Andy Geiger or head coach Jim Tressel if they did sit all five players? If they considered it socially, no. If they considered it, politically – perhaps.

    I can think of a few powerful boosters putting a few thousand dollars down on New Orleans hotels and restaurants who wouldn't appreciate that significant tab going for naught in a blowout loss to Arkansas. An estimated 15,000-20,000 “stockholders” in Buckeye football would get queasy in the Big Easy if OSU trotted out walk-on Joe Bauserman to face the Razorbacks' Ryan Mallett.

    Hey, it's the Big Ten. It's CIC. It ain't intramurals! Ohio State is merely heeding the CIC's best-known economist – the University of Chicago's Milton Friedman – who famously entitled one of his essays: “The Social Responsibility of a Business is to Increase Its Profits.”

    And what is profit in college football? Forget TV dollars – it's really booster bucks. And how do you get those?With a big win in a big bowl on national TV.

    I have more to say on this – and maybe a dire proclamation or two - but I'll save it for a “State of the Game” series I'm doing in January.

    ***Jake Locker will face a better secondary Thursday in Nebraska than the Denver Broncos' Tim Tebow faced Sunday vs. the Houston. How's that for a bold statement? I believe it. Tebow eclipsed 300 yards passing in a 24-23 win over the Texans, doing a good bulk of his damage with screen passes to no-kneed Correll Buckhalter and a second-rate receiving corps. When a NFL defense quits, man, it quits, and even Tebow, with the longest throwing motion known in the free world, can tear it apart.

    Tags: husker monday takes, ted gilmore, jake locker, holiday bowl, tim tebow, big ten, recruiting, braylon heard, rex burkhead, tray robinson, shawn watson, ndamukong suh, jared crick

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