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Official Husker Locker Blog

2009 Oct 17

Commentary: It's About Trust


By HuskerLocker

The reverie lasted all of a quarter. All the fanfare and hoopla and warm feelings over No. 15 Nebraska and its potential run through the Big 12 have been put on hold. Indefinitely.

Sloppy, slow and uncertain. That's how NU played in a calamitous meltdown loss to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders looked speedier, smarter and definitely less rattled by one of the more incompetent group of officials I've seen.

Most of all, the seemed sure of themselves. Even before Niles Paul's boneheaded, casual drop of a backwards screen pass, which led to a 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the Red Raiders played and acted like the better, more confident team.

“If y'all would have seen the locker room before the game, you would have thought it was a bunch of animals running around,” Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield said. “That's how our program is, just letting go and letting everybody be themselves and a lot of loud music.”

Understand that Tech's already been through a tumult of a season – two tough losses, suspensions, the typical Mike Leach chicanery. Maybe the boys from West Texas can give Bo Pelini some advice on how to handle the next two weeks. Loud music, apparently.

Get ready. It's going to be a bumpy, restless fortnight. Oh, Nebraska can probably handle defenseless Iowa State and toothless Baylor no matter who takes the field. But NU better have this figured out by Nov. 7, or the stretch run of the season could be a long, troubling slog.

What's wrong? Oh, quite a bit. We'll get there. Let's start with what's right.

Nebraska's front four plays like beasts. Every damn one of them. With attitude, toughness and fury. Phillip Dillard – remember, he's not as good as Colton Koehler for the first two games of this season – is suddenly realizing every ounce of potential he has. Can he please start the game next week and give Will Compton the sideline seasoning he needs? Alfonzo Dennard and Prince Amukamara, a few hiccups aside, bring their lunch pail every week. No cornerback – none – has a perfect record. Larry Asante plays a clean, hard-hitting game. And Pelini is starting to put some of those fancy blitzes back in the box – which is a good thing.

Now for the rest of it.

*Nebraska's offensive line is limping along. Something is missing, and the frustration on the face of Jacob Hickman and Barney Cotton make it clear that they don't quite know what it is. Part of it, I fear, is simple personality. The Huskers aren't nasty enough. Hickman, Mike Smith, Marcel Jones and Keith Williams are all, well, pretty nice guys. Analytical, thoughtful. Technicians. And right now, it's just not working. They're all getting beat at the point of attack. Ricky Henry, too, although he certainly brings a mean mug to the field.

You cannot – absolutely not – run a zone-blocking system without being quick, and tough. You don't have to be that big, and you don't have to pancake guys. But that first step has to be vicious. There can't be a hint of a leak. Roy Helu was flitting around all afternoon like a skier on a slalom course. He'd never admit it, but he got almost all of his yards on sheer improvisation.

*The line is forcing Shawn Watson to alter the game plan. Oh, we'll knock Watson when it's on him. And some of Saturday was on him. But not much of it. Sorry, but when NU runs two of its basic – and often successful – playaction passes, and a Tech defensive lineman is in the backfield before the fake is done, you're not going to have much luck with anything. Watson was relegated to calling two-second slant pattern (that Zac Lee can't throw) and bubble screens that were misadventures.

*Lee isn't trusting his game. His performance was painful, because it was the portrait of a quarterback second-guessing himself. Lee wants to go downfield. Something is stopping him. Because he's not Sam Keller, a professional bail-out artist, Lee sits back there, clutching, shuffling, worrying – until he's sacked, or he's left with a two-yard throw.

And he just won't scramble. This, I don't get. Watson doesn't get it, either. Nobody gets it. Lee is fast, he's tough – and he won't run. And when he does, he runs with his body pitched forward, and his head down.

*Bo still blows defensive timeouts. And two in the first half didn't make much sense.

The first of them was on the fourth down play that NU had stopped – until Pelini called the timeout at the last second. Was it to ice Mike Leach, who always does this? The result: A 21-yard gain on an end around that NU seemed utterly unprepared for.

The second occurred when Tech had the ball on the Huskers' four-yard line. Understandable – except that it was first down. What was Bo going to do – design three plays' worth of defense? As it was, Nebraska committed pass interference in the end zone, and Tech scored a few plays later.

*The penalties. Ugh. First of all, the officiating in the Big 12 – across the board – stinks. Bo can't say it. I'll say it. The zeebs on Saturday were confused, disorganized, out of position and generally perplexed. I give them credit for getting the fumble/touchdown right. Not a lot else.

But how does Bo help his cause by berating the line judge to the point where Memorial Stadium even takes notice, and it more or less delays the last kickoff of the game? How? NU clearly has a reputation at this point, and seems to nurture it with Bo's incredulous behavior.

Some of the penalties are earned, of course. The offensive line seems to pay its weekly toll of 30 yards. When does that stop? Can it stop?

*Most of all, it's just the vibe of this team. Tech obviously had a lot to be fired up about, but the Red Raiders seemed loose, active, ready to mix it up. Outside some of NU's defenders, the reticence – the sheer lack of fire - was glaring. The play of the game – Tech's 82-yard punt return – boiled down to a lack of concentration and mental toughness: Lee not getting a deep enough drop, Niles Paul futzing on a catchable ball, and the whole Husker offense just trotting back to the huddle. Folks, not every team does that. A lot of teams have a few guys, at least, with the sense to be safe about it, and cover the damn ball.

In key moments, Nebraska suffers a collective brain cramp. It happened last year. It's happening now. What's Bo and his capable crew going to do about it?

See also: Defending Shawn Watson - For Now


NU/Tech Report Card

Tags: bo pelini, barney cotton, jacob hickman, zac lee, niles paul, texas tech game

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