Friday, September 22, 2006

NU Re-View: USC 28, Nebraska 10

Sorry for the delay, recovery took longer than expected.

THE GOOD ...

- THE POINT SPREAD: Hey, at least Nebraska made sure USC didn’t cover. Still a little sad to think that the ‘Husker program is still at a place where that is a “good.”

- NEBRASKA’S RESILIENCY: On a serious note, you can tell a lot about a football team by the way they play late in the game when they are losing. I didn’t see any quit at all from the boys in Scarlet and Cream. What that tells me is that the team really has bought into the coach. And that is progress.

- THE NATIONAL RESPONSE: This game really was a measuring stick for the national perspective of the Nebraska program under Bill Callahan. National perspective in college football matters, both for recruiting and for poll rankings. A Texas Tech-style blowout would have set the program back two years. But when ESPN’s noted ‘Husker-basher Mark May says NU is “on the right track” after analyzing the game, then no damage was done.

- TORNADO’S TIMING: In the third quarter, a tornado was sighted within about 10 miles of my house, and I ended up under the staircase in the basement for about a half hour. After Marlon Lucky’s fumble on Nebraska’s first possession of the second half, I wanted to go there anyway, so it was nice to have an excuse.

THE BAD ...

- NEBRASKA’S SECONDARY: I know, Captain Obvious strikes again. But the real turning point in the game was Nebraska’s inability to handle USC’s receivers. Nebraska did pretty well in handling USC’s running game. But whenever they needed yardage, it was right there for the taking. I was a little surprised I didn’t see more safety help, particularly against Jarrett, but it’s hard to tell on TV if it was there or not.

- THE GAME PLAN: While I suspect there was a method behind the madness, it was very frustrating to see a game where the score was close and Nebraska not take the reins off a passing attack that looked very crisp and efficient earlier in the season. I understand the competition, and I think I understand the reason why, but it’s still frustrating.

- LAY OFF POOR ANDRE, GUYS: Yes, Andre Jones made a guarantee of sorts that Nebraska would beat USC. Yes, he got torched on Jarrett’s first touchdown. But really, ABC/ESPN, was it necessary to mention that guarantee EVERY time number 25 in red showed up on the screen? We get it already, move on.

... AND THE DISTURBING

- TROJANS PART TWO: This Saturday, the OTHER men of Troy come to Lincoln with a new spread offense, and an increase in talent level and confidence. Troy led Florida State in the fourth quarter, and was right there with Georgia Tech until fourth quarter turnovers allowed the Yellowjackets to pull away. Plus, Troy’s spread offense with emphasis on quick passing takes away the Blackshirts’ strength (pass rush from the front seven) and into their weakness (coverage in the secondary). This is a dangerous, dangerous game for Nebraska if they are at all not in the proper mindset.

THE BIG PICTURE

This game was billed as a measuring stick for Nebraska, and it was. We now know that Nebraska is not in the same league, talent-wise, as USC. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s clearly the truth. I think Callahan knew that as well, and knew that the only thing that would be harmful from this game was a blowout. That’s why he “pounded the rock” so much, even though it clearly wasn’t working. I think Callahan’s thought process was to “take the air out of the ball,” run the ball and keep the clock moving, and by doing so keep the game close into the fourth quarter and hope for the best. If he puts the ball in the air a bunch in the first half, and gets turned over or quick three-and-outs, then USC could get an early 14 or 21 point lead and cruise to a blowout. As I said, while it was frustrating to watch, I understand why he did that, and I really don’t have a problem with it. But I suspect Zac Taylor will throw the ball more than 16 times against Troy.

THE NEXT GAME

Troy (+18) @ Nebraska. Yeesh, that’s a lot of points. The Trojans lost by seven at Florida State and by 15 at Georgia Tech. They have an offense that plays into Nebraska’s weakness. There’s a lot of reasons to take the points in this game. But Nebraska’s going to have something to prove after coming home from the Coliseum. More on instinct than on smart playing, I’ll take Nebraska and give the points.

GBR, baby.

3 comments:

Brian said...

Let me start by saying that I am NOT a Callahan basher. I think he has made tremendous strides the the time he's been here. However, I think Coach Callahan looked into the eyes of USC... and was afraid.

Personally I was very disappointed in the Huskers. Not in the players so much; I think they tried hard and competed well. Rather, I was disappointed with our coaching staff's gameplan.
What was originally billed as a measuring stick for the Husker program - was not. Our coaching staff determined before the game began, that we couldn't win. They coached the game to avoid a blowout. Where was Zac Taylor's short-game passing attack? Where was the deep threat of the long ball? We weren't coached to win the game; we were coached to run the time off the clock and keep the losing point spread somewhat respectable.

First half gameplan - run the ball and keep it close. Well, I'll grudgingly say okay, we'll give that a try for a while. But down 14-3 at halftime you've got to figure that hey, this isn't working. Two touchdowns vs a field goal won't do it. And then we fumble at the start of the third quarter. Okay boys, the running game isn't making it for us, let's try something else.

Personally I wish we would have tried the short passing attack from the start of the game. We should have at least gone more to it in the third quarter. Maybe we would have lost by more. Maybe not.

Do I think Nebraska was the better team? No. USC looked awfully good. But stranger things have happened. When small colleges come into Memorial Stadium on Saturday, whom do you respect more - the team that runs the ball every play to try to end the game quickly, or the team that throws down and tries to compete? As a football fan, which would you prefer to see?

In '83 Miami could have been coached to keep the Orange Bowl close as a 17 point underdog. They came to play. In the '94 Orange Bowl Nebraska could have been coached not to win, but try to keep the game close. Thankfully they weren't.

Unfortunately we'll never know what would have happened if Nebraska had been coached to win the game instead of avoid a blowout. And guess what? We got exactly what we were coached to get.

Tom said...

I'll have to respectfully diagree with Brian. Be as disappointed as you want, but the game plan generally was the right one for the game.

With the new rules on when the clock starts, it is a brilliant idea to shorten the game as much as you can if you are the underdog. You take time off the clock merely by running and not stopping the clock with incomplete passes. No matter the talent level of USC, they are guaranteed to shoot themselves in the foot and not succeed on every possession. If you limit the number of possessions, then you limit the number of times that USC will score.

Be upset, but keep in mind that the plan came close wit working. What Nebraska did not get were the lucky bounces. Nebraska forced a fumble, only to see Chauncy Washinton run for a big gain with it. Nebraska comes very close to starting the second half by intercepting a ball deep in Trojan terriroty (which might even have been returned for a TD). Then, NU fumbles when they get the ball. Big gain is brought back for a silly holding call.

I have been in this position as a coach and a player. What you want to do is keep the game close and pull it out in the end, when "Goliath" freaks out becuase they are not winning.

Did Callahan get a bit too conservative? Probably? But, Nebraska's chances of winning would not have been better if they went pass happy.

BTW, I don't think that Nebraska's secondary is as much of a liability this week. The problem with USC is that they had huge receivers. Because Nebraska could not jam them at the line, they had to play slightly off. What killed Nebraska was USC's quick slants and WR screens. It wasn't deep ball or jump balls. This week, Nebraska will be able to play Troy's receivers tight on the line.

Brian said...

Tom, I read your points and respect your opinion as a fellow Husker fan but remain unconvinced.

What has been impressive about NU's offense so far this year? How about Zac's phenomenal completion percentage? That's a good result of the West Coast offense. High percentage, short-to-medium passes that let the RB & WR get yards after the catch. That keeps the clock moving. And Zac has shown he has a pretty good command of that style of offense, at least in our system.

Did we play to this strength? Hardly. We had 36 rushing attempts vs 17 passes. That's not our offensive style. Well, how did we do in the rushing game? A whopping 1.9 yards per rush.

Hmmm.. how about the passing game? Even though we only through 17 passes, we still completed 9 of them - more than 50% completion percentage. That's pretty good I think, considering that with the overemphasis on the abysmal running game, USC often knew when we were going to pass.

What would our completion percentage have been, if we had stuck to our strengths? If we would have passed when USC wasn't expecting it? Or mixed it into more of our gameplan? It's probably a safe bet that our passing attack could have averaged more than 1.9 yards per pass. Would it have been enough to win the game? Who knows. But wouldn't you have liked to see it more than watching 36 rushes at 1.9 yards per clip?

Look at some of the other stats... NU was 5-for-14 on 3rd down efficiency; compared with 9-15 for USC. NU was put in 3rd & long too many times. Notice that USC had more third downs than NU did - a sign that our defense was playing well.

Rushing yards? NU 68(!), USC 142.
Passing yards? NU 143, USC 257.

Even with all of our 36 rushing attempts, USC STILL had more time of possession than NU (32 vs 28).

NU had one turnover. USC had more penalties.

So - we let USC completely dictate our offense. We went away from our strengths for fear that we might lose big. Is that a philosophy we can all rally around?

Don't get me wrong - I don't think we should have gone pass-happy. But sticking with what we do best - and in the west coast offense, that's mixing the run with short high percentage passes - would have given us more success passing, and opened up the inside rushing game. And - it would have run more time off the clock - because we would have had more success moving the ball.

We saw a very good - maybe great? - performance by the Husker defense. What we didn't see, was the NU offense that has been planned, preached, and played with so much success. We saw an offense that completely went away from what it knows, and go to an ultra-conservative, play-not-to-lose-big offense. As a big husker fan, that's not the matchup I was hoping to see, and it unfortunately tells me nothing about how our west coast offense can fare against the big boys.

When Texas comes to town, which offense do you want to see - the offense that has been practiced and preached for the last 2+ years, mixing the run & the pass, keeping the defense guessing, and doing what we do best? Or a run-only, 1+ yards-per-carry keep-it-on-the-ground-at-all-costs dinosaur? Which do you honestly think gives us the best chance for success? And if it's the keep-it-on-the-ground gameplan... if that's what we're going to play in the big games... what the hell are we doing playing around with the west coast offense???

When I put my money down for the Texas game, I want to see Zac and the offense do what they do best. Let our offense play the way they're supposed to, the way they've shown they can; and let the chips fall where they may. At least then we'll have a true measuring stick that we can judge our program by.

If there's one thing that Callahan has shown us in the past 2+ years, it's that he can learn and adjust. He's a much better coach of our ball club today than when he started. I just hope he learned something from that game in California; that playing to your fears is not a way to win the big game. Or a championship.

GO BIG RED!