Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NU Re-View:Nebraska 41, Ball State 40

THE GOOD ...
- THE NEBRASKA GUNSLINGER: No running game, no defense, and Nebraska still wins thanks to the superior play of QB Sam Keller. Keller was tough, made good decisions, and executed phenomenal throws when called upon. This is what Bill Callahan's offense looks like when he's got a signal-caller who has the physical skills to make all the throws. God bless Zac Taylor, but if he was NU's QB the 'Huskers would be 1-3 this season.
- THIRD DOWN: Thanks to Keller, and some phenomenal and under-appreciated plays by Marlon Lucky, Nebraska was clutch on third down against Ball State. Third down conversions, along with turnover margins, are the two biggest stats in football, and it is gratifying to see NU succeed.
- PAY-PER-VIEW: Because the game was only broadcast on pay-per-view in Nebraska, not a lot of people were able to witness the debacle first-hand. It's the only way to explain NU remaining in the top 25 and still being a 20+ point favorite this week.

THE BAD ...
- 610: As in the total yardage of Ball State last week. You could just as easily have put in 457 (total yardage against USC) or 376 (total yardage against Wake Forest). No team, especially a team like Ball State should be putting up that kind of yardage against the Blackshirts, especially at home.
- OVER-AGGRESSIVENESS: I understand aggression as a good thing for a defense, but throughout this season it's been clear that NU defenders have been over-running plays and biting too heavily on play fakes causing problems in the secondary, especially when in cover-zero packages. I like a squad being aggressive, but if you can't play smart defense, you're not doing any one any good.
- ATTITUDE: This one is the scariest. In responding to the 610 yards of total offense, the quotes from the Blackshirts I read seemed to suggest that it's football, and that happens. Um, guys, no, it doesn't. Last time that happened in Lincoln was in 1993, and against a team that won a national championship. I have confidence the talent level is there to perform well (see:Big XII Championship Game against Oklahoma last year), but if the defense doesn't realize there's a problem, then there's no reason to think it will get fixed. Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If the Blackshirts think the effort on Saturday is good enough, expect a long season and a lot more boos.

... AND THE CONFERENCE OPENER.
The Iowa State Cyclones blow into town for NU's conference opener. Iowa State won an ugly game at home against their in-state rival Iowa, but have lost to Kent State, Division I-AA Northern Iowa (!), and Toledo. The team is struggling to grasp new coach Gene Chizek's concepts, and lacks depth on both sides of the line. But they can score, and have an NFL wide receiver in Todd Blythe. Nebraska is clearly more talented, but will the defensive woes be corrected in time?

THE BIG PICTURE
Based on the performance the last few weeks and the comments of the players after the game, there is no evidence to think Nebraska's defensive problems are going to get any better. I expect Callahan to pump the sunshine to the media, but to be all over the players behind closed doors. But if he and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove don't grab this problem by the neck right now, there's a real danger of losing the season. Ball State now is the canary in the coalmine for Nebraska. The bird still has enough oxygen to sing, but her breathing is getting pretty shallow.

Nebraska's offense is really, really good. It would be great if they could establish a running game between the tackles. Lucky isn't built for that kind of running, and freshman Quentin Castille can't hold on to the football. It sounds strange to say, but this Iowa State game upcoming is crucial for the future not only this season, but of this coaching staff. Another horrendous defensive performance or, God forbid, a loss to the 'Clones, and all the progress of the last four years will be washed away. The 'Huskers were completely taken off the hook by their win on Saturday. The question is, will they use that reprieve to fix the problem, or will it have just delayed the inevitable?

THE NEXT GAME:
Iowa State @ Nebraska (-22). The only way this line makes sense is if people didn't see the Ball State game in its' entirety, but only saw the final score and not the debacle that went into it. Even with a poor (but not abyssimal) defensive performance, Nebraska should be good enough to outscore Iowa State if necessary. Take the over if it's available. But there is no evidence to believe the defense will flip a switch and play well. Accordingly, take Iowa State and the points in another arena-league-type shootout.

GBR, baby.

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