Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

- DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: Sure, it's stating the obvious, but the Blackshirts absolutely snuffed out any hope Arizona had of competing in the game. To pitch a shutout - the first in Holiday Bowl history and in 'Husker bowl history - is a real testament to how far Bo Pelini has brought the defense since NU lost 65-51 in Bill Callahan's last game.
- UN-TURTLING: Hey, how about that! Open up the playbook a little bit, get a wildcat formation running, get a playmaker like Niles Paul in space, and Nebraska can put up yardage against a pretty solid defensive team. An offensive performance like that not only gives NU confidence going into next year, but also makes NU a much easier sell to offensive recruits. Keep an eye on NU's signings from now until signing day in February. If the 'Huskers land some offensive stars, you can thank that performance in many ways for closing the deal.
- ALEX MVP: It's probably clear by now that I have a bit of a sports crush on Alex Henery, but he did his thing again. He was perfect on field goals (including an almost-effortless 50-yard strike), and killed two more punts inside the UA 10 yard line. Three of the most beautiful words for a 'Husker fan looking towards the 2010 campaign are "junior Alex Henery."

- OH, NOW YOU RUN THE WILDCAT!: Sure, it was a ton of fun to watch NU humiliate Arizona in the San Diego rain (it rains in San Diego? Who knew?). But it's a little bittersweet to see NU get that kind of offensive production and show that kind of creativity and wonder what might have been against Texas in the Big XII championship. Cast your mind back towards the end of that game, when a Paul return sets NU up with first down at the Texas 10. Think one of those Burkhead wildcat runs might have been a little more effective than what NU threw at the Longhorns? Just saying ...
- VERY GREEN: True to his word, Pelini gave freshman QB Cody Green a series early in the game. In a word, yeeesh. Every practice report says that Green is improving and playing well. That's sure not translating to his performance when the spotlight is on. Green was very fortunate not to throw a pick-six and potentially give Arizona a little life. He's very young, and hasn't had an opportunity to work a lot with the first team. But, good Lord, it looks like he's got a long way to go before he's going to compete for playing time.
- HELU, GOODBYE: I've also made no secret about my sports crush on Roy Helu, but it became obvious as the game wore on that Rex Burhkead is the starting tailback going into next season. Things can change a lot over an offseason, and maybe this will be a motivator for Helu, but Burkhead looks like he fits NU's new offensive vision a lot more than Helu does.

Please, don't think I'm trying to be a wet blanket. But ESPN's crew calling the game was in a great hurry to anoint NU as a top-10 team going into next year. I'm all for giving Nebraska some credit - quite honestly, they've been too easily written off since their throttling by Miami in the Rose Bowl in 2001. And while this game certainly was encouraging, I think it might be wise to avoid carving NU's name in any 2010 trophies just yet. Wise, but unlikely. After this performance, 'Husker fans will be dreaming about national titles in the coming year.

Usually, coaches are reserved and try to tamp down expectations. Leave it to Pelini to be contrarian. In the rain, while giving praise to his staff and his players, he finished his speech to the 'Husker faithful with the following:

"Nebraska's back, and we're here to stay."

Cue the t-shirt printing machine. Holy cats, this is a man who is confident in his team coming back. He's already talked about NU being "five times" better next year than this year. Is this bravado? Coach-speak trying to sell recruits? An attempt to raise the bar for his guys in the offseason?

Beats me. I think defensively, though, he's got a lot of reason to be confident. Sure, big Mr. Suh will be gone (but please, please, please, not to the St. Louis Rams), but the area of the defense I have been most impressed with is the growth of the secondary. They're still going to be very good, and I am really interested to see how the defensive line looks with Baker Steinkuhler plugging in Suh's spot. My guess is that you'll see the ends, particularly Pierre Allen, be the stars of the show next year.

It's the offense that's the question. Zac Lee played his best "big" game of his career, hands down. If we get THAT Lee for all 12 games next year, then the offense should be in good shape. It does look like Shawn Watson and Pelini have come to a detente about what the offense should look like, which will make all the difference in the world. Keep in mind, this is a team that had to completely reinvent itself halfway through the season.

But it's still a team with, at best, a question mark at quarterback, one playmaker at wide receiver, and spotty offensive line play. Yes, I'm just as excited as everyone else about the bowl win. But lets not kid ourselves, there's a lot of work for Pelini and Co. to do between now and August 2010 before Nebraska can be thought of as legitimate conference or national title contenders.

I will throw a little gas on the "NU in 2010" fire by looking at the schedule. Good gravy, that's a nicer looking slate than 2009. Only three road tests of note (Washington, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M), with Texas, Kansas, and Missouri at home. If NU is going to make a run, it's not a terrible schedule for it.

What I want to leave you with, though, is a look back to marvel at where NU has come. Two years ago, Nebraska ended it's season by scoring 51 points in Boulder - and losing by two touchdowns. NU gave up 76 points to Kansas - KANSAS, fer cryin' out loud! After that sad season ended, did anyone realistically think that two years later you'd be hearing Craig James talking about NU as a sure-fire pre-season top 10 team?

Heck, just go back to October of 2009. This is the same Nebraska team that lost - at home - to Iowa State. Let me say that again to let it sink in. The same team that lost at home to Iowa freaking State just throttled a team that was three seconds away from the Pac-10 title. It's been a heck of a ride.

Bask in the glow of this one through the haze of basketball season (because, Lord knows, it ain't like Creighton is going to do much to keep you warm). I have to say, I think Mr. Pelini is right on this one. I'll need to see more before I'm ready to start talking trophies, but I think Nebraska is definitely back as a player on the national college football landscape.

Is it August yet?

GBR, baby.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

JTG 12/23/09 - Friend me!

I have to say, I'm disappointed P'Allen Stinnett hasn't responded to my friend request on Facebook. He's definitely worth following if you want to keep things interesting.

Since last we convened, Creighton has played three games, won two, lost one, and caused at least one Jay-Talking Guy to go through a half-bottle of antacids. The Bluejays now sit at 5-6 preparing to enter conference play.

The first game in the series was a home contest against Savannah State. While the Bluejays did get a 77-62 win, there were still signs of trouble. Creighton roared out to a 14-2 and 23-8 lead early, and appeared to believe the game won at that point. Savannah State continued to come at the Bluejays, cutting the lead to single digits in the second half. Creighton held on to win comfortably, but not convincingly.

Was that a big deal? Were the Bluejays looking ahead to their trip to New Mexico? Possibly. But Creighton has suffered a number of heartbreaking losses (more on that to come), and what you want to see as a Bluejay fan is a sharper mentality to close out these tough games and get wins. Fiddling around and letting a team like Savannah State stay in the game in the second half does not bode well for the development of that mentality.

Then, the trip to The Pit. Unbeaten and nationally ranked New Mexico faced Creighton, in the Bluejays last opportunity to exorcise the demons of Orlando. And it all started so well. Creighton played stifling defense and ended the first half with a 12-point lead. Could this be the breakthrough, the game that could catapult the Bluejays in conference play?

Not so much. New Mexico started the second half with a 7-1 run, which got the crowd back in to the game. Creighton played gamely and fought throughout the second half, but New Mexico took the lead as time wound down. Creighton had the ball in a one-possession game with an opportunity to seize the lead and momentum. But, in a scene that was all to reminiscent of Creighton's end-game performances throughout this season, they were lost offensively and turned the ball over without ever threatening to score. New Mexico pulled away and escaped with a 66-61 win.

The Bluejays came home and demolished Houston Baptist 85-56 at the Qwest. It's definitely a positive that Creighton blew out a team, but Houston Baptist was also rated dead last in Division I programs by You never say no to a win, but it would have been an even bigger concern had Creighton struggled.

So, Creighton is 5-6 as the non-conference season ends. Where do we stand? There is a lot of raw talent on this team - more talent, I think, than any other team in the Valley. But that means nothing if it doesn't come together. With gut-wrenching road losses to Michigan, George Mason, and New Mexico, the question has to be raised about the team's mental state. That question was heightened when Stinnett slammed Creighton fans for questioning the team in a foul-mouthed Facebook rant.

You don't think he was talking about me, do you?

I really do think there is a ton of potential in this squad. Ethan Wragge is coming on as a real star, and Wayne Runnels is adding a physical presence to the team on defense and on the boards. Justin Carter is maturing into a leader, Stinnett can go off for 20 at any point, and Cavel Witter is making his presence felt. And, while 5-6 is incredibly disappointing, think about how close Creighton is to something else. A bounce here, a foul there, and Creighton wins those tight games they've lost. That puts them at 8-3 (and that's keeping the Iona loss on the books) with road wins against national powers along with a home win over a Nebraska team that keeps winning. That's a much difference scenario than what Creighton is looking at now.

As we've said many times before, everything Creighton does now is preparing for Arch Madness in St. Louis. But that might be liberating for the Bluejays. Everyone starts conference play at 0-0, so Creighton can look at a tough non-conference experience as a tune-up for the Valley. The talent is there, and if Dana Altman can focus that disappointment into sharp play on the court (and Creighton can break through and win one of those tough road games), then it could be a fun March for the Bluejays. Northern Iowa is up next at the Qwest, followed by a trip to Terre Haute to play Indiana State.

By the way, congratulations to Anthony Tolliver, who got called up to the Portland Trail Blazers. A-Train worked hard and had a phenomenal senior season in Omaha, and it's always good to see Creighton players get some time in the Association.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

JTG 12/14/09 - The TWEET heard 'round the world

It’s been a tough week for a Jaysker. I had to spend a week dealing with a phantom second on the clock in Cowboys Stadium, and now I have to deal with a phantom technical foul that helped seal the Bluejays’ fate against George Mason.

Let me set the table for you. After being behind at halftime, Creighton took solid control of their game against the Patriots, extending to a three-possession lead in the final minutes. George Mason put on a spirited comeback, including giving Creighton all kinds of fits with an aggressive full-court pressure, and cut the lead to 73-72 with 18 seconds left to play.

The Bluejays were on the wrong end of a blocking call at the defensive end, setting George Mason up for two free throws. Coach Dana Altman informed Missouri Valley conference official Brad Gaston of his disagreement with the decision.


A technical foul is called. Altman insists that his disagreement did not include any foul language, and nothing has surfaced to contradict Altman’s claim. Regardless, George Mason hit two free throws and took the lead. After a turnover, the Patriots extended their lead to 75-72 and Creighton did not score further.

Bluejay Nation, understandably, was incandescently angry with the technical foul. And yes, the referee has no business making that call unless there is a stone-cold, undeniable reason to blow the whistle. Gaston and the Valley owe the Bluejays in specific and basketball fans in general an explanation for the call.

But having said that, Creighton has no one to blame but themselves for their fourth loss in five games. CU had the game in hand and absolutely frittered the game away. Here’s just a few things that went wrong for the Bluejays in crunch time:

- Missed free throws: On more than one occasion, Creighton missed the front end of one-and-one shots that prevented them from opening up a bigger lead and pulling away from the Patriots. For the game, Creighton was only 10-18 from the charity stripe, mirroring the poor performance that dogged them in the Old Spice Classic.

- Offensive confusion: Even after everything that happened with the phantom technical foul, Creighton had the ball with 18 seconds and the ball. There was plenty of time to settle into an offensive set and get a good shot to win the game. Instead, the only way to describe the Bluejays’ attack was one of panic. CU ended up turning the ball over after Justin Carter fell over, with no Creighton player around.

- Lack of aggression: Does 18 free throw attempts seem like a low number? It might. But when you compare it to George Mason’s 44 attempts, you see how gargantuan the differential is. It’s fair to question the refereeing of the game (particularly after the TWEET heard around Bluejay Nation), but the fact is that Creighton settled for the perimeter for much of the game, while George Mason was more aggressive. Creighton’s 29 three-point basket attempts underlines the Bluejays’ satisfaction to remain outside the key.

Against Nebraska, Creighton was in a similar circumstance, with the lead late and needing to put a team away. At home, Creighton looked more comfortable and hit their free throws to grind out a win. On the road, just like in Orlando, the Bluejays collapsed at the end.

As harsh as it sounds, I don’t see how you avoid the conclusion that Creighton choked this game away. For much of the game, Creighton looked strong and athletic, and were the better team on the court. But when crunch time arrived, all that strength and athleticism crumbled.

In some ways, the debacle in Orlando makes the ramifications of this game less dire. We knew before the tip against George Mason that CU needed to win the Valley tournament to make the Big Dance, so the game against the Patriots really would have no effect on their post-season fate.

There were many positives to take from the game for Creighton, and hopefully Altman will be able to rally the troops. CU gets a mid-week softie against Savannah State at the Qwest, and then they go on the road to play New Mexico in The Pit on Saturday. Coming home, Creighton sits at 3-5 with 22 games remaining. That means, to keep their streak of 20-win seasons intact, Creighton can only lose at most seven games the rest of the season.

So the New Mexico game has meaning in part for the streak. But mostly, Creighton needs to get a win on the road against a legitimate (if not overpowering) opponent just for their confidence. Their first road conference game is New Years’ Day, against Indiana State and former Creighton assistant coach Kevin McKenna. It’s a daunting prospect, and we will find out in the next week if some leadership and maturity will emerge from this years’ Bluejay squad.

JTG 12/07/09 - Confessions of a Jaysker

From the Omaha CityWeekly


CURRENTLY: 3-4, 0-0, unranked.

NEXT WEEK: December 12, at George Mason

It was a tough weekend to be a ‘Husker. But for a Jaysker, the weekend was just plain confusing.

For those of you who had WAY too much turkey on Thanksgiving and are now just waking up, you missed a heartbreaking and controversial end to the Big XII Championship game which saw Texas steal a glorious upset from Nebraska on the gridiron. The truly die-hard ‘Husker fans then dragged themselves off the mat after the burnt orange sucker punch they received and headed to the Qwest Center to see the intra-state basketball rivalry game between Creighton and Nebraska.

A Jaysker, for those not familiar with the term, is a person who is a fan of Nebraska football and Creighton basketball. Usually the term is made in derision, accompanied by words like “frontrunner” or “bandwagon jumper” or [snip – CityWeekly editorial staff]. As discussed in previous columns, I bear the name with pride, and never suffer from any cognitive dissonance as a result of being a Jaysker.

Well, almost never. While there’s no question that I’m rooting for Creighton to win, it’s a very complicated emotional response I have to Creighton-Nebraska games. I don’t wish any ill on NU’s basketball program – quite the opposite, I really like Doc Sadler as a coach and I hope Nebraska wins every game except against Creighton.

But there’s something primal about being a sports fan. And when “Hail Varsity” gets played by the NU band as Nebraska goes on a run against Creighton, I have to control the tribal urge to stand up and scream.

It would help if Creighton had a better fight song. I’m sorry, “The Blue and the White” just doesn’t cut it.

Creighton found themselves in an unusual position this year with regards to the Nebraska game. Usually, it’s Nebraska that’s looking at Creighton as a great opportunity to get a good win, while Creighton is just hoping not to stub their collective toe against a lesser foe. This year, Nebraska came to Omaha at 5-1 with a decent road win under their belt. Creighton, on the other hand, was limping home after their epic FAIL in their Orlando tournament, losing to Michigan, Xavier, and (yes, really) Iona.

This year, the game was much more important for Creighton than for Nebraska. And, to my pleasant surprise after the Orlando disaster, the Bluejays played like the game was important. Creighton gutted out a 67-61 win over Nebraska, improving their record to 3-4 on the season.

Yes, the win was very important. A loss to Nebraska would have put Creighton at 2-5, and taking a four-game losing streak on the road to George Mason. These aren’t the Patriots that made their magical run to the Final Four a few years ago, but I don’t think anyone was anxious to see the Bluejays’ staring a trip to Philadelphia in the face to avoid opening 2-6.

What is more encouraging, though, is the way that Creighton beat Nebraska. Usually Creighton, like most mid-major schools, is pegged as a lightweight team that needs to hit threes in order to succeed. On Saturday, the Bluejays dropped in only one three-pointer and still won.

To make up the difference, Creighton played solid defense, forcing Nebraska into 20 turnovers. Creighton out-rebounded Nebraska 31-25, and drew 32 free throws. More importantly, Creighton hit 12 straight free throws down the stretch, to put Nebraska away after the ‘Huskers had closed to within two with just over two minutes left in the game.

Kenny Lawson was Creighton’s player of the game, going 7-13 from the field, 11-12 from the free throw line, and getting 10 rebounds. Cavel Witter was the only other Bluejay scoring in double digits, getting 13 points off the bench.

Coming back from the Orlando debacle, coach Dana Altman almost could not have scripted a better result for the Bluejays. The game was far from perfect for CU – I’m sure Altman would have written the 15 Bluejay turnovers out of the script – but the way Creighton responded to adversity was what mattered. The Bluejays kept steady pressure on Nebraska for the final quarter of the game, did not turn the ball over, and sank their free throws when they matters to close out Nebraska.

hat grind-it-out, gut-check type of win was exactly what Creighton needed. It’s going to be the blueprint for how Creighton will be successful this season. This Bluejay squad has plenty of talent, but no transcendent player to take over a game night after night. The closest thing Creighton has to that type of player is P’Allen Stinnett, but he has not shown that ability this season to date.

So, Creighton will need to play the type of basketball that Altman’s teams are known for – tough, smart, high-pressure defense, and enough offense to get by. The performance in Orlando leaves Creighton’s chances of an at-large tournament bid perilously slim, so the Bluejays need to be preparing now for their run in Arch Madness to win the automatic bid. Performances like the one Creighton got against Nebraska are exactly how tournaments are won. The Bluejays now have to show they can repeat that performance, especially on the road.

JTG 11/30/09 - The Old Spice disaster

No, this isn't about a bad high school prom experience. From the Omaha CityWeekly.


It is the downside of getting an opportunity. If you finally get the chance to shine on the big stage, and you blow it, your failure gets magnified.

Creighton couldn’t get out of Orlando fast enough, losing all three games in the Old Spice Classic and dropping the Bluejays to 2-4 on the season. Creighton hasn’t started a season this poorly since the 1993-94 season.

Things started so promisingly on Thanksgiving night against nationally-rated Michigan. The Bluejays played scrappy defense and hung around enough to take the game into overtime. They needed sophomore guard Antoine Young to channel his inner Tyus Edney and go coast-to-coast on the inbound pass with time expiring in regulation to send the game into extra time, but getting that kind of play seemed to bode well for things to come.

Creighton played valiantly, keeping the game close for the first two minutes of the extra period. But the Wolverines got themselves out to a six point lead and the Bluejays looked spent. Creighton’s offensive possessions after that lead were either ill-advised drives into heavy coverage or quick three-point shots out of rhythm and out of the offensive structure. Michigan held on for an 83-76 win that was probably more comfortable than the score indicated.

There were lots of positives to come out of that game, however. Clearly, Creighton is a better team with Justin Carter in the lineup. His presence on offense and defense makes things work better, and he seems to present problems for opposing defenses in spades. Young is starting to look more comfortable running the team, and looks like he has real potential as a point guard.

So, the Bluejays drop a heartbreaker to a nationally ranked team. Sure, there’s no moral victories, but that’s a moral victory. Creighton can pick themselves up, get a win or two in the tourney, and come home ready for more.

Oops. Creighton next gets to play the Xavier Musketeers (and please, no more comments about playing the Musketeers outside of Disney World), a team they’ve faced every year since about the Eisenhower administration. Creighton never had a lead in this game. They were down eight at the half and ended up losing 80-67, again with a score that probably flatters to deceive for the Bluejays.

Coming out flat after a disappointing overtime loss? Understandable, I suppose. Again, some positives to take out from the game. Most importantly, and surprising to me, was Creighton’s ability to rebound. Xavier is a much bigger team than Creighton, and yet only out-rebounded the Bluejays by one. Creighton’s new additions to the lineup have added some size and some rebounding prowess that will serve the Bluejays well as conference play arrives.

In many ways, after the Xavier loss you could already chalk up the trip to Orlando as a disappointment. Creighton missed their opportunity to get a resume-building win on their schedule, and was left playing the seventh-place game against Iona. No, not Iowa. The Iona Gaels. Surely the Bluejays could get at least one win, right?

Iona 63, Creighton 55.

It’s not even the loss that’s the most disturbing. Creighton center Kenny Lawson told the Omaha World-Herald that “[i]n a game this early, it comes down to who's going to bring the most energy. I don’t think our guys were dead, but we also weren’t as energetic as they were.”

That clicking sound you hear is the noise of Bluejay-colored panic buttons being repeatedly pressed. The Bluejays weren’t as energetic? Come on guys, this was game six of the season. If the Bluejays can’t find the energy to put on a solid performance against Iona in game six, what are they going to look like in Evansville, Indiana, on a cold February night?

There’s a lot of details that we could discuss about the Bluejays performance statistically, most alarmingly their poor free throw shooting and their propensity to turn the ball over. But from a big-picture perspective, it now comes down to the Missouri Valley. While Creighton has some at least solid road games upcoming (at George Mason, at New Mexico), the fact of the matter is their poor showing in Orlando likely means that Creighton will have to win the Valley in order to make the NCAA tournament.

Maybe that will be a positive, as they can look at the rest of the non-conference season with less pressure and find a way to integrate the new players. It’s not like things get simple. The Nebraska Cornhuskers come to town this Sunday. Nebraska has found its’ stride a little bit with a solid win over TCU earlier in the season and a road in Los Angeles over USC. Not that either of those schools is a force like Iona, but it’s still a good start for Doc Sadler’s crew.

The Qwest Center should be rocking for the Creighton-Nebraska game. If the Bluejays ever needed to come out flying, Sunday would be the time.

LTG 11/30/09 - On Polanski

From the Omaha CityWeekly


Is 58 days in jail worth 31 years of life as a fugitive?

By the time you read this, noted film director Roman Polanski may have been released from a Swiss jail to house arrest in his chalet in Gstaad, pending his extradition to the United States. There’s been a lot of noise about Polanski’s case, which I thought made it ripe for discussion.

Plus, I wanted an opportunity to make a Gstaad reference in a column. I watched too many James Bond movies growing up, apparently.

Polanski’s legal problems started back in 1977, when he was arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Although charged with a number of felonies, he ended up pleading to a single count of “unlawful sexual intercourse.” It was when he reached sentencing that his case got a little strange.

After the plea, but before sentencing, Polanski was sent to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. The doctor evaluating him released Polanski after 42 days, but the judge let it be known that he wanted Polanski to serve the full 90 days in custody.

Polanski was not pleased with the prospect of spending an additional 58 days in the Grey Bar Hotel, and therefore decided not to show up for his sentencing hearing. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and Polanski has been a fugitive since February 01, 1978.

France was Polanski’s destination of choice, home of the Louvre, Thierry “Handball” Henry, and most importantly, a lack of extradition. He’s lived and worked in France ever since, at least until he made the mistake of attending a film festival in Switzerland. Apparently, a deal was made between American and Swiss authorities to arrest Polanski if he came to Switzerland.

The Swiss judge set a bail of $4.5 million for Polanski to be released pending his challenge to extradition, requiring Polanski to give up his identity papers and wear a locator bracelet. He must also remain on house arrest in his Gstaad (there it is again) chalet, which apparently has a breathtaking view of the Swiss Alps.

Um, can I be put on house arrest there, too?

Polanski and his friends have mounted a vigorous defense in the media and the courtroom. The primary legal challenge is that the judge overstepped his authority by deciding Polanski’s sentence prior to the hearing date. Therefore, Polanski’s lawyers argue, the sentence should be thrown out so Polanski can – I don’t know, stay at his Gstaad chalet, I guess.

The legal challenge is relatively easy to deal with. Yes, the judge acted inappropriately if he said definitively what he was going to do. It’s a judge’s job to be neutral and to render a decision based solely on the evidence presented to him or her. If the judge had pre-judged Polanski’s sentence before hearing the arguments of his attorney, that did deny Polanski a fair hearing.

However, if that happened, Polanski shouldn’t get a literal “get out of jail free” card. The remedy is for the judge to recuse himself, and for a different and neutral judge to preside over sentencing.

More importantly, the fact that the judge may or may not have done something inappropriate is secondary to the issue of Polanski’s choosing not to join everyone else at the Palace Hotel ballroom for his sentencing. Polanski was under a legal duty to appear in court when ordered to do so, regardless of whether he thought the process was unfair. By skipping out on sentencing, Polanski committed a separate crime even if the underlying sentence would have been thrown out in a later proceeding.

That’s part of how the criminal justice system works. Not only is there insufficient space in our jails to hold every person accused of a crime, there are many times when jailing someone while they wait for trial wouldn’t be fair. There has to be a system in place where people can be released with a promise to appear later in court, even if it means something bad will happen to them when they show up. But that system can only work if there’s a punishment for someone who breaks the rules.

Polanski’s defenders have also argued that the crime happened a long time ago, that the victim doesn’t want to see Polanski in jail, and that Polanski has made a lot of great films. For all those reasons, they say, the authorities should forget about the whole sex with a 13-year-old thing.

Sure, Polanski has made some wonderful films, like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown.” (Although, strangely enough, not “The Fugitive.”) But, last I checked, making great movies is not a defense for statutory rape. And in criminal cases, it’s the government and not the victim that makes a decision on how to proceed. If victims controlled whether a criminal case went forward, then there would be an even greater opportunity for an accused to escape prosecution by intimidating or threatening their victim. The system, quite rightly, takes the decision on whether to prosecute away from the victim in part for the victim’s protection.

Those who know me should understand I’m the last person to channel my inner Sarah Palin and rail against the “Hollywood elites.” But the behavior of Polanski and his defenders is sickening. If Polanski had just sat his remaining 58 days out, none of this ridiculous story would be happening. It’s really a story of arrogance and celebrity entitlement at its worst. I hope the judge throws the book at Polanski, and leaves him to rot in his Gstaad chalet.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

NU Re-View: Texas 13, Nebraska 12

- BLACKSHIRTS: There's nothing cute to say, really. Nebraska put on one of the most dominating, inspired defensive performances in ages. They took the effort against Oklahoma and doubled it. They ended Colt McCoy's heisman candidacy (and should have kick-started Suh's candidacy, but we all know how that works). And they came up a half-second short.
- ALEX MVP: Well, he probably wasn't the MVP today, given his struggles punting early. But when he stepped up to give NU the lead, was there ever a doubt the ball was going through the posts?

- 106: As in, that was NU's total yardage. Nebraska's offensive ineptitude wasted a pristine defensive show. NU looked at least a step, if not two, slower than the Texas defenders. Sure, UT is a great defense and their offense was no great shakes. But UT has people that will scare you, and those guys made the plays to put UT into range for the winner. Nebraska doesn't, offensively. Are they in the pipeline? Can Bo recruit them? The defense is unbelievable, but what will it look like next year without Suh and Dillard?
- ADI-OS: If you get a scholarship and your only job is to kick the ball off, you cannot - cannot - ever kick the ball out of bounds. Especially on the biggest kick of your career. NU made a couple of mistakes on that drive to put UT into position (although not NEARLY as big as the one ol' Mackie boy made on the last play), but putting Texas on the 40 started everything rolling downhill.
- PLAYING THE CONSPIRACY CARD: Let's get this out of the way. I think it was the right call to put a second back on the clock. I am less convinced about some of the penalties (particularly the two pass interference calls against Eric Hagg, both of which the officials got his number wrong. If you can't even see the number on the shirt, how can you be that sure to call the penalty?) Even some of the spots NU got were dicey at best. I don't think there's enough evidence to claim a conspiracy - with the Big XII officials making sure a Big XII team is playing for the national title - there sure as heck is a motive.

Folks, I have seen Nebraska lose in a whole lot of different ways. At no point have I ever seen a more painful, more difficult loss. Fate was even cruel enough to suggest that Mack Brown coached his way out of a national title game with what might have been the dumbest play call this side of Mark Mangino's last series at Kansas.

Let me get this out of the way first. Whatever the line is for the Alabama-Texas game (and my guess it will open at about 8-9 points), take Alabama. McCoy isn't even as good as I thought he was, after watching this game, and Alabama absolutely mauled a more talented Florida team earlier in the day. I'm not at all convinced that TCU isn't a better team, right now, than Texas.

But this is a Nebraska 'blog, not a Texas one. And it's good to remember that this is a Nebraska team that, two years ago, missed a bowl game after giving up 65 points to a Dan Hawkins-coached Colorado squad. It's a team that, this year, lost to Iowa State at home. Yes, it hurts to not have "2009" on the conference championship board up on the west stands. But it's nice to be in the position to have your heart broken, and as quickly as it has been.

And I so want to be optimistic going forward. I'm just struggling with it right now. Suh will be gone next year, and with him goes a lot of the double-teams that made the rest of the defense better. More disturbingly, I'm trying to see where the cavalry is coming for the offense. Is Lee going to get that much better in the offseason? Is NU going to get a playmaking receiver? NU had the ball twice in Texas territory - including once at the freaking 10 yard line - and got six points. Just like at Virginia Tech. NU has had to "find its' identity" on offense throughout the season, much like a bad soap opera squeezing out drama until the season-ending cliffhanger. I think there's a real combination of a lack of offensive talent and a lack of creativity from offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to get something going. I was more than a little surprised to see such a lack of misdirection in the game plan. With the speed of Texas' defense, it seemed that was waiting to be pulled out, but we only saw it once or twice. And how about the bubble screen? Or the wildcat? Or ...

Feh. This is the Big Picture portion of the piece. We'll know a lot more about what Pelini thinks of the reasons for Nebraska's offensive struggles. My guess is he thinks it's a lack of talent, and that will be addressed through recruiting. Because, I'll tell you this. Just about anywhere else, the offensive display that Nebraska has put on this season would get Watson a pink slip. If he doesn't get one, then Pelini thinks he gets a pass because he doesn't have the tools to work with.

THE NEXT GAME: Stay tuned, kids. NU will likely be going to San Diego on December 30 to play in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona. Those of you with long enough memories will remember that didn't work out so well for Nebraska the last time that happened. But after seeing the Wildcats live against Iowa this year, and Nebraska enough as well, I think this trip to San Diego will be a lot more comfortable for the 'Huskers than last time. As if a trip to San Diego could be anything BUT comfortable.

GBR, baby.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 28, Colorado 20

- ZACURACCY: Quarterback Zac Lee was 9-14 for 73 yards passing against Colorado, but early in the game he hit a number of difficult passes to keep Nebraska's offense moving. It's starting to look like the mid-season hiccup (although calling an eight-turnover home loss to Iowa State a hiccup seems to be selling it a bit short) had more to do with Lee's confidence than anything. A solid game against Colorado can do nothing but help.
- WELCOME BACK, REXY: Tailback Rex Burkhead put the offense on his shoulders in the second half and ground down the Buffaloes' defense. The drive of the game (and maybe the conference season) was a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive almost entirely consisting of Burkhead carries. While CU got their garbage touchdown on the last play, that drive functionally ended the game.
- ALEX MVP: Yeah, it's getting old to talk about Henery's greatness. And yes, he did miss a field goal. But Henery's punting wizardry consistently left Colorado in terrible field position and put the Blackshirts in prime position to be successful. Now that the regular season is over, my vote for team MVP would go to Alex Henery. Can you name me one player (even Big Mr. Suh) who has been consistently excellent for twelve games? Henery for Heisman!

- MORE TURTLING: It was a little bit of a concern last week, when Nebraska got up and went into ultra-conservative mode. Again, it worked for Nebraska, so it's too hard to complain. And maybe it's not a decision so much as an acknowledgment that this is the best the offense can do. But at some point in the next two games Nebraska is going to need more from its' offense, and you have to question whether the confidence will be there if (for example) your quarterback only has 14 pass attempts in a game.
- 403-217: That was the differential in total yards with Colorado having the 403. That's a lot of bending from the Blackshirts, and getting a pick-six from Matt O'Hanlon certainly didn't hurt. But once Nebraska got a lead it looked like their defensive intensity went down and let Colorado at least hang around for a while.
- A GAMBLER'S NIGHTMARE: Nebraska had the 10.5 spread covered comfortably until the last play of the game, where Tyler Hansen hit Scotty McKnight on a long and incredibly poorly defended pass to cut NU's lead to eight as time expired. Bo Pelini was incandescently upset with the lazy secondary play. I was at least a little pleased to finally get a 'Husker call against the number correct.

This was possibly the strangest Nebraska game I have watched in some time. With Nebraska clinching the North title in the previous week and getting a score early, there was never a time I felt any danger. It seemed like the team felt that way as well, with a lackluster defensive performance being good enough for a win but not enough to inspire any confidence for the upcoming games.

Nebraska ends the regular season at 9-3, and was a freak loss against Iowa State away from a 10-2 season. 'Husker fans should be on cloud nine at this development, but almost none are. The struggles of the offense and the visible fraying of the defense over the last two games has put Husker Nation into at least code-yellow worry mode, if not orange. As much as a great defense is appreciated, until the offense becomes at least respectable it's hard to have BCS dreams start running through your Big Red heads.

THE NEXT GAME: Nebraska v. Texas, Big XII Championship, Dallas, Texas (line to be added). Texas had just as much of a clunker against an average Texas A&M team last weekend as Nebraska did against 3-9 Colorado. While Texas has frightening offensive weapons in Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, they also have no running game to speak. They play great defense, however, and NU offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will have to leave the turtle shell in Lincoln if Nebraska is to stand a chance. In a game NU is given no chance to win, though, I certainly hope that NU pulls out all the stops and at least gives Lee and Co. an opportunity to shine. The Blackshirts have enough to keep the game close, but that's about it.
FEARLESS FORECAST: Texas 29, Nebraska 9

GBR, baby.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 17, Kansas State 3

Pardon the prelude, but Saturday was a challenging day. In the morning, I went to my Uncle Ronald Runge's funeral, then drove home, changed, and went to the NU game. I'm not sure I've had a day of such contrasting emotions. But it reminded me, both during the funeral and during the game, that life's moments are precious. Don't ever allow them to be stolen by fear, selfishness, laziness, or greed. Our time on this Earth is far too short to not passionately live each moment that we're privileged to be given.

My uncle was an attorney and an author, and was a massive character in our family. I learned a lot from him, and his absence will be felt by myself, my family, his beloved Minnesota Twins, and the people who knew him. But Uncle Ron was good at not letting life's moments be stolen from him by the static of daily living. If nothing else, if his life is a challenge to the rest of us to use our time on this Earth well, then his is the legacy of a life well lived. Rest in peace, Uncle Ron.

- NOT BREAKING: As in, bending but not. After going up 17-3, NU's offense sputtered and the Purples spent a lot of time in Nebraska's half of the field. But the Blackshirts stiffened, preventing KSU from putting points on the board after the first drive of the game, which prevented them from regaining any momentum and putting pressure back on the offense.
- ALEX MONEY: Give punter/placekicker Alex Henery the MVP award for the season. I know Ndomukong Suh has been a monster, but Henery's punting mastery was crucial in NU's win over Oklahoma, and was crucial against KSU. He hit two punts which bit sideways and went out inside the Purples' 5 yard line, flipping field position and forcing the 'Cats to drive a really long field. For my money, he's been NU's most important player all year.
- CHANNELING HIS INNER BELICHEK: Prior to NU going for it on fourth-and-one at the end of the game, a guy in front of me asked if head coach Bo Pelini would go Bill Belichek and try for the first down. We laughed, thinking how ridiculous that would be. Then Zac Lee and the offense came out, and got the first down. I understand there were football reasons to do that (primarily to let the offense stay on the field to win the game and to show confidence in them after a poor second half), but I can't believe that bit of Pelini bravado didn't have something to do with the 2003 confrontation between then-defensive coordinator Pelini and KSU head coach Bill Snyder. Whatever the motivation, it was great to see ... because it worked.

- THE TURTLES: After Nebraska went up 17-3, it appeared the team felt like they had enough points to win and all the offensive rhythm of the first half dissolved. NU didn't cross into KSU territory until later in the fourth quarter, and the defense was left on the field for an extended period. While it's hard to argue with the result, NU had a chance for a knockout punch in the early third quarter and failed to deliver.
- CURIOUS STRATEGY: Two weeks in a row, now, NU has used an ... interesting plan on defense. Let a wide receiver break wide open up the middle, let him sprint to about your own three, then force a fumble. It's great when it works, but it's not terribly sustainable. Against both the Jayhawks and the Purples, NU avoided early second-half, potentially momentum-shifting touchdowns by the thinnest of margins.
- TIPPING YOUR HAND: In the fourth quarter, when NU looked like they were going to open the playbook up a little, they tried the option pass that worked so well against KU the previous week. Apparently, KSU saw that tape because they sent a backside corner blitz and got a free blind-side hit on Lee. Forget being happy he didn't fumble, I was just happy the kid stood up.

I'm happy Pelini and Co. didn't celebrate like they had won something monumental by clinching the North, and I'm glad NU doesn't list division wins on the "wall of fame" on the side of the pressbox. But make no mistake, it's a big deal for NU to win the division in Pelini's second year. It's even more amazing to consider that NU won the division in the same season that they lost to Iowa State at home. NU is definitely a work in progress under Pelini, but the kind of toughness demonstrated by a team to lose such an embarassing game to the 'Clones, then turn around to win the division, bodes very well for the future.

Please, stop with the silly talk about how it's not good for this average Nebraska team to go to the Big XII Championship against Texas. First of all, NU's defense is good enough (particularly with a week's rest) to avoid an embarassment. But even if NU did get run off the field by Texas, being there is still better for the program than not being there. If the North is going to be down, then it's up to Nebraska to make sure they're the dominant force in the North. And, any time you have a one-off situation, anything can happen (see State, Iowa). NU is one win away from their first BCS game since 2001. There is nothing - nothing at all - bad about that.

THE NEXT GAME: Nebraska vs. Texas, Dallas, TX. Whoops! Strike that. Nebraska @ Colorado. Yes, Nebraska, you still have to go to Boulder even though the division is wrapped up. CU put an inspired, tough performance together against Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Thursday, coming up three points short. Say what you will about Dan Hawkins coming just a bit short of his ten-win-or-bust proclamation at the start of the season, the Buffaloes are still playing for him. Plus, CU will be coming off an extra three days of rest, while NU has a short week before a Friday game. There's a witches' brew of circumstances leading to the conclusion that this game will be closer than expected.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 24, Colorado 20.

NU-KSU pictures:

GBR, baby.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

JTG 11/18/09

Jay-Talking Guy column from the Omaha CityWeekly 11/18/09 - 11/24/09


Cover Story: Happy Blue Year, 2009!
Creighton men’s basketball off and rolling at the Qwest Center
By: Patrick Runge
Issue: November 18, 2009

Can you hear it? Can you hear the thumps and the squeaks echoing from gyms around the country? That’s right, college basketball is once again upon us, rescuing us from the interminable wait between football and baseball seasons.

Put down that bracket. Even if you’re Joe Lunardi, it’s too early for that.

My name is Patrick Runge, and you may have seen my Law-Talking Guy columns gracing the pages of this fine publication. But this season, the City Weekly has given me the great honor (or been desperate enough) to allow me to be your Jay-Talking Guy guide through the Creighton basketball season.

Now, those of you who know me might be a little confused. Yes, I am a die-hard Nebraska football fan. Yes, I am a die-hard Creighton basketball fan. And yes, you can be both.

Take a look at the picture. That’s me on the left, with my father, getting ready to head to the Civic Auditorium for another Bluejay adventure. When I was a kid, growing up and learning about basketball, I learned through the lens of the Bluejays. When I came home from YMCA basketball practice, I listened to Bluejay games. When I dreamed of hitting the winning shot in my driveway, I hit that shot for the Bluejays.

I even remember my father telling me about this guy from Indiana State who was supposed to be really good. His name was Larry Bird, or something like that.

One of the great joys in sports is having an allegiance that is passed down to you. When I cheer for the Bluejays, in some small way I am tapping into those happy childhood memories of time spent with my father, wearing matching sweatshirts, eating hot dogs and cheering for the Bluejays. To this day, I can spend autumn and winter evenings with my father talking about Creighton’s over-reliance on perimeter shooting, their lack of developing a true big man, and whether Dana Altman has what it takes to make Creighton a legitimate national program. It’s cliché, I know. Father and son bonding over sports. But it’s cliché because it’s true. Part of the reason I devour all I can about Creighton basketball is because I’m excited about the chance to share those thoughts with my dad.

And being a sports fan in itself isn’t all that rational. In a sense, it’s emotional gambling. You pick a team to support, and you gamble that the excitement of your team’s success will outweigh the disappointment of its failures. But you don’t make that decision consciously. Only when you’ve locked in to “your” team and stay with them through thick and thin can you really understand the joy of long-awaited victories. The price of unabashed euphoria that comes from a big win is all of the heartache and disappointment that comes from losses in the past.

Ask any Nebraska fan who has been waiting for eight years for a game like Oklahoma this year.

So, call me a “Jaysker” if you will. My dad and I will just laugh at you later, anyway.

I promise in the coming weeks I will actually talk about the 2009-10 team, but I thought you should at least know where I’m coming from. At the time of this column, Creighton is 0-1 after a 90-80 loss at No. 21 Dayton. Creighton really got dealt a bad hand, missing three critical players (Justin Carter, Casey Harriman, and Chad Millard) for various reasons. CU had a five-point lead at halftime and led by double digits at one point in the game.

Unfortunately, Dayton’s depth caught up, and Creighton was unable to finish the game. The Bluejays did get solid contributions from newcomers Wayne Runnels and Darryl Ashford, which bodes well for conference play.

Given the absences, it’s hard to know how much to take from this opening loss. Given CU’s absence from the Big Dance in the last two years, it is important for Creighton to make noise on the national stage this year in order to maintain their momentum as one of the mid-major teams to watch. That buzz is important for recruiting and for perception come at-large selection time.

Over Thanksgiving, Creighton will play in the Old Spice Classic, which will give them their best opportunity for a solid resume-boosting non-conference win or two. The Bluejays will have warmups at home against Florida A&M and Arkansas-Little Rock prior to that tournament. Assuming Creighton is able to put out a full squad, we’ll know a lot more about what to expect from the Bluejays after Thanksgiving.

LTG 11/18/09 - Blitzing Wolf

From the Omaha CityWeekly, 11/18/09 - 11/24/09


Law Talking Guy
Blitzing Wolf
By: Patrick Runge
Issue: November 18, 2009

Let me say this up front, in the interest of full disclosure. I loathe Wolf Blitzer. I think he’s a vacuous, spineless, unintelligent, slow-witted sycophant. I think he lacks the intellectual capacity to ask a challenging question to a newsmaker and the courage to ask one even if he could think of it. He’s the real-life Ron Burgundy from Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” movie without the cool moustache. He’s the personification of the descent of television news from actual journalism to celebrity tabloid titillation.

In other words, I don’t particularly care for him.

Last week, I was reminded why I have such a low opinion of Blitzer. In “The Situation Room” (which I believe is next to the conservatory where Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Boddy with the lead pipe) Blitzer was interviewing Col. John Galligan, an attorney for Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood massacre. Here’s what Blitzer asked Galligan after his interview was announced.

“They asked me, how could a retired U.S. military officer, a full colonel, go ahead and represent someone accused of mass murder? And I want you to explain to our viewers why you’re doing this.”

Cue outrage and righteous indignation from the Law-Talking Guy.

Seriously, Wolf? You don’t mind if I call you Wolf, do you? I mean, after all, it enhances your tough-guy image, right? Anyway, Wolf, are you really dumb enough to believe this line or are you simply playing to the angry-and-stupid portion of your demographic? Were you hoping to catch people surfing for Glenn Beck with a little vigilante justice demagoguery?

Galligan, to his credit, reminded Blitzer about these apparently foreign concepts like fair trials and due process, and how in America everyone has the right to a day in court. Apparently those nuggets of logic couldn’t penetrate the gel in Blitzer’s hair deep enough to seep into his brain, as he closed the interview with this quote.

“I’m sure he will get a much fairer hearing than those 13 Americans who were brutally gunned down the other day.”

Attaboy, Wolf. Apparently in the world according to Wolf (let’s just call it “Blitzerland”), if people are angry about a crime then the police should round up the first suspect, have a quick show trial without a lawyer for the accused, and execute the guy on the spot. Nuts to that whole fair trial, due process, protection of freedom notion that’s in the Constitution. In Blitzerland, it’s all about talking tough and stoking the fires of knee-jerk rage.

Of course, in Blitzerland, we’d all be required to have tough, rugged-sounding names. I’m thinking of going with Hawk Knifestab or Johnny Gutpunch.

Anyway, Wolf, you’re a news guy. Perhaps you remember the Duke lacrosse rape case. It was quite the sensational news item. A whole bunch of preppy rich white kids were accused of gang-raping a poor black woman. Remember how angry everyone was at those Duke kids? This would have been a perfect time to exercise your Blitzerland rules and lock those evil racist rapists away toot sweet, without the need for a pesky trial.

Except, of course, that those kids were innocent. Whoops.

How about Richard Jewell? Remember him, Wolf? He was the guy that people thought was responsible for the 1996 bombing of Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Summer Games. That was such a big news story, and you could have gotten great ratings for “The Situation Room” pronouncing him guilty 12 seconds after his arrest and banging the drum for his execution the following week.

Except, of course, he was innocent. Whoops.

I’ll try to use small words, Wolf, to make it easier for you to understand. Being free means you get to have a fair trial when you’re accused of a crime. It means you get a lawyer, even a free lawyer, to make sure that the government can only punish someone after proving beyond a reasonable doubt that person committed a crime.

The case against Hassan looks pretty open-and-shut right now. And I doubt very seriously there are many non-crazy people who want to see Hassan go unpunished – if he’s found guilty after a fair trial. But apparently, Wolf, you have so little faith in the American system of justice that you don’t think he can be convicted in a fair trial. You think we have to rig the system to make sure he gets convicted. And if a few innocent people get the long walk to Ol’ Sparky as a result of that precedent, well, too bad.

That’s not America, Wolf. It may be how it works in Blitzerland, and it’s certainly how it works in Iran, China, Cuba, North Korea and all the other totalitarian regimes around the world. It’s how the Taliban mete out their brand of “justice” in the areas they control. I thought that’s what we were fighting against, but I don’t have a manly name or great hair like you, so what do I know?

Your colleague, Lou Dobbs, recently left CNN for his inevitable appearance on FOX News. Feel free to follow, and leave the news for real journalists to cover.

Patrick Runge has practiced law in the Omaha area since earning his degree from Creighton University in 1994. He has also written for the Omaha Pulp, Millard Avenues and UNO’s Gateway. E-mail him at

Monday, November 16, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 31, Kansas 17

Sorry for not getting the Re-Views done for Baylor and Oklahoma, reality called.

- THEIR TURN: Ever since the open of conference play, Nebraska has been leaning on the defense to win games. This time, with Nebraska down 17-16 in the fourth quarter, it was up to the offense to salvage a win. They did so with gusto, imposing their will through a powerful running attack (and a little help from costly KU penalties).
- GAME PLANNING: Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has been the target of 'Husker fan angst for the last month, and rightfully so. Against Kansas, Watson scaled back the shotgun read option and focused on the downhill run and the long pass, both playing to the strengths of their talent.
- RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH: For the first time, quarterback Zac Lee tucked the ball in and ran with authority. Good heavens, he even broke a tackle as the second-leading rusher on the team. If Lee can bring that element to every game, NU's offense got a lot more dangerous.

- RUNNING ON FUMES: The Blackshirts were on the field for 87 plays against Oklahoma and for another 70 against Kansas. There's no question that fatigue played a factor in the front four being less able to generate a pass rush and disrupt the Jayhawk offense.
- THE EXPERIENCE FACTOR: While Nebraska has had great success in the last few weeks, it should be remembered that they were facing rookie quarterbacks. Against Kansas, they got the best shot of an experienced, savvy, and dangerous veteran QB in Todd Reesing. I, for one, am very pleased he's out of eligibility.
- RED ZONE ISSUES: Nebraska still is struggling with success in the red zone. With a chance to put a second touchdown on the board in the first half, a back-side tripping penalty pushed NU back and forced a field goal. We've already seen how that's cost NU games (see Tech, Virginia) and we're still seeing in.

Well, maybe not completely. But with the offense coming through with a win in a building that had been a house of horrors for NU, it's hard not to see them playing with confidence and an attitude from here forward. They've also proved they can survive success, something they struggled with after their win against Missouri.

This actually seems like it's been about three seasons for Nebraska. Season one was the team that had a near miss in Blacksburg and beat Mizzou in the rain. Season two was the team that lost to Iowa State at home and looked like they could lose out. Season three is post-Oklahoma and a team that's returned to front-runner status in the North. It shouldn't be lost, though, that two years ago Nebraska fell to Kansas 76-39 and looked like they would be lost in the wilderness for a decade. It's a credit to Bo Pelini and his staff that, even with some of the bizarre turns of this season, Nebraska sits poised to claim a division title.

THE NEXT GAME: Kansas State at Nebraska (-15 1/2). The Big XII North title game is Nebraska versus Kansas ... State? Not quite how the script was supposed to work, but here we are. Kansas State is almost the polar opposite of Kansas offensively. They have Daniel Thomas, a bruising power running back, and they're not afraid to hit you in the mouth with him. Under the return of Bill Snyder, the Purples will try to play mistake free football and wait for their opportunity to win. But a power game against Ndomukong Suh and Nebraska's front four doesn't exactly match up well. The Purple's savior has done a magnificent job (although Iowa State's Paul Rhodes should be the Big XII coach of the year), but the ride ends this Saturday in Lincoln. Lay the points, and book your flight for Dallas.
Fearless forecast - Nebraska 38, Kansas State 10

The photos (from Oklahoma and Kansas)

GBR, baby.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

NU Re-View: Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7

It still seems surreal.

- PISTOLS FIRING: Nebraska unveiled a pistol formation, and looked much more effective both running and passing. The pistol (basically a short shotgun with the running back three yards behind the QB) gave Nebraska a much more dangerous straight-ahead running attack while still giving Zac Lee enough space to operate in the passing game. It's a wrinkle that needs to stay.
- LONG NAME, AMAZING RESULTS: Nebraska has a new number two running back in Dontrayevous Robinson. The freshman brought size and aggressiveness with his carries, as well as surprising speed. His fumble was a freshman mistake, but between him and the injured Rex Birkhead, Nebraska's future at running back looks bright.
- DEFENSIVE SHARPNESS: Nebraska only had two penalties, and had only one instance of a real busted coverage, that being the fake punt. After some shaky performances, Nebraska's defense did just about everything they could to win. If only for ...

- MINUS EIGHT: What is amazing about this game is that Nebraska was minus eight in turnovers and only lost by two. It's a testament to how well the defense played and how anemic Iowa State's offense was that the game was this close. Many of the turnovers were just strange, fluky plays, but when there's eight you have to look inward.
- DROPPED OPPORTUNITY: Just as devastating to Nebraska's chances to win were the repeated dropped passes from Nebraska's wideouts. Niles Paul was the most egregious offender, but all the wideouts played a role. Even with the turnovers, if NU doesn't drop that many passes this game is likely a 'Husker win.
- HERO TIME: Even as bizarre as the game was, Zac Lee had the ball in his hands twice with a chance to at least get Alex Henery onto the field to win the game. He threw two interceptions. I know Iowa State was sitting back and waiting, but this was Lee's opportunity to really claim the QB position as his own, and he spit the bit.

This was, I believe, the worst loss I've ever seen Nebraska suffer. But it's also the hardest one to understand. When you turn the ball over four times inside the opponent's five yard line - and that's only half your turnovers - something weird is going on. Nebraska dominated the game until the fourth quarter, when Iowa State was able to get enough first downs to chew clock and put Nebraska into a longer field. There was a lot to like offensively, and so many of NU's turnovers were Bizarro-style plays that it's hard to know what to take away. But give Iowa State all the credit for the win. They are well coached, played a near-flawless game, and deserved to win. Once Paul Rhodes gets some talent, Iowa State has the potential to be a very salty team in the near future.

No, this isn't delusional sunshine-pumping. Nebraska is one Iowa State conference loss away from controlling its' destiny in the Big XII North. Yes, this was an ugly, ridiculous loss. But Iowa State also should have beaten both Kansas and Kansas State - the 'Clones aren't that far from being 3-0 in the conference. NU's road games are to teams that are reeling as much if not more than Nebraska (Baylor, Kansas, and Colorado) and Kansas State on the road has been atrocious. So, if NU can pull things together, a remarkable end-of-season run is still available. But this week will be Pelini's biggest test ever. Will the offense's will break? Will there be an offense vs. defense split of the team? After this loss, a 4-8 season and a 9-3 season are both equally plausible scenarios.

THE NEXT GAME: Nebraska @ Baylor (line to be announced). Probably the best thing in the world for NU is to get out of town, particularly if the coaching staff continues with the "everyone-in-Nebraska-is-against-us" nonsense. The Bears are free-falling as much if not more than Nebraska - they gave up 24 points to that Iowa State offense last week in Waco. Nebraska's Halloween horror show came a week early. A humbled Nebraska coaching staff should be able to circle the wagons, and a chastened Nebraska offense won't turn the ball over eight times. Nebraska gets a comfortable win, and a shot of confidence going into a huge opportunity when Oklahoma comes to Lincoln.
FEARLESS FORECAST: Nebraska 34, Baylor 3

GBR, baby.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

NU Re-View: Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10

- THE DEFENSE IN GENERAL. Yes, Tech put up 31 points, but the Red Raiders only gained 259 yards of total offense. If you would have told me before the game that the still-not-the-Blackshirts would only give up 259 yards, I would have felt really good about Nebraska's chances to win. This was a solid defensive performance, that unfortunately went to waste.
- DILLARD IN SPECIFIC. Phillip Dillard didn't start as the only actual linebacker on the field, but was far more effective than anyone else in the role. Dillard's senior leadership showed through and
- GOING GREEN. Freshman quarterback Cody Green showed no fear after being inserted twice, throwing the ball downfield and accounting for Nebraska's only touchdown of the game. That could be problematic, as he had one interception and could have had more, but given Lee's hesitance Green's moxie might be what NU needs to get things moving.

- CRACK! That's the sound of Nebraska's collective will breaking after going down 14 points early in the first quarter. Up until now, Nebraska has been performing (perhaps over-performing) on its' mental toughness, particularly in the fourth quarter comeback against Missouri. After the scoop-and-score brought the game to 14-0, it seemed that Nebraska ran out of gas completely.
- CLICK! That's the sound of the panic button being pressed early and often by offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. First, Watson only got Roy Helu, NU's best offensive player, seventeen total touches of the ball. That's simply not good enough. Second, by going back and forth between quarterbacks, Watson seemed to be desperately flailing for some piece of magic to make the offense work. No magic showed up, and I worry about the damage caused to the team's confidence as a result.
- TWEET! That's two games in a row where Nebraska had double digits in penalties. NU had more yards in penalties (95) then it did in rushing (70). And, again, penalties kept opponents' drives alive and took NU out of red zone scoring opportunities. If Nebraska is going to consider itself a championship-caliber team, it simply must become more disciplined.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Cody Green era has begun in Lincoln. After being pulled the second time, it's difficult to see how Nebraska can go back to Zac Lee under center. That's going to be a problem, as Green is a true freshman and looked it with his decision making. He threw one interception, but easily could have had two or three more in the limited time he played. On the other hand, Lee looked like he had a terminal case of Sam Keller. He was tentative, had happy feet in the pocket, was reluctant to throw the ball, and chose the short dump-off rather than go downfield. He looked a LOT like how Keller looked in 2007, before his injury and replacement by Joe Ganz.

My, how one game changes things. Before this game, Husker Fan was assuming a North Division title and thinking national championship scenarios. Now, next week's game against a suddenly-not-terrible Iowa State becomes more than a little worrisome. Certainly, any talk of Nebraska "being back" can be shelved for the forseeable future. NU will be very lucky to remain in the top 25 after their performance against Texas Tech. Still, Nebraska's reasonable goals for the season remain intact. NU still controls its' own destiny for the divisional title, and will likely do so even with a loss to Oklahoma. But Nebraska just ate up any margin for error they may have had, and it remains to be seen whether the coaching staff can force-feed some confidence back into an otherwise-anemic offense.

THE NEXT GAME: Iowa State at Nebraska (-19). Don't look now, folks, but the Cyclones are getting better. After a woodshedding from instate rival Iowa, the 'Clones have steadily improved, nearly knocking off the Jayhawks in Lawrence and fairly comfortably beating Baylor in Waco. If NU has a hangover, particularly offensively, from this loss, Iowa State could come to town and pull off a shocker. The line screams sucker play, but Nebraska should have the raw talent to muscle their way past the resurgent 'Clones. Lay the points, drink your lucky juice, and pray that Iowa State doesn't get an early lead.
FEARLESS FORECAST: While Pelini's team apparently hasn't learned how to handle success, they're a proven commodity for playing well after a loss. Iowa State puts up a good fight but gets out-athleted by the end of the game. Nebraska 31, Iowa State 13.

GBR, baby.

Friday, October 16, 2009

LTG 10/14/09 - Crosses, boxes, and public land

From the Omaha CityWeekly, October 14-20, 2009

Sometimes, the hard work is done for you. If you’re a sports-talk host, just ask about a college football playoff or whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame and you’ve got a week’s worth of shows done. If you’re a news-talk host, just say “so, abortion, what’s up with that” and you can go on vacation for a week.

And, if you’re a Law-Talking Guy, and the Supreme Court is hearing a case about a cross on government land, you’ve got your topic selection covered. Fortunately, I happen to be a Law-Talking Guy, so let’s talk Establishment Clause.

The latest kerfuffle started back in 1934, when a five-foot white cross was put on a remote hilltop in the Mojave Desert by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to commemorate fallen soldiers in World War I. Unfortunately, that remote hilltop happened to be in the Mojave National Preserve in California, and owned by the Federal government. The VFW never asked for permission to put the cross up, but the Feds have allowed it to stand since its’ construction.

It became an issue in 2001, when a Buddhist park employee filed a lawsuit because the presence of a cross on federal land offended his view of the Constitution. The lower courts have consistently found the presence of the cross to be an impermissible violation of the Establishment Clause and ordered it removed. The cross is still there, inside (I kid you not) a plywood box concealing it from view pending hearing before the Supreme Court.

Much to the delight, of course, of the worshippers of the small-but-vocal Church Of The Plywood Box.

First, we’ll discuss the basics. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from, well, establishing a national religion. Through the years and interpretations of the Supreme Court, this has come to mean that the government can show neither favoritism nor hostility towards any particular religion.

In general, this has meant that religious displays on public property are only permissible when displays of all faiths can be displayed. A cross is allowed on public property, but only if a menorah and a Buddha would also be allowed. No Buddha, no cross.

This case, however, has two interesting wrinkles that will decide the case on grounds other than the big Establishment Clause issue. The first is standing, which in law does not mean what your team’s record is in comparison to other teams (like, say, Nebraska’s 1-0 Big XII record as opposed to Missouri’s 0-1, to pick a random and not at all personally pleasing example).

In law, to have standing means you have the right to file a suit in court. Generally speaking, you have to have a specific personal interest in a matter before you file a lawsuit. So, for example, someone might think that the grapevine growing on my fence is clearly over the boundary line and interfering with my neighbor’s right to enjoy his property. But only my neighbor would have standing to bring a lawsuit to make me move my grapevine, because my neighbor is the only one who is personally affected.

The question in this case is whether someone’s “understanding of the Constitution” being offended is sufficient standing to challenge a public display of religion on public property, or whether a person has to prove their religious beliefs were actually offended by the public display.

Yes, that’s actually the question. And no, there is no “offense-ometer” you can be hooked up to measure your level of offense. At least not yet.

The other question revolves around a bit of legal trickeration pulled by the government. When the issue of the cross came up, the government tried to lease the one-acre square of land to the VFW. By doing so, the clever government lawyers thought they’d be able to argue that the land wasn’t public property any more and therefore the Establishment Clause wouldn’t apply.

Of course, the one-acre postage stamp where the cross sits is still smack dab in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve. And, amazingly enough, there are no big signs or anything else saying the land is private. All you have is the cross itself, on an island of “private” property, still looking to the world like a cross on government land.

Not surprisingly, the trickeration hasn’t worked up to this point. The lower courts have consistently held that there is still an appearance of endorsement of one particular religion, which is not allowed by the Establishment Clause. I have yet to find an opinion referring to the land transfer as a “trave-sham-ockery,” but I believe that is the technical term which would most accurately apply.

Of all the cases in this year’s Supreme Court docket, this one is one of the sexier ones because of the issues involved. Unfortunately for most non-Law-Talking Guy coverage of the case, I think the case will ultimately be decided by the standing issue. My guess is that the Court will use this case to limit Constitutional challenges to public displays of religion to people whose religious beliefs are actually offended by the display.

Consider this a heads-up, then. Invest heavily in the “offense-ometer” manufacturing sector. They’re going to make a killing in the years to come.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 27, Missouri 12

- THE FOURTH QUARTER. After basically doing nothing for the entire game, Nebraska flipped the field and scored all 27 of their points in a furious fourth quarter rally. Through a combination of momentum shift and wearing out the Tigers, Nebraska left it late but engineered a ridiculous comeback win.
- GIVE 'EM THE BLACKSHIRTS, BO. Let's be honest. Nebraska could very easily have been down by 24 points going into the fourth quarter and we could be talking about an ugly, embarrassing loss. But the we-sure-as-heck-should-call-them-Blackshirts-now kept Nebraska in the game, surrendering only one touchdown at the end of the first half. Yes, the offense came to life in the fourth quarter, but it wouldn't have mattered - and the momentum wouldn't have swung nearly as much - had NU's defense not kept the 'Huskers in the game.
- MENTAL TOUGHNESS. If you want one key to Nebraska's victory over Missouri, it's that Nebraska has become an incredibly tough team mentally under Bo Pelini. With NU's complete offensive ineptitude, there were so many opportunities for the team to give up, roll over, and wait for the next game. That happened with disturbing regularity in 2007. But the defense stayed strong and kept faith in the offense to get the game back. And, remarkably enough, the offense was able to find enough confidence in itself to produce 27 fourth quarter points and one of the most satisfying - if unexpected - Nebraska wins in a long time.

- THE FIRST THREE QUARTERS. All you need to know is this - it took until the last play of the third quarter for Nebraska's offense to get 100 yards of total offense. Yech. Sure, it was raining, but that kind of offensive production is unacceptable and very easily could have cost NU the game.
- MORE YELLOW. Just about every week this has been on the list. Nebraska had over 100 yards of penalties against them. Now, in a chippy game like this you're going to expect to see those. But there were critical penalties all over the place. A false start on a two-point conversion (which, for the record, I am opposed until there's about 5 minutes left in the game - had NU kicked the extra point, the next TD would have put them two scores ahead and made the end of the game more comfortable). A pass interference call to keep a Missouri drive alive after NU had taken the lead. We've seen those penalties cost them a game against Virginia Tech. It's disturbing that they seem to be getting worse, not better.
- WHITHER O'LEARY? Nebraska's long snapper has been shaky all season. Against Missouri, the long snapper struggled the entire game, costing NU two points and countless yards of field position. Unless NU gets better production from that position, and fast, NU's failings at long snapper will cost them a game this season.

Pelini's 'Huskers get their win on the road against a ranked conference opponent, and knock off Missouri in Columbia without Eric Crouch on the team. Was this Pelini's signature win? Given how poorly the offense played in the first three quarters, it's tough to feel that way. Sure, NU walked away with a 15-point win (comfortably covering, bringing me to 4-1 against the number this year), but for most of the game 'Husker Fan was in shock, calling for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's firing and backup quarterback Cody Green to come in to spell a struggling Zac Lee at halftime. Neither were unreasonable - Watson's abandonment of the run was puzzling, unless starting running back Roy Helu's illness was as bad as feared, and Lee's outstanding fourth quarter masked an awful first three. Sure, it's great to get a win against the two-time Big XII North champions, but is it a signature win if you feel a bit like you stole it?

Will the real Nebraska please stand up? It's clear Nebraska's defense is for real. It's also clear that Nebraska's offense is, put charitably, a work in progress. A win is a win is a win, particularly in a snake pit like Columbia. But the switch the offense flipped in the fourth quarter is simply mystifying. Seeing the fourth quarter performance, though, tells you that at least the potential is there for a dynamic offense to go with a smothering defense - Nebraska will likely still be near the top of the country in scoring defense. There's still some scary games on the schedule, but a 10-win season and divisional title now seems much closer than it did at the end of the third quarter.

THE NEXT GAME: Texas Tech at Nebraska (-6). It's a good thing Nebraska gets another week off before this game. The Red Raiders come into Lincoln with their trademark wide-open offense and almost complete lack of defense. This game is certainly dangerous for Nebraska, as Pelini's team have never had to deal with handling a big win. Will the 'Huskers suffer a letdown in focus and edge? If so, Texas Tech could pose a real risk. There should be enough points scored in the game to make giving the six points safe enough, so take the 'Huskers and lay the points. But I will admit I have less confidence in this pick than I have in a while.
FEARLESS FORECAST: Nebraska 45, Texas Tech 31

GBR, baby.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

LTG 09/30/09 - Limiting protection orders

From the September 30, 2009, issue of the Omaha CityWeekly


Earlier this year, the Nebraska Court of Appeals made a decision about protection orders that, to say the least, has caused quite a stir. In the case, a woman filed for a domestic abuse protection order against her ex-husband. After a hearing, the lower court left the protection order in place. The ex-husband appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision and threw out the protection order.

So, how did that cause a stir? Well, here’s the underlying facts. First, the ex-husband began sending a series of one-letter text messages to his ex-wife over the course of about two weeks. Those letters ended up spelling the word “behead.”

On the day she got the final piece of the “behead” text-message puzzle from her ex-husband, the ex-wife came home to find a 2x4 piece of wood in her driveway. Why would that mean anything? Well, in their previous relationship, the ex-husband had threatened to harm the ex-wife by using just such an instrument.

(In the interest of full disclosure, the ex-husband claimed the letters in the text messages came from his accidently hitting buttons. I know the feeling. Last week I accidentally sat on my phone and texted “guillotine” to my mother. Thank heaven she doesn’t know how to get texts off her phone.)

So, we’ve got a “behead” text message and a prop from a previous threat placed in a woman’s driveway. And the Court of Appeals found, based on that evidence, that the ex-husband showed enough evidence to throw the protection order out. How’d that happen?

In order to get a domestic abuse protection order, you have to first show that there was domestic abuse. The statute defines abuse as one of three categories. The first is being injured or having someone attempt to physically injure you. The third is to be subjected to non-consensual sexual behavior.

Neither of those applied in this case, so the court looked to the second definition, in which a victim has to be placed by “physical menace” in fear of “imminent bodily harm.”

The court then looked at the word “menace” and decided that it meant, basically, to threaten to do harm. But the statute didn’t say just menace, it said physical menace. One of the standard rules of interpreting statutes is that every word is supposed to mean something. Thus, reasoned the court, physical menace must be different than plain old menace.

That difference, the court reasoned, was that the addition of the word “physical” means that threatening someone (or, “menacing” them, in the statutory lingo) would only count as abuse and get you a protection order if the threat included “a physical threat or act and requires more than mere words.”

So, according to the Court of Appeals, texting “I’m going to behead you” isn’t domestic abuse, and wouldn’t get you a protection order, unless you were swinging your beheading knife while you were sending the text message. And that can be tricky, especially for guys who tend to “accidently” text scary things to their ex-wives.

But the Court of Appeals wasn’t finished. They also defined the word “imminent” in the statute for us. The court decided that imminent, for purposes of protection orders, means that a person must be in danger of harm “likely to occur at any moment.”

That means, returning to our random texting ex-husband (and let’s hope he’s got an unlimited text plan or all those “random” messages he must send will get really expensive), that if he sent the “I’m going to behead you” text all at once instead of one letter at a time, his ex-wife still couldn’t get a protection order. After all, the ex-husband has taken no physical action to make his threat more than plain old menace, and there’s nothing in the threat to indicate it is going to happen immediately.

Now, of course, the ex-husband would be committing a crime, likely a felony, by making his threat. But that’s not the point. While criminal prosecution of domestic violence is very important, it has drawbacks. If an incident happens, criminal charges may take days or weeks to get filed. The person charged has to be brought before a judge, which takes more time. In that gap, without a protection order there is nothing in place to prevent an abuser from continuing to terrorize – or kill – his or her victim.

The protection order is intended to bridge that gap, and get a court order in place that will provide a person some level of safety. It’s not perfect, by any means, but having a protection order is much better than having nothing. According to the Department of Justice, an estimated four million women per year suffer from domestic violence and over thirty thousand have died from it since 1976. Protection orders are a big part of trying to reduce those numbers.

Protection orders carry serious consequences, and there are unfortunate circumstances when people abuse them to get revenge or an advantage in a custody case. Without question, people who have protection orders filed against them deserve a fair and impartial hearing.

But the result of this decision means the effectiveness of a protection order has been dramatically limited. The case was not appealed to the Supreme Court, so the decision will remain in place until another case works its’ way through the courts or the Legislature changes the law.

In the meantime, make sure you know how to operate the key lock on your mobile phone. You’d hate for any “accidental” text messages to get out.

Friday, October 02, 2009

NU Re-View: Nebraska 55, Louisiana 0

(Apologies for this being late, and for no Re-View of Virginia Tech. That game took a while for me to get over. In my defense, though, I will note that I am 3-1 against the spread with NU this year!)

- GOOSE EGGS AND DONUTS: Whatever you want to call it, Nebraska got a shutout against a D-I/FBS opponent. Yes, it was Louisiana (and, officially, NOT Louisiana-Lafayette, thank you very much), and yes, they were on the back end of a nightmare non-conferene run. But it was still a shutout, meaning the not-yet-Blackshirts managed to avoid the breakdowns that we've been disturbed by all season.
- UP THE MIDDLE: Towards the end of the game, when NU was in the red zone, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson seemed to make a point of running between the tackles to score. The elusiveness of Roy Helu (who regular readers know I have a disturbing man-crush on) looked just as good sliding through the line into the end zone as he does breaking a stretch play. If nothing else, getting that on tape was important to give the folks in Columbia something to worry about.
- PARTY LIKE IT'S 1962: NU's throwback uniforms with the curly-Q numbers weren't just cool. They were wicked cool. They were unbelievably cool. They were Nebraska-has-to-do-that-again-very-soon cool. Nebraska is all about tradition, and anything that can bring tradition to life like that needs to be done again, and again, and again.

- THE YELLOW STUFF: While improving, Nebraska still cannot shake an abundance of penalties, particularly on the offensive line. Head coach Bo Pelini wanted a focus on execution in the game against Louisiana. While there was improvement, there's still an issue to work on.
- TICK, TICK: Nebraska's clock management is now a cause celeb for 'Husker Nation. The crowd has taken to counting down the play clock if it gets under eight and the ball isn't snapped. But what's disturbing is one play where it appeared that the crowd's countdown actually got Zac Lee's attention and forced a time out.
- INJURIES: NU's secondary took a big injury hit with Ricky Thenarse, Larry Asante, and Prince Amukamura all having knocks during the game. It appears that Asante and Amukamura will be OK in time for Missouri (thank you, 10-day layoff), but that Thenarse will miss some significant time. Given the spread-em-out offense Missouri runs, Nebraska needs all the secondary depth they can get. Asking young, inexperienced guys to step in to a hostile atmosphere like in Columbia and perform against the defending Big XII North champions should make 'Husker Fan nervous.

Let's just get it out of the way. Nebraska did a GREAT job honoring its' 300th consecutive sellout. Having the guys from the '62 team come out of the tunnel, having the Bobfather's family honored, wearing the throwback gear, and the video tribute after the game was simply phenomenal. And it was a nice touch to have messages from Frank Solich, Barry Alvarez, and others. It was particularly nice to see the response Solich got from the crowd. I have to admit, though, I never thought I would see the day when a Nebraska crowd would applaud Barry Switzer. Strange times, these.

The non-conference season is over, so it's time to step back and assess. Yes, NU won the Sun Belt Conference championship - I'm sure no one has made that joke before. But what you can take from the Sun Belt games was that Nebraska did what good teams are supposed to do against minnows - they throttled them by a combined 142-12. The Virginia Tech near miss looks even better after the Hokies embarassed Miami on the same field a week later. But don't forget that we've had false dawns before. Solich's NU team was a Jamaal Lord interception away from knocking off Texas. Bill Callahan had Texas on the ropes twice, including in Austin during the dreaded 2007 campaign. Near misses are great for moral victories, but NU has to cash in and start winning games like those to really get a solid footing. So far, Pelini's best win is the Gator Bowl against Clemson. That's solid, but NU has to convert some of the upcoming opportunities this season to avoid the danger of regression.

THE NEXT GAME: Nebraska (-2) at Missouri. Nebraska's first opportunity for redemption, and possibly to break the streak of losses to ranked teams, comes October 08 in Columbia. Missouri has looked inconsistent in getting to 4-0, struggling against some pretty poor opponents. Even their best win, against Illinois, is looking less and less impressive as Illinois nosedives their way through the 2009 campaign. This game is also the red-letter game on Nebraska's calendar. At the Football 202 I attended this summer, I was astounded how many references the staff and team made to the Missouri game last year. I think NU will be incredibly focused and prepared to play a smart, physical game against the Tigers. If the table has ever been set for a coming-out party for Pelini's NU squad, on national television, this is it. Interesting that the line is Nebraska by two, even with the game being in Columbia. I don't mind laying those points at all. Take Nebraska, give the points.
FEARLESS FORECAST: Nebraska 38, Missouri 20.

Louisiana @ Nebraska photo album:

GBR, baby.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your brain on torture

Excellent article by Sharon Begley of Newsweek ( discussing the neurological effects of torture on the brain. The upshot of the article is that there is significant physical and neurological evidence to show that torture is ineffective to produce valuable information. Given what is sure to come from former vice president Dick Cheney and his supporters, this is yet another pillar in the base of the argument against torture.

It's also kind of fun to read the author trying to be a scientist and not take a political position, even though it's clear as glass that a political position is exactly what she's taking. But that's another story.


The Tortured Brain
Extreme pain and stress can actually impair a person's ability to tell the truth.
By Sharon Begley | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Sep 21, 2009

While we wait for Dick Cheney, the Pentagon, or the CIA to release evidence that "enhanced interrogation techniques" produced useful, truthful intelligence that could not be obtained without torture, neuroscientists are weighing in on how likely torture is to elicit such information—and they are not impressed.

It's become the conventional wisdom that the tortured will say anything to make the torture stop, and that "anything" need not be truthful as long as it is what the torturers want to hear. But years worth of studies in neuroscience, as well as new research, suggest that there are, in addition, fundamental aspects of neurochemistry that increase the chance that information obtained under torture will not be truthful.

The backstory. The inspector general of the CIA last month released a 2004 report on the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects. As my colleague Mark Hosenball reported, it and other internal documents (which Cheney called on the CIA to release, believing they would back his claim) do not show that torture worked. In fact, The New York Times reported, the documents "do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness."

Scientists do not pretend to know, in any individual case, whether torture might extract useful information. But as neurobiologist Shane O'Mara of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin explains in a paper in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciencecalled "Torturing the Brain," "the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or 'enhanced' interrogation."

The CIA documents released last month implicitly set forth a specific scientific rationale for enhanced interrogation: someone possesses information in his long-term memory, withholds it under normal questioning, and releases it as a result of prolonged periods of coercive interrogation. That rationale seems to be "seem based on the idea that repeatedly inducing shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control is more effective than standard interrogatory techniques," says O'Mara, who was one of nine scientists appointed to the Panel of Experts of Ireland's Chief Scientific Adviser earlier this year.

So let's break this down anatomically. Fact One: To recall information stored in the brain, you must activate a number of areas, especially the prefrontal cortex (site of intentionality) and hippocampus (the door to long-term memory storage). Fact Two: Stress such as that caused by torture releases the hormone cortisol, which can impair cognitive function, including that of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Studies in which soldiers were subjected to stress in the form of food and sleep deprivation have found that it impaired their ability to recall personal memories and information, as this 2006 study reported. "Studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred," notes O'Mara. "Water-boarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain."

Stress also releases catecholamines such as noradrenaline, which can enlarge the amygdale (structures involved in the processing of fear), also impairing memory and the ability to distinguish a true memory from a false or implanted one. Brain imaging of torture victims, as in this study, suggest why: torture triggers abnormal patterns of activation in the frontal and temporal lobes, impairing memory. Rather than a question triggering a (relatively) simple pattern of brain activation that leads to the stored memory of information that can answer the question, the question stimulates memories almost chaotically, without regard to their truthfulness.

These neurochemical effects set the stage for two serious pitfalls of interrogation under torture, argues O'Mara. The first is that "information presented by the captor to elicit responses during interrogation may inadvertently become part of the suspect's memory, especially since suspects are under extreme stress and are required to tell and retell the same events which may have happened over a period of years." As a result, information produced by the suspect may parrot or embellish suggestions from the interrogators rather than revealing something both truthful and unknown to the interrogators. Second, cortisol-induced damage to the prefrontal cortex can cause confabulation, or false memories. Because a person being tortured loses the ability to distinguish between true and false memories, as a 2008 study showed, further pain and stress does not cause him to tell the truth, but to retreat further into a fog where he cannot tell true from false.

The other barrier to eliciting truthful information through torture is that the captive quickly learns that, as O'Mara puts it, "while I'm talking, I'm not being water-boarded." In other words, speaking = relief from pain. That conditions the suspect to speak at all costs, not distinguishing between what is true and what is made up. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature: prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "Coercive interrogations involving extreme stress are unlikely, given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, to facilitate the release of veridical information from long-term memory."

In what is probably a futile effort to avert a flood of pro-torture comments and e-mails, let me point out that whenever science learns something about the brain, it is always possible that the generalization fails to apply to some particular brains. Maybe the brains of Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times, and of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, are different, and their torture elicited truthful information. Neuroscientists would very much like to see the evidence of that.