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.