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.