Well, for starters, we need to quit
giving up touchdowns on the opposition’s opening drive. All
the yardage Smith had obviously made the difference, but something
isn’t right when the guy accounts for more yards against us
than the entire Texas Tech offense (480 to 412). Opening drives often
set the tone for the game. Cosgrove seems to view them as an opportunity
to play vanilla defense. Of course, we didn’t stop Missouri
very well the entire game regardless of the defense we were in. We
had some good moments, and Smith is a difference-making player who
we will never have to face again. But it’s still disconcerting
to see us continue to get down 7-0 (or worse), as we have the past
three games—two of which have been losses.
So what do we have to do to get off to a quick start?
Taylor seems to come out “off” early in games, then by
the second quarter starts to come alive. His second half turnovers
hurt us. Nunn’s fumble was obviously the worst. That play led
to a 14-point swing from which we never recovered. Mulkey usually
is sure-handed, but wasn’t against Missouri for whatever reason.
Back to Taylor’s fumble and interception: Play
calling kind of put him in a tough spot. The lack of rushing yards
has been much discussed, and Callahan tried to make the point that
running the ball wasn’t wise in a game where we got behind.
Whatever. With the game tied, we were still passing on first down.
Penalties, sacks, or incompletions then forced us into having to pass
on second and third downs. The line was struggling to give Taylor
time. I’m betting the Missouri coaches found our predictability
on offense refreshing. As a fan, I find it odd to think of us as one-dimensional,
but that lone dimension being the passing game.
When Ross or someone else doesn’t make very
many yards on a run, Callahan rarely has the patience to call another
rushing attempt. Now, maybe someone might call this smart coaching.
I realize it’s easy to second guess. Still, I believe that Ross
is as close to a difference-making player as we have on offense. It’s
not that surprising that we lose when we get away from using him.
The defense in this game was generally bad, interspersed
with moments of the D we thought we had. Ruud missed more plays against
Missouri than I think I’ve ever seen. Tiedke struggled badly.
Teams seem to have a 100% completion percentage throwing it to Green’s
man on fourth down plays. Turner’s sack was beautiful, but we
needed a couple more of them. (Either that, or the Missouri coaches
playing Smith’s backup more.)
There were a lot of plays where we were close. Unfortunately,
“close” resulted in 41 points. I’m beginning to
wonder if this is the same defense without Octavien and Bradley. Granted,
we didn’t have Octavien very long this year, but in this game
we looked like a defense that’s missing a pair of starting ‘backers,
and with a secondary that’s a year or two off from being good.
Somewhat lost in all the hoopla after our loss to
Texas Tech was the fact that Cosgrove basically admitted he likes
to start off games with only basic defensive alignments, then adjust.
I hope this strategy doesn’t put us in more holes that we can’t
get out of, in particular against teams where the talent level is
close (or the other team’s is superior). Surely spotting teams
14-0 and 21-3 leads isn’t the way to go, right?
Unlike last year, I think this season we have a legitimate
chance of beating Oklahoma. I hope we get the version of them that
struggled in double OT at home against Baylor. I don’t think
Stoops likes Callahan—and who knows—perhaps the feeling
Stoops can’t have very fond memories of his
last trip to Lincoln, a 20-10 Husker win and a game I saw in person
(in 2001). If I might reminisce about that game a moment…and
our difference makers: Chris Kelsey (the best game of his career…had
OU’s QB knocked out on his feet, also made a key stop near the
goal line that forced a FG attempt, and threw off the timing of OU’s
attempted trick play), DuJuan Groce (good D and great punt returning,
prompting OU’s Butkus-Award-winning LB to try to cheap shot
him out of the game), Thunder Collins (a big run to set up a score…the
play that was effective early in the game which caused the Sooner
D to bite so hard on the 4th quarter trick play), Dahrran Diedrick
(90 tough yards against one of the fastest defenses I’ve ever
seen, plus the early TD), and Mike Stuntz and Eric Crouch (the Heisman-highlight
play everyone remembers…after which I fell into the row of fellow
Husker fans in front of me).
I think we can beat the Sooners again this year, even
if Peterson plays. But we have to play well and cease the turnovers
and porous defense. If Peterson doesn’t play, or plays hurt
like he did against us last year, all the better for our chances.
Regardless, we need to get off to a good start.
The voice of Scarlet Commentary is Jeffrey A. Leever, a Nebraska native also stuck behind enemy lines in Jefferson County, Colo. He is a 1994 graduate of the University of Nebraska (Kearney) and a freelance writer and author. Some of Jeff’s writings of the nonfootball kind can be found online at Barnes & Noble (1, 2), Amazon.com (1, 2), and MenofIntegrity.net (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.