A curious choice of music washed over the FieldTurf
as I sat in section 28 Saturday night. We’re familiar with the
swagger of Eminem, the brutality of AC/DC and the raspy scream of the
Red Rocker himself, Sammy Hagar, imploring us to stand up and SHOOOOOUUT.
As ZT and the offense were still trying to assert their manliness in
the Red zone, the…crashing? thunderous? saccharine?...piano of
Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know came…crashing? thundering?
dripping?...out of the stadium speakers. Keane is a charming little
Brit-pop band, replete with a charming little Brit-pop singer who often
sings falsetto. Needless to say, there was no surge of testosterone
and there was no ensuing touchdown. As it turns out, the game was more
suited to Trent Reznor, as moments seemed given to inspiring nihilism
and misanthropy in the Red faithful before the final gun. The Black
Bears were more resilient than expected, and the coffin lid on this
one wasn’t sealed until the last nail was driven home—all
nine inches of it.
Let’s all repeat together in the interest of saving
bandwidth further down the page:
It was only Maine.
It was only Maine.
It was only Maine.
Those four little words should frame our observations of the game, both
positive and negative.
I am rarely interested in stating the obvious, such
as the offense was not effective due largely to substandard offensive
line play particularly at the ends and TEs repeatedly missing blocks
and receivers dropping two if not three touchdowns and painfully familiar
turnovers, so when this sentence concludes you are encouraged to erase
the memory of having read it. But we all know enough to never be satisfied
with the obvious and rarely trust simplicity.
We knew the play selection would be thin and vanilla
for this game, the only question was how much. The answer: Very. The
rushing yardage was anemic, but it was also limited by most runs staying
between the tackles. A few sweeps and draws, but nothing more than a
nanometer’s worth of pages in the famed gozillion-inch playbook.
After watching the tape, I was struck that it wasn’t quite the
complete O-line meltdown it appeared to be in person. There was good
play, but inconsistent. There were missed assignments and blitzes not
picked up consistent with what one can expect from a first game. Missed
blocks on the perimeter in particular killed what could have been nice
runs on a few sweeps and pitch-outs. One outside run in particular stands
out as both the left tackle and tight end missed their blocks, either
one of which may have sprung Marlon Lucky on a long run down the sidelines.
The Red faithful are so desperate to see that kind of lethality in the
NU backfield that one stellar touchdown run may prompt the naming of
at least a dozen newborns across the state to be christened “Lucky,”
regardless of gender or species.
And speaking of tight ends, this is an offense that
desperately needs a threat at that position. Herian reportedly may be
ready by midseason, or he may keep the medical Redshirt and have a full
season next year. Sir, you have a decision to make. The other pass-catchers
failed to catch too many passes. At the very least there were 21 points
left bouncing awkwardly on the FieldTurf Saturday night. You can clearly
tell that ZT and Hardy have played together, and the kids play nice;
their familiarity with each other is obvious. If Taylor can establish
the same kind of rhythm and timing with the other receivers, that will
go a long way toward a lot more yards. However, it became clear that
when it is third-and-whatever, ZT is looking for # 7. It will not take
defensive coordinators long to notice this. Nunn has to become The (other)
Man soon. When he gets healthy, Brooks will be as green as they come.
When he gets healthy, LeFlore still needs to find his niche in the WCO.
When he gets healthy, Fluellen will have another hammy problem as he
has for the last 46 consecutive years. When Spain joins the team, it
will be next season.
Not all was cause for angst, however. Defensively, superior.
This was a team that should have been dominated by the Blackshirts,
and they were. And though it was only…you know…several of
the sacks and hurries were due to coverage. Granted, it was only…ahem…but
that was an improvement over last year that should not be overlooked.
Linebackers, excellent. The loss of Octavian is very disappointing.
Tragic. Frustrating. But not devastating. We’ll have coulda-shoulda-woulda
thoughts as we face better offenses this season, but the season isn’t
lost without him. This was a very fine start for the ’05 Blackshirts;
they dominated a team that they were expected to dominate. We forgiving
fans expect no less.
Points left scattered on the field, turnovers, missed
blocks, dropped passes. All things common of first games with new personnel
in key positions, and things that can be corrected quickly. My concern,
however, is whether this is an offensive line that can outmuscle an
opponent when they absolutely must. Inconsistent play and slipshod technique
is one thing, lacking horsepower for the meat of the schedule is quite
another. Coach Wags worked wonders last year, so it will be interesting
to see how this year’s line progresses. My grip on the gameday
battleaxe is not yet white-knuckled.
And yet, too much of this game existed in that gray
area between not-quite-in-doubt and not-quite-locked-up. As the game
hung in the balance of an 8-point lead, I noticed the St. Elizabeth
sign below the HuskerVision screens, as if reminding us that trauma
was only one turnover away. The clichéd game-two improvement
needs to happen; Wake Forest is not D-IAA, and they are confident and
angry over their loss last week. Much improvement needs to happen this
week, and more the next before Pitt.
Maine eventually became a semi-solid win, despite missteps
and rust. There is much to be learned in the days ahead. The playbook
will open just a bit wider this Saturday, and we’ll see how this
team steadies itself after a bout of shaky footing. This Red one is
not betting on consistent inconsistency. In the meantime, keep the axes
keen—or Keane, if you prefer—and the wits sharper.
Frailty, thy name is Sooner!
So much to be said about all things Red. Come, let us