Khus the Red
Last week I did not mention the defense and their disquieting performance against Baylor. This week I will mention the defense, and gentle words such as “disquieting” will not be used.
You may think you have seen poor tackling before. You may think you have seen players overrun completely unnecessarily and yank themselves embarrassingly out of position. You may think you have seen pathetic performances from a Nebraska defense in recent years. You may think that you’ve seen it all just because you’ve seen a man eat his own head, but you haven’t seen it all until you’ve witnessed Allen Webb channel the spirit of Jake Plummer, despite having a fraction of the talent.
What happened at K-State was so disturbing that an entire Internet subculture of Husker sadomasochistic social deviants has surfaced, paid the $9.95 to Nside and now watches the game footage over and over instead of employing the usual fishhooks in the nipples, which have become quite humdrum by comparison. Even the three turnovers could have been overcome. This game should not have been close. The offense was able to trade punches for a while, but it should not have had to absorb the blows it did.
Contrary to what many are saying, I do not think the fundamental problem on defense is confusion. The T-Tech and Baylor games stand out in everyone’s mind, but in the games prior we attacked and generated pressure. Recently we scheme away from the attack at times, but at other times we attack and it is simply ineffective. We routinely rushed four, five and six---six!---men in Manhattan, only to see them all get blocked quite effectively. There was no 3-down front. Their option plays should never have gone for a fraction of the yards they did; we usually had a man tracking the QB to force the pitch, but whether or not he did made little difference. Webb would simply turn his shoulders and a Blackshirt would turn his head as Webb ran by. Sproles repeatedly split defenders that should have been violently inserting their shoulder pads into his abdominal cavity. Poor angles, poor pursuit, poor pressure, poor anticipation, poor technique, poor, poor Nebraskans living in Kansas. This game was disastrously similar to Iowa State 2002.
There is one solitary positive to take, and take it for all it’s worth. Early in the week Cosgrove has accepted the responsibility for the public self-beheading, while at least one player has done the same on behalf of the players. However, as Matt Davison reported in the second quarter that on the sidelines the defense was, to paraphrase, comatose, I immediately became alarmed. It reminded me too much of what someone said once upon a time:
“If a coach fails to get a team ready for war in the most critical games of the year, that's not a problem. That's a tragedy of galactic proportions.”
This Red one said that, following the Kansas State game last year.
Watch the game and you see a team that displayed a lack of fundamentals, a lack of speed, a lack of energy, a lack of a playmaker, a lack of adrenaline. There was not, however, a lack of effort. In fact, at times there were errors of eagerness that cause the overruns and poor angles.
I have repeatedly reminded us of the need for patience. This is for two reasons: One, because there is no choice. To even think the phrase “Fire (fill in the blank)” is a foolish waste of synaptic impulses. And two: Neither bitterness nor resignation nor apathy nor whistling past the graveyard sits well with this Red one. We have watched and waited, and we’re not done doing either. Myopia is the enemy of rationality, even—and especially—when current trends are disturbing.
True, there is next year. But there is also the rest of this year. We keep seeing different personalities from this Nebraska team every week; not once this season have we seen this team find and maintain its stride on both sides of the ball from the opening kick to the final gun. We have seen this coaching staff ask too much of its key players and we’ve seen them gameplan to their strengths. We have seen the limitations of a young quarterback and the promise of a young running back who makes jersey number 32 look an awful lot like the 1994 version of jersey number 1. This team is not done playing, and I am not done bearing the gameday battleaxe. Call it an exercise in perseverance, fanaticism or sheer blind faith. I call it an exercise in patience.
This Saturday is the most critical of the must-win games that face us. Missouri has superior athleticism to every team we will yet face except for the Sooners. This will be every bit the dangerous game that many thought it would be at the beginning of the year, despite Mizzou’s fall from grace. We can afford to lose to OU, win the other games and win the North, bizarre as that seems. But we must have this game. Instead of preparing for a mobile quarterback who barely knew the playbook, Cosgrove and Elmassian now must plan how to contain Brad Smith. On Saturday, the Blackshirts made Allen Webb look like Ell Roberson. If they play like that again, they will make Brad Smith look like Michael Vick.
It will be
interesting to see how the defensive coaches map this one; neither sitting
in coverage and giving Smith eight seconds to pick you apart nor chasing
him out of the pocket will work. We do not have a linebacker fast enough
to spy Smith all game, and we certainly cannot afford to pull someone
out of the secondary in base defenses. We may well play much of the game
in a dime to help do that as often as we can.
We’ll find out soon enough. See you in Lincoln.
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