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Khus the Red

Something Wicked

We’re running out of things that we have not yet seen from this team this year. Now we can add a solid win against a quality opponent to the list.

Fire and teeth, passion and pursuit. As Twain once said, the reports of the Blackshirts’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. There was an edge in the unseasonably warm late-harvest air on Saturday; it was the unmistakable, acrid smell of a defense unloading fury and frustration on a visitor. The sweet taste in the air matched the sweet taste of your own blood in your mouth from screaming yourself raw and that delightful throb in the temples that tells you that you took it far too far, which is of course, just far enough.

Solid, yes; dominant, no. This win is something of a milestone for this team, regardless of what happens from here on out. Coaches and players and talking heads use words like “swagger” and “pride,” both of which are fine and fitting. However, the qualities displayed by the defense on Saturday that are most critical for the final three-game stretch are the intensity and discipline that brought Missouri to its knees figuratively and Brad Smith literally and repeatedly.

We played a contain game from the ends; when Smith would roll out or the pocket would move, the ends would not rush upfield until there was a fellow ‘Shirt to seek Tiger skins. When Smith stayed in the pocket to pass, the ends did rush and did a fine job. Wali Muhammad was an animal—often caged illegally while the zebra-striped zookeepers looked on, oblivious or worse.

By no means is everything cured, of course. If one were to chart the offensive production over the course of the season, the line graph would look something like a stock analyst’s report upon the news that Intel would be using Silly Putty in their Pentium 5s. So many things have been subtracted from the offense in the past few games. We now run—and literally mostly run—out of a few variations of basic sets, often using two tight ends. There is less motion before the snap, and Saturday it was mostly a fullback sliding across toward center to be in position to lead block. Dailey takes far fewer deep drops, which means he’s making far fewer reads in the secondary. We are now running out of a much thinner offensive playbook. This means fewer mistakes (i.e., turnovers), but also means easier preparation for dangerous future opponents (i.e., Oklahoma).

By now it is clear that the rest of this season is not in Joe’s hands. The remainder of the year depends on Ross and Jackson and the continually overachieving offensive line. The coach in particular on this staff that has earned a nod of approval is Dennis Wagner. He has taken a green, thin offensive line, re-taught them a system and coached them well enough to avoid the rash of penalties one would normally expect with all things new. Granted, the shift of the offensive scheme more towards a running game plays to the strength of this squad, but that should not diminish the job Wagner and his men have done.

Pork Chop and Man-Child are even more critical and now must be ready to run harder, protect the ball better and shoulder an even greater load now with a metal-rod-enhanced Matt Herian a bit more of a cyborg than he was when he woke up Saturday morning. I can’t decide which is more horrible: the fact that Herian is gone or the fact that he won’t be missed nearly as much as he should be. Few could have predicted that the passing game would have gotten less productive as the season has worn on, and even fewer could have predicted that number eleven’s stats would have faded as well. He has been overthrown and overlooked in recent games, and now his season is simply over with.

We had to have this game and we took it. At the beginning of the year I gave Callahan a 35% chance to win the North. And as I also said then, things change; always do. The odds are now 60% that Callahan leads NU to its first conference championship game since the Pleistocene. These odds are largely determined by the likelihood that NU beats ISU and CU but drops a contest to OU, plus a benefit from the possibility that KSU will lose to Mizzou or Colorado.

Iowa State should not be a threat, but they should also not be overlooked. 2002 is far too recent of a memory, and last year’s rather paltry 28-0 was not enough of a smackdown to fully reinstate the ‘Clone inferiority complex. ISU will not have to gameplan for Herian, and Joe cannot afford to overthrow Fluellen, who has repeatedly been getting a few steps on his man on the deep routes. In these last few games it is necessary for Pilkington to re-emerge.

It is possible that this team has endured a long, dark night of the soul and will finish strong. It is also possible that implosion is imminent, but we have seen a shift in coaching philosophy the last two games on offense: trade explosiveness for ball security, and lean on the defense and two Halloween-esque runners, a slasher and a brutalizer. Is it a formula strong enough to take the North? Quite possibly, if not moderately likely.

First thing first. There is a team talking smack in the sprawling metropolis of Ames, Iowa. Time to remind them that a program that cannot decide between an identity of a less-than-intimidating bird or a tube of air generally ends up with feathers and wreckage.


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Nothing can come of nothing; speak again. redkhus@mchsi.com