Shooting Point Blank

A series of articles by Brandon "Blankman" Cavanaugh.

On the Road Again

As a bit of a precursor of what was expected, ABC showed the banks of the Ohio River flooded with a very potent combination of mud, water and various marinas. The challenge was clear that for Nebraska to win a game so very crucial to its season, it would have to battle Pittsburgh along with the very unsavory elements that the effects of Hurricane Ivan had left behind.

Before the season began, it was obvious that with a new system to learn, especially one with the intricacies of the West Coast Offense, the defense was going to have to carry the team early on and, quite possibly, throughout the entire season. That proved to be the case as the Blackshirts came out early letting Tyler Palko and the Panthers know they had a long road ahead of them if they wanted to reach pay dirt. It was very refreshing to see the Blackshirts show flashes of 2003 form when they almost willed turnovers to take place. Josh Bullocks, Fabian Washington and even defensive end Wali Muhammad had picks that changed the momentum in the Big Red’s favor.

Offensively, it was very tough to watch at times. I believe that had the game been on FieldTurf or some manner of artificial substance, that you would’ve seen runningbacks such as Cory Ross stay on their feet a lot longer and make some substantial gains. Ross Pilikington, an offensive captain, was really off and on. Pilk dropped some very easy passes while later in the game making some very solid scoring snags. I’d have to say that I was a little disappointed in the second half of the contest where both teams seemed to say “You know what? It’s muddy, no one can get going, we just want to run this thing out and go home.” The unfortunate part of that was, Pitt seemed to change their mind while Nebraska was caught in neutral.

Specials teams continues to be an area of concern for Nebraska as yet another kickoff was returned 96 yards for a touchdown. The coverage did have some very good moments, however, being able to close in on their targets and even take advantage of a live ball deep in Pittsburgh’s own territory. I was happy to see Sandro DeAngelis get an opportunity to snag a field goal as I believe all the work Sandro can get will help him at this point. Another area of concern is penalties. Naturally, you never want to have any penalties in a contest, but 60 yards worth raises a bit of a red flag. The good news about a penalty, however, is that they are correctable and, most likely, will be addressed properly.

Blankman’s A for Improvement Award goes to Joe Dailey. I thought Joe did a very good job of just being a WCO quarterback rather than trying to be Mike Vick II. Joe’s abilities are an asset to the team and offer a variety of options as a surprise attack (see Joe’s fake to Cory Ross which resulted in six points), but he does have to be careful and not try to make something out of nothing all the time, which had been his major problem to date. I was encouraged by how he stepped out of bounds, took sacks and just played within the system. He’s got the right attitude and once he’s on dry land, I think that he, and those around him, are going to shine. He’s a very bright young man with a good head on his shoulders. In other words, he is a player that the program can be proud to call its own.

Blankman’s Defensive Bad Man Award goes to Wali Muhammad. When I heard that this kid had a motor, I was a little skeptical to be honest, but he went out of his way to terrorize a big Pittsburgh offensive front. He was all over the field and, often times, the offensive backfield just aching to make a play. Wali’s official statistics for the day weren’t really mind-blowing (three tackles, one for loss and a forced fumble to his credit along with the pick), but his interception was a product of keen ability and eyesight. He makes his presence known and many offensive players in the Big XII are about to learn that Muhammad W-Ali is, indeed, a very bad man.

So, let’s look at a few positives of the game, shall we? I’d like to go back and again point out that Joe seems to be playing more to the system rather to his talents, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Tierre Green continues to display fantastic speed to the corner. Defensively, the turnover-forcing ways of the Blackshirts have returned for the moment. Here’s hoping that sticks around for the duration. Looking past all of that, however, this was a big win for the program. I know, many of you are raising an eyebrow at that statement, but hear me out. If NU loses this game, they’re 1-2 for the first time since the eighties, back before the Blankman was even born. It had all the makings of a very good foundation to build on with a win and a terrible defeat on many levels if it went that way. Luckily, Nebraska hung on and left with a seven point win. They now sit at 2-1, Coach Cal has his first road win as does Joe Dailey and multiple positives can be seen going into the bye week.

Speaking of the bye, I believe that it came at a very good time for the Cornhuskers. The extra week off gives everyone a chance to heal up for conference play and gives Joe more time to perfect his reads, checks, etc. It’s obvious that the more time the offense gets to practice, the more proficient they’re going to become and while everything may not even click totally this season, once the correct players are inserted into the system, I believe the offense could become a thing of beauty to behold. I also wanted to touch on Cortney Grixby for a moment as I am very happy he was able to get his first start. For those of you ready to pile on the kid, lest we be reminding about one Fabian Washington who had his struggles as a frosh as well. Here’s hoping Grix has many good years ahead of him within the program.

So, up next are the Jayhawks of Kansas and the longest running series in NCAA football. Kansas brings a team that might come into Memorial scrappy, but by all accounts if Nebraska can improve on what they had at Pitt (and assuming the Memorial Stadium crew can drain the field appropriately should it rain), it shouldn’t be close. In the meantime, though, it’s a bye week, so I think it would behoove all of us to sit back, relax for a bit and enjoy the season as a whole, because believe me folks, once it’s gone, you can only go back to wishing it wasn’t.

Questions, comments and UNL admission forms can be sent to Blankman71@cox.net

===Brandon a.k.a. Blankman #71===

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