Husker Dan: WU @NU: “Old” Red vs The “New” Red?
THE “REAL” BIG RED?
Don’t look now, but the “Old” Nebraska is coming to Lincoln this Saturday to play the “New” Nebraska team.
Let me explain.
For years, the secret to Nebraska’s dominance during the 60s through the 90s was its commitment to strong offensive and defensive lines. Throw in steady, reliable quarterback play and a running game that would wear down opponents late in a game and you have a recipe for continued success.
And for the most part, the Devaney and Osborne teams didn’t beat themselves. Instead, they waited for the opponents to make mistakes and the Huskers would make them pay for it.
Back then when the Huskers took the field, opponents would know from the first snap that they were going to be in for a very, very long afternoon.
But not since the early days of Frank Solich’s career have the Huskers carried that swagger.
Recently, I had a chance to visit with former Husker great Aaron Taylor. Taylor, if you’ll recall, won the 1997 Outland Trophy and remains the only Husker player to be named an All-American at two positions (guard and center).
Aaron talked about the way things used to be at Nebraska when he was playing.
“Our hatred of losing was greater than our desire to win. And we didn’t rely on assistant coaches to discipline players when they screwed up. They first had to face their teammates and that was worse than anything the coaches would ever do.”
Taylor’s teams (1994-’97) went 49-2 with 3 national championships. Not bad.
What’s been missing from Nebraska for about 16 years is an identity – a brand of play that defines Husker football The problem is that the “New” Big Red hasn’t known what it wants to be. To be sure, NU has hired coaches like Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and current head coach, Mike Riley who have brought with them contrasting molds of football: Square pegs trying to fit into round holes.
It’s easy to see the reason for Nebraska’s struggles of late.
“Back when I played, you could always rely on high school teams throughout the state of Nebraska and parts of Kansas to run the option. When it came time to recruit, Coach Osborne could always find players to fit into the Husker mold. There was so much identity back then,” he said.
“My senior year at Nebraska, I was the only starter on offense who was not from the state of Nebraska,” Taylor said.
FIND AN IDENTITY
Taylor added that he likes the talent of the O-line players, but said Nebraska should practice running about 6-8 offensive plays until the players are sick of running them. Run them so that the offense knows them inside and out. Those plays could then become the base of the Husker offense. Right now, Nebraska doesn’t have an identity.
But the bad, bad Badgers (The “Old” Huskers) do have an identity. And despite several coaching changes through the past few years. (Barry Alvarez, Brett Bielema, Gary Andersen and currently, Paul Chryst), Wisconsin has recruited the same kind of kids. And that’s how Wisconsin has continued to be one of the top teams in the B1G conference year after year.
The question is, will Nebraska ever get an identity and keep true to it?
I predict that unless and until Nebraska does create a mold and stay true to it, the Huskers will continue to have problems with consistency and winning.
You may contact the writer at HuskerDan@cox.net