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J U S T I N   P R E S T I D G E
Jan. 4, 2010

This Just-In...

It’s a Nebraska “Rex” Scandal, Offense goes Wild (cat). Huskers shock Arizona 33-0

Player(s) of the Game: Niles Paul, 237 All Purpose Yds, 1TD

What do Mike Leach and the Blackshirts have in common? They are both good at locking down offensive players…

Mike Leach is a smart guy; he has a law degree, after all. So what was he thinking when he had the son of an ESPN broadcaster isolated in a room away from the team after suffering from a concussion? What point was he trying to prove? Don’t get a concussion in a contact sport? Sunglasses are only cool if you are Jim McMahon? Go for the skinny girlfriends instead? Regardless, his recent decisions have been puzzling to say the least. He pretty much put Texas Tech on the map, as well as owned us in recent years, but in light of these recent events it was probably necessary for him and the university to move on.

On the other hand, our Blackshirt defense proved to the nation that once again, Resistance is Futile. Our Borg defense assimilated opposing offenses with a surgeon’s precision. The secondary coverage resembled an AT&T commercial with what seemed like their entire network of people available to cover receivers. Now that’s what I call 3G coverage. It must have been frustrating for the Arizona QB to drop back, have two seconds to scan the field only to have Suh and Co. breathing down his neck with no one to throw to. On the rare occasion he was able to escape the relentless pass rush, he would either miss his receiver, or became a first-hand spectator to the industrial-strength super glue that our cornerbacks and safeties employ. O’Hanlon had another interception and nearly had a second, but opted to test out his setting skills. I can’t confirm if NU volleyball coach John Cook was in attendance. His recovery from the Va Tech game has been remarkable and has given him a chance to play on Sundays.

Overall this was the best defensive performance of the season, and possibly one of the best ever. The defensive line was consistently putting pressure on Foles and suffocated the running game. The linebackers, led by Dillard, swarmed to the ball and were effective in coverage. The play of the secondary was stellar – any time Foles had a brief second to find a receiver, he couldn’t. Holding any opposing QB to 6-20 passing for 28 yards is remarkable, unless of course you have played against our offense this year, but that is another story. Arizona wouldn’t have gotten on the board if they played for a week. So Pelini finished with a season sweep against the Stoops Brothers, holding Arizona and Oklahoma to a combined three points. Maybe next time they should try the little blue pill. I hear it makes it easier to score…

The bittersweet lives of Zac and Cody…

It’s been a rocky road for both of these young men this year. Going into the season, it seemed clear Zac Lee would be the starter for the next two years, giving Cody Green an opportunity to learn the offense and redshirt. Spano and Washington would provide solid depth, and Lee’s superior running abilities would allow this offense to not miss a beat. Those observations proved to be woefully wrong.

Halfway into the season, our offense was in dire need of direction. Nothing was working. The offense had more turnovers than your local fast-food restaurant, and the closest thing the offense had to a playmaker was the device used to print the play charts that Bo keeps stored safely in his pants. The brief experiment with Green as a starter proved that he is not ready. What’s more concerning, however, are the recent reports that Lee has been playing most of the season injured. I can’t determine if this is a positive sign or not. Is an injured Lee better than a healthy Green? Clearly, the offense that Cody is used to running is not the one being currently run in Lincoln, but let me ask you this: Which QB would you want getting 18 carries in the game? Sure, Zac showed some real courage and had some decisive runs in the game. In fact, the case could be made that his improved running ability was the difference in the game. More often than not he was able to pick up three or four yards and put the offense in manageable third-and-short situations. Outside of the short-side option that went for a four-yard loss (and in my opinion should be discarded from the playbook), most of his runs went for positive yards and his TD pass to Paul was the play we have been looking for all year.

Now the question is where do we go from here? The new-look Husker offense used against Arizona looked good but was still inconsistent at times and will not be enough against teams with great defenses. Is it something to build on? Sure. We will have to sort those things out in spring practice. Lee and Green have been class acts throughout this whole back-and-forth process and have put the team in front of their own interests. Both are ultra-confident guys who want the ball, but they are also both very different players. The direction Pelini and Watson decide to take this offense will ultimately decide the fate of these two QBs. We can’t discount the chance that a healthy Spano or redshirted Martinez will perform well enough in the spring to give both Lee and Green a push at being the starter. Lee played well enough in the bowl game to be considered the frontrunner going into the offseason and given his injury may well be as advertised next year. I just hope we don’t get hit with the transfer bug that has seemed to be an ongoing problem in recent years. We all know how tempting North Carolina can be this time of the year.

Quatrains Revisited…

Before the Spring Game, I selected three quatrains derived from ancient Nostradamus writings that appeared to give us some foresight into what the 2009 season may look like. OK, so maybe they weren’t ancient texts, in fact they were completely made up, but it helped fill some of the down time that we all encounter in the offseason. I figured it would be fun to see how accurate these prophetic messages turned out to be:

-On the field of the Hawks, four young generals will meet to seize power; One shall transfer, one will lay in waiting. The green one shall wear the shirt of red; the son of Bob will prevail in the spring.

Translation: Zac Lee will win the starting job, Cody Green will redshirt

This proved partially true. Zac won the starting job, but it wasn’t as clear-cut as we may have thought. To be sure, Zac had his up and down moments (mostly down), but the injury to his arm may have hindered his ability to show Husker Nation what he can do. Green getting the chance to redshirt was thrown out the window when Spano went down with another knee injury. Green had a few flashes early on against the Sun Belt tour but showed against Baylor and in spot appearances against Oklahoma and Arizona that he is not ready. Green appears to have an enormous upside and, for now, is the future of our program. Looking back at comparable recent QBs – Vince Young, Terrelle Pryor, Pat White, etc. – one thing that comes to mind is that all these QBs did not have a lot of success throwing the ball early in their careers. The maturity paid off as they gained experience (see Terrell Pryor’s stat line in the Rose Bowl) but needed the time to adjust to the college game. Hopefully we will be able to say the same in the near future for Green.

-The defensive wall will be stripped thin, an injured man will return. Enemies will focus on the great one in the middle, leaving the outside venerable. The House of Spears will be honored by Lombardi.

Translation: Suh will garner All-America honors and be a contender for the Lombardi Trophy. Turner will return to his former self to help anchor this inexperienced D-line.

How can you go wrong predicting Suh to be great? You can’t, but the other part of this was the re-emergence of Barry Turner. While he wasn’t the dominant force we here hoping for, he turned in a solid 2009 campaign with 51 tackles and 16 TFL, to go along with 5½ sacks. The surprise was the stellar play of Jared Crick. All he did was finish fourth on the team in tackles and second in sacks behind Suh. Picking up first-team Big 12 honors was also a plus. Pierre Allen had a nice season, and Steinkuler and Meredith did a fantastic job coming off the bench. I figured 25 sacks and top-25 rushing defense would be a good measure of success for this group. How ’bout 33.5 sacks and 9th in the nation in rushing defense. That is dominant. With the departure of Suh to the NFL, who will need an accounting degree to count his millions, the defensive line may see a bit of a dropoff, but with the returning talent we can be sure the D-line will remain a strength of the team. Suh will leave Lincoln among the most decorated defensive players of all time, and can get used to future players being compared to him. A few short years ago we heard Pelini touting the talents of a young Suh, comparing him to Glenn Dorsey. Fast forward to 2010 and the comparison no longer applies – he is in a class of his own. Thank you, Mr. Suh.

-The fleet of foot will gather to receive the new general on the grassy field. The nephew of Ahman will seek glory, but the man from St. Augustine will find it.

Translation: Holt will have a breakout senior season and will become the main receiving target of Lee.

Uhhh, can I get a do over on this one? I don’t play golf but I would really like a mulligan. The play of the receiving corps this year, to put it lightly, has been borderline terrible. The only constant has been the play of Niles Paul, and he has taken his lumps. I really felt that Holt was ready to take the next step and be Purify-like. No such luck. After catching 30 passes in 2008 backing up the sorely missed Swift and Peterson, he turned in a clunker of a 2009, ending with only 15 catches and some unwanted playing time with the scout team. This group will really need to improve going into next season, but there have been some bright spots. Niles Paul has the ability to become a weapon, and Kinnie has shown some flashes in recent games. It was a shame that Chris Brooks never lived up to his potential, he always seemed to catch whatever was thrown to him. I guess the coaching staff didn’t like what he was doing away from the ball that kept him off the field for the most part. If we are going to go back to an offense similar to the Ganz show of 2008, Gilmore will have his work cut out for him. It appears he has all the raw material necessary for a productive group, but raw material doesn’t equate to on field performance – just ask Bill Callahan.

In Conclusion…

Final Score: Nebraska 10, Opponents 4. All in all, a successful season anchored by an outstanding defense. In fact, the defense was so good that if we only scored 10 points a game it would have been good enough to give us an 8-6 record (assuming we beat Baylor since it would be tied 10-10). Pelini showed he can make the tough decisions that will put his team in the best position to win. We have heard many things about the future of where this offense will go, and we will know soon enough.

This season was a testament to teamwork. You never heard the defense getting down on the offense, only focused on doing its job knowing they were in good hands. Many questions remain going into next year. Who will be the starting QB? Can Niles Paul become the playmaker we think he can? Will Helu’s shoulder ever heal? Will he ever be the same? Will the defense take a step back, or will the newcomers step up and fill the void left by Suh, Dillard, O’Hanlon and Asante? When will Pelini get an endorsement offer from Hubba Bubba? The Holiday Bowl win gives this team a ton of momentum going into next year and sets the bar even higher for this staff. The focus will now shift to the recruiting circuit, where they will look to fill in the holes due to some untimely last-minute decommitments. Year number three for Pelini will soon be here along with a likely top 15 preseason ranking. Where will Bo and his staff lead us in 2010? Time will tell, but we will be waiting with much anticipation – chewing gum in hand.

 

Born and raised in Scottsbluff, Justin Prestidge is currently holding a low profile deep in the heart of Texas. A die hard Husker fan, he has been following Big Red Football for over 20 years and has been a member of the North Texas Nebraskans for the last 10. You can e-mail him here.