Nebraska is coming off a season where head coach Bo Pelini won 10 games for the third time in five years, and made his third Conference Championship game. All of that success is overshadowed by a 70-31 point loss in the Big 10 Championship Game to a Wisconsin team that the Huskers beat 30-27 eariler in the season.
The 2012 season has been full of ups and downs. Yes, Nebraska has 10 wins. Five of the teams Nebraska defeated in those 10 games did not finish the season above .500, and only two of the teams, No. 18 Michigan, and No. 20 Northwestern finished the season ranked. In the Huskers 3 losses, they were outscored 169-99. In those 3 games the Blackshirts gave up an average of 8 touchdowns a game.
Questions can be asked, who’s at fault for the losses, what changes need to be made, and what can be done to make these changes? Obviously it starts at the top with the head man in Bo Pelini. If Nebraska fans are going to ask for Bo Pelini’s job, they have to ask themselves if they were saying this when Nebraska won 6 straight games, and had 3 astonishing comebacks. Is Bo Pelini’s time in Lincoln running out? Not even close. Does he need to make some changes? Immediately .
In the Big 10 Championship game, Wisconsin took an approach to have two down defensive ends, and have the rest of their interior line, and linebackers up right, and walking around. Nebraska’s offensive line was never able to adjust. This firmly comes down to coaching on more than one level. Nebraska’s coaching staff never adapted, and stayed with the same game plan through the whole game. Most offensive line assignments are very detailed, and that’s why the walk around defense is so successful. When a defense rushes 5 defenders every play, and you can’t protect with 6 linemen, there is an issue. The scary thing about Taylor Martinez’s electrifying first quarter touchdown run was not that there were 5 defenders in the back field, it was that the defenders were 6 yards past any offensive linemen. No Nebraska offensive linemen cut blocked anyone, or adjust to that walk around defense once all night. That brings up more questions for what is being taught.
Can your line cut block? Does your line know how to adjust to several different looks from a defense? This falls on Barney Cotton. There is a reason that Nebraska brought John Garrison in to be the co-offensive line coach. Since the addition of Garrison, Nebraska’s offensive line seems to have two different personalities, and with two coaches calling the shot who can blame the players for not being able to adjust? They are being coached two different ways. It has come time for a decision for Bo Pelini. Who does his team need calling the shots on his offensive line? I think we have seen what Barney Cotton can do for 3 seasons as the o-line coach. It’s time for Garrison to have free reign on his group.
Before the season, former blue chip prospects Tyler Moore and Ryan Klachko left the program. Both players were high on Nebraska, and were said to love the program before coming to Lincoln. Both seemed to leave with questions of why they came to Lincoln in the first place. Their presence has been noticeably missed all season. Nebraska’s guard play has been phenomenal. So good, that it landed Spencer Long on the All-Big 10 list. So you have the question, what makes certain players line play so great, and others so poor at times. This goes back to the split personality of this group.
Barney Cotton is 56 years old, and makes $250,000 a year. Garrison is 32, and makes 140,000 a year. The easy choice here is Garrison. Younger, up and coming , and cheaper. Garrison is more of a players coach. Cotton’s time has run it’s course in Lincoln. The only name that has been louder than Pelini’s on the hot seat is Cotton’s .
Nebraska’s defense has given up the 2nd most yards in school history to UCLA in Los Angeles. The Blackshirts gave up 63 points on the road to Ohio State. In the biggest game of the year Wisconsin shifted their offense around, and Nebraska refused to move linebacker outside of the tackles to help contain. Nebraska’s defense stuck 7 guys in the box, and played two deep safeties all night. Nebraska has the 2nd best pass defense in the country. Yet the coaches refused to drop a safety down into the 2nd level, and let a linebacker play out on the edge. At that point the coaches were just begging Wisconsin to put an offensive tackle on a corner back. This goes to show you how much confidence this coaching staff lacks in their three senior linebackers.
Several times on Saturday Nebraska linebackers were late getting to the outside. Wisconsin offensive linemen were out on the edge and blocking Nebraska defensive backs, while the Badger wide receivers were crashing down and blocking linebackers who were already in the tackle box, and were just pushed further inside. This allowed Montee Ball, James White, and company ran outside all night long. The only time linebackers saw time outside of the tackles was when Wisconsin lined up in a four wide receiver set. Wisconsin averaged 2.3 yards a carry in that formation. With four wide receivers on the field for 2 out of 3 plays, Nebraska forced their only 3 and out of the first half. Wisconsin only ran that formation on one other play the entire night.
The Badgers continued to motion tight ends and back, this placed Nebraska defenders in the spots the Wisconsin offense wanted the Blackshirts to be in all night. There have been many instances in Bo Pelini’s tenure where there has been obvious confusion on the field. Players were seen several times with their hands in the air looking at the sideline while the ball was being snapped in Saturday’s Championship Game. This sight has been a constant theme under Pelini. This is something that needs to be fixed.
All 70 points that Wisconsin scored fall solely on first year Defensive Coordinator John Papuchis. The defensive scheme that causes so much confusion falls on the head coach and his system. This is the first season Papuchis has called any part of the defense, and clearly he and Pelini have not been on the same page several times. Papuchis’ job is not on the line right now, but if Nebraska continues to give up 8 touchdowns in any game next season, he and Pelini’s seat will be equally warm, if not burning.
Nebraska will enter the 2013 season with 3 freshman linebackers, who are going to have to fill some big shoes and replace maybe the biggest loss of this off season in senior middle linebacker Will Compton. Ros Els has been in Lincoln for two years now and has really struggled to improve players like Sean Fisher, and Alonzo Whaley. Els was also in his first season as Special Teams Coordinator this year. Senior kicker Brett Maher was a preseason, All- American. He did finish the season as the Big-1o Kicker of the Year, but he was spotty at best, and really had Nebraska fans worried anytime he had to kick a ball. He had 3 punts under 20 yards this season.
Els has been blessed with talent like Michael Rose, a two time scout team player of the week this season, Jarred Afalava a guy most people said could have been a 5 star recruit, and Zaire Anderson, a guy who was so tough he played an entire game with a torn ACL. Not to mention David Santos, who was the Texas 5A defensive player of the year, and has seen major playing time this season. If special teams continues to struggle next season, and Els doesn’t get production out of players of the caliber of the underclassmen at linebacker, he may not be around in 2014.
Taylor Martinez is a phenomenal athlete. No question. It has been clear that his mental grasp of the game has not caught up with his physical grasp. Martinez has led the nation in turnovers by a quarterback for three years straight. Taylor clearly lacks confidence in his arm under pressure. There is no doubt that Martinez made leaps and bounds from where he was a season ago with his footwork. Footwork does not fix everything. Martinez continued to make bad zone reads against Wisconsin, an issue that got him benched against Texas two years ago. The same mistake that killed a drive that could have led to a tie 14-14 game in the first quarter on Saturday. With 6:30 in the 1st quarter Nebraska ran a play where Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor came unblocked, and Martinez had Kyler Reed breaking free down the seam, and instead of stepping into the throw he pulled the ball down and froze up. This led to Maher having to kick a field goal.
Martinez lacks confidence in his own ability to make plays under pressure. This shows when he has the ability to throw the ball out of bounds or take a sack. Martinez feels so much pressure to make a play happen, that instead of throwing the ball away and not losing any yards, he consistently takes losses where he can clearly get rid of the ball and not take a hit.
I really don’t put any of this on Martinez. I put this on second year Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck, and his inability to help develop Martinez. I think Martinez made huge strides from 2011 to 2012, but that was because he went back to his home state of California to work with quarterback coach Steve Callhoun. Beck is listed as the Offensive Coordinator, and Quarterbacks Coach. In year 2 Nebraska’s offense has been explosive, and Beck has called some great games. The question is, at what point do you bring in a true Quarterback Coach to help develop Martinez, and young guys like Tommy Armstrong, and Johnny Stanton? Not every player will be able to go to California to get coached by someone else. Pelini and new Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst need to open up the check book, and get a true Quarterbacks Coach in Lincoln. Beck was coaching the running backs two years ago. He is not suited to coach the quarterback position and it has shown.
Nebraska has one of the easiest schedules in the country in 2013. If the right moves are done, and some key hires are made, Nebraska could easily find itself back in the Big 10 Championship next season. Bo Pelini made huge hires this off season with Defensive Back Coach Terry Joseph, and Defensive line coach Rich Kaczenski. If Pelini could land a big name Linebacker Coach, and true Quarterback Coach, 2013 may be the special season everyone thought 2012 could have been before Saturday.
By Jimmie Allen
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