Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like a month since the Nebraska Cornhuskers last played a game. It seems like the season itself is taking an eternity. With four games in the rear view mirror and Big Ten play only a week away, this season has already been taxing on Husker fans.
It began with Wyoming, something we thought would be an easy road. After fall camp there was plenty of optimism, albeit cautious, about young and talented play-makers on defense. Offensively we were almost certain that it would be one of the highest powered units in the conference, if not the nation. Wyoming exposed the deficiencies of the defense. The offense looked serviceable at best.
The Southern Miss game gave everyone a little breathing room with the defense looking a little better with a few changes in the starting lineup, namely Josh Banderas taking hold of the Mike linebacker position over David Santos. They looked a little faster, more disciplined. There were mistakes, but things seemed to be turning around. Taylor Martinez and the offense clicked a little better.
UCLA. The game that unraveled and once again exposed what most of us knew but didn’t want to admit. Nebraska had made no progress on the defensive side of the football. They were outplayed, out coached, and out classed by the Bruins in the second half. It shook some people to the point that someone took two year old audio of Bo Pelini cursing fans and the media to Deadspin with the goal of stirring up the hornets nest. The audio took a group already angry at Pelini and the lack of progress the program has shown over the past three seasons and made it more vocal.
South Dakota State was, well, what most of us thought it would be. Zach Zenner ran wild, as I expected he would. The offense completely found it’s rhythm without Taylor Martinez behind center, Randy Gregory continued to show flashes of greatness, and Stanley Jean Baptiste continued to separate himself from everyone else in the secondary.
Now the Nebraska Cornhuskers are enjoying a bye week before Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illinois Fighting Illini come to Lincoln for the first of eight B1G hurdles. Outside of Illinois and Purdue, they can all run the football well. This is officially the calm before the storm for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
What this “storm” develops into is completely up to the coaching staff and the leaders of this team. It is obvious that things need to change quickly for this team in order for all parts involved to return in 2014. While the audio leak from a few weeks back did bring out some support for Bo, it is still simmering in the background for people looking to point out the shortcomings on the field. People will point to a defensive minded coach whose team can’t stop anyone from racking up yards and scoring.
The Huskers have spent the past week getting back to the basics of football. Tackling, assignments, rhythm, and playing inside the schemes. This weekend they would be best suited by watching a lot of Big Ten football. Watch how the Illini offensive line protects Scheelhaase, study the hell out of the Illini offense, every intricacy of every position.
They need to watch Iowa and Minnesota battle each other. Look for every tip of the hat that those two power rushing attacks might present down the road. They even need to pay attention to Ohio State and Wisconsin. If Nebraska’s goal is still to win the Legends Division and make a return trip to Indianapolis in December the opponent will likely be the winner of that contest.
Tomorrow Nebraska will start to focus on Illinois, and likely continue to try to fix themselves. It will be an eight week process that will require bigger challenges as each week passes. First a pass happy offense in the Illini, then their first road trip of the season to face Purdue. While the Boilermakers look like an inferior team on paper, they will still be a challenge for Nebraska. They will need to figure out how to smother them, fine tune their game.
After another bye week, a brutal six week gauntlet begins for Nebraska. Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa will all present different challenges. The Nebraska Cornhuskers will need to win out to guarantee a Big Ten Championship Game birth. Winning seven out of eight might get the job done, but only if one of those seven comes at Michigan on November 9th.
Win the Legends Division and the storm on the horizon could be the rise of a sleeping giant. A program that has been hungry for a winner . It could resurrect the once mighty Big Red and make the rest of the nation take notice. Nebraska gets back to the Big Ten Championship Game and they have a chance to slay Goliath. Bo Pelini would have the opportunity to face a demon and change the culture of Nebraska football. Beating Urban Meyer en route to Pasadena would not only open doors on the recruiting trails, it would be the ultimate middle finger from Pelini to the university he graduated from. It would be the perfect storm.
If things go wrong, Nebraska doesn’t reach Indy, a Big Red sky could fall. Pelini and his staff would be in jeopardy of losing their jobs. Pelini himself might be saved with another ten win season, but he would face the same thing that Frank Solich did after the 2002 season. Pelini would have to make choices, fire friends. If he chose not to, then he would be in the same spot as Bill Callahan was in during the 2007 season. He refused to make the necessary changes to keep his job. It would be Sodom and Gomorrah, a storm that showers fire from the skies.
This was a good week for the Nebraska Cornhuskers to regroup and focus on their goals. A chance for an internal audit of sorts. They know what is in front of them. It won’t be easy. Hopefully they know how to ride out the storm.