Archive for March, 2007

Zack Bowman’s Knees Refuse to Cooperate

March 30, 2007

I already touched on this briefly on the FanHouse, but didn’t really expand on my thoughts.

I really, really hoped I would be writing Thursday about a bruise or a sprain, or anything, but a major ligament or tendon. Give me some more time to sit with this, to decide if I can write something unselfish about the loss.


Kenny Wilson’s Hopes and Femur Crushed by TV

March 29, 2007

Unbelievable. A week ago I joked that an ACME safe was going to fall on Sam Keller’s head. Instead an effing TV somehow takes out Kenny Wilson. Damn that Wyle E. Coyote!!

Zack Bowman is also reportedly injured, but I don’t even want to think about that at this point.

Spring Practice Stuff

March 28, 2007

Well with spring practices pretty much closed to the media, we aren’t left with much to talk about. I’ll try to hit on a few things, however.

· Larry Asante appears determined to wind up as the starter at strong safety.

“I’m all about perfection,” said Asante, a transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. “I want to know everything. When I’m out there on the field, I don’t want to have to think — just read and react to everything. If I know everything like the back of my hand, I’ll be good to go.”

He’s also been sending text messages to defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. I can only imagine what those must look like.

hA Coz, itz Larry A. XLNT practiS 2day. R U watchN film? I 4get, wot iz my role n Robber 11. Also do I roL my coverage agAnst dbL tights? By d way I jst saw Ricky T. & he sed he h8z U. J/K. LOL. c U l8r.

· Sticking with the defense, Zach Potter wants us to know that he’s no Adam Carriker.

“Everyone’s like, ‘Well, why can’t Zach Potter be 6-7, 300 pounds just like Adam Carriker?’ Everyone’s different,” said Potter…Carriker was “a freak of nature,” he said. “I mean, you can ask anybody on our team. He’s a special guy. So there might be a little drop-off there, just in that.”

I like Zach’s honesty and I personally don’t expect him to “replace” Carriker. I just hope he, or Pierre Allen or Joseph Townsend or somebody can shed blocks against the run and put some pressure on the QB on passing downs.

· The Major Culbert move to RB is looking at least semi-permanent at this point. Some fans are already making comparisons to the way in which the coaching staff handled Leon Jackson, and I can’t say I blame them. I’m sure Major would love to have this settled, but his versatility certainly comes in handy. If nothing else you have to love the guy’s attitude.

“Doesn’t matter,” the 6-foot, 207-pound Culbert said. “Safety. Running back. I just want to get on the field…I was predominantly a running back in high school. I love safety. It don’t matter. I want to play safety, but there’s no preference.”

· Huskers is also reporting that QB guru Bob Johnson is on campus this week to watch Nebraska’s practices and visit with its coaching staff. Johnson is recognized as arguably the nation’s top QB instructor. His son is Rob Johnson the former USC QB who also played for Callahan for a year in Oakland. I don’t know what this means for the development of our quarterbacks, but it is nice to see folks like this hanging around our practices. I don’t seem to remember much of this during the Osborne/Solich eras, but I could be wrong.

· Lastly, I’ve been spending more and more time at the Big 12 FanHouse. Any of you guys made your way over there at all? If so, do you have any feedback? I’d love to get your thoughts on how we can improve it.

Big Red Roundtable – Pre-spring Edition

March 26, 2007

This month’s Big Red Roundtable is being hosted by Husker Mike. It includes the usual cast of characters as well as new faces Midwest Coast Bias and Husker H8ter, AJ (really?). Welcome to the table fellas.

1. The coaching staff says the quarterback race is wide open between Sam Keller, Joe Ganz, Beau Davis, and Patrick Witt. What is your expectation as how this will turn out next season?

I’ve mentioned this already, but I actually like the QBs sharing snaps in the spring. It gives all four a chance to show the coaches what they can do and should do little to negatively impact the progress of the offense come fall. That being said, I believe it is a two-man race between Ganz and Keller. Ganz knows the offense and is as gritty as they come. While he doesn’t have the physical tools of Keller he should be comfortable in the system and might benefit from low expectations. Keller will wind up the starter, but he better not expect guys like Ganz to lay down for him. Keller has the weight of Husker Nation on his shoulders and will have to be prepared to deal with the pressure. Here’s to hoping that the parking incident wasn’t a sign of chinks in his mental armor. If he stays healthy and lives up to even the most modest of expectations, he could leave with a bevy of school records all-conference honors to boot.

2. Besides quarterback, what positions will have the biggest battles and how do you expect them to work out?

I think one of the biggest battles will occur at the safety positions. Right now we have newcomer Larry Asante battling Ricky Thenarse at SS and Tierre Green and Anthony West fighting for the FS spot. With the way things are lined up back there, I’m wondering if the spring is a battle for the SS spot with a chance for the loser of that fight to slide over and compete at FS in the fall. The only reason I’m thinking this is that Thenarse and Asante could very well be our two best safeties. What good does it do us to keep one of them off the field?

I also think we will have a good battle at BDE between Zach Potter and Pierre Allen. Allen is getting all the spring publicity after gaining 40 pounds during his redshirt year, but Potter could benefit from knowing the defense a little better. With a completely re-tooled defensive line, the battle at BDE will be important to our overall defensive success at 2007.

3. Two years ago, the 2005 recruiting class was touted as one of the nation’s best. Only a few players from this group have made an impact thus far; who do you expect to emerge this spring?

The 2005 class has certainly had its share of disappointments and is unlikely to ever match the promise that year’s Signing Day. Most fans penciled the bulk of that group in as immediate starters and impact players. While we see a bunch of contributors and a few certified stars (Zac Taylor, Zack Bowman), there is quite a glaring list of washouts.

When looking at who could breakout in 2007, I think Ndamukong Suh has to top the list. Coaches drooled over his NFL-body as a high school star and a few years under Dave Kennedy could not have hurt. With the DT spots wide-open and Coach Callahan claiming Suh to have “all-conference” potential, I expect big things from Ndamukong in 2007. Phillip Dillard is another player that I believe could emerge in 2007. From what I saw from Dillard prior to his injury in 2006, he looked like the prototypical MIKE backer. He’s a little bigger than McKeon and if he comes back healthy could push for time and might actually force Cosgrove to figure out a way to get four linebackers on the field at the same time.

4. In the 1990’s, Coach Osborne started matching up the #1 offense against the #1 defense in the spring game. Bill Callahan switched this around and put the #1 offense and defense on the same team, playing against the reserves. Do you prefer a format?

As a fan, I obviously prefer to watch a spring game that pits #1s against #1s. I was in Lincoln for last year’s spring game and found it boring to watch for the most part. I know Osborne stole the idea of #1s against #1s from Bobby Bowden who attributed his team’s in-season progress to matching up the speed of his #1 defense against his #1 offense at least three days per week. The problem with this can be that starters may be more likely to be injured. I mean do we really want to lose Marlon Lucky for the year due to a spring collision with Steve Octavian or Corey McKeon? One thing that I think could help our team overall is that we seem to be developing more depth at many positions. This year it is possible that the reserve secondary facing Keller or Ganz could include Andre Jones, Armando Murillo, Ricky Thenarse and Anthony West. That is quite an upgrade over years past and the offense should benefit from competing against improved depth on the defensive side of the ball.

You can check out the other responses from:
Husker Mike
Midwest Coast Bias Podcast (If you can’t listen to the whole show, fast forward about 38 minutes in; their response goes for the last 20 minutes or so)
Corn Nation
Big Red Network

Erin Andrews Picture of the Week

March 23, 2007

My Nebraska Spring Preview is up at the FanHouse.

Sam Keller Will Pop a Cup in Your Ass

March 23, 2007

Yikes, Sam Keller was apparently cited for Disturbing the Peace after throwing a plastic cup and yelling obscenities at a female UNL student who outmaneuvered him for a parking spot. I wouldn’t have thought this to be a huge story, but then I remembered what qualifies for news in Nebraska. ESPN, however, also deems the story newsworthy, as does the FanHouse.

When I was at UNL, parking was atrocious. And after over a decade as a college student at three fairly large universities I can honestly say that I had more trouble finding spots at UNL than at any other school. I don’t want to condone Keller’s actions, but there are principles that guide parking lot etiquette and if you break those rules, you do so at your own risk.

This whole thing sounds a bit fishy to me and I can’t help but wonder whether Joe Ganz might have a sister on campus.

Press Conference Tidbits

March 21, 2007

Coach Callahan spoke with the media yesterday, but failed to disclose anything new or particularly meaningful. I’ll recap some portions just the same, however.

On the players’ work in the off-season:

“They’ve worked hard, not only in conditioning, but in video review. They’ve had an opportunity to go back and to review their video and their plays and their performance from last year. I thought that was extremely productive for them, as individuals as well as a team and as a unit. Just to get back into football, to refine their techniques, and to refine themselves.”

I like that the players are spending some time critiquing their play via game film. Research indicates that in almost all fields, people tend to improve by watching both their successes and their failures. While I’m sure this is nothing new, it felt good to read about it here.

A lot was discussed concerning the quarterback situation and Callahan did his best to reiterate that it was a wide-open race.

“I think that people naturally look at this as a two-horse race, and it certainly isn’t even that. I think that Beau Davis has a lot of great attributes that have really been kept in the dark the past two seasons. His performance in his rookie year was really an unfair performance because it was really too soon. He has talent, he has mobility, and a good arm, and has been in this system going on his fourth year, so I think that has some merit. If you look at the successful quarterbacks around the country that have performed at a high level, it usually takes awhile to get to that level. So I don’t want to discount any of the guys in the quarterback race.”

The spring is a perfect time to really evaluate the talent and depth that we have at the QB position. That is why I have no problem with dividing the snaps amongst 3-4 guys. I don’t really expect Beau Davis to do much more than carry a clipboard or signal in plays, but if he earns the spot, so be it. Besides, given our recent luck I half expect an ACME safe to fall on Sam Keller some time in the next few months anyway.

Two questions on Tuesday pertained directly to Mr. Keller concerning whether the job was his to lose and what he brings to the offense. Here is the question I would like to have seen answered:

Coach, I assume you traded your soul to the devil himself in return for Sam Keller. Any regrets? And a follow up – had Sam Keller not found his way to Lincoln, is it safe to say that your house would be on the market right now?

Callahan also addressed concerns about the defensive line:

“We graduated some outstanding players, and that’s not to say that the upcoming players will not be outstanding. I think (sophomore defensive lineman Ndamukong) Suh has a chance to be an all-league performer, I think (junior defensive lineman Ty) Steinkuhler is coming into his own. I look at our end position, and unfortunately (junior defensive end) Barry Turner will be out this spring, but he is a top end when compared with other guys around the country. I think (junior linebacker) Clayton Sievers moving positions should provide us some depth and intrigue in regards to what he can do with a full-time position. And of course (junior defensive end) Zach Potter is a guy that has been around for a couple of years and has only gotten bigger and stronger, so we’re changing him really from a base-five technique to a base-six technique, so that should really tie in to his strengths as a player.”

I guess I didn’t expect a miracle here, but part of me was hoping Callahan had some Jared Tomich clone that he was keeping under wraps until the spring. I think we may have some talent on the D-line, but Buddy Wyatt is certainly going to have to earn his paycheck in 2007.

So with that let’s hit the field fellas. Wait, you want an inspirational pre-game speech. Hey, why not. Take it away Coach Coronary-Embolism

One More Day

March 20, 2007

One more day until the beginning of spring practice and hopefully the end of my writer’s block. Until then here is a pretty good set of highlights from the 2006 season.

In addition, my first piece at FanHouse should also be up sometime today.

Erin Andrews Picture of the Week – March Madness

March 16, 2007

Wow, I just had my worst first day ever in an NCAA pick’em. How bad was it? My fiancé, completing her first bracket ever(!) has a two game advantage over me. I went an abysmal 11/16 (even after picking VCU over Duke), while the GWFJHIL is an incredible 13/16. The bet is that GWFJHIL gets a new pair of shoes should she beat me. The bottom line – never underestimate the power of Jimmy Choo!

Another Look at Nebraska’s Third Downs in 2006

March 14, 2007

To piggy-back on yesterday’s work, I thought I would take another look at Nebraska’s third down conversions last season. In 2006 the Huskers converted 45.2% of their third down chances. This was a vast improvement over 2005 when Nebraska’s third down conversion percentage was just 33%.

Yesterday we compared Nebraska to the rest of the NCAA with regards to 3rd down conversions. Another useful comparison is that of the expected percentages in the NFL. I have posted this before, but this is the expected success ratio that has been identified by Brian Billick in Developing an Offensive Gameplan:

3rd and Long (7+ yards) 20-25%
3rd and Medium (4-6 yards) 45-50%
3rd and Short (1-3 yards) 75-85%

Again that just provides us with some more context and is important given Coach Callahan’s coaching background.

Today, I thought we would look more at the third down playcalling of the 2006 Huskers. Let’s start with third and short situations (1-3 yards to go). Last season Nebraska faced this situation around 4.5 times/game. Given that I would expect that Callahan has eight to ten plays in his offensive game plan for this situation.

According to Brian Billick there are two schools of thought regarding third and short situations: get the first down (duh!), or take a shot at a big play. A “big play” in this situation is one with definite touchdown potential or at least a large, meaningful gain. Running a play to get a first down, on the other hand, would look more like Callahan’s three-tight-end, smash-mouth formation or a simple QB sneak. With that said, let’s look at Nebraska’s third and short play-calling breakdown.

Here we see 35 run/29 pass split. This is a pretty even split given the short yardage involved. Most would probably expect a heavier dose of runs. This is also an area in which Callahan seems to really work hard to go against common tendencies. Or he just doesn’t have faith in our running game to pick up the yardage on the ground. What you’ll see, however, is a slightly higher success rate on third and short when we run rather than when we pass. This is unfortunately, pretty good support for all those who bashed Callahan’s decision to pass on 3rd and 1 late in the Texas game.

The second important third down situation is third and medium (4-6 yards to go). This breakdown is covered in the same chart. Third and medium success is important to a coach’s overall game plan. If he feels that his team can convert in this situation, his first and second down calls take on an additional dimension. This may allow more deep throws on first down, or more aggressive “big play” type calls on second and medium when you are confident in your third and medium chances. You’ll notice that Nebraska enjoyed amazing success in 2006 when facing this situation. I would attribute much of this success to the success of Nebraska’s play-action passing game and to the development of the middle screen to Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky that was successful several times on third and medium. Another reason Callahan seems to have success in this situation is his use of shifts and motion and running plays that have not been used earlier in the game. Both of these help keep the defense off-balance.

The next area is third down and long which refers to any situation where the team faces 3rd and 7+ yards to go. You can see Nebraska’s 2006 breakdown below:

Obviously you’ll notice we don’t run a lot on third and long for obvious reasons. While it is worth a shot occasionally, it is generally not in the team’s best interest. In the NFL, teams average just 11 runs per year when faced with 3rd and long, and they typically convert just two of these rushing attempts per season.

Yesterday’s graphs indicated that Nebraska converted at a higher percentage than the national average when facing situations between 3rd and 7, and 3rd and 13 yards to go. Much of this again can likely be attributed to Callahan’s scripted plays for facing this type of situation. These plays should be designed to meet at least one of the following three objectives:

1. Given the right rotation by the secondary, presents you with an opportunity for a deep throw down the field for a substantial gain.

2. If given the right one-on-one match up, allows your receiver to run a good route whereby the catch should, at a minimum gain the yards needed for the first down.

3. Provides the quarterback, by way of a dump-off to a primary receiver, with a receiver who has a chance to make an easy catch, allowing him to try to make a move that will enable him to gain the distance needed after the catch.

By scripting plays with these objectives in mind, and having the players in place to make the plays, Callahan has helped the team to improve immensely on third and long. This has also gone a long ways toward improving the team’s overall success on third down. Next up will be spending time working on improving the team’s overall success on third and short. Knowing that, fans should not be surprised that another big back like Quentin Castille was signed this February.