Archive for the ‘Opponents’ Category

Five Questions With Boi From Troy

September 14, 2007

Scott of Boi From Troy was gracious enough to answer some questions about tomorrow night’s game. He is making his way to Nebraska and will hopefully be greeted by friendly fans but a Husker ambush at Memorial Stadium. My answers to Scott’s questions should be up on Boi From Troy later this morning.

1. What kind of challenge do USC fans truly expect from Nebraska on Saturday?

I think that USC expects the same kind of challenge we expected from Nebraska last year–an aggressive passing attack that could exploit the weaknesses of our secondary, potentially leading to a shoot-out ballgame. These expectations are perhaps tempered by what actually happened last year, but I cannot believe Callahan would make the same mistake twice…or would he?

2. When compared to USC teams of the past five years where would you put this year’s Trojan team in terms of talent and ability?

Of USC teams in the last five years, an optimist will tell you that this team feels alot like the 2003 squad that won the National Championship. Leinart struggled early then came into form, we were breaking in some promising but young running backs and the defense was the most highly-touted component of the team. Now a pessimist will tell you that this team is looking more like the 1995 Trojans who were supposed to compete for a championship but ended up losing two big games to UCLA and Notre Dame and playing Northwestern in the Rose Bowl. Luckily, Notre Dame is making all of us feel like optimists this year.

3. USC looked rather pedestrian against Idaho what did/do you attribute this to?

In case you haven’t gotten the memo, USC has this bad tendency of playing to their competition. I think there was good degree of “It’s just Idaho” complacency. There certainly was amongst the fans who had to ask whether it was appropriate to “make noise” on third down against such a lowly opponent.

I also think that the coaches treated it like an NFL exhibition game, cycling in players who otherwise would have been reserved for junk-time play. I mean, John David Booty actually THREW the ball to Brad Walker–and unlike when Reggie Bush did that against Texas in the Rose Bowl it was not ruled a fumble!

4. Nationally USC fans are often critiqued for their “bandwagon-esque” nature. Come clean, how long have you have been seriously invested in the Trojans? Are we talking Rodney Peete/Mark Carrier, Rob Johnson/Curtis Conway, Carson Palmer/Troy Polamalu or Leinert/Bush?

Yeah, you’re right. I had been going regularly to USC games since I
was a grad student there but only when others could get me free
tickets. So I suffered through the Otton/Johnson and Van Raaphoorst

When I first bought season tickets in 2002–good timing, eh?—I couldn’t find a soul to go to the Oregon State game because it was drizzling. Now, I have a waiting list of people to use my fourth season ticket–even for games against Stanford or Arizona. It took three years of winning before USC sold out a game not involving Notre Dame or UCLA, let alone an entire season.

However, if it were truly a bandwagon school, demand would have dropped off in the post Leinart/Bush era as expectations for the team waned. Instead, it has only grown to the point that they are no longer guaranteeing new major donors that they’ll get season tickets. And wait until 2008 when our home schedule includes California, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington, Notre Dame and Ohio State!

5. LA Times writer T.J. Simers has been rough on the state of Nebraska and its fans over the past two seasons. As you prepare for your trip to “the Good Life,” what are your honest expectations for your time in Lincoln?

We’re hoping not to get beat up and tied to a fence somewhere because we were wearing the wrong shade of red.

Honestly, we’re staying in Omaha where I hear there is some of the best nightlife in “the five-state area” so we’re expecting it to be better than a trip to, say, Lawrence, Kansas.

This is probably our only chance to visit Lincoln, which I am told has one of the best game-day experiences in the Country, and people tell me that Nebraskans are actually friendly–unlike our hosts at Hawaii a few years ago, so we’re looking forward to it. I may just have to wear my Bush jersey, however, since it is a Red State in more ways than one.

Wake Forest Preview

September 7, 2007

Ed. Note – Nothing like waiting until the last minute. One thing that will suffer this year, due to increased schedule demands will be my opponent previews. Hopefully they will still be of interest.

Head Coach: Jim Grobe 7th Season at Wake Forest. Career record 37-35

Last Season: The Demon Deacons shocked the world on their way to an ACC Championship and a 10-3 record.

This Season: The Deacons returned 14 starters when the season began, but injuries have already begun to cause problems. As with Nevada, conventional wisdom sees Wake headed back to pre-2006 levels. But how far will they fall? According to SMQ, most of the way down:

Wake Forest is not a good team. In fact, it wasn’t a good team when it won the ACC last year. It was an exceedingly mediocre team with an outstanding kicker and an unsustainable barrage of fortune at its back. On an every-down basis, Wake was what it’s always been – slightly below average – evidenced in it being outgained overall in league games despite a 7-2 record. The conference should be tougher this year, but even if it’s the same parity-driven parade of underthrown curl routes, the Deacons are a middling bowl team at best and a lamentable bottom-dweller at worst. They’ll be doing just fine to finish 7-5.

On Offense:

Like many teams today the Deacons run college football’s newest equalizer – the spread offense. Wake will attempt to combine misdirection and superior execution to overcome talent deficiencies on Saturday. When execution meets the aligning planets a spread attack can cut down even the grandest gridiron Goliaths (See Emo Week at Michigan). Even at it’s peak Wake’s offensive attack is far more plodding than prolific producing just 21.6 points a year ago. In terms of offensive efficiency the Deacons were entirely average ranking 59th nationally in the Scoreability Index . That sandwiched the efficiency of the Wake attack between the offenses of Air Force and Northern Illinois. Wake Forest scored one touchdown for every 85 yards of offense they generated. For comparison, Nebraska scored one touchdown for every 81 yards of offense the Huskers generated a year ago, which ranked 42nd nationally.

Quarterback: Wake will likely be without starting quarterback Riley Skinner who suffered a separated shoulder against BC. That means sophomore Brett Hodges gets the start on Saturday. Hodges is much quicker than Skinner but is similar in terms of efficiency, moving the chains and taking what a defense gives him. He also appears to be an upgrade over Skinner in arm strength. Against Boston College, Hodges completed 17/23 passes for 130 yards and a TD. He also threw one INT. His passing efficiency rating is currently at 127.0 which ranks 58th nationally, one spot ahead of Sam Keller. Keep an eye on third down, as the Wake QBs struggled in week one completing just 50% of their passes. That’s a huge dropoff from first down where their QBs completed an astounding 91% of their passes.

Running Back:I would be completely justified in leaving this position out of the analysis as Wake’s running game was simply non-existent in week one. The Deacons managed just 2 yards rushing on 24 attempts against BC. That’s not going to get it done, even in the ACC. The running game was counting on 230-pound sophomore Kevin Harris. Harris is big and strong and supposedly possesses 4.5 speed to boot. Unfortunately that combination of speed and power is useless when your 4 carries are cut short in the backfield or spent running up the backs of your lineman as Harris’ were in week one. Micah Andrews is also back from a knee injury a year ago and got seven carries for 7 yards against the Eagles. He’s got talent, however, as evidenced by a 254-yard effort against Vandy in 2005.

Wide Receiver: The Wake receiving corps has benefited from the move of last year’s leading rusher Kenneth Moore to his more natural WR position. He lit up BC for 15 catches, 126 yards and a TD. Moore has the kind of size and strength that has been known to give the Huskers fits. Murillo and Grixby will need to play strong near the line of scrimmage to keep him in check. Kevin Marion and Chip Brinkman have names that belong at a fraternity party, but are actually two more capable receivers for Wake. Marion has game-breaking speed and made a name for himself a year ago on special teams. Brinkman has decent athleticism, but is a bit untested catching just one ball a year ago. Senior tight end John Tereshinski is also dangerous both as a blocker and a target over the middle. He had 6 catches for 75 yards in week one.

Offensive Line:The offensive line returns everyone from a year ago except All-Everything tackle Steve Vallos. That makes the rushing performance even less impressive. The tackles are Jeff Griffin and Louis Frazier. Griffin is only a sophomore, but looks like’s Wake next OL star. Frazier was great as a runblocker last season, but struggles against strong pass rushers. The guards are Chris DeGeare and Matthew Brim. Brim is the only new starter, but was slotted to start a year ago before breaking a bone in his hand. DeGeare is ginormous at 360+ pounds. The one lineman for Wake who is expected to garner post-season accolades is center Steve Justice. I’m excited to see him match up with Suh on Saturday.

On Defense:

Despite the loss of Jon Abbate many thought this year’s defense had a chance to be even better than the 2006 version. Last year Wake’s D was the model of efficiency as measured by the Bendability Index. The Deacons finished #3 nationally in the Bendabililty Index as opponents needed to generate an average of 126 yards to score the equivalent of one TD a year ago. In comparison, the Blackshirts were less efficient forcing opponents to march 109 yards to score the equivalent of a single TD last season. Overall, Wake’s defense is speedy in the secondary, but will need to step up against the run and generate a pass rush to be successful on Saturday.

Defensive Line: The defensive line seems to have the talent to be active and get into a team’s backfield. How they’ll stack up against Nebraska’s bigger offensive line remains to be seen. One player to keep an eye on is NT Boo Robinson. Robinson is a 6-2, 326-pound sophomore who can clog up a running game if left unaccounted for. The other DT is the undersized John Russell who goes just 6-3 and 250 pounds. He has a good motor, however, and won’t be easily pushed around. The defensive ends are Jeremy Thompson and Anthony Davis. Thompson looks to be growing into his potential and had 2 sacks against BC. Davis is tall and rangy, but has yet to be a factor in Wake’s pass rush.

Linebackers:You don’t replace a Jon Abbate without experiencing a dropoff. The Deacons are currently starting a trio of sophomores in Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux, and Eric Berry. Berry is a DT playing LB and goes 6-1, 288-pounds. I have no idea what that’s about. Curry is big, fast and experienced and could push for all-conference honors with a strong season. He currently leads the team in tackles with 11. Arnoux has a nose for the ball and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Secondary:Alphonso Smith appears to be ready this season to be the star of the secondary. He has great cover skills and will bait Keller into forcing throws if he’s not careful. Smith returned an INT 21 yards for a TD against BC. The other CB is another sophomore Kerry Major. Major isn’t the strongest CB Nebraska will face, but is a steady contributor for Wake. The safeties are Chip Vaughn and Aaron Mason. Vaughn is big and fast and should become a playmaker in the future. He returned a fumble 38 yards for a score last week. Mason looks like a CB but has the skills to be a decent safety.

Random Notes

Wake Forest and Important Stats (2007):

Scoring Defense: 96th – 38 ppg
Third Down Efficiency: 79th – 31.6%
Total Offense: 67th – 368 yds/game
Scoring Offense: 49th – 28 ppg.
Pass Efficiency Defense: 97th – 151.45
Rush Defense: 28th – 54 yds/game
Total Defense: 95th – 462 yds/game
Yds./Pass Attempt: 69th – 6.1 yds/Att.
Passing Efficiency: 58th – 123.91
Third Down Efficiency Defense: 83rd – 42.9%

Six Degrees of Beano Cook: Wake Forest beat Florida State. Florida State beat UCLA. UCLA beat USC. USC beat Nebraska.

Nevada Preview: The Cliff’s Notes Version

August 31, 2007

Ed. Note – Nothing like waiting until the last minute. One thing that will suffer this year, due to increased schedule demands will be my opponent previews. Hopefully they will still be of interest.

Head Coach: Chris Ault in his 23rd year (non-consecutively) with the Wolfpack. Division IA career record 47-25.

Last Season: The Wolfpack finished 8-5 including a strong showing in the MPC Computers Bowl falling to Miami (FL) 21-20.

This Season: Most expect Nevada’s fortunes to return to more average levels. They return just 12 starters (5 offense and 7 defense) from last year’s squad. The 2006 team also benefitted from a +12 turnover margin which is unlikely to be repeated. In addition, the Wolfpack must replace 2nd Team All-WAC QB Jeff Rowe who threw for 2,925 yards a year ago.

On Offense:

Nevada runs the “Pistol Offense”.

What it is – a hybrid of the shotgun where the quarterback lines up a few steps behind the center. It allows for two-back and single-back sets, typically with four receivers.

What it isn’t – A Mike Leach-ian or run-n-shoot high octane offensive attack.

The Wolfpack offense is a patient, deliberate, efficient, run-based attack. The pistol offense allows for a north/south running game, while also giving the passing game the advantages of the shotgun. We can expect Nevada to run the ball up the middle, but attempt to keep the Blackshirts honest with a fair number of bootlegs and play-action passes. A prototypical Wolfpack drive will include a balanced mix of running and passing plays that burn time and keep the defense guessing. Sound familiar?

Just how efficient was Nevada’s pistol offense in 2006? The Wolfpack finished 10th nationally in the Scoreability Index . In other words, they scored one touchdown for every 71 yards of offense they generated. For comparison, Nebraska scored one touchdown for every 81 yards of offense the Huskers generated a year ago.

Quarterback: Nick Graziano will look to replace Jeff Rowe. Graziano is just a sophomore, but came to Nevada has a highly thought of recruit. Graziano should show off his tremendous arm, and decent mobility. He figures to have a ton of upside in Nevada’s offense. While he has the ability to make all of the throws the offense requires, there is some worry he may rely on his arm too much and could force throws that aren’t really there.

Running Back: Gone is Robert Hubbard who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. In his place expect to see Luke Lippincott or Brandon Fragger. During one stretch a year ago, Lippencott (6-2, 215) rushed for 359 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the Pack to three straight wins by a combined score of 135-28. He’s a power back, but does have some speed in the open field. Fragger looks like the team’s future star. He’s a sophomore with a good burst through the line. He finished 2006 with 270 yards and three TDs.

Wide Receiver: Three names to watch at the WR position are Marko Mitchell, Mike McCoy and Arthur King. Mitchell is 6-4, 195 pounds, and has good speed for his size. His best attribute is his hands and he catches everything that’s close to him. He was second on the team with 39 catches for 493 yards and four TDs last year. McCoy is listed as a backup but is the team’s big-play target. He averaged 15 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns on just 23 receptions. King has decent size and speed and should benefit from last season’s experience.

Offensive Line: The line could be the Wolfpack’s Achilles Heel this week. They will be without starting center and Rimington Trophy candidate Dominic Green who broke a bone in his foot. His backup then went all Latrell Spreewell getting into an altercation with a coach. That means Josh Catapano will have the unenviable task of matching up with Ndamukong Suh. You’ll also want to watch Catapano as he’ll be counted on to make 60+ snaps from the shotgun formation. The Wolfpack have two returning starters up front in senior Charles Manu (6-3, 300) and junior Greg Hall (6-3, 290).

On Defense:

Nevada has some new defensive coaches, but will retain its 3-4 defensive alignment. A year ago the Wolfpack defensive forced an incredible 37 turnovers. That helped the team field the 22nd most efficient defense in country as measured by the Bendability Index. Opponents needed to generate an average of 102 yards to score the equivalent of one TD on the Wolfpack a year ago. In comparison, the Blackshirts forced opponents to march 109 yards to score the equivalent of a single TD last season.

Defensive Line: The starters up front are expected to be Mundrae Clifton, Matt Hines and Erics Clark. The 285-pound Hines is the best of the front three with terrific moves and the potential to grow into a star interior pass rusher. The 6-6, 270-pound Clark was expected to be a good pass rusher as last year went on, but it didn’t happen with just 2.5 sacks and 19 tackles. Even so, he’s a good lineman with the big body needed to stop things up. Clifton is big, strong, and quick and seems to have all of the measurables. The coaching staff is now just waiting for his talent to show up in games.

Linebackers: The linebackers are expected to be the strength of the Wolfpack defense. Unfortunately, the will not be at full strength against the Huskers. Ezra Butler, considered the star of the defense, has been suspended for Saturday’s game in Lincoln by Nevada coach Chris Ault for a violation of team policy. Butler was an All-WAC selection and Butkus Award candidate who recorded 17.5 of his 71 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season. In his absence, Jeremy Engstrom (6-1, 247) and junior Joshua Mauga (6-2, 245) seasoned will be looking to step up in Butler’s absence.

Secondary: Heading into the season, the weak link on the Wolfpack defense is at cornerback. De’Angelo Wilson was kicked off the team, leaving a hole at corner. Senior Devon Walker was getting prepared to go into the season as a number two, but now finds himself a starter after making 18 tackles and breaking up two passes in 2006. On the other side will be junior Paul Pratt. Pratt was beat deep several times a year ago, but was still coming off a serious knee injury. If his speed fully returns, he is probably their best cover man. Sophomore Jonathan Amaya returns at free safety after being one last season’s surprises. The former walk-on made 42 tackles and also recorded an interception. Uche Anyanwu is being counted on at strong safety. He’s huge at 6-4, 220 pounds, but inexperienced. Nebraska fans should expect a big play or two against the Wolfpack secondary.

Random Notes

Nevada and Important Stats (2006):

Scoring Defense: 32nd – 19.2 ppg
Third Down Efficiency: 28th – 42.7%
Total Offense: 46th – 357.54 yds/game
Scoring Offense: 20th – 30.08 ppg.
Pass Efficiency Defense: 47th – 121.29
Rush Defense: 52nd – 128.5 yds/game
Total Defense: 48th – 325.46 yds/game
Yds./Pass Attempt: 57th – 7.12 yds/Att.
Passing Efficiency: 36th – 138.21
Third Down Efficiency Defense: 43rd – 35.7%

Six Degrees of Beano Cook: Nevada beat Colorado State. Colorado State beat Colorado. Colorado beat Texas Tech. Texas Tech beat Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State beat Nebraska.

Scouting USC – Inside Pete Carroll

August 23, 2007

From my favorite USC site Trojan Football Analysis.

What he learned from John Wooden while out of coaching:

“It was a pretty profound moment — one thing in that book just hit me,” said Carroll, now entering his seventh season with the Trojans. “Coach Wooden talked about how it took him 17 years to win his first national championship, but when he figured it out he won 10 national championships in the next 11 years.

“It hit me because once he ‘got it,’ he had it down. That’s what I set out to accomplish.”

On the foundation of his philosophy:

Through his thought process, a main focus rose to the top — competition — and it’s been the foundation of the program ever since.

“When I really soul-searched, I realized that when it all came down to it, I was a competitor,” Carroll said. “That’s me, it’s what I’ve been my whole life. I had to be true to who I was, I couldn’t pretend to be someone or something I’m not. So the central theme had to be what I believed in and lived out in my life.”

On his three basic team rules:

At the first meeting of every spring and fall, Carroll lays out three rules for his team, which form the foundation for all actions and attitudes he expects his players to follow.

One, protect the team. Two, no whining, no complaining, no excuses. Three, be early.

“I really like the ‘three rules,’ because it makes everything very, very clear to our players and coaches,” Carroll said. “It’s another idea I got from Coach Wooden, and I’ve seen it work exceptionally well.”

On the importance of turnovers:

Carroll also emphasizes his motto, “It’s all about the ball.” Causing turnovers on defense and preventing them on offense are almost always the reason for a win or loss. The importance Carroll puts on the ball has developed the Trojans into what could arguably be called the best turnover team in the history of football, as the Trojans have a plus-94 turnover ratio in the last six years.

“When you force a lot of turnovers and don’t give the ball up, you’re putting yourself in position to win every game,” Carroll said. “If you make the game all about what you can control, then the outcome is essentially in your hands every time.”

Accentuating the Positive:

Another key aspect to Carroll’s ideology is his emphasis on maintaining a positive attitude and approaching all challenges and triumphs as an opportunity to grow and get better. “Eliminate all negatives,” Carroll says.

“I learned from [former North Carolina State basketball coach] Jim Valvano that you should never allow for negatives,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t matter what the issue is or what the obstacle is, there are no negatives. And through that, you can look at everything as a special opportunity to improve, reflect on, or just sit back and enjoy.”

On Practice:

We practice fast and compete every minute so that our players will be more than ready for the game,” Carroll said. “What they see at practice is hopefully going to challenge us more than anyone else we’re going to play against.

“It’s simple: Compete and put in the effort at practice, and gameday will just fall into line.”

The Difference?

Focusing on taking games one play at a time, one series at a time, one quarter at a time — another important element to Carroll’s philosophy — is emphasized at practice, along with finishing every one of those plays, series, quarters to the very end. “Finish” has become a motto of the strength and conditioning program, as well as the team.

Cotton Bowl Preview Video and Last Minute Stuff

December 31, 2006

Well, the game is sneaking up on us and I didn’t give it nearly the attention it deserves. I’ll chalk that up to time well spent catching up with friends and family. Here is a pretty nice preview video to help get you fired up as you enjoy the game from home, as seemingly no Husker fans have made the trip to Dallas.

Anyway here are just a few things to keep an eye on Monday:

· Much of the pregame chatter has concerned Auburn’s running game. Perhaps for good reason. The Tigers have thrown for more than 200 yards just four times all season. In addition, only two of those games came against BCS conference foes, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

· If the O-line protects Zac Taylor, Nebraska wins the game. In home losses to Arkansas and Georgia, Auburn had zero sacks.

· After averaging over 4 yards/carry in Big 12 play, does Nebraska have a running back healthy enough to produce like that versus Auburn?

· How might the lack of a healthy RB affect the playcalling? More throws? The emergence of the tight end as a legitimate receiving threat? New wrinkles or trick plays?

· Auburn beat Florida without scoring an offensive touchdown. Which team’s special teams are more special? Can our offense be our best defense?

Auburn Preview

December 26, 2006

Location: Auburn, AL
Enrollment: 23,000
Conference: SEC
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium (Capacity: 87,451)
First Year of Football: 1891
All Time Record: 648-379-47 (.625)

Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
6th year as head coach at Auburn: Career record at Auburn 51-24

Team Overview

Last Season: Despite losing Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, the Tigers barely missed a beat in 2005. They finished 9-3 in 2005 after losing in the Capital One Bowl 24-10 to Wisconsin.

This Season: Auburn comes into the Cotton Bowl with a 10-2 record. The Tigers started the season 5-0 before losing at home to Arkansas 27-10. Auburn then reeled off 4 more wins, including a 27-17 victory over Florida. The Tigers finished the season with another home loss to Georgia and a win over archrival Alabama.

On Offense: Although it is not the most productive unit in the country, Auburn’s offense is one of the most balanced attacks. The Tigers rank 68th in the nation in total offense while producing 155 yards rushing/game and 178 yards passing/game. Auburn’s quarterback is the left-handed Brandon Cox. Cox has completed 153/250 of his passes for 2087 yards 13 TDs and 9 INTs. Cox is capable of being extremely accurate when given time, but often breaks down under pressure. He has also been forced to battle through nagging injuries, but should be healthy for the bowl game. Despite his own injury issues, the Tigers’ rushing attack is led by senior Kenny Irons. Irons is not the most physical runner, but is also difficult to bring down one-on-one. He excels in the open field and makes the most of running lanes. Irons has rushed for 861 yards and 4 TDs in 2006. Irons’ backup during the season has been sophomore Brad Lester who has produced 523 yards and 9 TDs. Lester will not be available for the Cotton Bowl, however, after being suspended for a violation of team rules. In Lester’s place expect to see true freshman Ben Tate. Tate who is Maryland’s all-time prep leader in rushing, has 369 yards rushing this year and averages a robust 7.4 yards/carry.

Auburn’s receiving corps entered the season as a talented, but inexperienced group. The Tiger receivers are deep as a unit and also possess a great deal of speed. The Tiger’s leading receiver is senior Courtney Taylor. Taylor is a big, strong receiver who is difficult to bring down in the open field. He has 48 catches for 634 yards and 2 TDs on the year. Behind Taylor is the athletic Rodgeriqus Smith. Smith has caught 26 balls for 452 yards and 4 TDs. Two other targets to look for are Prechae Rodriguez and TE Gabe McKenzie. Rodriguez is 6-4 with great deep speed and should develop into a consistent deep threat for Auburn. Tight end Tommy Trott is also a capable receiver who has 10 catches and 2 TDs in 2006. In addition, senior TE Cole Bennett may return from a broken ankle, which forced him to miss most of the season.

The Auburn offensive line came into 2006 with the need to develop depth behind a fairly solid starting unit. The Tigers’ biggest man up front is 6-8, 320 pound LT King Dunlap. Dunlap was known as a talented run blocker, who is continuing to improve at pass protection. The RT is senior Jonathan Palmer. Palmer is the most experienced member of the Tiger O-line. The guards are Tim Duckworth and Ben Grubbs. Grubbs is a good athlete and a dominating run blocker, while Duckworth is an all-conference performer. The center spot is manned by Joe Cope, a former walk-on who more than holds his own in the middle.

On Defense: The Tigers rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense (13.9 points) and 25th in total defense (297.5 yards). For the past few years they have relied upon the play of a group of undersized, but quick linebackers and 2006 has been no different. Auburn’s best defensive player is SLB Will Herring. Herring moved from FS to LB this season to take advantage of his speed and experience. Herring leads the team with 65 tackles, and is second on the Tigers with 7.5 TFL. Karibi Dede fills the MLB spot for Auburn. He is smallish at 6-0, 216, but is generally able to hold his own against the run. He has 56 tackles and 1 sack on the year. The WLB spot is held down by sophomore Merrill Johnson. He is another LB known for his speed and has shown an ability to get in the backfield. Johnson has 32 tackles and 3 QBH in 2006.

Headed into the season, Auburn thought it might have the SEC’s best secondary. David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite, who are among the best hitting DBs in the country, man the CB spots. Irons, who is the brother of RB Kenny Irons, has 45 tackles, 2 INT and 6 PBU on the year. Wilhite is steady, but has been known to take his share of risks. He has 24 tackles and 1 forced fumble this season. The safeties are Eric Brock and Aairon Savage. Savage has the size and speed of a corner, but is third on the team in tackles with 48 and also has 1 INT on the year. Brock is the team’s biggest DB at 6-1 213 pounds. He is tied for the team lead in INTs with two.

The Auburn front four is young and starts just one senior across the line. They are led by junior DE Quintin Groves. Groves finally became more consistent this season at getting into the backfield. He leads the team with 12 TFL and 9.5 sacks. The other DE spot is filled by senior Marquies Gunn. Gunn is physical and quick and has 7 TFL and 3 sacks. The DTs are Josh Thompson and Sen’Derrick Marks. Thompson the NG, is extremely powerful. He has 3.5 TFL, 1 sack and 2 QB hurries. Marks a RFr, is still raw, but has 8.5 TFL and 3.5 QBH.

Special Teams: The Tigers have one of the country’s best kicker and punter combinations. The kicker is Jon Vaughn who rebounded from a poor 2005 season to hit 19/23 FG attempts. Kody Bliss is the punter and averages 46.1 yards/punt, including placing 12 attempts inside the 20 yard line. In the return game, Tristian Davis is a dangerous kickoff returner who averages 26.4 yards/return.

Random Notes

Series History: This marks the fourth meeting between the two teams. Nebraska leads the all-time series 3-0.

I Can’t Believe I Looked It Up Either: Auburn is 5-5 all-time against teams from the Big 12. The Tigers record is 1-3 versus Big 12 teams in bowl games. Their lone win was a 24-3 Gator Bowl victory over Colorado in 1972.

I Can’t Believe I Looked It Up Either – Part II: Auburn’s first bowl game was the 1937 Bacardi Bowl, in which they tied Villanova 7-7. The Bacardi Bowl was played six times in Havana, Cuba. The 1937 game was the only one pitting two American CFB teams against one another. The previous games matched an American team with a team from Cuba. The Cuban teams went 1-4 against US college teams.

Six Degrees of Beano Cook: Beano is feeling optimistic. Nebraska beat Missouri. Missouri beat Ole Miss. Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt beat Georgia. Georgia…beat Auburn.

War Eagle? Go Tigers?

December 5, 2006

I promise I will have a lot more upcoming on Auburn as the Cotton Bowl approaches. However, I first thought it important, to better understand their mascot. You see, Auburn seemingly has two mascots. I found this to be extremely confusing at age 4 when the Tigers/War Eagles last visited Lincoln and I find it just as confusing now. Apparently I am not alone. The university devotes an entire page to the clarification of this issue.

So Auburn’s nickname is the TIGERS, while Auburn’s battle cry is “WAR EAGLE!” It is all so clear now.

As usual, M Zone jumped on this almost a year ago and had all sorts of fun creating the school’s new hybrid mascot – the Auburn War Tig…eag…er!

Nicely done.

Thrown For A Loss

December 4, 2006

I should probably have a lot to say about Saturday night’s game, but I just don’t. The score and general feel of the contest were about what I expected. There were a few things, however, that caught me off guard. First, had you told me that we would double up OU in rushing yards AND throw for more as well; I would have felt pretty confident in our chances. I also didn’t expect Paul Thompson to play as well as he did. He looked very Elway-esque completing passes while rolling out of the pocket. That worked to neutralize our pass rush and kept our linebackers scrambling all over the field. Offensively, we never got rolling. I kept waiting for us to find some sort of rhythm, but we just couldn’t manufacture a drive. Zac Taylor picked a bad time for his poorest performance of the year, but the likelihood of mistakes grows when you are putting it up 50 times in a game.

Nebraska fans are now once again debating the talent, execution or coaching scapegoats. I’ll stick with execution for the time being, but unlike Husker Mike, I don’t think you can disentangle execution from talent. Generally, don’t more talented players better execute on gamedays? Oklahoma made plays and we didn’t. Period.

To win the game I thought we needed points off of big plays, and instead, we gave up far more than we produced. I also thought we had to be really successful on first down. Unfortunately our first down efficiency (percentage of 1st down plays of 4 or more yards) was a very average 45%. In the first quarter 4/6 first down plays went for 4+ yards, but after that quick start, we produced 4 or more yards on just 10 of the next 25 first downs. When you aren’t moving the ball on first down, you quickly fall behind on down and distance. It should come as no surprise then, that we were a paltry 3/15 on third down conversions for the game. When you add in a –4 turnover margin, you have a recipe for disaster.

Last year we really benefited from our bowl preparations and beat a very talented Michigan team. I hope we can do the same this year against Auburn. 10-4 seems like a huge step up from 9-5. Let’s finish strong.

NU – OU 2005 – A Look Back

November 29, 2006

Here is a look at last year’s match up with Oklahoma.

Nebraska entered that game with a 5-2 record (2-2 Big 12), while OU came in with a 4-3 (3-1 Big 12) mark. It is also important to remember that Nebraska struggled most of the year with sluggish starts. In this particular game, the Sooners would use that to their advantage.

On Nebraska’s first play from scrimmage, OU’s Calvin Thibodeaux broke threw the line and sacked Zac Taylor for a 9-yard loss. This would be a harbinger of things to come. After forcing a three-and-out, the Sooners took possession. On their third play from scrimmage Adrian Peterson broke one right up the middle for a 36-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.

In the second quarter OU added another touchdown run from Peterson, and Jordan Congdon notched a field goal for the Huskers. With just over a minute to play in the second quarter Nebraska found itself trailing 14-3 with the ball on the OU 42-yard line. After calling a timeout to regroup, Zac Taylor launched a pass that was intercepted by Chijioke Onyenegecha and returned 63-yards for a Sooner score. Nebraska went into halftime behind 21-3.

The third period was essentially dominated by Nebraska. The Blackshirts gave up 3 points during this period and limited the Sooners to just six yards offensively. Unfortunately, the Husker offense managed just one touchdown in the third quarter on a 3-yard pass to Terrence Nunn. As the fourth quarter began, NU trailed 24-10.

The Nebraska offense finally showed signs of life early in the fourth period and scored on a 25-yard completion to Nate Swift to cut the lead to 24-17. Oklahoma’s next series would then be marked by controversy. With the ball on the NU 17, Kejuan Jones got the call and found a crease in the Nebraska defense. As he got to the corner, however, he appeared to benefit from a hold by one of the Sooner receivers. The partisan Nebraska crowd lobbied for the call, but with no laundry littering the field, a chorus of boos rained down. This no-call continues to live in infamy thanks to a dubious gesture on the part of Coach Callahan following a confrontation with the officials.

I personally never saw what the hubbub was about. I see frustration rather than malice and doubt that Callahan’s intentions were to threaten, intimidate or maim the officials. Honestly I am far more offended by the asinine “jump shot” celebration that is all the rage these days.

Anyway, Nebraska would get the ball back and start its next to last series on its 30-yard line. Taylor would then complete consecutive passes of 14 yards, 15 yards and 23 yards to Terrence Nunn, Cory Ross and Nate Swift. The Huskers then broke out the trickery and Cory Ross found a wide open Nate Swift on an I-Back pass. Thus, with 5:56 left to play in the game, Nebraska trailed just 31-24.

Oklahoma then reclaimed possession and managed to burn 3:19 before punting the ball away. Nebraska would, therefore, open its final series from its own 27, with 2:37 on the clock. That final drive looked like this:

Taylor hits Grant Mulkey for 9 yards. NU is at its own 36.
Taylor’s pass was incomplete.
On third-and-one at the 36. Taylor picks up the first down with a 2-yard rush.
First down at NU’s 38. False start penalty.
First-and-14 at the 34. Taylor is sacked for a loss of seven.
Second and 21 at the 27. Taylor is pressured and the pocket collapses. He manages to find some room and hurries a throw deep down field. His rushed toss overshoots a wide open Nate Swift who would have walked into the endzone.

Of this play, Taylor would later say:

“I think that play will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s tough. He was open, and just a little too much adrenaline, I guess. I would love to take that play back, but that’s football.”

Instead the drive continued.

Third and 21 at the NU 27. Taylor completes a 19-yard pass to I-back Cory Ross at the NU 46. Five yard penalty – Ineligible man downfield..
Third and 26 at the NU 22.Taylor throws incomplete to Frantz Hardy.
Fourth and 26 at the Husker 22. Taylor is sacked for the ninth (are you kidding me?) and final time.

Key Statistics

Final Score: Oklahoma 31 – Nebraska 24
NU Rushing: 34 carries – 16 yards (I-Backs: 18 carries – 31 yards)
NU Passing: 26-46-2, 267 yards

Scripted Plays (First 20 play calls):
7 Runs/13 Passes (First 5 drives were all 3 and out)
Total Yards: 49
First Downs: 2
Points: 3

1st Down Run/Pass Balance:
9 runs/24 passes


· I would rather us not show up at all than produce just 16 yards rushing this year.

· Speaking of our running game, it looks like BJax will once again carry the load. Both Marlon Lucky (back) and Cody Glenn (foot) are questionable. Unfortunately, our two healthy backs have both shown a propensity for fumbles. We have to have a positive turnover margin to win.

· With a non-existent running attack, take a look at Callahan’s first down play calls from a year ago. So do we see more balance this year on 1st down or a run-heavy split instead?

· I fully expect us to get off to a better start this year. Last year OU became the third straight opponent to score on its first drive against the Blackshirts. This season most fans are probably more concerned about another 2nd half collapse.

· Oklahoma has been known for its aggressive, attacking defense. I like that their secondary may have to avoid selling out on the run this year, due to concerns about trick plays.

· Finally, we have to keep Zac Taylor clean (and alive) this year. The offensive line is still banged up, but ought to protect him better than a year ago. Something to keep an eye on is how Taylor responds to poor protection or early troubles getting into a rhythm. Teams that keep him off balance early on have had pretty good success.

Random OU Memories

November 28, 2006

I’m not going to go into the Nebraska – Oklahoma rivalry with the same gusto as I did with the CU series. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the amazing history these two teams have.

First we have a video of Keith Jackson’s 88-yard touchdown on an end-around in 1985. In case you had forgotten how slow our teams in the 80s were, this should help. This is a tight end absolutely blowing by the Blackshirts!

So, lets get some discussion going. What is your favorite/least favorite Nebraska – Oklahoma memory? Bonus points for mentioning Elvis Peacock or Neil Harris.