Chicken Little is alive and well in Husker Nation, so we decided to throw our own thoughts in the ring. I’m a little late to the party, as my invitation apparently got lost in the mail (Ahem), but hopefully my responses will add in some way to the ocean of opinions flooding the Big Red.
1) Assess the Huskers performance this season. What is going well, and what has surprised you?
Maybe more things are going well then most of Husker Nation would like to admit. Our special teams seemed much improved, although I’d still like to see us bust a long return. Cortney Grixby was apparently close last week, but those are the kind of plays that can turn games and even seasons. Another area that is going extremely well is our Red Zone offense. We have currently converted 17/18 (94.4%) red zone opportunities. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the one we failed to convert involved Joe Ganz or Beau Davis taking a knee to run out the clock against Nevada.
For me the biggest surprise is how poorly our offensive line has performed. This is the one area I expected to be much improved. Brett Byford had supposedly blossomed into a solid center, and Lydon Murtha was thought to have “found himself” in the offseason. Our lack of a running game, however, indicates we still have a long way to go before the pipeline is rebuilt. With the seeming lack of progress upfront, I wouldn’t be shocked (nor pleased) if we had to return to the JUCO ranks for another quality lineman. If not we will be counting on some supposedly talented, but inexperienced guys next season.
2) Let’s not sugar coat things; the Blackshirts are struggling. What do you think the issue is, and what needs to be done to rectify things this season?
I think a lack of heart and intensity is one of the major issues with the defense. No one seems to be willing to step up or get in guys’ faces. That creates a great deal of passivity among the Blackshirts.
A second problem looks to be the way the plays are called and signaled into the defense. Cosgrove wants to wait until the offensive personnel is set so that he can make the right situational substitutions and alignments. That’s fine in some respects, but also seems to account for the defensive players lining up, shifting and moving around as the offense puts the ball in play. It’s pretty tough to hold your line, let alone make progress up field, when you were never set in the first place. This one seems entirely correctable.
When you combine the above issues with a linebacking corps that has struggled to get off blocks, not only this year, but also in years past we are finding that offenses are gashing the middle of the Blackshirts.
To rectify things the team just needs to be reminded to play hard and have fun. Listening to Corey McKeon’s comments it’s clear he is no longer having fun. When you stop having fun, your energy level drops and you essentially stop making plays. If I were in charge of the defense, I would sacrifice the poor scout team this week for the good of the season. I’d go back to running Oklahoma drills, goal line reps and other one-on-one hitting and tackling drills. The point is to remind the guys how fun it is to light somebody up. Send some scout team receivers over the middle and let the secondary guys get a bead on the them. Put the ball at the fifty and let two guys race and fight for it at midfield (a la the XFL kickoff). Anything just to increase the fun and aggressiveness of the defense. I believe much of the passivity I see relates to fear and a lack of confidence that relates to being exposed by USC. That fear has paralyzed the system. Guys are holding back out of fear of making mistakes. As a result, I’d introduce the Blackshirts to a new mantra:
“Mistakes are a necessary part of learning. No mistakes – no learning. I’ll make my mistakes fearlessly and aggressively. I’m not playing it safe, holding back, or looking for excuses. I’m going for it – I’ll accept whatever happens and move on. I don’t fear mistakes, I learn from them.”
3) Kevin Cosgrove is the target of a lot of criticism over the play of the Blackshirts. How will this play out?
I think the criticism will continue until we win a national title. This is a pretty educated guess based on what happened with Darlington and McBride during the 80s. Both of those guys were harassed for years because their system was ineffective against Oklahoma, Miami and Florida State. Those teams had a way of making our defenses look slow and unathletic. Ironically, the system magically improved when our defenses became faster and more athletic. The changes ultimately related to the types of players we brought in, rather than a change in philosophy or system. (Ed.- I realize we changed to the 4-3 in the early 90s, but still struggled against certain offenses until the talent caught up).
Unlike many I don’t think Cosgrove is on his way out during or after this season. Nor do I believe that would immediately rectify the concerns on D. If Callahan had any doubts about Cosgrove’s defensive philosophy he would have encouraged him to take the Vikings job last off-season. Do people really think he fires his best friend after said best friend decided to stay on just a year ago? Yes, coaching is a business, but friendships and staff continuity often supercede making tough business decisions. The wildcard could be a directive from Callahan’s boss asking for changes. God help Husker Nation if word leaks of such an edict.
4) You went into this season with some expectations. Has the start to this season changed your mind? Where do you see the Huskers at the end of the season?
The start has had little impact on my overall expectations. I thought we’d be 3-1 at this juncture in the season. I also thought the expectations of others were a little unrealistic given not only our situation, but also that of our opponents (e.g., Missouri’s home field advantage and returning QB). At best I envisioned 10-2. At worst 7-5. In the end we probably end up somewhere in between. But I fully expect the roller coaster ride to continue throughout the season. Yippee!!
5) There was a loud chorus of boos last weekend at Memorial Stadium. Your reaction? Is it okay to boo the Huskers under any circumstance?
I’m sort of indifferent to the booing. I think it flies in the face of our self-applied “greatest fans in college football” label, but that ship had sailed years ago. As a fan, I believe you are entitled to voice your displeasure and booing seems a legitimate option to many. Obviously I’d prefer all 85,000 simply went home and started a blog, but booing is definitely more immediately gratifying. College football is a major spectator sport. There is no way to separate the spectators from the action. If you want fans to cheer on your greatest deeds, you should also be prepared for them to chastise your worst. I also believe that a mentally well-conditioned athlete should be rather immune to fan reactions of any sort. If you are hearing and reacting to the boos, I’d question your focus on the task at hand. Which I suppose if you’ve read the rest of my responses I clearly am.