Did Pelini Rediscover the Husker Defensive Mojo?

Eric Francis - Getty Images

Just like it was a mistake to dismiss Pelini's defensive prowess after the UCLA game, it's too soon to proclaim all is well after defeating Wisconsin. The big question is whether Nebraska will regain it's confidence on defense and whether they can build on this performance.

It was a good defensive performance against Wisconsin. Not great, mind you. But a good performance, especially in the second half when the Huskers shut down the Badgers offense. 27 points is a lot to give up, but remember that 14 points came off two turnovers deep in Nebraska territory. Still, considering how Nebraska performed against UCLA, it is an improvement. Bo Pelini took a lot of criticism over his defense after that game - and deservedly so. Most of it was spot on, but some of it went a touch too far.

So I guess it was only inevitable that in the postgame Wisconsin press conference, Pelini would bring it up:

I'm concerned with some of the things we gave up in the passing game, especially in some situations where we were right there to make some plays. We had some tough calls as far as some interference things and that kind of thing. I thought we did some good things. Contrary to what you guys think, I haven't forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run."

Did Pelini need to bring that up? Probably not, but one thing we've learned about Pelini has a bit of a thin skin when it comes to criticism. When someone says something that he disagrees with, he's not afraid to respond. But let's not mistake Pelini's statement for braggadocio; Pelini didn't talk up his game either. He was calling for a little balance. Don't overhype Nebraska's defensive performance against Wisconsin, just like don't go overboard in criticizing him when things go south. (Or way south, like against UCLA.) Wisconsin's offense has had it's struggles this season, so it really shouldn't surprise anybody that the defense played well.

Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald found the statement odd:

Contrary to what Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said after his team's 30-27 win against Wisconsin, I doubt pundits and critics think he forgot how to coach defense. They doubted he had 11 guys to execute his scheme to great efficiency.

Which is a statement I found odd. I distinctly remember reading at least one big headline that said that Pelini had lost it after the UCLA game. So I enlisted the Google, and sure enough, it only took two clicks to find it.

Saturday's loss says many things about a program striving for a championship. It also says something about the man in charge — and his mysterious regression as a defensive guru.

I do find it amusing that McKewon apparently doesn't read what Dirk Chatelain writes. McKewon is easily the best hire the World-Herald has made in their sports department in recent years; Chatelain is, well, I won't say it. To compare writers to college football analysts, McKewon is akin to Fox's Charles Davis as Chatelain's is to Craig James (or maybe Artie Gigantino instead). But I digress...

Chatelain had more to say, though:

But it's too easy to say Nebraska doesn't have enough talent. Talent is hard to define.

People questioned Nebraska's defensive talent in 2002 and '07, too. Then Bo came in and went to work. He made players!

Where is that teaching now? Where is that development?

Both writers have a point; Pelini's defense could stand another playmaker or two up front. But do you recruit them or develop them? The answer is, of course, both. Ndamukong Suh was just another defensive tackle prior to Pelini's arrival in Lincoln. But in year five, these are Pelini's players...any shortcomings are his responsibility now. But talent development has a long latency. Mistakes in recruiting and development typically don't manifest themselves for a couple of years. Pelini has since changed up his recruiting and nearly all of his defensive coaches. Is that an excuse? Is there something in the cupboard to be optimistic about long term?

Maybe. But for now, Nebraska is trying to assemble a defense that can win a woeful Big Ten conference in 2012. Beating Wisconsin doesn't mean the Blackshirts are back. That's not quite as silly as stating that Pelini has regressed as a defensive guru. The truth is somewhere in between. Pelini is an excellent defensive coach working through a slump. Odds are that eventually this will work itself out.

The big question is whether it will be this season.

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