It was a great performance all-around by our boys on Saturday. I was especially impressed by the defense. See? This is what happens when you adjust schemes for the players and come out aggressive, with a "Come At Me Bro" style. Constantly imposing your will on the offense instead of sitting back playing contain and hoping that the offense makes a mistake or two makes it much more likely an offense folds like a lawn chair. To be honest, I would've liked to see more blitzing and outright general mayhem perpetrated by our defense (third downs were still an issue early on when Denard Robinson was in) rather than playing more contain (which we did.) Basically, what the defense did against Malloy, I would've liked to see us do against Denard every down. But hey, we held them to under 200 yards, shoved a nice sized boot 16 inches up Michigan's ass and got a big win. Can't argue with that.
Ok, so now that the accolades are out of the way, I've been asked by several friends, colleagues, and others about the future of this team. Big questions like: Are we going to win out? Is Bo safe? Where has this defense been all year? I will attempt to address them all and hopefully give you a bit more insight into what the future holds.
1.) Can we go undefeated the rest of the way?
A tough question to answer to be sure. Trying to predict how this team is going to perform on a week to week basis, seems like trying to pick out where on the dart board I'll hit after about 10 Newcastle Ales. Therefore, from now on a few days before the game I shall toss a shiny new quarter into the air and simultaneously yell out a number. If it's heads, we win by that amount. If it's tails, we lose by that amount. Seriously. I think that has about as good of a chance as anything else. This team is consistently inconsistent from week to week and it's maddening and exciting all at the same time.
It's not impossible but that said, I think our chances of going undefeated the rest of the way are slim and our chances of going 0 - 4 are even slimmer than that. If we do lose, I would say that a loss likely comes within the next two weeks. MSU has as stout a defense, if not more so, than Michigan. Their defensive stats are impressive:
#5 in Total Defense
#10 in Scoring Defense
#14 Against the pass
#7 Against the run.
Also, Penn State is playing the best ball they have all year (although they did lose to tOSU). From here on out, I'd say 3 - 1 is most likely. 2 - 2 second, 1 - 3 a distant third and 0 - 4...yeah, I really don't think so. So, 9 - 3 with a trip to the BIG 10 CCG is what we're looking at right now. Who we play...well, that's a damned mystery as well. How do you spell "Indiana?"
2.) Is Bo Pelini's job safe?
As of right now, no doubt about it. So everyone can take a deep breath for the time being and find their zen. We can shelf (or is that shelve?) that talk for the time being. The win on Saturday granted him extra breathing room in Lincoln. Now, is that to say that important people won't be watching the rest of the year? Not at all. A few of those people were still quite unhappy with how Bo handled himself on the sidelines (the sideline foul was the biggest one, for instance). I should say that they understood WHY he blew his stack, but given his history...he's definitely under the microscope when it comes to that behavior. A Texas A&M style meltdown and it probably won't matter what his record is the rest of the way. He'll be gone.
If Bo wins out or goes 3 - 1, he'll be roaming the sidelines in Lincoln next year, no question. After that, things get harder to predict. For instance, 2 - 2 the rest of the way, he would be safe as long as one of those losses wasn't another blow out and no sideline nuclear explosions. Any record worse than that, and we'll likely be right back where we were post OSU...speculating about his replacement.
3.) What about assistant coaches? Are they safe too?
Damon Benning mentioned Saturday night about assistant coaching changes and specifically called out the OL (in fact I think he worded it something like "we're not getting our bang for the buck here".) I agree with what he said. I will also say that he wouldn't be talking about it openly on the air if there wasn't anything to what he said either. There will almost certainly be changes in the off-season, the obvious one being the OL coaching staff. We currently have four (or five, depending on how you count) full to part-time OL coaches (and a consultant) and the amount of frustration (not fan frustration, mind you) related to OL performance here is high. The feeling is strong that they are unable to apply in game what they're being taught.
Another name to watch is Joe Ganz, because as of right now he's a GA. Don't be surprised if he leaves Nebraska for a paid assistant coaching position somewhere else, so that he can continue to gather the necessary experience to move up the coaching ranks.
Bottom line, there is much truth to what Damon said Saturday. If Bo wants to take the next step as the program's leader, he's going to have to make some tough decisions, continually step outside his comfort zone and make some outstanding hires. What does this mean? It means he's going to have to find some great coaches at their respective positions. Coaches with a proven track records that know how to win year after year. And yes, they will most likely have to be guys he personally doesn't know very well. We need experienced and proven assistants and they need to be excellent recruiters. We need at least two more ace recruiters on this staff...guys that aren't afraid to mix it up with the big dogs in the South, hard sell a recruit, and secure a commitment.
4.) So where's that defense been?
Well that's what happens when you change your scheme to better align with your players and come out aggressive and punching fools in the mouth. It was pretty much get up field and wreck shit. I liked the fact that we brought pressure often. I liked the physicality of our DBs. It was excellent. It was something wrought of beauty and violence. I would sincerely hope that this is what we continue to see the rest of the year.
To answer the question...the reason we haven't seen it is because that way of playing is not the way Bo likes to play on defense. Bo is more conservative, I would say largely due to an NFL style mentality, and prefers to sit back and wait for an opportunity. His scheme would work well in the NFL, since talent level and offenses are pretty much equal. It's different in college though, where dual threat QBs reign supreme, running and throwing out of spread offenses and the level of talent is hardly equal. Stepping out of his comfort zone is something he doesn't like to do, but it appears he was able to do so for this game. Again, I sincerely hope he saw what his defense can accomplish against equal, perhaps even better, talent when he adjusts schemes more to his players strengths. I also hope that the defense that played on Saturday is the one we'll see from here on out. If we play that way for the rest of our games, there's no reason we shouldn't be playing in the CCG. Now that I say that, Martinez will probably be hobbled, Ameer will come down with a nasty case of rickets, Kenny Bell's afro falls out and we'll end up inexplicably losing to MSU.
Now, would it have been the same outcome if Shoelace had stayed in though? Obviously, that's impossible to answer. Given how we played on Saturday...if we kept attacking on defense the way we did, I would say that we still would've won, but the outcome would've been much closer.