In the early 1990's, some Husker fans were fed up with Tom Osborne. His teams were getting smoked regularly...and especially in bowl games, where Osborne was in the midst of a seven game losing streak. The student newspaper in Lincoln, the Daily Nebraskan, even called for Osborne to step down. We all know what happened next: the greatest run in modern college football history. From 1993 to 1997, Nebraska went 60-3 and claimed three national championships.
I mention that not to suggest that Nebraska's problems from 20 years ago are the same as what Nebraska faces today. 20 years ago, Nebraska was still winning conference championships and playing in bowl games that today would be considered at the "BCS level". Today, Husker fans would be happy to have those problems. The point is not that Husker fans should simply shut up with criticism or not be concerned..but rather Husker fans shouldn't act rashly out of frustration.
Husker fans should be frustrated and disappointed by the state of Nebraska football at the halfway point of the 2012 season. Some will call for somebody to be held "accountable" for what has happened. That's the wrong attitude to take. Holding someone accountable means you are looking for someone to punish. Nebraska doesn't need to find someone to be held responsible for what happened last night, Nebraska needs someone to take responsibility to fix the problems that exist. So in this edition of the report card, I'm hoping to look a little bit at how Nebraska needs to move forward.
The bad news is that at this point, I don't see any magic solutions that will transform the 2012 season; the problems that ail Husker football go deeper than that. These problems need more than just a band-aid. They also don't require a complete gutting of the program either. There are some major deficiencies in the program that must be addressed after the season.
QB: A few shrill voices are calling for the benching of Taylor Martinez today. Martinez didn't play well against Ohio State, but not as badly as some might think. Four turnovers is bad, mind you...but lets credit Bradley Roby for making some remarkable plays as well. Martinez still completed 60% of his passes in the game, and did a better job of hitting players in stride than he did against Wisconsin. And more importantly for those people calling for Martinez to be benched: who should have come in? Ron Kellogg III? No. Tommy Armstrong? Burn his redshirt? C'mon. Brion Carnes? No, no, no. Martinez is the quarterback whether you like it or not. Did his fundamentals regress on that third interception? Yes...but when the offensive line is a sieve, Martinez didn't have time to set his feet properly. Grade: D+
RB: Rex Burkhead was the offensive hero of the game. He still lacks that fourth gear to separate and finish off those long runs, but nobody runs harder than Rex. But when I saw the training staff checking his ACL, I could help but try to Google whether he might still qualify for a medical redshirt. Could be very close since Burkhead has played in four games; the NCAA guideline is 30% of the season...or 3.6 games. Ameer Abdullah ran well, but would be well advised to take a knee when fielding a kick in the end zone. That's cost Nebraska the last two weeks. Grade: A-
WR: Kenny Bell had a great game, though ESPN's Todd Blackledge wondered if the second interception was the result of a miscommunication between Martinez and Bell. Jamal Turner did a nice job, especially trying to make that catch on the sideline. Overall, a good performance. I understand why Nebraska wants to throw the ball; get the ball in the hands of these playmakers. But maybe Tim Beck needs to try more reverses or laterals with these players rather than making the offensive line try to pass protect. Grade: A-
OL: Ouch. It all starts up front, and that's where yesterday's problems all started. Start at tackle, where Ohio State's John Simon came in untouched several time. Center Justin Jackson still struggles with getting the snap off. I've tried to be patient with the offensive line and Barney Cotton, but at a certain point, the explanations start becoming excuses...and if we're already not past that point, we're getting awfully close. I don't know if it's coaching. I don't know if it was past mistakes in recruiting. I don't know if it's a problem with training and conditioning. It may be "all of the above" for all I know. But Nebraska is no where near where the Huskers need to be up front. Something needs to change here, and the change needs to be a fundamental change. Grade: F
DL: Like with the offensive line, it starts up front, and unless Nebraska is selling out with a blitz, the Husker defense can't generate any pressure up front. Those Wildcat snaps to Carlos Hyde illustrate the point perfectly. You knew Hyde wasn't going to throw the ball, yet Ohio State still muscled out 5-6 yards up the middle each and every time. All those points on the offensive line listed above apply here. Maybe it's time to just go ahead and give the young guys like Avery Moss and Aaron Curry more playing time and take our lumps. Rick Kaczenski has only been here one year; these problems predated him. Grade: F
LB: They weren't out of position as much as against UCLA, but the linebackers weren't effective enough. Again, I would have liked to have seen David Santos have gotten a shot to corral Braxton Miller and Hyde sooner in the game. Was that Alonzo Whaley throwing a pick to hold up Josh Mitchell on a long pass play? Grade: D
Secondary: I liked the idea of getting Stanley Jean-Baptiste on the field to try and cover Jake Stonebruner. But if you need size, why send Josh Mitchell out at the other corner position? In any event, Ohio State's tight ends had a field day. Some reports had P.J. Smith really struggling in his run support; I get the feeling he might have been one of those guys Pelini was unhappy about missing his assignments. Grade: D
Overall: F We've seen this same sad movie before this season. Maybe Ohio State is the best team that Nebraska will face this season. But when you look at Cal's blowout of UCLA, you have to figure that Nebraska's schedule is full of teams that can beat Nebraska. Doesn't mean "will beat"...but there are a lot of "L"'s possible from here on out if things don't improve. The good news is that there are also a lot of "W"s possible as well.
Elsewhere in College Football
LSU: F Les Miles has a lot more things to chew on than Kentucky bluegrass.
Auburn: 0 Yikes. That could have been John L. Smith's death throes (remember Bill Callahan's final K-State game?), but even so. Yowza.
Iowa State: A+ Once again, Iowa State should be "SO PROUD". How can an athletic director be so bad with his first choice of a football coach, then so good after getting a mulligan?
B1G: F Nobody in the Coaches Top 25 Poll? Nobody? Yikes.