Saturday's 63-38 blowout loss to Ohio State raises far more questions about Bo Pelini than it answered. Except, of course, for the people who have already written him off. Hot seat? Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald looked at it this weekend and said "No...but..."
Do I think Bo Pelini is on the hot seat now? No.
Are there warning signs of trouble to come if certain issues aren't resolved? You better believe it, especially when veteran scribes from outside the area who know how a coach's lifespan plays out start asking questions.
The events of last week simply do not line up well for Pelini's future. A lot of people are trying to infer meaning out of Pelini's "win out" comments, thinking it's a statement of desperation. It may be desperation, but it may also be acknowledging an uncertain future realistically.
A CornNation contributor responded with a very insightful point to my post-Ohio State review that illustrated something that simply isn't being discussed:
With T.O.'s retirement, Bo's lost his political cover, and he's not on good terms with Chancellor Perlman. Politically, the knives will be out.
I think Bo knows this, too. There was a little something behind that "we've gotta win out" comment at the post game presser. IMO, he knows he's "on the clock."
Bo Pelini was here in 2003, and was eyewitness to the soap opera that was Steve Pederson's treatment of Frank Solich. He sees the warning signs and is well aware that any new athletic director wants to have "his guys" in place and wants to put "his stamp" on the program. Perlman went outside the program for a hire, and Pelini is going to have to deal with the repercussions of that. Pelini knows the only way to avoid that conversation is to get to Indianapolis and play in the Big Ten championship game. If Nebraska goes 10-2, it's practically impossible to fire Bo Pelini. Steve Pederson proved you could fire a coach for going 9-3. Win 10 games, and Pelini retains the upper hand in any issues with Shawn Eichorst. Lose again, and that edge disappears.
It's going to take more than just saying "win out" to make that happen. Sam McKewon of the World-Herald had a bunch of suggestions. It has to start with his defense. He has to find 11 guys to have on the field who can be reliable to not make the mistakes that happened on Saturday night. And he has to put them in positions to do just that. We saw a little bit of that against Arkansas State by moving Eric Martin around on the field. This bye week comes a very good time to sit back and tinker with the system. Pelini is a firm believer in his system and his process, and that might be the right plan long term. It isn't working in the short-term. Playing Stanley Jean-Baptiste last week was a good decision last week; when I was going through the photos of the Ohio State game, you would not believe the number of times he stood out. There's one member of the defense that you build on. Is it time to give a Harvey Jackson more playing time at safety? Maybe Courtney Osborne will be recovered from injury enough to contribute as well.
Up front, maybe it's time for a youth movement. More snaps for David Santos, perhaps? How about Avery Moss? Who knows, maybe a crash course could have Todd Peat ready to fight through traffic better. Start this week with a clean slate with no preconceived notions of who should and shouldn't be playing. And mold a defensive strategy around those best players.
On offense, two things stand out that need to be fixed: offensive line blocking and ball security by Taylor Martinez. You can't bench Martinez; there simply isn't an acceptable plan B there short of burning Tommy Armstrong's redshirt. And that can't be an option either. So you've got to work with him on holding the ball in the pocket... And on the offensive line, change the passing game so that Martinez isn't getting blindsided like he's been. More three step drops, more quick passes. Rollouts. And most importantly, less passing. If Rex Burkhead is ready to go for Northwestern, there's no need to wing the ball as much as Tim Beck has seemed inclined to. Get Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell involved on reverses. Utilize Turner as a Wildcat quarterback to loosen things up. And pound away with Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah.
Nebraska didn't play well against Ohio State, but there are six winnable games in front of the Huskers. There aren't any mulligans available for this team. Michigan has to come to Lincoln and Michigan State's offense is still one of the biggest infernos in a dumpster fire of a conference. Winning out is not beyond the realm of possibility, as long as Saturday night represents the low point of the season.
Should there be a sense of urgency? There has to be.