No Nebraska fan is particularly pleased with an 8-4 record in 2013. Some are accepting of it, considering the circumstances of injuries. Others are not, and were very vocal about wanting wholesale changes. Shawn Eichorst has made it rather clear that's not happening. So what should happen?
Before we do that, we should look a little deeper into what went right for Nebraska football in 2013. The entire CornNation team sat down and gave us their thoughts on the good things that we saw this season. In subsequent parts, we'll look at what went wrong and what needs to be changed.
So what went right in 2013?
Depth. This team wasn't one of the greats, but they were in every game that they played and that can be attributed to having the depth needed to handle injuries. Now, would they have been better this year without the injuries? Probably, but they were competitive each week. People may complain about our recruiting or our offensive line staff, but for the injuries they sustained there, the reserves came in and played well. Speaking of being in every game, there were no blowouts this year. Well, at least they didn't give up 60-70 points. The defense got better throughout the year, but we need to get to the point that they can come out of fall camp ready to play a big game.
The defense. They were expected to struggle but the strides they made in November give me a lot of hope. With the pickup of Clinkscales, this DL will finally have depth and talent, which we've lacked one or the other since Suh played for Nebraska. The secondary's impending depth depletion needs to be addressed, but if Nebraska can do that, we can expect a top 20 defense next season and beyond.
Ameer Abdullah. Give him a solid offensive line for an entire season and he'll earn a place on the wall next to Suh.
I do think the defense made huge strides from September to November. The scoreboard didn't reflect that due to the short fields that Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa scored with, but the stat sheet certainly did. Finished the regular season tied for 37th in total defense, where they were down near the bottom in September. And with so many redshirt freshmen returning on the two deep, that's got to excite you.
I also thought some of the backup offensive linemen did OK down the stretch. That's a good trial for 2014 when they'll have to play, due to graduation losses.
There has to be a positive feeling about how well the offensive line did towards the end of season despite many injuries. Nebraska largely kept its offense rolling (save turnovers) and a number of young guys got valuable experience.
Offensive line was also my big positive. That group was pretty destroyed injury wise, had tons of new faces, yet John Garrison has them playing very well. Very encouraging for the future. If they had been healthy for Abdullah all season who knows what could've happened.
Reading up above was the interesting part. Despite what was a pretty depressing year at times, everyone seems to acknowledge a great deal of improvement in major areas. I would parrot the answers of O-line and defense overall. I also thought in-game defensive adjustments improved by the end of the year from abysmal to at least mediocre even if we weren't exactly going up against Oregon & Baylor.
As far as a 2013 improvement, I'll step out on a limb and say recruiting - and throw a dash of 2012 in there as well. I know recruiting has been a major complaint under Bo, but it's hard to ignore the fact that the last two classes have shown up on the field QUICKLY. Maybe we can argue just what the definition of the word is, but by my count, TWENTY saw "significant" playing time this year.
I counted 13 out of the 2012 class in that number. Out of a total of 17. I don't know if there's a benchmark for what's considered a successful recruiting class, but if 76% of them are logging meaningful minutes by the end of their second year, that's pretty solid, right? And 7 true frosh from the 2013 group logged minutes immediately with several more supposedly impressing to the point that observers say they'll be in the mix next year.
Did injuries, holes in the depth chart, etc. play into that? Of course, but still. I feel like more credit is due here than is being given.
First off, I didn't think that the DL would be this much better than they were last year at this time. Hats off to Kaz and the staff for not only getting players in here, but putting up true competition and making this a complete group that should get much better with attrition and recruiting this year. Second, I'm going to say that Ameer Abdullah and his season this year is probably one of the best performances by a Nebraska RB in the history of the program. I say this because not only is the OL a walking MASH unit all year, there wasn't the threat of Taylor Martinez to help him out. Folks knew in the last 6 games that Ameer was getting the ball and, outside of the Iowa game, they couldn't really stop him.
Reminder, this is part one. Part two will focus on what went wrong and a third part will focus on what needs to change. So friends, what went right in 2013?