When a team that's expected to content for a conference title winds up the regular season at 8-4, you know something didn't go right. The easy answer is to blame injuries. And that's certainly a big part of the answer. But even if you factor out the injuries, Nebraska football still had issues in 2013.
In part one, we looked at what went right in 2013. Now, the CornNation team sits down and puts together their thoughts as to where the problems still lie.
The fumbles/turnovers are still a problem. It's plagued us for as long as I can remember, now. I don't understand why our team is the one that makes the mistakes involving turnovers etc. and why we can't create turnovers on defense. I know that it happens every now-and-then, but for Nebraska, it seems to happen almost every single game. What are we doing/not doing on offense to protect the ball? What are we doing/not doing on defense to create turnovers?
Special teams were awful this year, but it's the same strategy that Bo has used in the past. Punt returns are non-existent. Pelini has always sent his best hands back there to make fair catches. I'm ok with a fair catch on every punt, but only if we are putting pressure on the kicker to block the punt every time. I see a bunch of guys out on the field that don't seem to know what they are suppose to do after the ball has been punted in the air. There are some big things missing in this part of the game. When we are punting, it has been a very sub-par year. A lot more shanks than normal and it wasn't the field-position weapon we have gotten use to. As for kicking? We had a few missed extra points, but some clutch kicks were made (Penn State). At Nebraska, perfection is expected in the kicking game.
Quarterback troubles. When I watch our QB's play, I just feel like they are not quite where they should be, especially when I watch opposing teams quarterbacks' play. Is it wrong to have a game manager that gets the ball to playmakers without the mistakes? Cutting down on the turnovers created by our QB would help too. The coaching staff may want to look hard at hiring a QB coach. That could really help us get over that hump.
The injuries were mind-boggling. Are we forgetting or missing something in our training program or is it just dumb luck that we have been so banged up? I think the coaching staff really needs to assess their conditioning program and see if any changes need to be made, especially in regards to keeping players healthy.
All-in-all, I feel like the incredibly conservative game strategy is preventing opportunities that could change the game in our favor. All it takes is a couple mistakes and we are in a hole. This is not new. It's been the MO for Nebraska since they joined the Big Ten. They shouldn't have to come-from-behind every week. Are we being too safe with our game plan?
As far as next year, the future is always bright. This was a young team that should be better next year, but how often do we say that? It would be nice to see us recruit a bit better so that we don't have to put freshman on the field. Obviously you can't see the future, but we are missing a lot on recruiting.
Special teams, offense, conditioning and fan behavior.
Special teams will probably be hammered to depth by my colleagues because I believe it is a universal opinion that they need a change in strategy.
The offense was, simply put, a disappointment. Yes, this unit was plagued by injuries. They still managed to be respectable but when the defense needed their help, they simply couldn't give it. The difference between a six win and an eleven win season was the width of ligaments in Sirles, Cotton and Moudy's limbs, or the length of Martinez' toes. Thankfully, we split the difference.
The unusually high number of injuries points to a weakness in our strength and conditioning. Time to check in with other Big Ten teams and see what they're doing. How does Wisconsin make their concrete blocks of linemen that seemingly never get hurt or tired? Find out and let's stop making excuses for ourselves. We cannot have another season where the team cannot perform at championship level because they've lost the equivalent of a starting lineup to knee sprains.
Finally, fan behavior. I'm not strictly referring to the whining and bickering that we've all taken part in this season and that has made the whole notion of being a Nebraska fan (particularly on the internet) a rather agonizing affair. But fans also, week after week, put the conference down. They buy ESPN's narratives hook, line and sinker (and then turn around and bemoan the lack of love for Nebraska). There is simply no respect for our conference foes. As we saw against Minnesota, that attitude is infectious. Folks, the Big Ten plays a different style of ball than the Big 12. Talent doesn't always win. Purdue Harbor is a thing. It's time we accepted that we're in the Big Ten and that there is no such thing as an inferior opponent until you beat them on the field.
Oh, and fans went after players directly in Twitter, which is really mature.
I'll start with quarterback play. Tommy Armstrong had the opportunity to seize command of the starting quarterback job, and never really did it. He had a relatively solid game against Michigan (which cannot be diminished), but awful performances against Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State. He needs to work on his decision making and his precision; twice, he nearly got Kenny Bell killed by throwing off-target into coverage.
Punt returns became a huge liability. I think the damage from turnovers and lost field position was far worse than any risk of a fake punt. On defense, another cornerback needs to emerge along side Josh Mitchell, because the drop-off after Mitchell is extreme.
What went bad..... we don't have room here for a novel.
Tons went wrong this season. The backup QBs weren't ready to play. The backup RBs also didn't seem ready and/or were a huge drop-off. These are the two most important positions on offense in 2014 and we have one sure thing in Abdullah's senior campaign (on a team that has been senior season injury cursed). Some of the consistent injuries across the board are concerning and might indicate training issues. Some players (ie Randy Gregory) losing drastic amounts of weight over season also show these somewhat hidden, but very real S&C issues.
Special teams were an abomination for the most part. Nebraska might as well not even put a returner back for all the good it was doing. This is a basic part of the game. Teams will punt, and you will field that punt. There is yardage for the taking there. Inexcusable.
Sticking with the Ross Els theme, recruiting died an ugly ugly death in season. Embarrassing lack of usage of official visits during home games (especially the early night games which were scheduled WELL in advance). They are playing catch-up now and we'll see the whole slew of "diamonds-in-the-rough."
The secondary's depth and talent is a major issue going forward and something our recruiting is illustrating. It's stunning to me that our secondary might be a weakness when we finally get our front seven figured out.
I'll back away from saying all of special teams and just go with punting (bad) and punt returns (embarrassing). I'm disappointed in ourselves that things got to me without a Santino Panico joke. Even our jokes about the punting game are subpar.
I can't call the QB's disappointing because injuries were responsible for Taylor and I wasn't disappointed in the backups. I guess I had much lower expectations for Armstrong than most as he performed about how I figured he would & I'd say Kellogg exceeded my expectations.
After all the nice things I said about the last two years recruiting, this years doesn't exactly look as promising. I am pretty fired up about Clinkscales and Farmer, but concussion or not, I've got Darlington in the Armstrong category with an upside of very solid but not spectacular.
The most disappointing thing to me is still the staff makeup. If I crapped on Callahan for refusing to send Cosgrove packing, I'd be hypocritical not to hold Pelini to the same standard. Loyalty is a wonderful quality and the players obviously feed off of that. However, when it comes to staff decisions, the loyalty has to be to what is best for the kids and the program. Keeping buddies on staff with who didn't do their jobs well is not best for the program. Promoting them to positions for which they are not qualified and letting them train on the job while being mentored is not best for the program.
Tightening up the staff to make sure that we have the best qualified individuals that we can get in each coaching position is, to me, the most critical issue facing this team and I believe it plays into many of the issues listed above.
I can't really add on to whatever has been said above me. Injuries and Special Teams that were a flat out embarrassment this year just didn't help. I personally thought the WR and TE groups underachieved this year, not because they did bad but for what was touted of them in the preseason, being the "Best WR group in the Big Ten". Granted, the QB revolving door didn't help, but then again I kinda expected more out of Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa at times, and Jamal Turner needs to find a way to stay healthy and on the field. It was nice seeing Jordan Westerkamp become a guy that was dependable on the field and known more than just the Hail Mary catch.
Reminder, this is part two, focusing on the problems. Part three will focus on what needs to change. So friends, what problems did you see in 2013?