That was . . . brutal. The domination was absolute and devastating. And it raises questions, and rightfully so, about the direction of the Nebraska football program. In the end, your thoughts probably depend on your opinion on Bo Pelini. As Tom Shatel points out in the World-Herald, there are three distinct camps of Husker fans. The "Bo-lievers" who think Bo is the right answer for Nebraska. The "Bo's-gotta-go" camp, who think Bo's exactly the wrong coach for Nebraska. And the rest, who sit in the middle, who'll accept Bo as long as Nebraska keeps winning.
The comeback wins have thrilled the first camp, pleased the third, and undoubtely frustrated those in the second. All ready to pounce on Pelini, they've been shut down with each victory. And after last night's game, two months of pent-up "Bo's Gotta Go" venom was ready to be unleashed.
For the record, I'm a member of the first camp. The man's won nine-plus games every year in his career. That doesn't mean that there aren't issues that Pelini needs to start addressing. But calling for Pelini to be fired is sheer idiocy. Some probably did it last night out of frustration, and that's natural. Only a lunatic could call for Pelini's firing with a straight face today. The man wins 70% of his games. When schools fire coaches who win like Pelini, you end up with coaches like Bill Callahan. And that's if you are lucky. You might get Rich Rodriguez. Or Charlie Weis. Or Tim Beckman. You could hit the jackpot and hire an Urban Meyer or Kevin Sumlin...but history has shown that it's easier to make a bad hire than a good one. And once you start firing coaches, it becomes easier and easier to do over and over and over again. And the churn is never good, because the program never gets a chance to recover unless a coach strikes gold right away.
That doesn't mean that the Nebraska football program is perfect right now. Wisconsin handed us 70 reasons why that's not the case. Pelini got outschemed and outcoached by Bret Bielema in the Big Ten championship game. There are several explanations that account for some of it: Wisconsin had three weeks to focus on Nebraska, knowing that winning the trophy meant more than winning any other game on their schedule. They knew what didn't work from the September game, and were able to look for other things to exploit. Baker Steinkuhler's injury opened up new options for Wisconsin as well; they rightly expected Nebraska to overcompensate up the middle, and that left the perimeter open for exploiting. It was death by a dozen jet sweeps. Bielema knew he had found a weakness in Pelini, and he took advantage.
And that's something that Pelini needs to address. Pelini can come up with great game plans and schemes, but the last couple of seasons, we've seen breakdowns in execution and and shocking lack of ability to respond to what others are able to do. That goes on him, and his assistant coaches. Has Pelini's staff been a little to insular, preferring to hire inexperienced assistant coaches that can't bring different perspectives to the discussion. That's definitely a fair criticism.
Changes in Lincoln are needed, and I believe will happen. It won't be a blood-letting, as some would hope. I expect Pelini's changes will be handled gently. Remember how Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore were gently jettisoned after the 2010 season? Something similar is bound to happen this offseason.
So grab a strong coffee and your barf bag...it's time to review the Huskers debacle against Wisconsin.
QB: Taylor Martinez didn't play a great game, but he was far from the biggest problem. It's a shame that the defense will overwhelm one of the greatest runs in Nebraska football history.
That being said, Martinez lost his composure in the pocket while under duress and misfired multiple times in the second half. That's not all on him, but there were plays there to be made against Wisconsin's aggressive defense...and he didn't do it. Grade: C+
RB: Biggest complaint I had with the offensive gameplan was the lack of Rex Burkhead. 11 carries? 5 for Ameer Abdullah? Considering how Wisconsin was gashing the Huskers, I would have liked to have seen Burkhead used more. Some of that was by design with Martinez keeping on the zone read, granted, but there were opportunities missed there. Grade: B
WR: Biggest negative was Kenny Bell deflecting the first pass of hte game to Marcus Cromartie, who was so shocked to see the ball in his hands it took him a couple of seconds to realize he could score easily. I missed Jamal Turner's big run due to having to deal with kids, but I did see endless replays of Kenny Bell's wipeout block on Devin Smith. Glad to see he's OK, but I can't believe that the officials threw a flag on that play. Especially when the officials refused to eject, let alone penalize, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland for piledriving Taylor Martinez. later on. Grade: B-
OL: Wisconsin's unorthodox defensive line with no tackles completely discombobulated the Huskers up front. Chalk that up to another wrinkle designed by Wisconsin, this time to exploit Cole Pensick in his first start at center. It led to mass chaos on the line as the line had no idea who to block, letting multiple blitzing linebackers into the backfield. It backfired badly for Wisconsin the first time they ran it, and wasn't terribly effective the second. But they kept running it, and inexplicably, Nebraska got worse and worse in being able to handle it as the game went on. Grade: D-
DL: Any questions on how well Baker Steinkuhler had been playing the last half of the season were answered in Indianapolis. The line couldn't get off blocks, and the Badgers had an easy path to the corner on every perimeter play. Grade: F
LB: They were sucked inside to help out the defensive line on run support, and thus were AWOL when Wisconsin went wide. Sean Fisher seemed to play a little less horribly than the rest of the linebackers, FWIW. Grade: F
Secondary: Oh dear. Not since the Cosgrove days have I seen such poor run support. Daimion Stafford had multiple tries to corral Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball and came up with nothing but air and FieldTurf. P.J. Smith found himself on the bench, replaced by Courtney Osborne. Ciante Evans must have been watching some highlights of the 1996 Fiesta Bowl as he tried multiple times to tackle the ball instead of the ball carrier...and with the same results that Florida had in that game. The game film on this probably can be set to "Yakety Sax"...but it's not funny in the least. Grade: 0.00
Overall: F Not even close on this one.
Elsewhere in College Football
Fox: D Flying your "A" crew on a red-eye from the Bay Area to Indianapolis led to a disjointed broadcast. Gus Johnson might have been the only person remotely following the game who didn't think Wisconsin had the game locked up early in the third quarter. The normally insightful Charles Davis forgot that it's legal for Rex Burkhead to throw a forward pass when he's still behind the line of scrimmage. Julie Alexandria was her usual vapid self on the sidelines, and with all the money that Fox is spending to televise these games, can't they find someone to teach Petros Papadakis how to tie his necktie? He looked like the uncle who you have to cajole into wearing a tie to a wedding or a funeral. When the highlight of your broadcast is Erin Andrews' sensitive reporting of the deaths of Jovan Belcher and Rick Majerus, you know something's not right.
Georgia: D- When you have the ball on the opponents eight yard line with no timeouts and 15 seconds left, every throw has to be into the end zone. That little brain-fart cost the Dawgs a national title.
Indianapolis Fans: 0 Did ANYBODY from the 317 even bother to buy tickets, let alone show up for the game? If fans in Indy don't care, then the Big Ten should follow the Pac-12 model and let the best team host. Yes, I know they had empty seats on the Farm, but that's typical Stanford football fans for you.