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Editorial: Stop Making Excuses Out of Pelini's Honesty

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Tuesday's conference call provided some late afternoon fodder for the media. Why?

Gregory Shamus

In case you weren't aware, Nebraska lost their game Saturday night in hair-pulling fashion. In the aftermath, Pelini indicated that the offensive line hadn't played well enough, a point on which we can all agree. Unfortunately for Pelini's program, Nebraska has a bye this week. Which means we're all panicking for stories. Or something.

And Tuesday's conference call provided a wonderful flurry of opinion-making, culminating a Twitter-loving grousefest by Jason Peter on Big Red Warmup. But was it really worth the "outrage"? Was it worth commenting on?

I don't really think so, based on my listening. (Honestly, bigger issues abound. Like the weird propensity for Nebraska to bring the wrong mindset to big games like this past Saturday's.)

But hey, judge for yourself.

Here are my transcribed notes of the relevant exchanges from Bo Pelini's conference calls. (Link to the conference call audio.)

***

Bo Pelini Conference Call

Time: 2:56

Third Question:

Sam McKewon, Omaha World Herald: Hey Bo, um, did you get a clarification from your center and Tommy about what the, what the disparity was between the snaps and why they were struggling with that in the second half?

Bo Pelini: Uh, there were a couple of times when the opposing team clapped. And uh, and you know our center heard a clap and so he snapped the football.

McKewon: Is that something that you uh (garbled)

Pelini: (Interrupting) That's something I'll talk to the uh, to the league office about.

Time: 5:46

Fourth Question:

Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune: Hey Bo, Just wondering, what is the rule, are their defensive players not allowed to clap or to do something that purposefully throws off the offense?

Bo Pelini: Yeah, the rule that you can't do anything that, uh, intentionally that uh, that is to signify uh, a uh, you know, like a to simulate a snap or to simulate a snap count. And it didn't happen a lot but it happened a few times and you know, that isn't the first time it ever happened, and uh, the first time Michigan State isn't the first team to ever do that. Uh, but you know (garbled) you would hope that they would catch it and uh, but you know, it went past it and uh, when you make an adjustment to make sure it doesn't happen again, gotta make sure we're on the same page.

Greenstein: Got it, thank you.

Pelini: Thank you.

Other topics discussed in conference call:

-          Unacceptable offensive line play: bad techniques, lack of communication, misreads of defense

-          Rotation is handled by Garrison (Pelini certainly seemed annoyed about this but didn't lay into Garrison's failure here)

-          Tempo: Would've liked to have better tempo. At some points in the game, officials were drying the ball, preventing Nebraska from snapping the ball.

Seems innocuous enough to me - Pelini was asked about the errant snaps, offered an explanation and answered another question about whether or not defensive players are allowed to clap. Nothing too controversial - Pelini wants to be on the same page with the conference so Nebraska can make the necessary adjustments on the snap count going forward. Fair, no?

And surprisingly, it was hardly the only thing discussed. And if you're asking why he didn't bring it up on Saturday, that's because no one asked about it. Considering the slow adjustment to the issue, Pelini likely would've said that he needed to review the tape.

But honestly, at this point, the story should be dead. Little more than a bullet point on someone's listicle. But no, it has to grow just a little bit, because Pelini answered a question honestly.

***

Mark Dantonio Conference Call

6:34

Teddy Greenstein: Hey coach, Bo Pelini was on and he was saying they were going to talk the Big Ten office about defensive players clapping that threw off their snap count. Now is that something you try to have your guys avoid doing? Do you think it happened in that game at all?

Mark Dantonio: Yeah, we have different ways to move our front. Okay so some of that is in clapping some of that is other, all kinds of hand signals for us. I think what happened was you heard a snap and your center was not looking at the quarterback when he snaps the ball. Maybe that's a way that they normally do it but in an environment like we had here, he needs to look at the quarterback, I guess, I don't know. But, we're moving our people and so from my perspective we have the opportunity to move our people any way we want.

Greenstein: Got it.

Hrm. That certainly doesn't seem as bitey as the media made it out to be. Seems like Dantonio is offering an explanation as to why his players are doing the Macarena before the snap. Answering Teddy's question. That's about it. (Probably more annoyed that Greenstein was asking about that instead of Purdue, to be honest.)

Oh, and in case you were curious, Dantonio thinks the Big Ten's strong defensive credentials are a credit to the coaching, not a sign of bad offenses. Also, he thinks Purdue is exciting. You are now judging him. But hey, points for trying.

Anyways, was it a little bit snarky to indicate that Pelini the Younger should be looking back at his QB before the snap? Probably. (Though he's probably right.)

***

The Rule

I do want to note that it's curious that Dantonio would openly admit his players were clapping on purpose. If you read the rule, as written, that seems to be an admission of intent, which means the Spartans will likely get a nastygram from the league offices (but we'll never know).

But determining intent on the field? That's the kicker, isn't it? Isn't that why they combined the two face-mask rules, removing any ambiguity about the penalty?

Here's the rule from the NCAA's rulebook:

Rule 7. Snapping and Passing the Ball.

SECTION 1. The Scrimmage

ARTICLE 5. The defensive team requirements are as follows:

a. Each of the following (1-5) is a dead ball foul. Officials should blow the
whistle and not allow the play to continue. After the ball is ready for play
and before the ball is snapped:

3. No player shall use words or signals that disconcert opponents when
they are preparing to put the ball in play. No player may call defensive
signals that simulate the sound or cadence of (or otherwise interfere
with) offensive starting signals.


PENALTY Dead-ball foul. Five yards from the succeeding spot [S18
or S21].

(Emphasis mine.)

So was it intentional? As we see above from Dantonio's comments, Michigan State does mix up their hand signals so as not to be in a situation where the other team can, you know, figure them out. (GASP.) It would be curious that they'd choose to use the clapping adjustment against a team that uses claps for their snap count, but it would be very, very difficult for a referee, on the field, to determine intent from that, especially since after some claps there was adjustment on the line. Without a clear intent to disrupt, can a referee make that call? I don't think they can. One could argue that Nebraska's use of clapping makes it unavailable to Michigan State, but at the end of the day, Nebraska should've adjusted far earlier than they did (if indeed they did).

***

Without a clear intent to disrupt, can a referee make that call? I don't think they can.

Moving On

At the end of the day, I don't think there is bad blood between Pelini and Dantonio on this. Maybe Pelini's a little frustrated, but there's no story here. It's an administrative detail that's being/been addressed. He simply wanted to know what the rule on that is and how it is applied. Nebraska can't make adjustments if they don't know what they're adjusting against. (If you don't think other teams will try the same trick, I've got real estate in Florida to sell you.)

As I understand it, coaches make inquiries to the league office on a regular basis. It's part of preparing your team. I realize that the easy thing to do here is to overreact and suggest Pelini is using this as an excuse.

He's not. He's indicating that's why Pelini the Younger was snapping the ball. Recall that after the game, Pelini also said that the offensive line will be re-evaluated. Any suggestion that Nebraska won't look at going with Reeves against Northwestern is simply falling back on the age-old Pelini favoritism criticism.

The real take-away here is not "excuse making". The thing you should be upset about is that Nebraska failed to, at least initially, to realize that the center was getting thrown off by the Spartan Macarena and to adjust for that.

(Heck, why did Nebraska's offensive staff think a clap count was a good idea? Just because Taylor Martinez liked it doesn't mean we should continue to use it. It's time to pick a new approach to the snap count.)

At the end of the day, this is something that can be corrected for and one would hope the team does so. If they don't, well, I look forward to watching every defense from here on out doing the Macarena.

But this wasn't worth losing your mind over. Or dragging out the old "Bo Stay/Bo Go" war. (We need a catchy name for this.)

Bo Pelini wasn't making an excuse. Bo Pelini wasn't explaining away the offensive line's problems. He was offering an explanation for why Pelini the Younger had a bad night. In the same conference talk, he put the rotation problems on John Garrison and admitted that the offensive line utterly and completely failed.

What the hell else do you guys want him to do? Provide a point-by-point plan for how he's fixing everything? Fire everyone and hire Tom Osborne and whomever is available from his old offensive staff?

I'm just going to say this: we cannot complain about coaches using coach speech and then turn around and vilify them every time they're honest. If a coach offers up an honest, genuine response to a question, is that really something we should discourage, just because we're offended that a coach isn't Tom Osborne?

Let's be mad that Nebraska failed to adjust when it should've. Let's be mad that the offensive line has been under-perfoming since the Florida Atlantic game. Let's be mad that Lewis loves flags and Cotton's center of gravity is in his ass. Let's get mad about punting from our own thirty yard line, a move that only Kirk Ferentz could love. Let's get mad about the media making this a story instead of the myriad other things that appear to be bigger issues. (Seriously, does anyone want to address Nebraska's big game mindset?)

Let's get mad about actual tactical or execution failures. This is difficult for the internet, I know.

Stop blaming Pelini for the excuses others make for him. He's answering the questions honestly - do we really want him to stop that? I don't.

Then again, I guess that's the bye week after a loss for you. We need the drama to survive to the Northwestern game, right? I'm surprised we didn't have a tape released on Monday.

Surely Bo Pelini once spoke in a cross manner about corgis or something.

This is the Internet. We can do better.