[Jon: This is Jimmy Sheil’s last column for us this season. We have enjoyed having him contribute for us, and especially the fun of joining his radio show even though the 2019 season didn’t work out the way everyone planned.]
As the field goal sailed through the uprights at the end of the Nebraska-Iowa game, it confirmed a few things.
One…Nebraska must still be Nebraska as the Iowa kicker went on an almost choreographed and prolonged celebration like they had just won a National Championship, instead of beating a 5-7 team.
Two…the kicker’s action made it clear they are still Iowa and know they have a low ceiling for their program by the way their fans have celebrated since “The Kick.” Hawkeye fans know it doesn’t get any better for them than beating their neighbor with all the National Championship appearances and trophies in the (really modern) GameDay Era of college football from 1993 to the present.
The Hawk kicker instantly became a hero like Cory Schlesinger was to Husker fans for scoring two TDs versus Miami in a comeback win for a National Championship. The kicker will get lots of run in social media pictures the next few years, actually the next few decades probably too as they aren’t going to have any National Championship moments, or likely even Big Ten championship moments.
I could be wrong, but in 2014 in the Husker win over the Hawkeyes when Demornay Pierson-El caught the game-winning touchdown in OT, I don’t remember him becoming a cult hero for NU’s program like the FG kicker is becoming for the Hawkeyes?
[Correction here - it was Kenny Bell who caught the game-winning touchdown in this game. The point stands. Kenny Bell is somewhat of a cult hero to Nebraska fans, but not for that catch in that game. - Jon]
And yes, I would have preferred winning the game as a fan and getting to watch a Toilet Bowl game. But the reality is with extra time not taken up for the coaches by half-assed bowl practices and with an early signing date in December over February, it’s safe to assume, NU will have a slightly better recruiting class on Dec. 21. I see much more time available for coaches to recruit than if they actually won on Nov. 29.
Trust me, beating the third place finisher in the West Division of the Big 10 wasn’t going to sway any recruits that weren’t coming here already, however, more face-time from the coaches might.
And looking back as a whole on the season, yes, I thought NU would be in the 8-win range, give or take a game. But also mostly due to injury, I didn’t see three different QBs being needed due to injuries, three different starters at I-backs and at least five different starting kickers, which had a big hand in three losses.
I do think there are some things NU could have done better in 2019 but being critical before this staff gets their culture down seems knee-jerk. Nothing for two years after taking over a mess is going to stick to that coach. It would be akin to yelling at the firemen for water stains in the house while putting out a fire.
However, the media and fans must be fed.
If we must be critical of minor things while Frost’s staff is fixing the big things, I have a few ideas.
I hope they consider the 4-3 scheme. It requires less thinking overall by players and the DC, but it comes down to execution. But it may be a hard sell as we have seen the success of teams with a 3-4 scheme.
Whatever scheme they use, the front seven players have to be mobile/faster for their position. The Davis twins, Carlos and Khalil, and Mohamed Barry were too big/too heavy for their position and it showed in every game. They won’t be around next year, for better or worse.
Going forward target weights would be good once the bigger things are adjusted. Maybe they have those already but just had bigger things to worry about.
There is no nice way to say this: special teams are a mess - not just the placekicker.
From the placekicker on field goals and kick-offs being too short leading to touchdowns, to no idea what to do on returns, this was somewhat surprising. However, maybe a little understandable with PK injuries and Special Team Coach Jovann Dewitt’s situation.
We all know Dewitt has had cancer and thank goodness he is recovering. It is reasonable to assume with how bad things were in multiple areas of special team this was at least a partial factor.
Bill Moos needs to have a sit-down with Frost and make it clear this can never happen again, heartless as it sounds. While it is nice people pitch in to cover for somebody, the NU football program is not JCPenney’s. If someone’s health is ailing, GA’s covering is not the way to go. See the Husker special teams in 2019 for evidence of that.
Main thing here is getting older with one of the youngest offenses in the power five conferences in 2019. But quarterback Adrian Martinez needs to be more decisive. And that could be the understatement of the century in Nebraska so far.
I have a feeling with a legitimate threat to overtake him in QB Luke McCaffrey, Martinez will show more development this spring. Martinez is still the same dual-threat signal-caller with multiple ways to scare opposing DC’s that he was as a Freshman All-American in 2018…hopefully.