After Alante Brown returned to earth via RKO following a helmet shot in the junk, after Blake Corum gained 6 yards once again, after a late field goal covered quite a few Michigan bets, the Huskers were finally eliminated from bowl contention for the 6th straight season.
At that point, my mind wandered back to the Northwestern game which managed to upend all the hopes and dreams which had built up in an off-season of new coaches and new transfers. There was so much going wrong in that game, it was hard to fathom. I was so pissed I just went straight home to watch some Netflix and play with the doggo I occasionally dogsit and forget about college football for a week.
I waited a couple of days then sat down and listed things which seemed like mild concerns over the summer and, in the wake of that game, tried to determine which were just concerns and which were truly red flags. I then plopped them on the page and listed them out in this column from August 31st.
With most of the season now behind us, it seems like a good time to look back and determine how they all played out. These are listed below and following that, I make a couple predictions about the coach search, then finally a quick thought on a name I very much expected to have heard called at some point following Casey Thompson’s injury.
A REVIEW OF THE RED FLAGS/CONCERNS AFTER WEEK 0
- #1 - Our offense was #2 in Big 10 and Defense was #7 and the solution was fire almost every offensive coach and leave the defense be. Correct call?
VERDICT THEN: RED FLAG
VERDICT NOW: HUGE RED FLAG - Chinander was fired a week after Frost after the defense was ranked last or near last nationally in nearly every category. Bill Busch took over and defense improved in almost every way.
#2 - OLB’s are now Edges for a 4-3 set but it felt more like a 2-4-5 with the DE’s being 225 and 240 in a ground strong Big 10
VERDICT THEN: RED FLAG
VERDICT NOW: RED FLAG - But better once Busch took over. The size differential was much more exposed when Thompson got hurt and Purdy couldn’t keep the offense on the field for any length of time, but they still held their own.
#3 - Against Northwestern, the going light at rush end thing produced 0 sacks and only 36 snaps for Ochaun Mathis.
VERDICT THEN: CONCERN - for now.
VERDICT NOW: MILDER CONCERN OVER TIME- Busch moved Tannor to SLB and Mathis to starting DE. Mathis didn’t quite live up to the hype but hasn’t been too bad with 4 TFL and 2 1⁄2 sacks. However, Garrett Nelson turned it on with 8 1⁄2 and 5 1⁄2 respectively as the Huskers much improved their pressure on QB’s.
#4 - Walk-on Colton Feist slightly undersized at 275 got the start at DT over transfers Devin Drew (Texas Tech) and Stephon Wynn (Alabama)
VERDICT THEN: CONCERN but that flag is being ironed.
VERDICT NOW: NOT A CONCERN - Feist has held the starting spot for 10 games and leads the DT room in tackles and TFL’s. He won’t be on any All Big 10 teams, but he’s gotten the job done quite a bit against much larger blockers.
#5 - When we needed a stop to have a chance to come back against the Wildcats, our defense was run over for about 7 minutes in the 4th quarter. That’s a problem.
VERDICT THEN: RED FLAG
VERDICT NOW: MONSTROUS RED FLAG - The defense would go on to let North Dakota control the time of possession for much of the game, then let Georgia Southern run all over them. Frost was fired after the GSU game and, after another defensive meltdown against Oklahoma, DC Erik Chinander was shown the door as well.
#6 - Ryan Hilinski throwing for 300 yards to anonymous receivers while we showed soft zones and coverage cushions was inexplicable.
VERDICT THEN: CONCERN - but a big one that bears watching.
VERDICT NOW: MAJOR RED FLAG - See the firings above. Busch immediately made a personnel change and installed a much more aggressive philosophy and a personnel change or two.
#7 - The offensive line was unable to establish much of a push and gave up a couple of sacks. Teddy just flat out had a bad day, but we have to remember he’s a true sophomore coming off a pretty bad injury; he’ll be better. And they did still gain close to 500 yards. I’m going to hold judgment a little as they may need some time to start applying the new philosophy to game play.
VERDICT THEN: CONCERN - but weekly gains must be shown or this will flip to red flag.
VERDICT NOW: BIG RED SCARLET FLAG - Weekly gains were not shown. Anthony Grant’s talents were wasted many weeks and Casey Thompson was finally knocked out for two weeks and counting. Some bright spots started to show against stout Illinois and Minnesota defenses, but there is much work to be done for whomever the new coach is.
MY FINAL COACH LIST AND PREDICTIONS
1) LANCE LEIPOLD - Topped my original coach-want-list and remains there now. Fills three of my requirements - D1 Power 5 coaching experience, low-floor high-ceiling guy, track record of fixing broken things. Add in there how prepared and disciplined his teams play and that stack of national titles in D3 and he was my favorite. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s some bad blood on his part because of Trev shutting down UNO football?
2) MATT RHULE - Checks off the same three qualities and failing at the NFL level is never a deal breaker. His success at Temple and then Baylor in an unthinkable situation mirrors Leipold at Buffalo and Kansas.
3) DAVE ARANDA - Along with also hitting the big three reqs, I love Aranda’s defensive background and Wisconsin roots. There’s a great deal of smoke saying Baylor alumni will do anything to keep him, so a nice downside would be making those weirdos empty their pocketbooks to keep him. But what if he really feels he is a Big 10 guy at heart?
4) DEION SANDERS - That ship has 100% sailed - probably never entered port to be honest - but this is a want list and there are two things Prime Time would bring to the table I would simply love - 1) A top 15 short season recruiting class followed next year by a Top 5. I’m not kidding. 2) Watching a goodly chunk of our more….”traditionalist” fan base bursting into flames when Trev says his name and he comes strutting out sporting some red wraparound shades in a wild scarlet leather jacket with “PRIME” sparkling across the chest. Ah, to dream.
AND YOUR NEW HEAD COACH OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA IS:
I think there’s 3x more smoke around this since I started typing it up Sunday night. But I’m going strictly off sports betting sites which almost unanimously have Rhule as the favorite. I thought it was also interesting local sportswriter types around Auburn allegedly wrote him off thinking he already had the Nebraska job.
A note on Mickey Joseph - I dropped him from the four spot above after the Chubba Purdy debacle. And I fully admit I have PTSD when in comes to head coaches making bad decisions concerning their assistants, but this was something which simply couldn’t happen. Casey Thompson this season was pulled for far less than what Purdy was doing repeatedly.
That being said, I have nothing but respect for the job he did in an impossible situation. If he doesn’t get the top job, I highly doubt he sticks around when there may be HC offers out there from other schools. If that’s the case, I wish Mick absolutely nothing but the best and hope fate finds a way to bring him back to Lincoln someday.
SO! No SOURCES, no friends in North Stadium, no anything - in bookies, I trust. Matt Rhule, come on down!
AND THE DATE OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT IS:
Saturday November 26th (or Sunday November 27th)
While he will be locked before then, the announcement will wait until the season is complete. I believe Trev will do it for the same stated reason he fired Frost before the cheaper buyout kicked in - he knew it was time and wanted to give the kids the best chance to succeed without waiting.
For the same reason, I don’t believe he will potentially torpedo the last two games by having them play for a lame duck staff. And I know what I’m talking about. I 100% called Trev would wait until after the Indiana game to fire Frost and save $7.5 million so….
NOTE: In the hours since I typed this, the smoke around Rhule is starting to turn into a blaze, but I’m leaving it here anyhow. Hell, by the time I post it, we might have pics of him grabbing a sandwich in DaVinci’s. Screw it. And I still stand by an announcement 1-2 days after the Iowa game.
QUICK THOUGHT - WHITHER HEINRICH HAARBERG??
Apparently, the 6’5” dual-threat redshirt freshman QB from Kearney has gone from competing with Smothers for the backup job in the 2021 Spring Game to 5th-string backup behind Thompson, Purdy, Smothers and redshirt freshman walk-on Jarrett Synek.
Haarberg is big, fast, athletic with a strong arm but has apparently dropped to “no way, too young, not even close to ready” or something like that in Mickey’s eyes. I really hope it’s just an injury or some other piece of bad luck which is understandably being kept quiet.
Please don’t let his development have been mucked up. There is so much potential here.
Note: Mickey has stated he’s not injured. :-(