I’ll freely admit this was way worse at the final gun than trailing Illinois 30-9 last year and at the time, did I ever feel like being kicked in the nuts had been redefined for me. If the failures of the last seven years have had one positive effect, it’s this - for the most part when the clock hits zero, I tab out, head home and spare others several hours of my loud self-therapy.
It’s not like I’m alone in it - there’s no shortage of group pain after another soul amputation - or that it’s just pissing and moaning. No no, it’s much much worse, a veritable roller coaster of “the world hates us”, “we suck”, “we’re ok but the refs violated us yet again”, “I’m done, fire that guy”, “FIRE FROST!”, “hey, there’s some bright spots” and finally “WHO SAID THAT? I’LL NEVER STOP BELIEVING!!” And on and on, but most importantly, I just don’t want to see that haunted post-game expression of mine being reflected back at me from some other poor bastard’s face.
At the end of the day, I’ve learned to allow every bit of the pain to wash through me with the unshakable belief the ensuing happiness will make it all worth it…and talk myself into going on without self-delusion. Well, not too much.
Also, the horrible mutt I dogsit occasionally doubles as an excellent unregistered post-game emotional support beast.
MILD CONCERNS OR RED FLAGS?
So let’s fast forward to what happened in Dublin mid-afternoonish Saturday. As the game unfolded, I realized in retrospect there were a few things which only raised eyebrows prior to the game but were possibly huge red flags. So with four quarters of football under our belt, where do I stand now? That’s the lead-in, straight to the list:
- Our offense was #2 in Big 10 and #18 in country in yardage gained. Defense #7 in the conference and no idea nationally but nowhere near top 20. Solution? Fire almost every offensive coach, retool there but the defense is ok. I get it - the D going bend but don’t break looked better than the offense constantly catching Ebola in the red zone and on drives with the game on the line but still...
VERDICT: RED FLAG - that last drive of Northwestern was tough to stomach. Until we show some sand against a team with a solid offensive line, this is more than a mild concern.
- OLB’s are now defensive ends…errr, Edge. So 4-3, right? This feels like a 2-4-5. In the Big 10. Where everyone’s into bludgeoning at some point except Ohio St. (and maybe Purdue) who’s as big as everyone but faster. Our Edge starters are 220 and 245 and this may reflect directly on Red Flag #1 above - we’re not beating Braelon Edwards with 2 legit defensive lineman.
VERDICT: RED FLAG
- Also that lighter rush end thing produced 0 sacks. And only 36 snaps for 260-lb EDGE rush specialist and highlighted transfer Ochaun Mathis who came in with plenty of experience. If he’s only our 3rd best at that position, that’s a problem. If he’s not, but is being treated that way, that’s a bigger problem. (Note: he easily graded out highest at the position Saturday)
VERDICT: CONCERN - for now. It’s one game and hopefully there’s a better reason for the lack of playing time, but this bears watching. This was supposed to fill a need which is still glaring.
- We gave a Blackshirt to Colton Feist, a walk-on D-lineman from Yutan along with a starting job. He beat out the Texas Tech 2-year starter and a giant Alabama transfer and almost played more snaps than the two of them and the Polar Bear combined. He did end up with 5 tackles - more than the three of them and an ineffective Ty Robinson, so..
VERDICT: CONCERN but that flag is being ironed.
- This wasn’t the Husker typical 1-score loss. Last year we would shit down our own leg repeatedly but then fight the good fight and come up short. We didn’t come up short this time. They ran over our defense for about 7 minutes in the 4th quarter. That’s a problem. One that’s possibly answered with more than 2 down linemen.
VERDICT: RED FLAG
- The onside kick in retrospect was bad. Ryan Hilinski throwing for 300 yards on us without a receiver anyone could name is worse. As is the weird respect we showed with soft zones and coverage cushions. The group did grade out higher than the line/LB’s Saturday so...
VERDICT: CONCERN - but a big one that bears watching
- 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: CONCERN - but weekly gains must be shown or this will flip to red flag. If they don’t show improvement against Oklahoma, there’s a big problem.
- THE ONSIDE KICK - This is where much of the criticism focused, but I reacted much worse to that last drive of Northwestern’s. Of course I question the timing, but also wonder if Frost was aware of the Huskers’ defensive issues and saw this a way to try and ease the pressure by giving them a 3-score pad. They had obviously spotted something in the Wildcat return formation on film - unfortunately, so had Fitzgerald who said their staff had also caught one of theirs out of position and put him back in his spot right before that kickoff. Good catch by them and a little bad luck on the timing.
- CASEY THOMPSON - Yes, he tailed off at the end, but it was still an overall impressive debut and I do not blame him for either interception (and why were we throwing to our two worst receivers on the day in those situations). He was cool, calm and mostly accurate and looked impressive in the short passing game - which maybe we should have stuck with?
- ANTHONY GRANT - Clearly our top running back. I know coaches will have the urge to feed all the mouths but Grant is the complete package - can hit small holes hard, turn nothing runs into small gains with strength and drive and bust the long run when the opportunity presents itself. Personally, I’d leave him in on the goal line - he’s better than Yant finding those tough yards.
- THE WIDE RECEIVERS - I like the top ones - and Omar’s return should boost this group as well. Hopefully, Vokolec will be heathy quickly and not “day-to-day” for 7 weeks as we mask a serious injury. Along with him, Palmer, Garcia-Castaneda (man, I love having a receiver who sounds like a lauded Spanish author), Brown and Washington all looked very good. Let’s focus on them a little more at crunch time from now on.
FINAL THOUGHT - It’s easy to want to check out, but at this point I believe the Husker fans who remain are battle-tested enough not to give up already. The ones firing shots about how done they are strike me as folks who have done it before and are singing the same song. I decided a few years ago I ride or die with these young men, criticisms or no aside.
For anyone still hurting, as always, I turn to the wisdom of fictional former Dillon High HC Eric Taylor: