Last year, Terrence Moore was a Blackshirt who impressed. He wasn’t elite, but he’d made the most of what he was-a former three star player who redshirted, stayed with the program, and became a very solid contributor who finally had a chance to start when Jared Crick got hurt. Bo Pelini got the most out of him. Up until this year, there were points in the careers of Cameron Meredith, Eric Martin and Will Compton where I’d thought Pelini had gotten the most out of them. Funny how that works.
Pelini had a number of seniors who had been contributors since they were freshmen or sophomores-Cameron Meredith, Baker Steinkulher, Eric Martin, Will Compton, Sean Fisher, PJ Smith, along with JUCOs Joseph Carter and Damion Stafford, and Courtney Osborne on the bench. Mel Kiper Jr. notes that one of the things that has separated the players that Bret Bielema and Kirk Ferentz have sent to the NFL is their polish, that their respective coaches got the most out of what they had. The same cannot be said of Pelini with these players; you can’t be as horrid as Nebraska was at time this year on defense when you have experienced player, not one of whom has maxed out. Compton at times has been Nebraska’s “playmaker”, and Martin somehow had 16.5 tackles for losses. Smith looks like he had the most growth potential, but never reached it.
Why does all this matter? It matter because, when a fan base talk about firing a coach, the reason they would is because he hasn’t succeed when he has had the material to do so. If you have so many defensive players who haven’t developed and you are a defensive coach, that’s an area where you should do better.
There is an irony to it-all these players being freshmen on the iron wall, Ndamukong Suh-lead defense that stood up to the spread offenses of the Big 12, carrying the offense-less Huskers. If only all these guys would have molded their attitudes and work ethics after Jared Crick’s than Suh’s, as Suh’s displays of lawlessness since he entered the NFL shows what kind of a leader he must have been at Nebraska. Matt Slauson blasted Suh a year ago for two incidents at Nebraska and said Suh “wasn’t well liked”. Slauson didn’t say when those incidents occurred, but it’s fair to question the legacy Suh left for the Blackshirts when you see their fall.
But the Blackshirts struggles stretch beyond anything Suh has done and any of the recruited players Pelini has or hasn’t developed. Where Pelini has failed is to find chip-in walk-ons to contribute. Even the bad Cosgrove defenses have had overachieving guys who have played key roles, like Stewart Bradley and Ben Eisenhart. And give Cosgrove some credit (yes, I just wrote that) for developing Tyler Wortman and Matt O’Hanlon, the latter of whom made more timely plays than anyone else on Nebraska’s 2009 defense. Other than nickle/dime back Justin Blatchford, there isn’t a single, rounded out walk-on senior among the 2012 Blackshirts.
When you are a major college coach at a northern school that doesn’t have a lot of FBS prospects, it’s understandable if you are thin at certain positions like corner or wide receiver, positions where athleticism matters. But if you can’t find linebackers or safeties via your walk-on program, there’s no excuse. Iowa State had two three-year starter, all-conference caliber, senior linebackers. Kansas State’s 1998 11-2 was built on linebackers, and its resurgence the past year rest strongly with safety Ty Zimmerman. Wisconsin has good linebackers, as has Iowa over the years. In 2009, I was watching a game with a couple of guys who were remarking about how inconsistent Sean Fisher was linebacker. In three years, Pelini couldn’t find a better player to put in than Fisher.
But the good news for Husker fans: Pelini lost all those eight starters, and in spring and fall practices, will be able to hold essentially open tryouts for starting positions. Unlike the last two year, Pelini likely won’t have to replace multiple defensive. Of course, given that Pelini was so “loyal” to bad players man not give the good players incentive.
The last home game for these Blackshirts….