Derek Johnson Muses

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Tag Archives: Iowa Hawkeyes

Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 22

In this episode, I commiserate Nebraska’s loss to Iowa, ponder the futures of Tommy Armstrong and Mike Riley, and mull who we need to root for for Nebraska to be bowl eligible. Plus, how many yards does it take to overcome a 3-turnover deficit?

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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 21

In this episode, I talk Huskers and Hawkeyes, Nebraska’s bowl prospects, how the LSU coaching situation relates to Mike Riley, Bo Pelini, and Nebraska, and Nebrasketball at Villanova.

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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 13

In this episode, I talk Nebraska’s win over Minnesota. The offense finally lives up to its teases of big plays, the defense records some key (new) stats, and Nebraska finally shows some energy on the sidelines! Looking ahead, I weigh the possibility of Nebraska playing unbeaten Iowa and Michigan State teams, and why an unbeaten Iowa fighting for the College Football Playoff could be just what Nebraska wants. Finally, I read your tweets and talk great players against Minnesota.

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Maximum Red Podcast, Episode 6

In this episode, I tackle Noah Fant’s decision to go to Iowa and whether or not Nebraska fans can feel disappointed, Tommy Armstrong running the football, and great tweets and articles.

Simple Crystal: Huskers-Hawkeyes, & Looking Ahead to the Badgers

In his book Desperate Networks, Bill Carter recounts the story of how The Apprentice came to be on NBC. Mark Burnett was developing the show in the early 2000’s, he pitched it to ABC. At ABC, Lloyd Braun, then president of the network, loved the show and wanted to buy it before Burnett the room; unfortunately, due to the cost of the show, he had to take it up the chain of command at Disney. Disney management, misinformed on how the new brand of reality TV worked, didn’t understand that they had to commit to an entire run of episodes and made an embarrassingly low offer to Burnett. So Burnett pitched the show to NBC, who, like ABC was wowed in the room. We know the rest of the story.

On the field Saturday, Nebraska and Iowa were two teams who played mediocre games on offense. The difference was, Nebraska could buy their way out of their mistakes.

This was the game that Nebraska fans feared was coming. On a short week, Nebraska faced its only its second 11 A.M. kickoff of the season, against a team with nothing to loose. After throwing the wide receiver screens that Husker fans dream of the previous week, Tim Beck went back to an ultra-conservative, 33% passes, 67% runs. Iowa limited Nebraska’s offense to the max; neither Kenny Bell or Jamal Turner had a catch. But after a season of his team overcoming his loss, Rex Burkhead came off the bench and bailed out his teammates, setting them up for the conference title game they’ve striven all season to get to.

There was a lot of irony in this game. Iowa holding Nebraska to 259 yards of total offense, their lowest of the year. Good stretches of red-clad fans in Kinnick Stadium, a sign some Hawkeye faithful bailed on the team. Brett Maher, after failing to nail teams deep, nailed Iowa inside the five and hit two very good punts into the wind. But in the end, both teams turned out to be the teams they were meant to be. Iowa found a way to loose down the stretch, and Nebraska put Alonzo Whaley’s interception on the close win highlight reel next to his own recovery of Montee Ball’s fumble and Jamal Turner’s two go-ahead touchdowns.

Sealed deal

So, after this close win against a genuinely terrible team, the question of just how good Nebraska is seems most valid, even more so when they were beating average teams like Northwestern and Michigan State. Are they as good as Pelini’s 2010 team? My guess is this team is slightly better. Of course, there is the issue of which team was better healthy. But I would say this team is guided by a more even keel; the 2010 team had seven game where they failed to score after halftime, and faded down the stretch. Going into the Big 10 Title, this team has better momentum and hasn’t gone downhill after a peak in late October/early November.

Which leads to the question, has this team peaked? While I thought that was the case going into the Big 12 Title Game two years ago, I don’t think that’s the case this time. This was a more conservative game plan, given the wind and what Nebraska is going to play for next week. Don’t kid yourself, Bo Pelini playing for the Big 10 Title Game. Over the last two weeks, Ameer Abdullah has had only 32 carries, and even Burkhead’s carries were limited when he came back.

But the main reason I don’t think Nebraska has peaked is that Pelini has saved his defensive juice. Each of the last two years, Pelini has built special game plans for the teams he thought he would need to beat to win his division title, Missouri in 2010 and Michigan State in 2011. Even with a veteran defense, Pelini hasn’t throw out that one special defensive game plan this year, even for Michigan. That send a powerful unspoken message to the players: our goals is a conference title, period.

If Burkhead doesn’t get at least 35 touches in the Big 10 Title Game, I’ll be rather surprised. The indoor environment, a negligible factor for the power-running Badgers, really helps Nebraska, who opted to throw the ball 14 times in the wind yesterday. Even though Wisconsin has improved since the two teams played on September 29th, there’s no question that Nebraska is the better team, with the better quarterback by far. But between the two teams, Wisconsin plays with the better mojo. If the Badgers turn a Husker turnover into points quickly, it could set them up for a long day.

Tthe biggest variable is what will Wisconsin choose to do on defense. Last time around, the Badgers played an aggressive zone, figuring that Martinez would eventually make mistakes and Nebraska’s offensive line would let up, which it did at times. Yesterday, Iowa did a great job of clogging the middle of the field, even Nebraska tried to spread the field. Wisconsin, if they mix up their defense, has a shot to really confuse Nebraska.

But, as we saw yesterday and throughout the season, Nebraska has the talent to buy their way out of their mistakes.

Good Show: Huskers Ahead of the Curb, & a New Trophy Game?

Kickoff after Huskers had taken a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.

When I was out on the street looking for a ticket to the Nebraska-Minnesota game yesterday, I disciplined myself. I told myself to wait up until the last possible minute, going against every instinct in my being that screamed “Secure your seat now!” My restraint paid off, and I paid only twenty to a cool guy who sold me one of his season ticket, ones that had been in his family since the early 1980’s.

In spite of the excitement of seeing Osborne lead the team out on the field one final time, the game was a wash. BTN might as well have shown the replay of last years’ Nebraska-Minnesota game, although they would have had to take some of the shimmer of the field from the Minnesota sun. Even though Minnesota managed to win the games they were supposed to this year, they still aren’t in the same class as the top of the Big 10 as athlete-wise. But this one of Nebraska’s two regional series, and that’s a good thing, even if it’s one-sided. Like Iowa State, I feel a more personal connection to the Nebraska-Minnesota game because I spend a lot of time traveling in that state. If these two schools end up playing for a trophy, I would suggest the trophy be named the Siouxland Prairie Dog and be a mounted prairie dog common to the region of southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota, and northeast Nebraska.

You’d get fired up to play for this, right?

At least, Jerry Kill  has given his fan base hope by going with freshmen quarterback Phillip Nelson, a lesson the some of the most experienced coaches in the Big 10 can’t figure out. Remember back in spring and summer when we kept hearing about how groomed Andrew Maxwell was to take over at Michigan State for Kirk Cousins? Now the fourth year junior who can’t beat a BCS team at home will have to fight it out with Goldie next week to get bowl eligibility. How about James Vandenberg at Iowa? The senior wasn’t even pulled when the Hawkeyes were out of the reach of the Wolverines. Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz, at some point over the next two years, will again have to replace the stiff, two-year, punch the clock starters. Meanwhile, Kill rolled the dice in starting Nelson, and with the extra bowl practices this year and another year as the starter, he has hope to develop Nelson into a good starter by his third year.

Not unlike the decision Bo Pelini made in 2010 to go with Taylor Martinez over the incumbent Zac Lee.

Besides the fact that Nebraska has better players, Nebraska beat Minnesota because they had more ways to. Not wanting to rush back Rex Burkhead or burden Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah, Tim Beck lined up a fullback out wide and threw wide receiver screens to Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Yes, Nebraska puts their offense on a running back, but today it was time to set up the rotation. Bucking Big 10 conservatism, Bo Pelini went for a score on the goal line with two seconds to go in the half. It didn’t work, but the point was made: I take situational chances. It’s not as great as Osborne’s glory days. If you watched Braylon Heard struggle behind the second-string offensive line and Ron Kellogg has passes clank. Like a lot of teams, Nebraska’s a couple of huge injuries away from disaster. Thankfully, a running back who gains four yards a carry consistently is easier to replace than a quarterback.

Right now, Nebraska’s at a different level organization-wise than other programs in the Big 10. They average 30 points per game versus BCS level competition pretty consistently, and most programs can’t get that unless their running back carries the ball thirty times a game. For the record, I do think that Nebraska will struggle against Iowa more than people expect. Not greatly, perhaps just a second quarter stretch where Nebraska can’t get the field position it needs in 14-6 game. But all Martinez, Pelini, and company have to do is set up the rotation, and they have enough weapons to do that.

Insides of the Stadium

Why Iowa Fans Should Sell Their Tickets to Nebraska Fans & a Note on Huskers-Southern Miss in KC

Will Herbie find room at Kinnick on Black Friday?

In writing what I will now, I know there will be many Hawkeye fans from the Quad Cities to Council Bluffs (and a couple that I passed in the western Illinois marsh fields last September) who won’t take it seriously because of my fan loyalties. But I’m going to make a proposal to all of you, Hawkeye fans because right now, things aren’t exactly going well for you. You have a coach who isn’t doing, and when he makes a bad decision and losses in passive fashion, you say, “That’s Ferentz.”

For the record, I don’t think that Iowa should fire Kirk Ferentz, and they can’t anyway because of his contract. Ferentz had a slew of injuries to contend with this year and, for the first time in his tenure at Iowa, had to replace a number of assistant coaches, including both coordinators who had been with him since his first year. But Iowa fans have grown weary of paying a lot for a little, and I’d like to suggest a way you can send a message.

Sell your tickets to Nebraska fans. If you don’t, don’t show up at the game. When we’re chanting “Go Big Red!!!” in the fourth quarter, they’ll have to fire Ferentz before he walks off the field. I know what you’re saying: I’m trying to help my own team out, but what’s really best for Nebraska is if Kirk Ferentz remains at Iowa for the next six years and wins six or seven games every year. It’s no good if Ferentz gets fired and Iowa hires a motivated young coach who red letters the Nebraska game.

Right now, the only way Iowa eats $25 million they’d owe a fired Ferentz is if there’s outright hostility from Iowa fans. Eleven years earlier, Husker fans sold out Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, leading to the firing of Terry Allen and paving the way for Mark Mangino to take over the Jayhawks. It happened to former Miami coach Randy Shannon when half the fans who showed up to his final game where cheering for South Florida. The quickest way to get your coach fired in any sport is to have opposing fans fill your stadium. Hence, the reason Mark Dantonio called out Michigan State fans before Nebraska came to East Lansing earlier this year.

I know this sounds crazy, and that, for some of you, doing this amounts to treason. I don’t blame you if you don’t. You don’t want to turn into Minnesota, who built a smaller stadium to keep you and Badger fans out. But Colin Cowherd talks about this a lot: true fans don’t go to games when their team is bad. True fans bail on their teams the first time they start to falter, forcing the team to make moves. If the last image of the 2012 Iowa football team is 30,000 Nebraska fans cheering their team in a half-empty stadium with time winding down in a Nebraska blowout, the winds will shift on Ferentz with the old Iowa power-brokers who’ve enabled him for so long.

(Thoughts on the game itself)

Another Big Red Migration here?

-It occurred to me the other when I heard the news that Southern Miss was now considering playing their home game against Nebraska at Arrowhead in Kansas City: it’s too good to be true. Southern Miss has been a good program for over twenty years. Playing the game in New Orleans would be one thing; it would still be a home game, even with 20,000-30,000 Nebraska fans. But to turn a road-home-road three game series into three road trips to Husker country, that’s just not consist with the behavior of mid-majors.

As early as 2009, I remembered the commissioner of the Sun Belt conference chiding his members for taking too many body-bag games (this was a year where Nebraska played three opponents from that conference). Whether it’s Oklahoma State playing at Louisiana Layfayette, Wisconsin at UNLV, or Nebraska at Wyoming, there are too many big conference schools playing road games at mid-majors who don’t deserve such games. It is a stamp of pride for these schools; stand firm and don’t take more than one non-conference road trip a season. There’s only one reason USM would be willing to make a home game into a road game: money, the universal reason the college football universe keeps spinning.

If USM were negotiating with Dallas, Phoenix, or someplace else that had seen Husker crowds, USM would have an easier time getting the price they wanted. But New Orleans hasn’t seen Husker crowds. Kansas City has every reason to try and get the game; when Nebraska played Oklahoma State in 1998, hotels were booked up past the city limits. Every gas station and truck stop along I-29 from Omaha to KC will be kicking in 10% to get this game, and no doubt the Big 10 would like the pub in Kansas City. Overall, I don’t the game will be moved because New Orleans and the Superdome don’t get a lot of high profile college games, and Southern Miss still has an image to live up to. I just can’t believe they are that desperate.

But if this game gets moved, it’s a huge win for the big boys in college football.

(When Nebraska invaded Minnesota…)

Overpaid Kirk Ferentz Gets Fired and…It’s a Bigger Waste? What About Bo Pelini?

“Kirk Ferentz is overpaid!” I’ve heard this blurted out so many times, the persistence is to the point where I feel like I have to support Ferentz. This year however, there’s some justification for Hawkeye outrage, with home embarrassments by Central Michigan and Penn State, and, if they loose at Indiana on Saturday, Iowa faces the likelihood that they won’t make the postseason for only the second time since 2001. On the flip side, Iowa isn’t all that much different than in years past when they’ve struggled. Considering the changes on Ferentz’s staff and how many freshmen are playing, 4-4 is what Iowa is.

For as many complaints as there are about Ferentz’s annual salary, Iowa fans and media are quick to justify the lavish expense. We’re in the middle of nowhere Iowa, we have to pay more to keep Ferentz from going to the NFL. But Ferentz’s current contract, not his annual salary, deserves the most criticism. Ferentz had already been criticized for making too much when he was being paid more than $10 million to go 32-19 between 2006 and 2009 (and those were his good years). Iowa then signed him an ten year contract in 2009 after going to 11-2. In light of how Charlie Weis’ ten year contract kept Notre Dame from firing him in 2008 (Weis will still be receiving checks from South Bend through 2015), giving any coach a contract longer than seven years is asking for trouble, unless it’s at a school like Oklahoma or Texas who easily out-recruit their rivals. Overpaying a coach is only worth it if the school can get out of the contract when it needs to.

(Update: After publishing this piece, I went back and lookead at the scores from Iowa’s 2009 season. The only win against a ranked team was at Penn State by 11. They beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined 4 points and edged a 5-7 Michigan team at home by 2. You get what you pay for, Hawkeyes.)

But let’s play around with a scenario. With his contract the way it is, Ferentz will more than likely stay at Iowa through the 2017 season (gulp), giving him nineteen season at Iowa. Hypothetical scenario: Ferentz had bottomed out in 2006 and 2007, won a total of eight game combined, and was fired. Let’s also assume that Iowa had to buyout one other football coach between 2008 and 2017, not unreasonable. Suppose Ferentz’s buyout would have cost Iowa $5 million ($3 million was what Nebraska had to pay Bill Callahan in ’07, and his contract wasn’t as good as Ferentz’s at that time), and the other coaching buyout was $4 million. $9 million just to make two coaches go away? Of course, Iowa would have paid a new coach much less than it pays Ferentz now, but still, it is considerable. If you factor in the damage to ticket sales and attendance that would come with a bad hire, the damage for such action would raise that number from just that figure, plus the damage to the football program’s continuity.

Let’s not forget one crucial factor in this debate: college coaches are already underpaid in light of the revenue they bring in. Iowa’s football revenue in tickets (about $34 million, from seven games and tickets priced at $70 each) and TV revenue ($25 million, reasonable assumption given the Big 10’s packages) is probably around $60 million. Ferentz doesn’t even make 10 percent of that.

Nebraska fans, you could be facing this issue in the near future as well. Bo Pelini looks like he may just win the Big 10 this year and command an extension himself. Like Ferentz, Pelini has NFL experience, and there are always his ties to LSU that keep Husker nation on edge. Giving him a ten year-contract would be different given his age, but NU shouldn’t go down that road. If he finishes 11-2, negotiations should start at six years, $3 million per, and be willing to go as high as $3.5 million over seven years. An eighth year wouldn’t be a killer, but should be avoided.

What the Ferentz debate is really all about is if it’s worth it to keep a coach if you’re going to bowl games every year, which Iowa has every year but one since 2001. (Even in 2007, the Hawkeyes were bowl eligible.) Oregon State stuck by Mike Riley after he had two loosing season in a row and now they are winning again. On the other hand, Auburn canned ten year-coach Tommy Tuberville after one 5-7 and got the highs and lows of Gene Chizik. The question is this: do you want bowl games every year, or do you risk the big hire?

(A Companion Piece)

Man with answers?

What if Nebraska could play them every year?

Given the realignment  that college football has gone through and the rivalries that have gotten left behind by it, I began to think to myself, what is it college football should look like in an ideal universe? I thought that, in an ideal universe, every school would have a set of about six or seven teams that they played every year, the situation in most major conferences, as well as with Notre Dame. Then there would be about another three or four teams that you would play two out of every four to six years. And you should have at least a couple of once-in-twenty years, or lifetime opponents.

To experiment with this, I took the team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and devised a such a schedule for them. Here are the six teams I think Nebraska should play every year.

Oklahoma-the classic game-yes, it has lost its luster from 1960-1980’s, but this was one of the most influential games of a generation. Let’s get this every year.

Colorado-Over my life and memory, Colorado was the opponent, other than Texas, that generated the most passion on the Nebraska side. While Colorado doesn’t have the passion for football that Nebraska does, when both schools are good, it’s a culture clash between the hippie Buffs and the conservative Cornhuskers.

Iowa-It is debatable how Iowa should be on this list, given that they haven’t met regularly since the 1940’s. But Iowa is only school that really has a strong following in Nebraska (almost a cult following in Omaha); Colorado is the only other fanbase who Nebraska fans intermingle with regularly.

Kansas-Notre Dame plays Purdue every year. Up until Nebraska joined the Big 10, Nebraska-Kansas was one of the longest rivalries in college football. It should go on.

UCLA-if Nebraska is going to be a national university, it needs to play a west coast opponent every year for its substantial California-Arizona fan base. Arizona State would also be a great fit in this spot, but nothing would match a bi-yearly date in the Rose Bowl.

Penn State-this rivalry, while not in plum recruiting territory, is more about the shared rural, family-first culture of both Penn State and Nebraska. They’re also the two teams who’ve kept virtually the same uniforms the past fifty years.

So there’s your six yearly opponents. Later, I’ll introduce some of the regular rotating rivals that I’d love to see Nebraska play

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