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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 12

In this episode of the Straight from the Cornfield Podcast, I discuss Nebraska’s flaws defensively against Wisconsin, dissect the new gameplan from Nebraska’s offense, and spin forward to Jordan Stevenson’s future, and the rest of the season and next year.

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Straight from the Cornfield Podcast, Episode 11

In this episode of Straight from the Cornfield podcast (formerly Maximum Red), I cover that 3rd-and-7 disaster and what it showed us about Tommy Armstrong’s and Mike Riley’s relationship, plus the foilables of Riley’s air-raid, Alex Lewis, and what you’re fearing about Nebraska’s football programs moving forward. Finally, we look forward to the rest of the season and Wisconsin.

Already Forgotten

Already Forgotten

Are Nebraska Fans Too Sensitive to Getting Blown Out?

Since Nebraska’s embarrassment in the Big 10 Title Game, the issue of getting blown out has come up time and again with Husker fans. Some fans are probably just relieved that Georgia didn’t run Nebraska off the field until the fourth quarter. Hearing Nebraska fans howl, “We’re tired of blowout losses!” is a statement that I tired of, not because I like Nebraska getting blown out, but because it doesn’t mean that fans aren’t getting the program they paid for.

First, let’s ask a basic question: why do blowouts happen in college football? They can happen for a number of reason: one team simply has more talent than the other (AKA, most September non-conference games), one team has more experience than other (due to injuries or senior graduating, AKA Iowa this year) one team is a bad matchup for another team (a spread option against a Big 10 team, like Florida against Ohio State in the 2006 National Title Game), or one team is at the end of a string often of tough games and is simply exhausted (Michigan State at Nebraska in 2011, or at Iowa in 2010). Often, these reasons happen simultaneously.

I have from the list above, omitted coaching. Not that some teams are poorly coached, but in college football, fans tend to blame the coach above all else, because he’s the one they can go out and replace. Coaches do poor jobs, but let’s deal with these natural flows before we get there.

Consider this, Husker fans: you have a finesse offense. Personally, I don’t like to use that term, but it is true. It is an offense that is quirky, built to run outside, let the quarterback run when need be, and have linemen who can pull and move in space. Now, this offense gives you a key edge, namely, when you are down in games, you feel like you have a chance to come back. It makes you a difficult team to prepare for. Team make take your smallish offensive line lightly (the PSU black shoe effect, if you will), but unfortunately, if another team’s front is bigger than yours, you are left exposed if they play their hardest, which Ohio State did this year.

With the exception of Wisconsin this year, every team that has blown Bo Pelini out has been very good, except for the Washington team who beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl rematch. The teams that have blown Nebraska out? The worst was the 2009 Texas Tech team that went 9-4. The other teams were Missouri (10-4) and Oklahoma (12-2) in 2008, Wisconsin (11-3), Michigan (11-2), and South Carolina (11-2) in 2011, and Ohio State (12-0) this year. Of course that does leave the Wisconsin team this year.
What does all this mean, Husker fans? For one, it means you’re not doing any worse than you should. If you are getting blown out by good teams, it has less to do with your coach than it does with your players. And since 2010, Nebraska has beat five teams who won at least nine or more games: Oklahoma State and Missouri in 2010, Michigan State and Penn State last year, and Northwestern this year.

And consider Michigan State: this past year, their biggest loss was by 14 points, at home to eventual unbeaten Notre Dame. All their other losses were by a touchdown or less, and they are 6-6. The two years prior to this one, Michigan State went 22-5 and got blown out four times. They weren’t a better team this year, and one wouldn’t take a 6-6 team that didn’t get blown out over a ten-win season any day.

But still, getting outdone in such a public fashion hurts, and leads to the “fragile and soft” labels. The pain of those won’t go away, and yes, Wisconsin was the anamoly this year. There isn’t an excuse for getting manhandled on a neutral field by a team that would finish 8-6 with a third-string quarterback. It would have been an embarrassment if Nebraska had lost that game by a touchdown. What they should have observed was that Wisconsin, in spite of their record, didn’t loose a game by less than seven all year.

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

Nebraska vs. Wisconsin: Game of Shadows

Throughout Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday night, there was one constant flowing through my head. Both when Nebraska was down and when they were coming back, I kept wondering to myself, should a veteran team be struggling at home against a young Wisconsin team at home?

It goes back to the same issue that I raised after UCLA: Nebraska is a weak team psychologically. Wisconsin came in with a freshmen quarterback and built a seventeen point lead. Reading some of the comments by Dan Gilbert and by some of the things Wisconsin coaches told Todd Blackledge, they didn’t take Nebraska that seriously.

I’m not saying that Nebraska has the wrong head coach at the moment. There’s still trying to figure out who they are in the Big 10, and how to use a no huddle spread can work. They need to get bigger and deeper on defense. Thad Randle was the first defensive lineman to get injured and won’t be the last to miss a game this year. But not taking advantage of a Wisconsin mistake until the last possession shows this team isn’t where it should be. If there’s a down year for the Pelini regime, it’s likely going to be 6-6, and we should consider if he’s just a good game coach who can’t recruit. (To know what I mean by that last statement, see this post.)

Also Husker fans, you don’t want to hear this, but Rex Burkhead is down as Nebraska’s workhorse back. No, he’ll still be an effective back at points, and he’ll get a lot of carries late in games. But he’s taken too many hits, so don’t expect him to be Superman.

It is too bad Wisconsin and Nebraska won’t met at Camp Randall in late September. Not that Nebraska can’t make other rivals, but this series is darn competitive.

Filibuster: Bo Ryan Reacts to Jarrod Uthoff’s Request for a Divorce

When I got out of the shower this morning, I heard some old geezer whining on ESPN Radio with Mike and Mike, and when I heard Mike Greenberg ask him to stay on through a break, I  assumed it was Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin basketball coach who was not allowing Jarrod Uthoff, a true freshman who redshirted this past season, to transfer. What I couldn’t understand is why Ryan would call up in the middle of a radio show he was being criticized on and offer up additional fodder. (Mike and Mike Interview.)

While Ryan clearly made his situation much worse, I was reminded of Darnell Autry wanting to leave Northwestern prior to the Wildcats’ miracle run to the Rose Bowl in 1995, a story that I read in Gary Barnett’s book High Hopes over ten years ago. Autry was even visiting Arizona State when Barnett called then-Sun Devils coach Bruce Synder and told him that Autry wouldn’t be given a release. The memory of that story struck me, so I serached for it and found a LA Times article (Link) from before the ’96 Rose Bowl about Autry’s literally playing Hamlet in the 1995 off-season. The difference between that situation and the Ryan/Uthoff was that, one, Autry’s debate stayed private, and two, we are listening to Ryan discuss the situation mid-divorce.

To be fair, Ryan should be angry at this point. Uthoff told him he was leaving while Ryan on vacation, and, with all that Wisconsin has invested in Uthoff’s development, Ryan has a right to expect a conversation with him. In many ways, Bo Ryan is like a spouse who has been asked for a divorce out of the blue; maybe didn’t even realize that Uthoff didn’t like it at Wisconsin. So he feels betrayed, but going on a popular national radio isn’t exactly keeping it “in house”.

The Divorcing Parties

But Ryan convinced Uthoff to come to Wisconsin. In his book A March to Madness, John Feinstein chronicled how Mike Krzyzewski did it: he flew back with each recruit after their on-campus visit to make sure they were the kind of player who fit in at Duke, a private, exclusive school which every urban high school basketball player might not be comfortable at. As much as Bo Ryan has to go out to seal Wisconsin, it’s no good if it is to someone who doesn’t want it. Granted, Uthoff may not have realized he didn’t want until he got to Wisconsin, but still, Ryan has to read every recruit and ask himself, will this guy gel on campus?

As for the transfer process itself, it needs to have some restrictions on it. Right now, Garrett Gilbert is taking a whooping 27 credit hours (nine more than I ever took a semester) to graduate from Texas and play this fall at SMU. College basketball is frustrating enough with its one-and-done, and now transfers? In my opinion, Doc Sadler was fired at Nebraska because players transferring (and other reasons here stated), and it’s always easier to keep an old customer than to recruit a new one. Ryan said that other NCAA coaches were supporting him in his efforts to restrict Uthoff’s transfer, and of course they would. Likely most have been in a similar situation, knowing that if the loose a good player already in the program, it could be big trouble

But where Ryan becomes petty is when he blocks Uthoff from transferring to Iowa State, a school that’s isn’t going to be playing Wisconsin in the next couple of years (and where a former Wisconsin Deputy Athletic Director, Jamie Pollard, serves as AD). When Ryan says, you can’t go to Iowa State, he’s basically saying, I’m so upset at you, I’m not even going to let you play in your home state. I’m making this personal.

This is the classic divide between older people and younger people. Hey, I’m the first to admit, young people can be cocky and brash to their elders, and I have been. But young people also have more options in this society then their elders did fifty years ago, and young people know their worth these days. They won’t put up with cranky old guys who are always whining about how much better stuff was forty years ago. The old guys may not like it, but look at Mark Zuckerburg-the guy had a great idea and drive, and he absolutely earned every penny of it. If they had the options we do now, who’s to say they wouldn’t have used all of them? (Being a young man in an old man’s church)

Then there’s the desperation of the rural northern program. While Madison is a great city, there aren’t a plethora of great basketball players who want to play there in the winter. Tom Izzo was willing to consider the Cleveland Cavaliers job because he was frustrated that, after six Final Fours and a National Title, he still had a hard time convincing top recruits to come to the alma mater of Magic Johnson in central Michigan. Consider how it must be for Ryan.

But what I come back to is the point in the Mike and Mike interview where Ryan ended up playing his own defense attorney, trying to muddle the issue after he couldn’t defend himself with the facts. After Mike Golic asked him when the list of schools Uthoff could transfer to was so restrictive, Ryan went on about how it is when a team practices together every day and how Greenberg couldn’t understand because he didn’t play the game. Just what happens in a messy divorce.

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