Well, its official. The 2009 Nebraska Cornuskers' offense was the worst since 1968. For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that means it hasn't been this bad in Lincoln in 41 years.
The 2009 Cornhuskers finished ranked 102 nationally in yards per game. If you are wondering, those statistics include the Sun Belt conference games the Cornhuskers played earlier this year. I'm not sure if I want to know how much worse Nebraska would have ranked if they had not been able to start the season with those three cupcakes.
Whenever a historically terrible achievement like this is realized in sports, either the head coach or some of the assistant coaches are quietly shown the door. That is exactly what happened at Nebraska after the 1968 season. After that season, Bob Devaney turned over the reins of the offense to a young assistant coach named Tom Osborne. The rest, as they say, is history.
All of this, of course, means a central question of the next month is going to be whether or not Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini decides to make changes to his offensive staff. Say what you will about Bill Callahan, but I really think he could have succeeded at Nebraska if he had not first hired Kevin Cosgrove to be his defensive coordinator and then stubbornly stuck by him as the Blackshirts imploded.
Callahan's Nebraska teams had good to very good offenses with historically terrible defenses. This year Bo Pelini's Nebraska team had an excellent defense with a historically awful offense. Neither of these formulas are championship winning ones, as we have learned the last eight years.
What makes this decision such a difficult one for Pelini is that Shawn Watson has had success at Nebraska and Colorado before as an offensive coordinator. Furthermore, the overall state of the Nebraska program seems to be on the upswing and any changes may backfire or give the impression to recruits that things are not as they should be. Nebraska's 2010 recruiting class is no doubt listening to this chatter too.
That said, awful is awful. This was Shawn Watson's third year as Nebraska's offensive coordinator and the product on the field was largely his making. Blame it on the players if you will, but he recruited the majority of him. So who is at fault? Can you really reward this offensive awfulness with continued employment?
By the way, Mark Mangino is available and on the coaching market. He guided Oklahoma's offense to the 2000 National Championship, resurrected Kansas' program, and developed several NFL-level offensive stars there. Is sticking with Watson better than making a splash with a new hire like Mangino?
Another issue is that Nebraska's offense suffered from a lack of identity in 2009. In the Callahan/Norvell/Watson years that identity was clearly based on the West Coast offense. Bo Pelini seems to want to reinvent the offense and make it more run game, ball control, and game management orientated. Can Watson be his guy if that is the goal? Maybe 2009 was evidence of the failure of that working relationship.
To put it mildly, the Nebraska offensive staff has some major problems to work on in the weeks leading up to its match-up with Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. I am guessing that Pelini, unlike Mark Richt at Georgia, will give the offensive coaches the extra practice time this month to show improvement. If Shawn Watson follows up the offense's poor showing in the Big 12 Championship with a dud in the desert, the calls for his head in Lincoln will only grow louder.