Holiday Bowl SWOT Analysis: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Washington Huskies, Part 2
First, an update: Nebraska lost to Washington in the Holiday Bowl 19-7.
Just wanted to let people know as I'm sure only about 50 people outside of Nebraska and Washington actually tuned in to this yawner of a matchup. Too bad, they all might have missed the biggest upset of the bowl season.
Now what? Should we pile on the Husker's players, coaches and overall performance with negative comments and analysis?
Nah. Enough of that is being done already in the (real) media and among the players and coaches themselves—although it would be tough to find something to write about without a little retrospection.
For the final one of the year—here's a reminder of what the whole SWOT thing is about.
And now, on to it:
No Passing Fancy
Once again, the Husker secondary, led by junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, absolutely shut down Jake Locker and the Huskies passing game. Dennard was fearless in the secondary, manhandling any receiver Washington threw at him. He also, almost single-handedly, stopped the much bigger Locker at the goal line on a fourth down play to keep the game from getting out of hand early. Thank goodness this excellent player is coming back next year.
For the Record
Junior linebacker Lavonte David broke Barrett Ruud's single season tackle record with his seven stops in the Holiday Bowl. In only his first year as a Husker, David was often the heart and soul of the defense. After about the fourth game of the season was there ever any doubt that Lavonte would break the tackling record?
Let's just get this out of the way right now—and not dwell on it. Nebraska generated 189 total yards of offense, averaged 2.2 yards per rush, completed less than 50 percent of its passes, was 4-for-14 on third down and turned the ball over twice.
Shall we single out specific players who performed poorly? Does Bleacher Report have a character limit for its posts?
Besides, where would you start? Both quarterbacks (freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green) played like they were in the backyard with their cousins. I've often complained that Green cannot run the read option but Martinez did nothing to distinguish himself in that regard, either.
And the passing. Oh, the passing. Is Martinez trying to invent the under-handed flip pass into open space? What the hell? And Green's wild downfield flings had all the precision of a cluster-bomb strike.
Of course, if the offensive line actually blocked somebody—preferably, in this case, the much smaller and battered Washington defensive line—maybe the QBs could have done something with the ball.
Even Superman—sophomore running back Rex Burkhead—contributed to the mess with a fumble that set up the Huskies for their first score. And senior running back Roy Helu, Jr had an inauspicious end to his career.
Tack on some weird decision-making by offensive coordinator Shawn Watson (Play action on third and long, down 12 points and late in the game—really?) and, other than that, things were just peachy on offense.
Damn. I guess I just "dwelt" on the whole offensive problem after all.
Little in the Middle, but They Got Much Back
As completely awesome as the secondary is, the Huskers have shown consistent weakness up the middle of Pelini's defense. Washington running back Chris Polk netted 177 yards on the ground and Locker added another 83 mostly running right up Nebraska's gut.
Washington was pretty blatant about their offensive attack, with Locker only making 16 attempts. Yet the brothers Pelini failed to make adjustments to halt the Huskies' ground attack.
Once again Nebraska provides a field's-length of penalty yardage for their opponent. The Huskers gave up 102 yards on 12 penalties.
This has been a white-hot topic for Husker fans this year. But can any rational fan cry foul on the penalty-calling for this game? This was a game played on a neutral field, officiated by a Mountain West crew.
Enough with the conspiracy theories. Nebraska has a discipline problem on the field.
Repeat After Me: It Just Doesn't Matter
Win or lose this game—it doesn't matter a wit about what happens next year. The move to the Big 10 will require a complete revamp in philosophy on both sides of the ball. Coach Bo is smart enough to know this.
The Peso defense that was so successful against the Big 12's spread offenses will get eaten alive by the Big 10's power running offenses. That sounds like a threat but I believe we have defensive coaches that are smart enough to make the transition.
And the offense? Well, the offense we saw in the Holiday Bowl wouldn't be successful in any conference. The complete degradation on the offensive side of the ball will require some hard decision-making in the offseason. We'll see whether or not those decisions involve coaching personnel, offensive schemes, or both.
What is most likely to happen to Nebraska in the off-season?
The good news is that anyone associated with the program knows that a change must occur.
Calm Through the Storm
Head coach Bo Pelini has been criticized frequently for his unseemly and uncontrollable outbursts on the sidelines throughout the year. You know the ESPN cameras were ready, willing and able to record the slightest provocation from the coach.
It never happened. Pelini showed the right amount of fire and aggressiveness in fighting for his team. In a game that must have been extremely frustrating for the third-year coach, he was an emotional rock in the storm that surrounded him. Let's take this as a sign of the continued emotional maturity of the coach who will lead Nebraska into a new era of football.
A Winter of Discontent
I said before that a loss in a second-tier bowl like the Holiday would give way to a tumultuous postseason. Even though the Husker's performance in the game has little bearing on their potential in the Big 10, it still will produce some nervous tension among the fanbase, coaches and players that will impact recruiting.
Which coaches will stay and which will go (besides linebacker coach Mike Ekeler who has already punched his ticket to Indiana)? Which recruits will remain committed and which recruits will flip?
And does anyone really expect to see 17-star all-world QB recruit Bubba Starling in a Husker uniform? There's no secret offensive coordinator and QB coach Shawn Watson is seeking a head coaching job. Will the recent performance of the offense prompt Pelini to "help" Watson move on?
Will the rumors surrounding Watson impact Starling's decision to go pro in baseball? Or does that even matter?
If you were given the choice to enter the Nebraska fishbowl as a QB for scholarship money or take a guaranteed $3-4 million dollars signing bonus to play pro-baseball, which direction would you go?
The good news is that this offseason will be anything but boring.
So, for the final SWOT Analysis of 2010, Husker Nation is left with an empty, strange feeling inside. Sure, Nebraska is a 10-win team. But they could very well be the worst 10-win team in the nation.
Or maybe this team and coaching staff just isn't ready for prime time yet. Whatever the case, the move to the Big 10 will supply many more questions than provide any answers for the future of the football program.
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