Nebraska Cornhuskers Football: Will Bo Pelini's Coaching Shakeup Work?

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Nebraska Cornhuskers Football: Will Bo Pelini's Coaching Shakeup Work?
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Nov. 26, 2010: Bo Pelini coaches his squad in Lincoln against Colorado. The Buffs also bolted the Big 12.

Is the head coach of the Huskers striking the hammer in response to the woeful performance against Washington in the Holiday Bowl? Or is he strengthening for the Big Ten?

Maybe both. In any case, four new coaches will be setting up shop at the Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex.

Head coach Bo Pelini this week confirmed coaching changes for Big Red’s running backs, tight ends, receivers and defensive backs. In addition, a new offensive coordinator will take the helm in the football offices at the complex.

Pelini signed very solid recruiting class on National Signing Day earlier this month. At least three signees are already attending classes at NU. The prospects of the Huskers competing nicely in the Big Ten next season should be considered high.

But a sour taste was left in Pelini’s mouth in San Diego last December in the Holiday Bowl. As a result, something was likely to be done to shake things up. 

Nebraska lost their last two games of the 2010 season—Pelini’s third at the helm in Lincoln. Oklahoma beat the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship Game and Washington exacted revenge in the rematch.

NU rolled the Huskies 56-21 in Seattle on Sept. 18, 2010 during the regular season. 

The running game was on fire then, and the Cornhuskers looked like world beaters. Then the Huskies shocked Nebraska’s nervous system by beating them in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif., on Dec. 30.

Eric Francis/Getty Images
Oct. 30, 2010: Pelini leads the Huskers out in Lincoln. They outplayed Mizzou in perhaps NU's best performance of the 2010 season.

After the disappointing way the season ended, Pelini took his time golfing on vacation in Palm Springs, Calif. After he got it crackin’ six weeks later, this is the result.

Assistant coaches Mike Ekeler, Ted Gilmore, Marvin Sanders and Shawn Watson are out.  New assistants Ross Els, Rich Fisher, John Garrison and Corey Raymond are in like Flint.

Hiring Raymond, 41, was perhaps an attempt to recapture the magic of their LSU days.  Pelini was of course the defensive coordinator on the 2008 national championship team for the Bayou Bengals. Raymond worked with the cornerbacks and the strength and conditioning squad while Pelini was at LSU. 

A cornerback at LSU from 1987-1991, Raymond was signed by the New York Giants and stayed there from 1992-4. He also played for the Detroit Lions from 1995-7.

The Cornhuskers have three young lions—defensive backs Dejon Gomes, Eric Hagg and Prince Amukamara—who were invited to the NFL Combine. With their departure, hiring Raymond was a smart move. 

Aside from recapturing the magic, Raymond will provide valuable experience for the Huskers secondary. The Big Ten is more of a running the ball conference than it is an aerial assault one.

The Cornhuskers finished No. 1 in the NCAA in pass efficiency defense under Pelini in 2009. However the Blackshirts' secondary will be tested in all aspects in the competitive conference starting in, oh, about seven months. 

Eric Francis/Getty Images
Nov. 13, 2010: Pelini greets Turner Gill in Lincoln. Now KU's coach, Gill was a star quarterback in the city.

In 2010, the defense was talented but inconsistent. Because of this, Pelini threatened to snatch their Blackshirts from them early on. In pass efficiency, the Huskers dropped to No. 3 in 2010—behind TCU and Boise State—still first-rate but nonetheless a subtle dip.

They intercepted 19 passes—tied for No. 11 nationally with LSU, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. 

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is the only returning starter in the Huskers secondary. Iowa State almost—and should have—upset Nebraska.

Is saying Amukamara, Gomes and Hagg were stalwarts stating the obvious? Um, yes. In the upcoming NFL draft, Hagg is ranked No. 11 among free safeties and projected to go in the seventh round. Both the ranking and projection is the same with Gomes among strong safeties.

Amukamara is ranked the No. 2 cornerback and the No. 8 player overall by CBSsportsline.com. By all accounts, he’s a first rounder—if there is a 2011 NFL draft—obviously. 

It was obvious the offense bogged down in the Holiday Bowl for whatever reason. New offensive coordinator Tim Beck will attempt to boost the Huskers numbers from their No. 44 ranking. 

The Huskers have running the ball on lock. On the offensive line, their signees were perhaps the best in the nation. In the backfield, the return with Rex Burkhead leads a deep group behind quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Sept. 18, 2010: Pelini watches the Huskers roll Washington in Seattle. The Huskies returned the favor to end NU's bowl season.

Needing to be unlocked, however, is the passing game. With game breakers at wide receiver, the Huskers managed to average only 150 passing yards per game, good for a No. 113 ranking out of 120 NCAA FBS Division I programs.

In comparison, National Champion Auburn—Cam Newton and crew—ranked No. 1 in passing efficiency. In passing offense, Oklahoma ranked No. 3 in the FBS.

The NCAA is heading the way of the NFL it seems. A trend to watch for in 2011 is the evolution of the passing game surpassing the running game in importance. The last two Super Bowl champions showed the NFL is, at least for now, a pass first league. Pelini knows it. 

In the month and a half since the 2010 season ended for the Huskers, he’s reflected on it. He signed two superb high school quarterbacks that were utilized against secondaries like Newton was at Auburn.

Sanders resigned from coaching the Nebraska secondary about two weeks ago for personal reasons, according to Pelini. The head coach declined to reveal if former offensive coordinator Watson was fired or quit. Same with Gilmore, the former receivers coach.

Beck was the passing-game coordinator and receivers coach for Kansas in 2007 when the Jayhawks averaged 43 points per contest. In terms of calling plays in college, he’ll be a rookie.

Fisher was a linebacker at Colorado in the late 80s, early 90s. He’s been out of college coaching, however, since 2002.

It’s too early to determine if these coaching changes will work, but the shakeup should certainly serve notice. Nebraska intends on winning the Big Ten Conference and a National Championship in 2011. Will they do it? Time will tell.

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