As many of you may remember, I was one of the first to publicly call for the firing of both former athletic director Steve Pederson and head coach Bill Callahan way back in October of 2007 in this article.
That being said, I was of course jumping for joy when first Pederson was fired by Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who then named Tom Osborne as the interim Athletic Director, and then Callahan was fired by Dr. Tom Osborne following the end of 2007 season in an effort to “Restore the Order.”
Dr. Tom then surveyed the lay of the land and decided that a man named Bo shall lead the Huskers back into the promised land.
Let’s take a look at the 2008 season that Mark “Bo” Pelini just finished.
First off, I have to admit that what Pelini accomplished this year with his eight up, four down season was done primarily with the players that his predecessor Bill Callahan recruited. However, just because you can bring talent into a program doesn’t mean that you can mold that talent into something called a “winner.”
Another prime example of that was John Blake at Oklahoma, who could recruit like the Tasmanian devil but could not get a winning season to save his job.
Pelini took a bunch of overweight, participation optional players and got them into shape. He ran multiple-hour conditioning drills last spring to run off those who might have been troublemakers to make sure he had players who were buying into his plan.
It wasn’t until the 10th game of the season that Pelini “awarded” the coveted “Blackshirts” to the defensive players. I also firmly believe that if the defense slacks off any in the future, he won’t hesitate to pull them back either.
Callahan got talent here, no doubt, but he failed to do anything with it, having a team that always seemed to underachieve, and a coaching staff that always failed to make adjustments during the game—a belief that 20-something kids could learn a 300-page playbook without problems.
Yes, Callahan gets some credit for recruiting talent. Do you suppose the Huskers could have won eight games without Ndamukong Suh, Ty Steinkuhler, or Pierre Allen on the defensive line? How would the offense have worked if Callahan hadn’t found Joe Ganz in Chicago? Would we have won without Roy Helu Jr. running like a madman over the final four games?
One of the major places where you see the differences is in how practice is handled. With Callahan it was all run on a nice, neat schedule: Run this drill, this drill, that play, two hours later practice is over, run for the office, lock the door, don’t talk to any reporters unless it is a controlled press conference. They made UPS look like a ragtag operation.
Now practices last upwards of three hours. Teaching is going on, Bo even watches the scout team run sprints. At the beginning of the year, the coaches tried to run the offense in the same manner as last year—heavy loaded on the line with tight ends and two-back sets—but the offense was stagnant, and the lack of a running game was putting pressure on Ganz and the passing game.
Following the blowout loss to Missouri, the coaching staff went back and reassessed the team. What followed was a change in approach.
They spread out the offensive line a bit, pulled the fullback from the formation, and went to the shotgun—the spread, if you will—allowing the quarterback and running back to read and react rather than going with set running plays where there were no holes. They also put in pass plays for the tight end.
Also, more attention to details was instituted. Penalties were no longer overlooked—you ran sprints if you committed one in practice. Guess what? Game penalties decreased, and the rushing attack flourished.
Another big change for this year was the institution of the belief that you have to save and plan for the future. There was no burning of a redshirt for the sake of a few plays in a couple of games here and there.
There is no doubt that freshmen linebackers Will Compton and Alonzo Whaley could have played this season, given the fact that Bo moved a three-year Letterman running back to linebacker to plug the gap. But just think of how much better they will be with a full year of practice and learning under their belts.
Maybe the best thing this coaching staff was able to accomplish that the previous one was severely lacking in is being able to make in-game adjustments.
I can’t even count the number of games over the previous four years where teams would see a weakness and attack it for the entire game, with Callahan and company either unwilling or unable to adjust to it. That was especially true on the defensive side of the ball with Kevin Cosgrove.
Take a look at the scoring by quarters, and you see this effect in BIG BOLD LETTERS. The Huskers were outscored by 15 points in the first quarter and then by 25 in the third quarter. However, we outscored our opponents by 40 points in the second quarter and a mind-blowing 100 points in the fourth and final quarter.
Bo would put the pedal down in the fourth quarter, and this team would simply blow by the opposition. They trailed by three points at half to Baylor and wound up winning by 12. Likewise, halftime ties with Kansas and Colorado turned into blowout wins. Even the Texas Tech game, where we trailed 24-10 before forcing overtime and almost pulled the game out in overtime, showed this “never say die” attitude.
Watch for my next article where I will provide some insight into the Gator Bowl preparation against Clemson. GBR!