Bo Pelini's Defensive Turnaround Will Be Key If Huskers Upset Longhorns

Michael HuckstepCorrespondent INovember 25, 2009

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 27:  Maurice Purify #16 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabs a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against cornerback Brandon Foster #28 of the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium October 27, 2007 in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 28-25.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Yes, I know that Maurice Purify (pictured) no longer plays for Nebraska. So save your emails.

Yes, I know the Huskers lost the game shown in the above photo.

And yes, I know that Nebraska still has one more important game before the Huskers play in the Big XII Championship. Bo Pelini has been quick to point that out to everyone who's shoved a microphone in his face. The Huskers don't need to get ahead of themselves.

After the division-clinching victory over Kansas State, Pelini said as much. This week's priority is Colorado.

But what else is Pelini supposed to say? Whether you believe that he and his coaching staff have looked ahead to Texas or not, he gave the right answer. It's called "coachspeak." While it's sometimes maddening, it's uniformly consistent.

"We need to take one game at a time."

"We can't look past anyone on our schedule."

And so forth and so on, ad nauseam.

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But we sportswriters are not bound by the same rules. We can write about anything we want, whenever we want, and run the risk of looking foolish later.

So, do I think that a Nebraska victory this Friday is a given?

Absolutely not.

Colorado, whose season began circling the drain almost as soon as it started, would love nothing more to beat the North Division Champion Cornhuskers. It would be like Bactine on the skinned hides of the Buffaloes, taking some of the sting out of their disastrous 2009 campaign.

But it's been that way ever since former Colorado coach Bill McCartney made the Buffaloes' annual contest against the Huskers their "red letter game."

Throw out the records; this is for more than just bragging rights. There is actual hatred involved in this "rivalry," which puzzles many Nebraska fans who, hearkening back to the heyday of the Big Eight, always thought that Oklahoma was their biggest rival.

While I'm on the subject, thanks Big XII. Thanks for removing the annual clash between Nebraska and Oklahoma. One of those games is only considered to be the "Game of the Century," even to this day. No need to keep that yearly battle alive.

No, sir.

OK. Sarcasm mode off. I digress.

The intent of this article is to address some of the impatient Nebraska fans, those I've seen on this website and others, and their assertion that Husker Nation has settled for mediocrity.

There have been many that have called for Shawn Watson's head. While I may not agree, I can see how some of the frustrations surrounding the Nebraska offense might manifest themselves that way.

What I really have an issue with is the segment of supposed Nebraska backers who no longer believe that Bo Pelini is the coach to lead the Huskers back to national prominence. That segment is out there, believe me. I've seen them.

I attribute this mainly to two things.

First off, a sizable portion of Husker fans grew up in the '90s, when the Huskers were routinely pummeling their opposition. They're not used to seeing the Big Red struggle against teams they used to dominate. When Frank Solich's record was less than stellar (for reasons we can debate from now until Judgment Day), the university brass panicked and made a coaching hire that easily set the program back five to ten years.

Nebraska fans who grew up in the '70s and '80s were used to several cruel setbacks during the period between the Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne Championships.

In short, they had weathered a long stretch of Nebraska near-misses and Husker heartbreaks. They're from a generation that is less demanding and perhaps more appreciative of the incredible run that the Big Red enjoyed in the 1990s.

Secondly, I believe that some fans are losing sight of the big picture.

Pelini is in only his second full season. How many years did it take the great Dr. Tom Osborne to win his first national championship?

I'm not necessarily advocating that we give Pelini 20 years to work things out, but let's tap the brake a little, shall we?

Why, you ask? Read on Husker Nation.

Although I'm not a "stats guy," as I believe that they can be manipulated to bolster practically any argument, a cursory look at some very simple stats shows that Pelini has made great strides toward improving this team.

True, the improvement has come defensively, and the offense is still woefully inadequate, but it's been the Pelini defense that has put the Huskers back into the Big XII title game in his second season.

Let's look at those stats, shall we?

In 2007, the Nebraska defense surrendered an average of 37.9 pts/gm and 476.8 yds/gm.

In 2008, Pelini's first year, the defense improved, giving up 28.5 pts/gm and 349.9 yds/gm.

So far this year?

The Blackshirts have further improved, allowing only 10.3 pts/gm and 281.3 yds/gm.

To put it in further perspective, Nebraska ranks third nationally in pass efficiency defense, third in scoring defense (behind only Florida and Alabama), and eighth in total defense.

The improvement doesn't end there either. The Huskers rank 14th nationally in rushing defense, 14th in sacks, and 17th in pass defense.

Does this mean that Nebraska will crush Colorado? No.

Does this mean that the Huskers will win the Big XII? Again, no.

But what it does mean is that Pelini is doing what he knows best—which is build a championship-caliber defense. Additionally, I have faith that if the administration thinks that Watson is not the OC to get the offense running on all cylinders, Bo & T.O. will make the necessary changes. The program is in good hands.

To bail out on Pelini in hopes of luring a "marquee" coach to Lincoln (an unrealistic prospect, at best) would only create more instability in a program that has had more than its fair share this decade.

Besides, it would be a waste of Pelini's defensive accomplishments thus far—which, barring some incredible offensive explosion, are Nebraska's only hope of upsetting Texas.

So, whether you care to admit it or not, Pelini's transformation of the Blackshirts into one of the best defensive units in the country is the primary reason that the Huskers find themselves vying for a Big XII title (regardless of the outcome).

And it's the only reason this debate is even possible.


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