College Football

Nebraska’s Identity Crisis

Eight games in and we still don’t know anything about the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2013 Edition.

Weird, isn’t it? Consistency has never been a hallmark of the Bo Pelini tenure, and it was perfectly evident Saturday after the Blackshirts looked clueless for one half and dominant for another. Do-everything quarterback Kain Colter threatened to take control but the Huskers switched to a four-man front at halftime (players’ choice, they’re saying) and asserted themselves. Hats off to the seniors, most notably Ciante Evans, who notched five tackles for loss.

Offensively, the Huskers limped and sputtered their way to 20 points (14, if you leave out miracle Hail Marys). Along the way Tommy Armstrong fired off cannonball passes in every direction, occasionally toward his receivers. Ameer Abdullah, that workhorse, pounded his way to his 1,000th yard despite a beleaguered offensive line. Why Tim Beck doesn’t feed him the ball thirty times per game eludes me.

And then there’s the body count. Off the top of my head I can’t remember a unit this ravaged by injuries. Starting quarterback, two offensive linemen, a tight end, two wide receivers, all gone. By the end of Saturday so many players, Wildcat and Husker alike, were beaten up, some carted off. Redshirt freshman Jordan Westerkamp stepped up, miracles aside, and played solid but others (such as Alonzo Moore) weren’t so adept.

But it gets sadder. Realize this, Nebraska fans: our team, after losing to Minnesota last week, needed a miracle to beat Northwestern. In 2012 this might have been okay, but in 2013 the Wildcats are now 4-5 and 0-5 in conference play.

Next Saturday’s trip to Ann Arbor will be another slugfest between two beaten-down teams. Michigan State’s defense is going to [insert meanest verb you can think of here] this offense in two weeks. If Nebraska struggled against those titans of defense Minnesota and Northwestern, the carnage against the Spartans will be Tarantino-esque.  Will Nebraska even score? Penn State and Iowa could go either way but after the physical and mental pounding NU is certain to take from Michigan State will there be any gas left in the tank?

Obviously in football anything is possible, but this team might go 6-6. Westerkamp’s catch at least bought the Huskers a bowl game, but anyone talking of new hope and a season revived is ignoring the bigger picture.

Without a doubt, this team is the worst of Pelini’s tenure. His ouster on November 30 is all but assured. What do we do until then?

If Tim Beck wants to give this team any chance, he needs to start playing to its strengths immediately. His game plan against Northwestern was baffling. With a beat up offensive line, first and third option at receiver out, missing a tight end, with his second string quarterback, with Abdullah averaging 7.1 yards per carry,  Beck called 46 passing plays. This was especially frustrating on NU’s next-to-last possession. Taking over with 3:16 to play, NU needed to bleed clock and get into field goal range. Abdullah carried twice for nine and seven yards, then Beck called for two passes from a quarterback that hadn’t been anywhere near accurate all day.

The first fell incomplete. The second was intercepted and nearly cost Nebraska the game.

Beck needs to get over his obsession with being “multiple” and go full-on high school offense for the rest of 2013. Armstrong may be a great passing quarterback someday, but that day is not coming this season. Let Abdullah carry this team to victory. He’s already proven that he can pick up 7+ yards per attempt regardless of whether the opponent is stacking the box. Why waste time being cute?

Despite my earlier pessimism, this team can steal three of these last four games (sorry, Huskers, I’m counting you out against Sparty, please prove me wrong) by sticking to a simple game plan and letting these kids grind it out. Westerkamp might look become Nate Swift or Todd Peterson someday, but today, he’s a scrawny freshman who is thirteen days away from lining up against the nation’s best defense.

In 2009 Pelini let a scrappy, ugly offense crawl its way to nine wins. The Beck-Pelini relationship has been the subject of much conjecture as Nebraska’s season has gone down the tubes, but I hope Pelini can pull rank on Beck and tell him to knock this “multiple” stuff off. Or maybe its Pelini insisting and Beck needs to get in his face. But Pelini has surrounded himself with yes-men assistants specifically so they won’t get in his face. It’s a tricky situation.

Four games left, Husker fans. Buckle up.

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