Four Downs: Nebraska vs Iowa

Well, Nebraska wins the “Heroes Game” and finishes the season the with my predicted record of 9-3. It was a solid season, with playmakers making the difference in key games. Let’s keep it with playmakers.

First Down: Lavonte David, Team MVP – Outside of Mike Rozier, what other junior college transfer has had an impact like Lavonte David as a Husker? (And even then, Rozier only played one season at the junior college level.) He broke the single season tackles record last season, and then this season played at an All-American level. A Butkus Award finalist, you saw his excellence throughout the game. One play summed up him up. He’s in coverage, and an Iowa WR pushes off on him. Lavonte falls to the ground, and the Iowa WR makes the catch. Lavonte chases him down, forces a fumble and recovers it. He does all this on a play where the Iowa WR is called for offensive pass interference against him. Again, on a play where the WR pushed him to the ground, Lavonte recovers and forces a turnover. He was a difference maker in a number of critical games this year. [Read more…]

Four Downs: Nebraska at Michigan

Well, Nebraska will be playing two more times in 2011, instead of one more time. What an all-around ugly performance today by the Huskers, with the exception of LB Lavonte David. I can’t believe I thought the Huskers deserved BCS consideration after watching them play today. [Read more…]

Four Downs: Nebraska at Penn State

A crazy week in college football comes to an end with Nebraska holding on to beat Penn State 17-14 in State College. If you read my blog, you know the scandal affected me. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was just observing everything at the outset of the game. A nice moment by Huskers assistant coach Ron Brown in leading both teams in prayer before the game. It seemed like it took a few series before the players were into the game. It was easy to understand why the fans weren’t into the game for awhile either.

First Down: Taylor Martinez – Almost one year ago, the Huskers almost came apart on the road, against Texas A&M. The chatter made it seem like a majority of fans were ready to throw Taylor Martinez out of Lincoln. Now? The guy is in command. He played another great game in all aspects. If his receivers catch a few more balls, his numbers look real good. He’s showing what his teammates have been saying this season, he is the leader on offense. Who would’ve thought this a year ago, or even after the Wisconsin game? He’s playing great. The third quarter touchdown drive was a thing of beauty, especially the option pitch to Rex Burkhead for the touchdown. If he keeps this up, he’ll join a list of Husker players who were doubted early in their career, only to be regarded as legends once they finished.

Second Down: This game should’ve been over earlier – Penn State’s offense is awful, but Nebraska helped them out in the second half. In the third quarter, Penn State QB, Matt McGloin, got away with an underthrown pass, into double coverage, for a huge gain that the Huskers secondary lost track of. That big play led to the first Penn State touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Huskers went to the well too often with Burkhead under center and Martinez in the backfield. Penn State blew up the play, and Burkhead fumbled it. (Or Burkhead apologists will blame Tyler Legate. Whatever. Anyway…) There was no need for that at that point in the game. Nebraska was moving the ball down the field and taking time off the clock. It gave Penn State another chance, and they converted for a touchdown to make it 17-14 with under six minutes to play. I can’t complain too much because Husker fans will take any win they can.

Third Down: Brett Maher gets a game ball – His kicking was the difference in the game. He made his field goal opportunity, while Penn State’s kicker missed his. More importantly, his punts pinned Penn State back on their side of the field. One of the key plays of the season? Maher’s 61 yard punt late in the fourth quarter, which pinned Penn State back as they drove for the tie or win. Dude is money.

Fourth Down: The axion goes, “Big time players make big time plays” – Lavonte David made the critical fourth down stop late in the game, especially when it seemed the Blackshirts were tiring. He had a solid game as usual. Alfonzo Dennard was shutting down receivers and showing why he is a potential first round pick in the NFL Draft. Burkhead, despite the fumble, had a solid game running the ball, and got better as the game progressed. Martinez made conversions on third down. Nebraska’s best players stepped up and won the game.

Looking Ahead: Nebraska can’t worry about what Michigan State does. All they can do is take care of business. And, who knows, it might be better for Nebraska to win out and not make the Big Ten Championship Game. Hear me out. Nebraska wins out and is 10-2. They still have a chance to be picked for a BCS Bowl Game because Husker fans travel well. Now, they need some help for that to happen, but it could happen. First things first, beat Michigan next week. It’s simple. If they contain QB Denard Robinson, they will win the game. If they don’t, they will lose the game. The Huskers two losses came against teams with mobile QB’s.

Postscript: Say a prayer for the victims, and their families, in this sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. The scars will be with them forever, but they can overcome it. It will be hard, and take time, but it can be done. I hope the Penn State community continues to rally around and support the victims and their families. I also hope the Penn State community can deal with the reality of the scandal, address it and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again, and get back to being a well-regarded university. It will take time, and whether they like it or not this scandal will always be linked with them. This past week, I saw one columnist link this scandal, and Joe Paterno, with what former Husker RB Lawrence Phillips did in assaulting a woman and Tom Osborne keeping him on the team. While that scandal is still mentioned from time to time, it doesn’t define Nebraska. I hope this sexual abuse scandal doesn’t come to define Penn State either, even though they’ll always be linked with it. I know a few Penn State grads, and they are good people that are proud of their university. They’ve been disgusted by their university the past week. I hope they can be proud of their university again.

Four Downs: Nebraska vs Northwestern

After last week’s domination of Michigan State, you thought the Huskers had righted the ship and were in prime position to win their division. I should have waited another game before thinking Nebraska was on its way. Looking back, there seems to be one game a season, under Pelini, the Huskers lose they shouldn’t. Today was that game. A number of little things added up to lead to the biggest upset since Iowa State was on the receiving end of eight Nebraska turnovers in 2009.
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Four Downs: Nebraska vs Michigan State

The season was on the line, and Nebraska rose up and responded to the challenge. Were they aided by Michigan State’s recent gauntlet of games? Perhaps it was a factor, but there was never any doubt who the better team on the field was today.

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Four Downs: Nebraska at Minnesota

Was that a game, or a scrimmage Nebraska just played? At some point in the second quarter, the analysts drifted away from the game. In the third quarter, one of the tv analysts, former Washington QB Brock Huard, spent more time critiquing Taylor Martinez’s throwing motion than calling the game.* The fourth quarter had time dedicated to a hypothetical Boise State vs Alabama matchup. I was searching for Christmas gifts to buy my boys. Not much to say from this game, let’s get to it.

*By the way, Brock Huard was a 54% career passer at Washington. Taylor Martinez? 57%.
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Bo in the Locker Room After the Ohio State Game (VIDEO)

Courtesy of Randy York’s post on Husker Insider, video capturing the camaraderie and family atmosphere of the Husker football team.

Four Downs: Huskers Midseason Report

The Huskers are 5-1, right where most people pegged them to be. Granted, the play behind that 5-1 record does little to inspire confidence for the rest of the season. Let’s look at some statistics, and then go to Four Downs.

Preseason AP Ranking: 10
Current AP Ranking: 14
Football Outsiders S&P+ Ranking: 34
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Four Downs: Nebraska v Ohio State

A season saving win for the Huskers tonight. I hope it isn’t overshadowed by the postgame press conference Bo Pelini just had. We’ll get to that in a minute, but…wow. And, special thanks to my wife who texted and tweeted updates for me while we were driving home at the start of the fourth quarter. Not only that, she let me watch the final few minutes of the game while she took our three boys (ages 4, 3 and 6 months) up to bed. My wife is amazing and a servant.

First Down: What just happened? – Is Nebraska that good/bad or is Ohio State that good/bad? Ohio State was destroying Nebraska on the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes, ranked 108th in total offense, looked faster and stronger than the Huskers. I was tweeting irrationally, for most of the game, because I was mystified by the Huskers execution. Losing 27-6 at one point? It was ugly, and I was thinking about how ugly it was going to get. Lavonte David makes a huge defensive play, by stripping the ball from Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller, and the Huskers started their comeback. Then, the Huskers get a bit lucky when Miller gets hurt in the third quarter. I don’t think the Huskers win if he doesn’t get injured, but that’s part of the game. Injuries happen.Why Ohio State was calling so many pass plays with Miller’s backup, Joe Bauserman, I don’t understand either. I don’t care. Those things combined with Taylor Martinez’s drive and the consistency of Rex Burkhead led to the Huskers comeback. They are 5-1.  At the start of the third quarter, no one was thinking that was going to happen. They aren’t a top fifteen team. Heck, you could make a case they don’t deserve to be rated. Nevertheless, they are 5-1.
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Four Downs: Nebraska at Wisconsin

No shame in losing to Wisconsin, but when Nebraska loses like that it’s sad. As Bo Pelini said, “That was a joke.” No reason to belabor anything. Let’s get to it.

First Down: Russell Wilson is now a Heisman favorite – For awhile there, I thought the Huskers defense was playing well. They were making some stops, and they were getting pressure on Russell Wilson. It didn’t matter. Wilson would escape out of the pressure, most of the times, and make plays. When he wasn’t breaking ankles on the Huskers defense, he was throwing darts to his receivers. The good news? Nebraska won’t play a better QB this year, including Denard Robinson.

Second Down: Setting Taylor Martinez up to fail – Yes, Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions, but why was he being asked to throw so many times? The offense was performing well in the first quarter. Then Tim Beck seemed to panic and got away from the run in the second quarter. Martinez may have looked good passing in the first quarter, but that is a misnomer. There is enough of a sample size now to know he is not a passing QB. Getting away from the run led hurt the Huskers. So what if Jamal Turner is a difference maker at WR? You’re still reliant on Martinez getting him the ball.

Third Down: The more things change, the more they stay the same – Turnovers (Wisconsin scores 21 points off Husker turnovers), penalties (9 for 80 yards), panic on offense (giving up on run early in game, relying too much on Martinez), putting the defense in a difficult spot (and this year the defense isn’t as good to cover for the offense)…sound familiar?

Fourth Down: Can you fix it? – Bo Pelini said that he was confident he could fix the defense. Can he? It’s hard to say because I’m sure the repeated interceptions and stalled drives sapped the spirit of the Huskers defense. Plus, Russell Wilson is that good. Nevertheless, this defense is a work in progress, especially behind the front four (except Lavonte David). If the Huskers defense can improve, Nebraska should be in a rematch with Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Looking Ahead: Wisconsin is the best team Nebraska has played since 2008 Oklahoma. The rest of the schedule for Nebraska? It should be downhill after this, but who knows? Does anyone know how good, or bad, this Huskers team is? If the play calls on offense are reminiscent of Shawn Watson, if Taylor Martinez is being asked to win games by passing, if the defense doesn’t improve, it could be a long season for the Huskers. I’ll still stick with 9-3 for the Huskers’ season, because no one else in the Big Ten is as good as Wisconsin. However, Nebraska can’t seem to get out of its own way.