Monthly Archives: August 2008

Impressive, yet concerning start

Well last night was a great start for the Nebraska Football team, beating Western Michigan 47-24. Joe Ganz lead the way for the offense with 345 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs while Cody Glenn lead the way for the defense with 12 total tackles (9 unassisted) and 3 pass breakups. This was a good showing overall, but left much to be desired as well.

Offensively, the Huskers relied heavily on Ganz’s arm and the passing game. The Huskers abandoned the run after just a few series, yet they were effective playing this style. There are a variety of factors that went into that decision – not least among which was the fact that starting RT Lydon Murtha was sitting out with an arm injury.

Western Michigan was loading the box with typically 7 or 8 players, challenging Ganz – who threw for 1,500+ yards and 16 TDs in just three starts last season – to beat them through the air and Ganz was more than happy to oblige. With that combination of factors the run game just couldn’t get off and running. This is something that the coaching staff will have to fix in the next few weeks, because this team won’t go anywhere if they have no running game.

On the defensive side I was actually quite impressed at times. Cody Glenn is a beast at linebacker – making me wonder why he wasn’t playing there Continue reading

It’s Gameday!

It’s like Christmas around these parts, it’s time to open up the shiny new present that is the college football season. Excitement is building and today has already been full of “surprises.”

Pittsburgh lost to Bowling Green 27-17 in Pittsburgh – showing that Pitt was extremely overrated coming into this season. It wasn’t really a surprise to me to see Pitt fall the way that they did, however it was very gratifying after hearing such high expectations for this squad. Their season is by no means over – although any hopes at a national championship is – but this isn’t a good start to the season.

The other one was a little more of a surprise for me as Virginia Tech fell to Eastern Carolina 27-22 in Charlotte. This is a disappointing result for Frank Beamer and his Hokies – but it was not entirely unexpected as Eastern Carolina is a talented team. However, this is both good and bad news for the Nebraska Cornhuskers – as their marquee non-conference match up has already lost a little luster.

The Huskers will kickoff here in about two hours. Unfortunately for anyone who reads this blog (crossing fingers…) I won’t be able to update through the game since I’ll be manning a camera for the JournalStar.com and HuskerExtra.com. So after the game I’ll come back and discuss what I saw, and what to expect in the next week. If you happen to not be going to the game, have it on pay-per-view or going to a bar to see it, then I’d suggest you check out the HuskerExtra.com coverage along with listening to it on the radio or online. It should be a great time!

Husker Issue 4: Coach Bo Pelini

With all the hype surrounding Bo Pelini’s return to Nebraska and restoring the traditions, we have forgotten that Pelini has yet to be a real head coach. Yes, he had the “Head Coach” title when Nebraska played Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, but there was a big ol’ “Interim” tag that went along with it. Pelini is a great coach and a great defensive mind, but I’m still concerned because he has no real head coaching experience.

Back in 2003, Pelini led a resurgent Blackshirt defense – serving as Defensive Coordinator under Frank Solich. However, Solich was fired after a 9-3 regular season, and AD Steve Pederson tabbed Pelini as the coach for the bowl game – which the Huskers won as fans in San Antonio called for Bo to be hired. After that season there was a long search for a new head coach and Pelini was given an “interview” but was never a legitimate candidate – as Pederson wanted fresh blood and someone with ties to the NFL.

Pederson found his man in the recently fired Oakland Raiders’ head coach Bill Callahan. Pelini, feeling spurned left for Oklahoma then LSU. This year he returns for earnest as the head coach.

I can’t help but feel good about the hire, and I think that he will do a very good job down the road. However, I just don’t know how he’ll do this season. Before March he had never lead a practice – although now he has two training seasons of experience – and he has yet to show how he’ll respond to different aspects of the game. It’s something that you learn by doing, not just watching – so he has to get his cuts in sometime.

Pelini can also lean heavily on his coaching staff – full of experienced coaches and good motivators. He did a good thing by keeping the offense intact from last season and keeping Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson and Receivers Coach Ted Gilmore. Really the question remains, how will Pelini respond to the gameday atmosphere and the wrinkles that inevitably show themselves after kickoff?

As I stated before, I feel confident in Pelini’s ability in the long run. However, I’m concerned for this season, especially early on.

Husker Issue 3: Return Game

In the third installment of Pre-season Husker Issues, I’m going to talk about the Husker’s return game. This is an area of concern because of Nebraska’s history of having a strong return game. From Johnny Rogers to DeJuan Groce, Nebraska has been known to possess strong kick returning abilities. However, under Bill Callahan the kick return game dropped off almost entirely.

In the past four years, the Huskers have returned a total of one kick for a touchdown – Courtney Grixby’s 94 yard return against Kansas State last season – and that does not sit well with Husker Nation. Coming into this season the Huskers look to find a playmaker in the return game, but are starting over after losing their top returner in Grixby.

We’ve been told who will start at the returning spots this season, but it doesn’t shed light on how they will actually do. Back deep on kickoffs will be Junior Safety Larry Asante and Sophomore Wide Receiver Niles Paul. These two bring different aspects to the return game, with Asante being more of a speed and straight line threat while Paul is more powerful and can break tackles easier. However, don’t take that to mean that Paul isn’t a speed threat as well – he has the tools to be a very dynamic returnman.

In the punting game the key is being able to catch the ball, then make the first man or two miss. The first person called on to do that this season will be Nate Swift. In high school, Swift was a dynamic punt returner, and he hopes to be able to rekindle that this season. But I can’t help but wonder if he’s a little removed from those days to be able to channel that fire. Swift is a good player, and has great hands, so I’m not concerned – the most important thing is to catch the ball and Swift will do that.

The real concern I have with the punt returners is how they have been having problems catching punts during camp. Behind Swift is Paul – a more dynamic player – but he has had problems receiving punts during camp. And the name that I was most intrigued by was RB Marcus Mendoza.

Mendoza is a huge homerun hitter, with speed to burn and body control similar to that of an EA Sports NCAA Football running back. However, the problem is he can’t seem to keep his hands on the ball. Mendoza has had plenty of camp highlights in the return game, but has had more than his fair share of mishaps. I would love to see Mendoza work his way into the game sometime – but he’ll have to secure his hands first.

So in the end, this is a concern more because of the lack of homerun hitters. Look for the Huskers to continue playing it safe in the return game, and making sure they just keep hold of the ball. This season that might be the best idea and is completely acceptable. However, at some point in time Husker fans will begin to yearn for their returners of old – and a homerun hitter will be needed. But for now, just hold the ball.

Captains named

Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini announced today the team’s choices for captains come Saturday. No real surprises in the choices as the team picked four seniors to represent them at center field pre-game. This week’s captains are QB Joe Ganz, RG Matt Slauson, DE Barry Turner and P Dan Titchener.

Ganz has been the heart and soul of this team since he took over for Sam Keller last season, and Slauson is a very outspoken individual. This season Turner has kept his head down and worked his tail off, and Titchener has improved every year he’s been the punter. Overall, good choices and good leaders.

Musings…

With the college football season kicking off this week – notably tomorrow – and so to get rolling I’ve been thinking about a couple of games this weekend.

Of course I’ve been thinking about the Huskers’ opener against Western Michigan … but I’ve touched that subject enough in other posts. So right now I’m going to talk about a couple of other teams, and a couple games to look out for this weekend.

First lets touch base with a couple of important teams in the Big XII – Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

Oklahoma

My – and every other journalist’s – favorite to win the Big XII this season. They have all the talent to get the job done. They return record setting sophomore QB Sam Bradford – who last season lead the nation in passer efficiency – and have a stable of young talented running backs. That doesn’t even mention the fact that they still have Head Coach Bob Stoops – whose defenses are always among the nation’s best. This team is poised for a very good season, and at this point in time I see them in the National Championship Game.

Missouri

This Missouri Tigers team returns a core of very talented players in Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin. They are poised to be the Big XII North champions – at least pre-season – and have the talent to contend nationally. These Tigers pack a pretty wicked bite … and teams will find this out pretty quickly – if they can get past a tough test in Illinois this Saturday.

Texas

I added Texas to this list because they are always good. It’s a stupid decision to every count the Longhorns out of the Big XII and national scene. Colt McCoy returns for a third year at the helm of the offense – and all reports are that he is better than ever. The real question for the Longhorn’s offense is who do they find to replace Limas Sweed and Nate Jones? Yes they still have Quan Cosby, but he’s been injured and will be defense’s focus. And for that matter who is going to replace Jamaal Charles? Sure, Texas has the cream of the crop in recruiting so there is someone waiting in the wings, but McCoy better hope they develop fast.

Kansas

Kansas was the surprise team of the 2007 season finishing an amazing 11-1 – their only loss was to Missouri – and winning the Fiesta Bowl. However, they lost their leading rusher and receiver and must try to catch lightning in a bottle again, and quite frankly I don’t think they’ll do it. Don’t get me wrong, they are a very talented team and will be good, but no one should expect much more than a 9-4 season. Todd Reesing will put up his numbers and will be a great player out on the field, but expect some losses and maybe an upset or two…

Texas Tech

 Who would I be to not jump on the TTech bandwagon here at the beginning of the season? This team will flat out score points. With the return of QB Graham Harrell and All-World WR Michael Crabtree this team has two legit Heisman candidates in their starting line up. The question mark for this team is improved defensive play. Last season they started poorly on the defensive side of the ball, but finished strong under a new Defensive Coordinator – who will lead them from the start this year. If this team can play defense – and not just out score every opponent – they will be sitting in a good spot come the last weekend of the season when they play Oklahoma – maybe for the Big XII South crown.

Anyway, those were some short capsules on the five major players in the Big XII before the season starts. Anything can happen at any time … however, look for those five teams come November to be pushing for great bowl bids.

This weeks games to watch

Thursday: #23 Wake Forrest at Baylor 6 p.m.

Unfortunately this game won’t be televised … at all. But I believe it is the most intruiging matchup on paper. You have a nationally ranked Wake Forrest squad traveling to face an improved Baylor team. First upset of the season?

Saturday: #3 USC at Virginia, 2:30 p.m. ABC

Will USC dominate opponents like they have in the past? Or is there a crack for someone to exploit? Don’t look for Virginia to be the team to exploit any cracks, but it could be interesting to see how USC starts this season.

Saturday: Appalachian State at #7 LSU, 4 p.m. ESPN

Can Appalachian State repeat what they did opening weekend last season? Is LSU the next Michigan? Probably not, but Appalachian State is about as talented a team as you’ll ever find in the FCS, and they might test Tiger team that is breaking in a new, very inexperienced quarterback.

Saturday: #24 Alabama at #9 Clemson, 7 p.m. ABC

Can Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide beat Clemson on the road? This will be a great game, and if for nothing else than we get to watch Clemson RBs James Davis and C.J. Spiller…

Monday: #18 Tennessee at UCLA, 7 p.m. ESPN

What progress will be shown by UCLA under new coach Rick Neuheisel? Not enough to beat Tennessee, but it could be fun to watch. That and we get to find out what UCLA will do without a No. 1 QB.

And finally, the Game of the Week…

Saturday: #20 Illinois vs. #6 Missouri, 7 p.m. ESPN (Held in St. Louis)

I think that this will be the most entertaining game on the slate this weekend. Missouri comes in with all the hype, and Illinois is just an after thought after going to the Rose Bowl last season. Illinois returns QB Juice Williams and this could be an upset in the making. How big of a story would it be in Columbia, Missouri if the Tigers returned 0-1 after all the off-season hype.

Husker Issue 2: Running Backs

Heading into the 2008 season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have two real strengths on the roster – offensive line and running back. So why is running backs an issue for me? Simple, there’s a three way tie on the depth chart.

Going into Saturday’s game against Western Michigan, senior Marlon Lucky (206 CAR, 1019 yards, 9 TD) is co-No. 1 with sophomores Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille. Lucky is the only returning running back in the Big XII to have rushed for a 1000+ yards, and on top of that he also set a single season record with 75 receptions for 705 yards and 3 touchdowns. Lucky is an all-purpose back, who I see having a monster year behind a deep and talented offensive line.

However, he’s not alone in the picture. Helu (45 CAR, 209 yards, 0 TD) is a similar back to Lucky in his down-hill running style – but lacks the receiving prowess that Lucky gives. Castille (76 CAR, 343 yards, 4 TD) on the other hand gives the Huskers a powerful bruiser between the tackles, and with Castille slimming down to 233 pounds – from 255 last season – he’s gained much needed foot speed. These two backs will see plenty of playing time, and are expected to carry a heavy load for the Husker offense.

With that in mind, I still can’t see how Lucky won’t be the go to player in the backfield. He offers too many wrinkles that the other two just can’t do themselves. With Lucky on the field, the opposing defenses must defend against both the threat of down-hill running – and tremendous breakaway speed – but keep a wary eye on Lucky as a receiver. But I must say that I expect less output receiving wise from Lucky this season.

Along with those things, Lucky is by far the best option at picking up blitzes and protecting the quarterback. Trust me, Joe Ganz loves the fact that his “go-to” back is also his best blocking back. But that doesn’t mean that Helu and Castille aren’t good/improving at blocking. In fact, Castille said that his number one priority heading into this season was to improve his blocking and picking up blitzes – and by all accounts he has come back this season much improved in that aspect. However, one can’t expect a true sophomore to recognize blitzes and know where they need to position for blocking as well as a senior.

The true question in my mind for Castille- and a concern on the minds of most Husker fans – is about his hands and, more to the point, his propensity to fumble the football. Last season Castille fumbled the ball four times in 76 carries – once every 19 carries – and lost three of those – against Ball State, Texas A&M and Kansas. In the spring Red/White game Castille fumbled once in his five carries. This is the kind of thing that concerns fans and local journalists – like me – alike.

On the flip side, Helu had zero fumbles in 45 touches last season, and Lucky had one in 28d1 total touches last season. With those numbers staring me in the face, I put the ball in the hands of Lucky or Helu much more than the fumble-prone Castille. However, Castille is a bruiser, and in all likelihood has improved his hands and ball security – the only way to tell is giving him the ball and letting him run.

In the end, the three running backs are very talented and raring to go. And although they are all listed as No. 1 on the depth chart, Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson has said that Lucky is his starter – and go-to back. I see Lucky getting the most carries, but at times splitting out wide and having another back on the field at the same time. And in a position as physically demanding as running back, having three good players is a good problem to have.

Prediction (sure to be wrong … yet oh so much fun … ):

Lucky – 200 CAR, 1,500 yards, 15 TD; 50 REC, 575 yards, 5 TD

Helu – 150 CAR, 850 yards, 7 TD; 15 REC, 125 yards, 0 TD

Castille – 115 CAR, 500 yards, 7 TD; 10 REC, 115 yards, 0 TD