Tag:Shawn Watson
Posted on: October 24, 2009 7:08 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2009 3:02 am
 

State of Shock: Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7

The Huskers entered the stadium solemnly, four-by-four, arms interlocked as a show of unity.  A silent display to all, a statement that they would not be divided following a loss to Texas Tech the week before and and all the criticism that followed it.

The Cyclones entered the stadium not having won there since 1977.

As the old rhetorical question goes, "If you knew before the game that Nebraska's defense would hold the Cyclones, who were playing with a redshirt freshman at QB and another redshirt freshman replacing the Big XII's leading rusher, to nine points, would you think that the Huskers would win?"  Yes, that was a bit longer than your typical rhetorical question, but the point is made.  Most Husker fans would feel confident going into that contest, not knowing that the sum total of Nebraska's points would be a three-yard touchdown run by Dontrayevous Robinson.

Nebraska's first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble (fittingly, it would later seem) by Roy Helu Jr.  Nebraska's last play ended in an interception by Zac Lee.  In between, there would be six more giveaways by the Husker offense.

The Cyclones, meanwhile, didn't turn the ball over even once, preserving the ball and a two-point victory that left Husker fans speechless, temporarily.

Temporarily I say, because my cell phone has already blown up with calls of "Fire Watson!", "Bench Lee!" and the suggestion that our trip next week to Waco, to watch the Huskers play Baylor, be canceled.

So, is the "pound of flesh" that Husker Nation demands warranted?

To be sure, an autopsy of this cold corpse of a game is needed, no matter how painful.

Following the Robinson score, Nebraska's defense stopped Iowa State and, after a punt, Nebraska's offense started at their own fourteen-yard line.  They moved the ball methodically to the Iowa State sixteen where a bizarre play that changed the entire complexion of the game occurred.  The Cyclones' Jesse Smith tipped a Lee pass intended for Mike McNeill which bounced around like an exploding kernel of popcorn and finally landed in his teammate's hands.  The game wasn't the same after that.

To be sure, this is not your father's Cyclones.  A fake punt on the next possession extended the Iowa State drive.  Jerome Tiller (one of the aformentioned redshirt freshmen) threw a 47-yard bomb to Jake Williams for a touchdown.  A recurring theme: Nebraska's defense played well overall, but gave up a huge, game-changing play.  And while the extra point was blocked by Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska would not lead again, let alone score.

In the second quarter, Niles Paul dropped a sure touchdown catch as he was tripped up on his way to six points.  The ball dribbled into the end zone and was pounced upon by a Cyclone defender.  From touchdown to touchback in the blink of an eye.

On Iowa State's ensuing drive, it looked like Nebraska would force a turnover of their own as Barry Turner stripped a scrambling Tiller, but Jared Crick was unable to recover the fumble.  Any momentum that Nebraska might have gained was thwarted.

The Husker offense tried to compose themselves and drove down the field following a Cyclone punt.  Then Helu supposedly fumbled at the ISU two yard-line.  I say supposedly, because the call on the field was overturned when it seemed fairly cut and dried to everyone not wearing Iowa State colors (or black and white stripes).  Touchback.

Either way, Helu wasn't right.  Robinson's number was called.  For a while he shouldered Nebraska's offensive load and did it with an aggressive attitude, an attitude that ended up costing him and his team.  While running through Cyclone defenders in the red zone, Robinson gained a first down, was stood up at the ISU five and, while he was fighting for more yards, stripped of the ball.

The Cyclone offense was stopped once more by the Husker defense.  Nebraska again with the ball, their inconsistent offensive line playing almost the entire game without its starting center, Jacob Hickman, allowed a sack, bringing up third and fifteen.  Lee completed a pass to Menelik Holt, who was also stripped.  Cyclones' ball.

The Blackshirts again stopped Iowa State despite the Cyclones having their best field position of the day and Suh punctuated the defensive stop with another blocked kick that was returned by Sean Fisher to the Iowa State thirty-five.  However, the offense failed to get anything out of it.

If this sounds repetitive, well, it was.  All day, Nebraska's offense shot itself in the foot, the hand, the head and Nebraska's defense tried to keep the walking wounded of the offense in the game.  They couldn't.

Two more interceptions by Lee in the fourth quarter, as he tried to make something, anything happen and, in the end, Nebraska would have more turnovers (eight) than points.

The turnovers would breakdown this way: Helu fumble, Lee interception, Paul fumble, Helu fumble, Robinson fumble, Holt fumble, Lee interception, Lee interception.

Did Lee throw errant passes?  Yes.  But, while it's easy to point at the quarterback for the loss, his receivers had too many dropped passes.  The Huskers couldn't hold onto the ball when it mattered and tied their record for turnovers in a game.

Take nothing away from Iowa State.  Yes, they got lucky at times, but they also forced turnovers.  Again, Nebraska had eight giveaways.  Iowa State had none.  Nebraska lost by two points.  They were lucky that the margin was that small.  Against the powerhouses of the Big XII, they would have lost by five touchdowns or more.

So, you could blame Lee.  You could blame Watson.  But when the offense literally drops the ball on almost every possession, this is the result.  

Needless to say, it ain't pretty.  As ugly as a 9-7 game sounds in theory, this one was downright hideous.

Posted on: October 9, 2009 7:23 am
Edited on: October 24, 2009 9:17 pm
 

Declawed: Nebraska 27, Missouri 12

For three quarters, I'm sure that most of Husker Nation was feeling the same way: Here we go again.

After dispatching the Ragin' Cajuns 55-0, our beloved Cornhuskers were getting embarrassed on a national stage once more.  All that talk of Nebraska's inability to win a road game against a ranked opponent, the same mantra over and over again by media types of every stature.

Shawn Watson tried running Helu inside with poor results.  In the third quarter, Helu tried the sidelines with only slight improvement.  Zac Lee, despite his upbeat demeanor, was throwing above and behind receivers.  The flooded field was further flooded by yellow flags on both teams.  Time and time again, the Huskers' transgressions seemed to come at the most inopportune moments; the proverbial self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the foot.  Special teams were almost impossible to watch, causing more than one Husker fan's heart to catch in their throat each time a punt by either squad was attempted and well before the safety that started the scoring for Mizzou.  Admirably, the blackshirtless "Blackshirts", anchored by Ndamukong Suh, kept NU in the game.  Yet, seemingly certain interceptions bounced from their grasp and once again they gave the impression that they were unable to finish a complete half of football as the second quarter expired.  My honest and (somewhat) unbiased opinion?  Gabbert's knee was down.

So for three quarters, visions of how fiery Coach Bo was going to berate his team were flashing through my mind while I pieced together the criticisms I intended to unleash on the Huskers (and their staff) in my commentary.

Then, while the rain kept falling in Columbia, the clouds abruptly parted for the Huskers.

Three plays into the final stanza and, like a bolt of lightning from those same rain clouds, Niles Paul benefited from a blown assignment in the Mizzou secondary (sound familiar?) and a beautiful pass from Lee which resulted in a 56-yard touchdown strike.  Even from my comfortable (and dry) seat on my living room sofa some five hundred miles away, I could feel a cold wave of apprehension and disbelief ripple through Faurot Field.

Momentum had swung in an instant.  Husker fans everywhere hoped that Nebraska could capitalize on it and erase a five-point deficit.  They didn't have to wait long.  On the Tigers' first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Ndamukong Suh showed again why he is a man among boys, as he took to the air to intercept a Gabbert pass.  Prior to that, the former Husker-commit hadn't thrown a pick all season.  It wouldn't be his last.  Suddenly, the crack in Missouri's composure had become a fissure; one large enough for Niles Paul to run through again and score his second touchdown, a thirteen yard pass from a resurgent Lee.  Although, the Huskers failed to convert their two-point try, the damage was done.  The thoroughly soaked gold and black clad locals, hoping to see their team defeat Nebraska for the third year in a row, a feat not accomplished in most of their lifetimes, could only stand in the rain with their mouths agape.

Meanwhile, the Husker faithful who had made this rain-drenched journey rejoiced; nothing could dampen their spirits.

Especially when a mere three plays into Mizzou's next possession, Dejon Gomes, neatly stepped in front of another Gabbert pass near the midfield stripe and took it to the Tigers' ten-yard line.  Mike McNeill ran a delayed route on third down, made the grab, and waltzed into the endzone with nary a Tiger in sight for the Huskers' third touchdown of the quarter.

With each ensuing score, the Tiger fans became further dejected, further deflated and farther from the stadium as they sought shelter from not only the garden-variety rain, but the Big Red reign as well.

On Mizzou's next drive, the Nebraska defense seemed to soften, allowing the Tigers to gain some yardage, aided by a weak horse collar penalty called on Suh, but then found their aggressiveness once more.  Following a holding call on Missouri, Gabbert threw four straight incompletions and surrendered the ball to the Huskers.

While running out the clock, Helu finally broke loose for a 41-yard gain, then punched in Nebraska's final score from the five-yard line on the ensuing play.  A handful of meaningless seconds ticked away into the soggy night.

One of the most dramatic turnarounds in Husker history was complete.  An ESPN analyst quipped that the rain hid the Tigers' tears.

It was a vindicating win for a team that would not give up.  Yes, it's true that Coach Pelini will have a laundry list of items for his team, items where they need improvement.  But for one quarter of one game on one miserably wet night in enemy territory, the Huskers played up to their potential like the great teams of the past.  As the joyous Huskers head home to Lincoln, they have to know that, as a program, they're headed in the right direction as well.
Posted on: September 14, 2009 2:30 am
Edited on: September 14, 2009 2:31 am
 

Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9

It wasn't the Roy Helu Jr. Show again this week.  Instead, It was Zac Lee's time to shine.

Meanwhile the Blackshirts played better in some aspects, worse in others.

Not to oversimplify things, but having watched the game twice and knowing that many of you watched it also and/or read recaps and commentaries of the game, I'm going to break the game down into what I think are the salient points.

Note-I never read any media reports on the week's game until after I write my blog, so as not to color my perception.  I only check stats.

Before I examine the forensics of Nebraska's latest win, I have an admission to make: I hardly knew anything about Arkansas State.  I  know that they shocked the Aggies in College Station last year and that they beat Mississippi Valley State, 61-0, in the first week of this season.  And yes, Mississippi Valley State is what we would have formerly called a Division I-AA school.  However, despite the disparity in talent, anytime a team shuts out another by sixty-one points that's saying something.  So to reiterate, I didn't know what to expect from the Red Wolves, but I still expected a comfortable win by the Huskers.  And that's what we got.

Comfortable, but not particularly impressive.

Even though the Huskers punched in their first score in just over three minutes and jumped out to a 21-0 lead (which should have been 28-0, see below), Coach Pelini, ever the perfectionist, thought his team could play better.

Especially considering that the Huskers have a date in Blacksburg in less than a week, and while the Hokies lost in week one to Alabama, they more than took care of business against Marshall, albeit a Marshall team that squeaked out a three-point victory a week before against Southern Illinois.

So what do we really know?  Practically nothing.  I don't think it's any big secret that Pelini and his OC, Shawn Watson, haven't shown their team's full potential against two decidedly inferior opponents.  We do know that Alabama left a blueprint on how to beat Tech, but we don't know if the Huskers have the talent to execute it.

Besides, all of this is a topic for another day, a day very soon.

So, here are my observations of the Arkansas State Game:

Zac Lee looked quite comfortable as he threw for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, which was good considering that Arkansas State's defense seemed to have an answer for Roy Helu, Jr.  Helu had sixty yards rushing and another forty-four receiving.  While Helu's production was diminished, Watson stuck with his gameplan, mixing equal parts of running and passing plays well into the second half when it became clear that Nebraska's fortunes were to be gained through the air.  What was more impressive than Lee's stats was his ball distribution.  Fourteen Huskers caught passes (eleven from Lee), and the touchdowns were scored by Mike McNeill (twice), Niles Paul and Tyler Legate.  Niles Paul could have had a third score (his other TD came on a reverse), but Lee's beautiful 70-yard strike to Paul was called back after a holding penalty.

Which brings me to a second point.  While the Huskers had only four penalties, the aforementioned holding call and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a kickoff were big ones and are the type of mistakes that the Huskers can ill afford to make against the Hokies or any of their upper-echelon Big XII foes.

Another thing that should give Husker fans pause was the play of the defense.  This week, Carl Pelini's squad managed to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and tally four sacks.  They also held the Red Wolves to ninety-eight net passing yards.  However, they allowed 174 yards on the ground and gave up sizable chunks of yardage on first and second downs.  Once again, this will not do when Nebraska faces more talented offenses.  They cannot continually give their opponents the advantage of second-and-short or third-and short.  And while Nebraska was able to exploit personnel mismatches, most notably their taller receivers against ASU's 5'11" DB, Cordarious Mingo, Pelini remarked after the game that the Huskers have had too many missed tackles and blown assignments in their first two contests.

So, in a week in which there were perhaps more questions than answers, will Nebraska have time to sharpen its game before their big date in Blacksburg?  And, just what is this team capable of accomplishing?

Husker Nation will have to wait for the answers.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com