An interesting headline I read after digesting Saturday night’s squeaker victory over 30-point underdogs Wyoming and prior to putting my fingers to home row on this column:
Bo Pelini has joined 50-win club at Nebraska
That about sums up the good coming from the 37-34 nail biter against a team that, on paper, was supposed to be run out of the newly expanded, 91,000-plus capacity Memorial Stadium.
Wyoming piled up 603 yards and 35 first downs against a Husker defense wet behind the ears. Brett Smith, a three-year starter for Wyoming, connected on 29-of-43 pass attempts and was methodical on first and second down in picking apart a Husker secondary allegedly loaded with talent. The junior from Salem, OR, more than doubled his performance from a year ago versus the Huskers when he threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-14 loss in Laramie last September.
Now without getting too apocalyptic, remember Husker fans, this is the first game and I have reason to believe that the Wyoming Cowboys are a threat to challenge for the Mountain West Conference, should Smith and his talented receiving corps stay healthy.
That being said, Saturday night felt like a reaffirmation of the Pelini’s struggle to put a quality defensive football team on the field. It boggled my mind to see our secondary chasing open receivers and rarely in a position to force a take-away. The young defensive front seven had its moments, but too often Smith handed the ball off to his running backs, who found a seem and picked up big chunks of yards.
The big question I kept asking myself and others in the time since the victory was, “Are they again being asked to do to much?” By that I mean are they being over-coached, as opposed to Bo simplifying his schemes for the young athletes he’s filled his cupboard with?
There’s no question this team is more athletic than 2012, but chasing open receivers and rarely, if ever, “pinning our ears back” up front are tell-tale signs of guys thinking too much.
Pelini again stated he wouldn’t change his scheme and said his players will have to evolve and grow up quick to be successful. Fine, that’s been his M.O. since day one, but is he really that stubborn to just settle and go down with the ship?
I have to think he isn’t.
Bottom line is, there are some quality athletes in that front seven, the likes we haven’t seen in a few years. Randy Gregory anyone? And I’m convinced that Pelini can turn things around.
Let’s hope he does it quickly because UCLA would love nothing more than to repeat their performance from 2012.