2009 Nebraska Post-Mortem: We Are The Champions

Congratulations to the Nebraska Cornhuskers for a great game.

Congratulations to the Longhorns football team. This is our 3rd Big 12 Championship and our 28th league title. It has been a fun ride and we’ve still got tokens for the final Tilt-a-World whirl.

My mood was like most Longhorns on Saturday – exultant from a thrilling victory while I was plagued with the stomach-churning ulcerous reminder that this football team is only being coached, challenged, and optimized on one side of the ball. I was open in my belief that Alabama was our best MNC opponent and though their pounding of Florida suggests a certain degree of “be careful what you wish for” I still think they are our best shot. Football, like pornography, is all about match-ups. I’ve got a month to figure out who is getting the lube.

After we riotously celebrated Hunter Lawrence’s clutch field goal and sang the Eyes of Texas, the Longhorn faithful filed out of Jerry World solemnly. For every Longhorn yelling in post-game celebration, there were five leaving quietly as if they’d just learned that Chuck Norris had died. Considering that we’d just won a Big 12 title and would play for the MNC in a month, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anything like it. My explanation is that I think we’d all seen the same thing: a coaching staff and QB overwhelmed in basic game management situations at the end of both halves and a reminder that we have an offensive coordinator that starts every game against a quality defense by squatting in the booth and letting out a torrent of furious pee down the leg of his Dockers.

Comfort Fit, 40-32s, IMO.

Let me start with the horrendous before moving on to the sublime…

Offense

After gazing upon the wonders of Jerry World like a rube from Ogallala, I started the game with the utterance, “Who will Greg Davis throw the WR screen to on the opening play and how many yards will it lose?” After it happened, I had that weird feeling that parents experience where they foresee a terrible and predictable consequence for a child’s decision but want nothing more than to be proven wrong. Greg delivered, I accepted, the tone was set, passive submission from our offense was achieved, and I settled myself in for the siege, my dreams of a 24-7 victory dashed.

What did we learn?

We learned is that nothing has changed. Look - I wanted to believe, despite knowing better. Greg Davis again demonstrated the relative value of a McNeese State degree in dynamic game-planning and McWhorter and our staff continues to impress with our slavish devotion to coaching, recruiting, and developing the OL.

Our first 7 possessions proceeded thusly:

UT 1st T20 15:00 Kickoff T35 14:24 Interception 2-15 0:36
UT 1st T20 11:04 Kickoff T25 10:03 Punt 3-5 1:01
UT 1st T23 09:12 Interception T25 08:07 Interception 3-2 1:05
UT 1st T22 06:26 Kickoff T15 05:27 Punt 3--7 0:59
UT 1st T10 01:31 Punt T30 14:50 Punt 5-20 1:41
UT 2nd T20 14:42 Interception T35 12:06 Punt 6-15 2:36
UT 2nd T42 10:30 Punt T47 09:07 Punt 3-5 1:23

Our first seven possessions of the 2nd half – you know –after adjustments, went thusly:

UT 3rd T37 13:09 Punt T20 10:52 Punt 3--17 2:17
UT 3rd N32 10:32 Interception N39 08:40 Punt 3--7 1:52
UT 3rd N45 07:07 Punt N43 06:05 Punt 3-2 1:02
UT 3rd T48 03:56 Punt N22 01:40 * FIELD GOAL 6-30 2:16
UT 4th T10 14:15 Punt T07 12:55 Punt 3--3 1:20
UT 4th T01 11:34 Kickoff N34 04:56 Interception 14-65 6:38
UT 4th T40 01:44 Kickoff N29 00:00 * FIELD GOAL 5-31 1:44

Wow.

202 yards on 74 plays with 3 turnovers and 7 penalties. This is an offense with nine returning starters and twelve games under its belt in a home environment, mind you. Our 2.7 yards per play is a bad joke and the NU defense is the same one that Colorado worked for 400+ yards. Nebraska's defense gave up an average of 4.1 yards per play this year against a slate of offensive patsies that could only be described as slothful and we massively underperformed with ten days of preparation. As bad a relative offensive performance as any in Longhorn history.

We’ve played two real defenses this year and laid eggs against both. Ours is the same offense that played OU and any offensive numbers we put up after were largely a function of playing bad defenses and Greg Davis’ remarkable ability to bully inferior talent with his formulaic grab-bag of one-size-fits-all mail-ins. Then we all pretend that “a switch has been flipped” or “Colt is healthy again” and that this house of cards won’t crumble when it encounters a stiff breeze of defensive talent and quality coaching. The excuses about Colt’s health (he had emphysema! Gangrene! He can’t stop singing show tunes) followed the same predictable patterns as the Running Back Personality Cult in its relation to our running game (Tre Newton now sucks, apparently). The lies our coaching staff told themselves after OU to avoid having uncomfortable conversations and shake up staff complacency were all revealed some time around the thirtieth instance that Ndumakong Suh ran through a hologram of Chris Hall and body slammed Colt McCoy. Or when we went to an empty set and Nebraska brought an extra man to get a free hit and a hurried throw. Or when we avoided Matt O’Hanlon and the middle of the field like it was being patrolled by Ronnie Lott astride a unicorn. Or when we couldn’t run the ball against a dime defense with a TE in the game...

Seeing it all in person was far worse than anything you could have glimpsed on television because you got to see players and their body language for extended periods of time – particularly as they begin to feel sorry for themselves, mope, self-destruct with penalties and mental breakdowns; all without any challenge from the offensive staff.

OL

The post-game celebratory confetti covering our seniors was a papyrus reminder of the bukkake that Nebraska’s DL visited upon our offensive lineman (I actually graded Hix out OK) throughout the game. If Chris Hall had lain dramatically on the field any longer like a harpooned narwhal on the ice after another feeble attempted koala hug on Suh (mixed animal metaphors rule), I was going to enroll him in the Tebow School for Weepy Boys. The OL was a disgrace and this is as pride less and soft a unit as any group of male Ice Capades dancers. I welcome their graduation and McWhorter’s imminent firing. I mean retirement. Before he leaves, I hope Applewhite finds some way to embezzle his annuity and that his lake house has a nutria infestation. Greg Davis will remain and ask the new OL coach to do the impossible, but I’m a sucker for patsies and fall guys.

If I could summarize this group with one scene, it would be this one: there was a time late in the game where Colt got brutalized on a 3rd down sack (his 8th perhaps?) and as three Nebraska defenders pushed off of McCoy to celebrate over him – nothing dirty – just intimidating physical football - our OL were already fifteen yards away filing dumbly to the sideline like someone had clanged a spoon in a tin bucket full of fried chicken and pussy. They never glanced back, helped to police the pile get-up, or offered a hand to their leader. I’ve documented the same passive behavior from this group since 2007 and it’s incredible that these guys have been so neutered by scheme and poor development that they don’t even have the decency to start a fight or plant a Longhorn flag in Carl Pelini’s thorax. There’s no question that Suh is some sort of cheetah-rhinoceros hybrid, but when you consider that Barry Turner also had a career day, maybe it’s bigger than a Great Man theory. Our OL are an easier notch in the belt for DL than Carmen Electra.

WR/TE

.James Kirkendoll made about a half dozen plays that were so weirdly disconnected from the game with drops, weird route-running, weak blocking, and dumb penalties that our entire section was exchanging glances wondering if he might actually take off his cleats mid-field and begin counting his toes while humming softly to himself. As in the OU game, it’s pretty clear that big games combined with quality defenses overwhelm him and he loses it. Malcolm Williams made an error or two, but he played with effort, made some plays, and drew a PI. Whenever we went vertical or over the middle of the field in anything like a purposeful manner to our single WR side in 3 wide, good things generally happened. So we avoided it.

At one point, the Nebraska CBs were doing such a good job of riding our guys out of bounds off of the LOS when they realized that the middle of the field was being avoided as a radioactive wasteland, I was wondering if our receivers had a chalk addiction. Greg Smith lost a majority of his battles in the running game with Nebraska’s big DE group and he offered nothing in the passing game.

RB

Tre Newton is the latest actor in the theater of the Running Back Personality Cult. You can all now start clamoring for Fozzy again. To Tre’s credit, he played hard, did the best he could, and never gave up in tough circumstances. I TINK CHRIS WHALEY IZ DA ANSWER.

QB

Colt is accurate, mobile, a good ball-handler, has average height, doesn’t like to sit in a traditional pocket, and has a middling arm. He is a creature designed for play action. By depriving him of a running game, we’re asking him to swim the 100 meter freestyle wearing ice skates when he plays a real defense. I wrote a while ago that Colt doesn’t trust the OL and that feeds into a lot of his own personal bad habits. When he did get a pocket, he had happy feet and worked hard to create pressure when none was there. He also needs to learn to throw the ball away when a game is being decided by field position and turnovers. Obviously, when you surrender 9 sacks and numerous QB hits, it’s not useful to blame the victim, but this is a guy with zero belief in what we we’re trying to do in our “game plan” and has no confidence in the guys in front of him. I don’t care what he says in press conferences or interviews, so spare me the links - it’s written all over his play.

Defense

Ah, this feels better. A fantastic effort even considering that Nebraska fields a poor offense. These guys were repeatedly placed into bad situations and they came through again and again while dominating Nebraska in every phase of the game. They did it against an offensive line and running game that’s not devoid of talent and they did it honest. We didn’t run stacked fronts – we just played responsibilities, got very physical, and whipped ass.

DL

Lamarr Houston dominated a pretty solid interior OL from Nebraska. His tipped ball led to the Muckelroy interception and he played sideline-to-sideline with great effort and man-strength at the point of attack. Big Ben Alexander gave us good snaps again while playing the majority of the game next to Houston. Really pleased with Ben and I officially award him the Gaskamp-Healy Award for Unexpected Senior Excellence. Kindle was devastating in the run game, bothered Lee several times in his pass rush, and played with his characteristic combination of hustle and effort. I thought Sam Acho played his most complete game as a Texas Longhorn considering that we asked so much of him. He played with an edge, he did dirty work, and he made the most of his opportunities when they presented themselves. I was really pleased with what Alex Okafor gave us in his snaps – Muschamp used him to hold the edge on clear running downs and short yardage and Alex did a hell of a job for a 18 year old going against corn-fed Cape Buffalo.

LB

Muckelroy was fantastic. Statistics are funny things. He made a lot of tackles against Texas A&M, but didn’t play that well. Against Nebraska, his stat line was more modest, but his physicality of play, his willingness to repeatedly take on the Nebraska OL and fill the hole in the lead and iso, goddamn, that was just great stuff. Real LBing. I can’t wait for him to get his hat on Ingram and make him quit like he did Beanie Wells.

Really liked what Acho Uno Ocho and Robinson gave us too. Nebraska asked them to play a style to which they were unaccustomed and inexperienced and they did the job we needed: physical, disciplined, focused. I saw maybe three bad snaps between the both of them. This is a great preparation for them in going against Bama.

DB

Though I will grant that Zac Lee is comedy of errors, this group was dominating. We played the run fairly honestly and that meant that we were able to totally eliminate any hope of a Nebraska passing offense. This foreshadows our approach against Alabama – more on this later. Picking nits here isn’t interesting to me, so I will say that Aaron Williams will be in the NFL after his junior season, so enjoy him while you can. The guy is just off of the charts in terms of intelligence, athletic ability, and focus.

Special Teams

Hunter Lawrence is a golden god. He has been outstanding all year and I couldn’t be happier for the guy. Any female Longhorn student that doesn't molest him on sight is ungrateful, IMO. Our kick coverage was poor and it came close to costing us the game. Javier Arenas bringing back punts against us is not an enticing prospect. The Goodwin slip/bad call was simply a bummer for which no blame can be cast and our blocked punt was not pleasing. We’ve taken a great strength at the beginning of the year and managed to turn it into a net neutral or negative. I’m pretty bummed about it, frankly. There’s no excuse. We’ve got a month to fix some things, but I’m not confident.

Parting Thoughts

Texas.

Alabama.

Rose Bowl.

That just sounds right.

Hook 'em.

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