Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nebraska Football : Fans Were Betrayed

I was at the USC game. When I saw Nebraska go into a fetal position with 2:52 left in the first half, I got angry at Bill Callahan all over again.

I gave Callahan a pass his first year. When the second year opened with an offense unable to mount a touchdown drive against a I-AA team, and Callahan mouthed platitudes about the offense being OK with some room for improvement, I blew my stack. Coach, don't insult us! Just tell us the truth. We can take it. We can take that a lot better than corporate-politburo sillyspeak that has no relation to reality.

My beef isn't with Callahan's system. The Solich system was not attracting top talent anymore. The change doesn't bother me. The contempt for the fans is what bothers me.

My siblings and I sent my mom to the game for her 70th birthday. Some of us were there, including my sister who came from Michigan. Obviously thousands of other NU fans traveled to the game.

When your fan base travels halfway across the country at great expense and trouble to support you, you try to win. It's not fair to the fans to roll over and whimper when there is an opportunity to score. For goodness sake, if you're willing to fake a punt on your own 36, what's so frightening about running a 2-minute drill?

What was the point of honing the 2-minute offense in the first two games? I can't imagine a scenario in which Nebraska was more in need of an effective 2-minute drive. The "regular" version wasn't working. Maybe the 2-minute version should have been tried in the middle of the half.

You don't design a game plan to delight fans. You design a game plan to win. The happy coincidence is: winning delights Husker fans. We don't need Fun-and-Gun. We we're happy with Stun-and-Run if it works.

I find first downs entertaining. I don't care how we get them. But I wrote in this blog last week that the offensive line was not performing well. What made Callahan think he could smash-mouth USC? I sat in the north end zone for Nicholls State. There was nowhere for the backs to run. Nicholls State should have been a track meet. Instead, we had no big plays on the ground and couldn't convert a 4th-and-1 in the second half with Cody Glenn carrying the ball against a I-AA defense that had been on the field virtually the whole game.

By the way, if smash-mouth was the game plan, why didn't Glenn get a single carry against USC?

Callahan came in and changed the offensive approach. OK, but then use it. We don't have road graders who can open running lanes. We have weapons at running back and receiver, and a QB who can deliver the ball. If that's your offense, if that's what you've recruited for and prepared, then run it. Zac Taylor ought to be as mad as anyone about the game plan. The West Coast offense is a QB offense. Taylor was never allowed to get into a rhythm.

When Nebraska began the final drive of the half by running the ball and showed no urgency, I mumbled out loud, "They're playing to lose." The coach who executed a fake punt out of his own territory in the first quarter now just wants to run the clock and get out of here. The coach who threw the ball all over the place (or tried to) in ugly losses the previous two seasons is shutting down his offense. It wasn't just the end of the half. The whole game was coached that way. The statistics bear it out.

Maybe Callahan thought he was being smart by avoiding a 40-point thrashing on national prime time. If that's where he is in Year 3, then he is failing.

Meanwhile, we looked like contemptible dogs in prime time. I'm catching up on the news and reading that media people, including national TV announcers, saw the same thing we fans complained about in the stands.

What a disaster for recruiting.

The OWH said the offensive line coach was asked if NU considered changing from the run-it-inside plan. "Why?" was the coach's response. That's what I mean by contempt. Why consider a change, coach? Because your game plan was not working and showed no prospect of working. Your offensive line was getting whipped, coach. That's why you should have considered a change.

When coaches show arrogance and contempt for the media, they show the same for the fans. That's bad business. Without fan frenzy and media fueling it, there is no BIG RED phenomenon -- and no big-bucks contracts for coaches.

We fans don't get to question the coaches. The media are the conduit between fans and coaches. And I guarantee you, it wasn't just one reporter who wondered why Nebraska stayed in the 1.9-yard-per-carry rut. I heard it in the stands, in the crowds filing away from the stadium, and in airport terminals making the trek home. A common refrain was that it was like watching a Solich team.

The price of enduring the worst beating ever at Texas Tech, of NOT running the ball at Iowa State and securing a bowl berth in 2004, and the other growing pains of the Callahan era, was that we would develop a diversified offense that could score any way against anyone at any time. I thought's what we saw against Michigan in the Alamo Bowl.

If Callahan and his staff believe what they are saying, that they thought NU could run on USC, that they did not go into a shell, that they were calling plays in a sequence that would win the game, then I question their grip on reality and ability to manage a game.

My frustration would evaporate if Callahan would come out and say: "I blew it. I failed the players and the fans. My offensive approach to USC was as jackass-stupid as Cosgrove's defensive approach to Missouri last year. From now on we ride the ability of Zac Taylor and our skill people."

A reimbursement for my expenses for the weekend trip to LA also wouldn't hurt. And please let the fans know next time before we hit the road. Do you believe in your offense? If you don't, then let us in on the secret. Please don't set us up for more of the boring and galling capitulation we had to endure at USC.

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