Published Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 7:26 pm
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Something still amiss with Husker defense

What's all the fuss? Bo Pelini was hired to make everyone forget about Kevin Cosgrove.

It's shocking to see Pelini's defenses own four of the top 10 highest yardage totals allowed in Nebraska history. Still seems crazy to me for people to mention Pelini and Cosgrove in the same sentence. Never would have thought that was possible.

Bo knows defense. He can coach defense. I've seen it. You've seen it.

People thought Cosgrove was in over his head. I don't believe Bo is in over his head.

But something's gone awry in the last year. All four of those Blackshirt meltdowns have occurred since the UCLA game last September. There was good defense played last year. But these extreme gashes. What gives?

Is Pelini spending too much time being head coach? Should he have hired a more experienced coordinator? Does his scheme require monster defensive tackles? Does he have those now?

Execution. Adjustments. Personnel. Scheme. No matter how you slice it, it comes back to coaching.

Pelini put on his confident face at Monday's weekly news conference. Said he “felt pretty good after watching the film.” Said, “If anything, I feel even better about (the performance against Wyoming). Said, “It looks worse than it is.” And, drum roll, said it was all “fixable.”

Where have we heard that before? He knows what to fix. Can he do it?

Feel free to trust that Pelini will fix the leaks. And feel free to question it. After the last year, who knows?

The week after last season's Big Ten championship loss, Pelini said he probably should have played the younger defensive linemen. On Monday, he said the scheme that Wyoming shredded was too simple, should have been more to it.

I don't recall Pelini having these honest laments in the past. It's refreshing. But it also makes you wonder if Pelini has a handle on this group — and the situation.

>> So, where are we going for Hurricanes on Friday night?

This was supposed to be our New Orleans trip, en route to Hattiesburg, Miss. But a funny thing happened on the way to Southern Miss: The USM athletic department needed a loan.

After briefly looking at the New Orleans Superdome and Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium as options for this game, Southern Miss agreed to play in Lincoln. Why not? USM will take home $2 million and NU is paying the Eagles' travel expenses ($105,000).

Meanwhile, NU pockets the estimated $5 million for a home game, as opposed to the $300,000 it would have gotten in Hattiesburg or $500,000 at the Superdome.

Too bad. I like Nebraska in big event venues. Seeing Colorado-Colorado State on Sunday reminded me that NU offered to play Wyoming at Invesco Field but the Cowboys said no.

With the Big Ten going to nine league games in a few years, the chances of a neutral site game are slim.

Just remember, this is a Southern Miss home game this weekend. Maybe the Huskers should wear white.

>> The Big East Conference named 10 league players of the week and Creighton had four. Strangely, none of them were named Doug McDermott.

Seriously, congrats to Kelsey O'Donnell (women's soccer), Michelle Sicner (volleyball) and Eric Miller and Alex Bolowich (men's soccer). The Jays are fitting right in.

>> Will Nebraska's defense impede the progress of the next Nebraska quarterback? Just wondering.

The schedule looks ripe to develop Tommy Armstrong for 2014. Plenty of opportunity for meaningful snaps. But that's what we thought about the Wyoming game.

Taylor Martinez had a dinged shoulder and NU was up 16 in the fourth quarter. And Martinez played on. Is 16 points not safe enough? Until further notice, apparently not.

>> Randy Gregory could not have made a bigger splash. Mugs the quarterback while he's holding the ball. Forget the flag. The refs knew enough to change it from roughing the quarterback to unnecessary roughness. Gregory may have gone in too high. Still, that sort of ferocity is what you want. What this defense needs.

>> Kain Colter, concussion in Week 1. Something to keep an eye on.

>> Third straight year of playoffs for the Omaha Storm Chasers. Third year of the new name. Third year in Werner Park. Coincidence?

Okay, yes. Maybe. To be sure, Mike Jirschele and the well-stocked Royals farm system has had plenty to do with it. Just saying, there's a lot of good karma out at Werner Park.

>> Maybe my expectations are low, but I felt good about Iowa football even in the loss. The Hawks were beaten by a good team, probably the best nonconference opponent of the day by a Big Ten team. I liked how Jake Rudock played; the late pick was inexperience. I don't know what Iowa will do this year, but I wouldn't write them off based on that game.

>> Iowa State and Kansas State, welcome to the downside of Big 12 round robin play. Start 0-1 with only two nonconference games left.

>> Craig Bohl may have gotten some revenge on Bill Snyder last Friday night, but it certainly wasn't planned. The North Dakota State coach (and former Nebraska defensive coordinator) scheduled the trip to K-State when Ron Prince was the Wildcats' coach. Have to wonder if Bohl or Snyder would have scheduled the game if Snyder had been in charge. Snyder likes his cupcakes, and the Bison are anything but soft. Meanwhile, Bohl doesn't back down from a challenge. But beating Snyder is a completely different manner.

Especially on Bill Snyder statue night.

>> It was stunning to see that former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison passed away on Monday at age 44. Surprising, too, to see he died at an Omaha hospital. The cause of death nor reason for Morrison's stay in Omaha were not given. This much I know: Morrison was a colorful figure, with a passion for boxing and life. Remember Rocky V? In some ways, Morrison was Rocky Balboa.

>> Niners, Seahawks and Broncos. Those are the trendy picks by NFL experts from Balboa Park to Patriots Way. I'll tweak the chalk just a bit.

Give me Giants, Bears, Saints and Seahawks as division winners in the NFC. Niners and Falcons as wild cards.

I'll take Patriots, Ravens, Texans and Broncos as AFC division champs. Chiefs and Colts as wild cards.

Peyton Manning, I mean Denver, over Manning's hometown Saints in the Super Bowl. And then Manning rides off into the sunset, also known as the TV booth.

>> Congrats to Cincinnati Bengal Rex Burkhead and Washington Redskin (practice squad) Will Compton. Surprised to see a few former Huskers hear from the Turk, most notably Zach Potter.

>> One more and I'm outta here: The Bob Devaney statue is perfect. Might have had him with a sly Irish grin, but that's nitpicking Omaha sculptor Joe Putjenter, who did a fabulous job on his first statue.

It was great to talk to Putjenter after last Friday's ceremony outside East Memorial Stadium. Some have quibbled about the size of the statue, but Putjenter said he found Devaney's height and made it to exact size. The Coach wasn't a large figure.

Some also wondered why the letter jacket and hat, but that was the classic Devaney pose I remember, the one from the Game of the Century, too. UNL officials requested the statue have the jacket. They even gave Putjenter the old letter jacket that Devaney wore as a model. What you see is authentic.

Then there's the clipboard. Why? Putjenter said he went over countless photos of Devaney and in most of the shots, he saw Devaney holding that clipboard. Putjenter said he was told by a couple of former players that there was never anything on that clipboard. Classic.

Maybe the best part is where it stands: in front of the East Stadium entrance and the old red dome that is now behind the giant glass windows. It looks incredible. Like a living museum.

Sportswriters don't build statues. NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst deserves a big thanks for this overdue project, having commissioned it as soon as he took over last January. Well done, everyone.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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