Published Friday, September 6, 2013 at 8:58 pm / Updated at 5:56 pm
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Kids on defense are one thing, but vets' early play worrisome

A survival kit of thoughts for today, as Nebraska tries to bounce back from devastating victory:

1. Bo Pelini said earlier this week that the Wyoming opener coming down to the last play would serve as a “wake-up call” for his team.

Why would the Huskers need one?

When the last season ended with defeats by 70-31 and 45-31, do you really need a wake-up call? When you haven't won a championship in forever, do you really need Wyoming to slap you to attention? Is being No. 18 in the nation good enough?

There's an army of young football players on this team, being thrown into the deep end, most of them on defense. I don't expect them to know what college football is all about.

But there's a unit of seasoned veterans, most of them on offense, who have the scars of experience. They've had to live with the disappointment and mocking. They know how precious each game is.

That was the disappointment of last week. I expected the offense to fly out of the gate. It had its moments. But it was sloppy, lethargic at times.

There's a lack of urgency with this program that can be maddening. The players want to win. Pelini wants to win. But when he says “I have nothing to prove,” it makes you wonder if that attitude rubs off.

Championship teams play with a chip on their shoulder. Championship programs play like they have something to prove every week, even after they've proved it.

This team and program have a lot to prove. Starting today.

2. I heard from a lot of fans this week. I didn't sense anger. Disappointment would be a better description. Fatigue.

They were hoping to see something different. While they saw good things — we'll get to those in a minute — too often they saw the same old things. Mistakes. Lack of execution. A lesser program pushing NU to the mat.

And then the coaches and players talking about how they know how to get things cleaned up. Again.

Nebraska football reminds me of my daughters' bedrooms. The more they clean them, the more there seems to be a mess to clean.

3. My favorite email this week came from Scott Davis, who wrote, “I approach my golf game and Husker football the same these days. All week I have high expectations of great success (79). By the end of the first quarter I'm just hoping to finish strong (85). By the end of the third quarter I'm hoping for a win of any kind (90).

“Two days of remorse and I'm back to having high expectations for the following week.”

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4. Tim Beck is always a good listen. The offensive coordinator spoke to the Big Red Breakfast on Friday and I was intrigued by one nugget in particular.

Beck said the offense was playing so fast that the linemen were missing out on their initial blocks and looking for their next wave targets. He said “we've got to slow them down, man.”

Good idea. A scheme going in warp speed is sexy. But execution wins games.

5. Then there's the Hedgehog Factor.

Another guy who always has my attention is running backs coach Ron Brown, a man of experience and perspective and the occasional well-placed metaphor.

When I asked Brown this week if this team had characteristics of a championship-level outfit, the coach didn't hesitate in saying yes.

“I feel like (on our) championship teams, you had a few marquee players and then you have what I call 'hedgehogs,'” Brown said.

“A hedgehog is an animal that doesn't do a whole lot well, but it's an extremely skillful hunter. We don't have a lot of stars. We have a few. But we have a lot of guys who do their jobs extremely well. Our championship teams were that way, too.

“Some of what we did last week was doggone dominating. And some of it was sloppy. Those are the things that we can clean up.”

6. There's that phrase again. My experience as a parent is, if you have to always tell a kid to clean up, you're in trouble. Kids who are clean don't have to be told.

Maybe if they're offered a nice reward.

7. You had to love the NU running game last week. Old school, new school, you had to appreciate it. There was some early chemistry there, and a backfield with star power in the making. Beck likes to say his offense starts with the pass, but if you have a strong, reliable running game, you can do anything you want on offense.

The Ameer Abdullah-Terrell Newby-Imani Cross trio might eventually need a nickname. I see that Damon Benning is way ahead of us here, tweeting the name “Two Men and a Truck” on Friday.

It's got potential. The nickname, too.

8. The Wyoming yardage numbers were shocking last week, but let's face it. Nobody expects this defense to be there for several games. It might take until November. It might take until next season.

Communication is such a big deal out there. So is trust. A lot of these tykes don't know where they're going or where they're supposed to be. A set lineup might be awhile. This might be awhile.

Maybe the way to manage the expectations is to ignore yardage. Look merely at the bottom line: points. Wyoming had 34. Hold the next opponent to under 30. Under 20? Even better.

The Blackshirts set the bar at a place where they can only get better each week, right?

When's that UCLA game?

9. Drink lots of fluids today. That is, water. OK, have a cold bottle of water somewhere in the area. The 5 p.m. starting time seems like a perfect starting time for TV audiences. Don't know why more networks don't have them. But for game-day crowds in early September? Not so much.

10. Keep an eye on Taylor Martinez and that shoulder. He sure seemed to be favoring it last week. The last thing the quarterback needs is a nagging shoulder to last into the campaign. Martinez and Pelini said it was fine last week. Actions will speak louder than words today.

11. I know you know, but this seems like a good time for a reminder. This is a game today, folks. I tried to work up all the indignation I could about lack of urgency and so forth this week. But I kept thinking about the ugly headlines on our front page all week. The little boy in Iowa. The families in Omaha appearing in court the other day to see a man accused of taking away their loved ones. Gut-wrenching stuff.

These headlines never seem to take a break. And that's why we look for our escape. These games. Perhaps it's therapy for the soul to get a good lather up about Pelini's defense. Nebraskans also do a good job of remembering these are college kids, making mistakes but not making a salary (yet), kids who are going to thrive and melt under the heat lamp.

It's college football. Get happy. Get angry. Have fun.

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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