Is youth the answer?
As Bo Pelini takes stock of his defense this week, I wonder how many personnel changes we’ll see for the Northwestern game.
Pelini starts eight seniors on his base defense. That’s an extraordinary number in today’s world of college football, when even the top programs are leaning on youngsters. (Of Alabama’s top four tacklers, two are true sophomores.)
Eight senior starters is not a good sign for a struggling defense. Nebraska’s freshmen and sophomores apparently aren’t good enough to beat out the old guys. Either it’s an issue of talent evaluation in recruiting or player development. Or Bo Pelini’s scheme is simply too complicated. Pick your poison.
Ted Gilmore catches a lot of flack these days for his recruiting coordination 2008-11. I was never president of the Gilmore fan club, but recruiting is the responsibility of the entire staff, starting with the head coach. And it’s not like Nebraska was signing a bunch of nobodies; in fact, every single defensive recruit from 2009-11 was a three- or four-star prospect, according to Rivals.
So yes, I think it’s more player development than talent evaluation.
Look closely at the 2010 and ’11 recruiting classes. Those players are in their second or third years in the program. That’s enough time to make an impact. And yet Nebraska is getting very little.
2011: Eight of 20 scholarship recruits played defense.
Todd Peat, DT
Kevin Williams, DT
Max Pirman, LB
David Santos, LB
Charles Jackson, CB
Daniel Davie, CB
* Daimion Stafford and Joe Carter were junior-college recruits.
2010: Eleven of 22 scholarship recruits played defense.
Tobi Okuyemi, DE
Walker Ashburn, DE
Donovan Vestal, DE
Jay Guy, DT
Chase Rome, DT
Josh Mitchell, CB
Ciante Evans, CB
Harvey Jackson, S
Corey Cooper, S
* Lavonte David and Stanley Jean-Baptiste were junior-college recruits.
A few of those high school recruits have made significant contributions: Ciante Evans is one of Nebraska’s best defenders. Josh Mitchell has had his moments. But for the most part, fans are still waiting on these guys.
If they’re anything like the fourth- and fifth-year defenders, you can reasonably wonder how much they’ll improve between now and graduation.
>> I was a guest on Big Red Wrap-Up last night, where our first topic was the Blackshirts. When, if ever, should Bo Pelini hand them out? My answer: August. By creating a vague performance benchmark during the season, Pelini not only alters tradition, he loses a powerful motivational tool.
When times are tough — as they are now — isn’t the blackshirt more inspirational when a player sees it every day, when it’s in his locker, when it’s on his back at practice? What good does it serve sitting in some closet in North Stadium? What good is it when players don’t even know what they need to accomplish in order to attain it?
Next year, Pelini should return to the old ways. A blackshirt is who you are, not what you do.
>> It’s incomprehensible to me that Harvey Perlman and Tom Osborne could be so out of sync on the hiring of Shawn Eichorst. When asked last Thursday why Osborne wasn’t at the press conference, Perlman said “You’ll have to ask him.” Well, reporters did ask Osborne on Tuesday. And he said he didn’t even know about it.
Did Harvey forget to pick up the phone? Did Osborne take off on a spontaneous fishing trip? Is one of them lying? Hopefully, Perlman’s communication skills aren’t a reflection of his ability to scout administrative talent.
>> I’ve been to several introductory press conferences and Eichorst’s was the only one that nearly put people to sleep — I’m only slightly exaggerating. Eichorst reminds me a guy who mows his yard every Wednesday at 7 p.m., cleans every square millimeter of his dinner plate and shows up five minutes before every meeting.
None of this is a bad thing. In fact, his detail-oriented, vanilla personality may be just what Nebraska needs right now. If Eichorst can bring three or four ideas to give NU a competitive edge in the high-profile sports, he’ll be worth his $1 million salary.
>> What about Miami? According to everyone involved, Eichorst knew nothing of Miami’s NCAA problems when he took the athletic director job 18 months ago. Perlman reiterated that Tuesday.
“He asked me if I had any surprises,” Perlman said, chuckling. “I said, ‘Not that I know of.’”
Nebraska may one day run into the NCAA. But Eichorst can take comfort in knowing there aren’t many Nevin Shapiros treating players to yacht rides at Branched Oak.
>> For Pelini, there’s more at stake in 2012 than a Rose Bowl and impressing his new boss. There’s also momentum for 2013. Fans don’t want to hear “Wait ‘til next year,” but it really is important for Bo to avoid a disaster this fall. Here’s why:
@ Southern Miss
South Dakota State
Those are the first eight games of 2013. You can almost taste an 8-0 start, can’t you.
Still, there will never be an easier road to Pasadena than right now. Because the top of the league is sure to be tougher in 2013.
Nebraska will need to beat Michigan and Ohio State, two programs that should be stronger a year from now. The Michigan game is in Ann Arbor; the Ohio State game would be in Indianapolis. What are the odds of NU beating Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller next December?
For the record, here are the last four games of 2013:
>> Barrett Ruud was released Tuesday by the 1-4 New Orleans Saints. Today the 5-0 Houston Texans signed him. Nice upgrade, Barrett.
>> One reason the Texans needed a linebacker? Matt Slauson’s cut block ended Brian Cushing’s season. NFL defenders like Clay Matthews aren’t happy about it.
>> Jason Whitlock blames Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium not on the fans or on Matt Cassel, but on Clark Hunt and Scott Pioli. The Chiefs are a franchise in turmoil.
>> Richmond basketball coach Chris Mooney’s remarkable efforts to help his grieving student manager.
>> Read this profile of Michael Dyer, former Auburn running back.
>> Jake Waters, Iowa Western quarterback, received a scholarship offer from Penn State. What the Reivers do is amazing.
>> BCS computers. Ohio State’s hubris. Hairball upsets. Best AD jobs. Pat Forde has a bit of everything in his weekly column.
>> In Stewart Mandel’s SI mailbag today, he was asked about coaches abandoning the punt. In the West Virginia-Texas game, there were 10 fourth downs. WVU punted one and went for it five times. Texas punted once and went for it three times.
Mandel’s response echoes my thoughts: “Coaches becoming more aggressive on fourth down is definitely a growing trend. Last week against Northwestern, Penn State went for it on fourth down six times, converting five. Bill O’Brien has already attempted 20 fourth-down conversions in six games, USC has attempted 16, Missouri 15 and Oregon and Arizona 13. Mind you, many of these are decisions to forsake long field goals, not punts, but it fits with the larger trend I wrote about last week.
“The older generations of coaches who believed in playing it safe, conserving field position, trusting your defense, etc. (embodied by Jim Tressel, among others) is gradually giving way to coaches like Chip Kelly or Dana Holgorsen, whose whole philosophy is attack, attack, attack. Suddenly easing up on fourth-and-two from the 50-yard line doesn’t jibe.
“And in many cases, the decisions are statistically prudent. If an offense is averaging five or six yards per play, why wouldn’t a coach have faith that he can pick up three yards on fourth down? Studies in the NFL have shown that coaches are far more risk averse on fourth down than the probabilities say they should be, presumably for fear of losing their job if a risky decision backfires. That’s partially our fault as fans.
“Some of the perceived ‘gambles’ coaches take on fourth down aren’t actually gambles at all, statistically speaking. They’re smart. But we’re conditioned to view nearly every aggressive fourth-down call as something controversial. I don’t anticipate college coaches unilaterally abandoning the punt, since risk does outweigh the reward for a large chunk of the field, but I expect to see more and more aggressive fourth-down management.”
>> I’m not crazy about the divisional round format in the MLB playoffs. The best teams should play the first two games at home. Hopefully, Bud Selig builds an extra day into the playoff schedule next year to ensure a 2-2-1 format.
>> Best divisional round series? Yankees-Orioles. Not only are they old divisional rivals, it’s a great David-Goliath matchup. I’ll take the Yankees in five, but I’m rooting hard for Baltimore.
>> Chris Carpenter starts Game 3 today in Washington. Wasn’t he the guy who had a rib removed in July? Wasn’t he supposed to be out for the season? Yep. Tough dude.
>> I imagine there are about 10,000 weddings scheduled for this weekend in Nebraska. I’ll be at one of them Friday night, which means I’ll miss Bluejay Madness at Sokol Arena. The gym will be packed, I’m sure. Creighton is planning 3-point contests, scrimmages and a dunk contest. Considering the Jays’ fundamental prowess, I suggest a clinic on ball reversals and bounce passes.
>> I’ve received several outstanding emails since Saturday night’s Husker game. Much of it focused on Monday’s Chatter (63 thoughts). I intend to post the best email excerpts in Friday’s Chatter. Thanks for reading — and for your feedback.