Will Muschamp said something this morning I’d never heard before.
“Finish every possession with a kick,” he said on the SEC coaches teleconference. “Do that and you win the game.”
What’s it mean? If every possession ends with an extra point, a field goal or a punt, you haven’t committed a turnover. Muschamp’s Florida Gators failed miserably in that endeavor last Saturday at Miami, turning the ball over five times. No surprise, they lost.
That same quote fits Nebraska this week better than any team in the country. Here’s why:
NU has faced 20 ranked teams under Bo Pelini. In games when they lose the turnover battle, they are 0-11. When they win the turnover battle, they are 5-0. When turnovers are equal, Nebraska is 3-1.
Staggering, isn’t it. People who say stats are misleading are the people who pay attention to the wrong stats. Turnovers are the black-and-white story of Husker football under Pelini. And I’ll be surprised if they don’t play a critical part in determining a winner Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska’s offense is bold and daring. I admire that. I’m entertained by that. Tim Beck tries to do a lot of different things. You’re going to have the occasional turnover in this offense. But this is Year 4 for Taylor Martinez. He and the skill players around him are experienced enough to know the importance of ball security in a big game. They can’t give away possessions, as they did against Ohio State (four turnovers), Wisconsin (three) and Georgia (three). They can’t put Nebraska’s young defense in short-field, no-win situations.
For me, turnover margin is the tell-tale sign of the program’s progress Saturday. Does Nebraska’s defense find a way to make a few big plays? Does Nebraska’s offense appear more disciplined than in the past? It’s time — finally — for Beck, Martinez and Co. to become the whole package. The explosive plays are nice. But take care of the ball.
Finish every possession with a kick.
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>> The Oklahoma State scandal — can we call it that yet? — is clearly just beginning. And while I find the cash rewards and booster stories remarkable, what’s more alarming is the alleged academic fraud. You’re never going to be able to keep boosters away from players. But when the cheating is institutionalized by the athletic department and university system, well, that’s unforgivable.
>> All eyes on College Station, Pat Forde says. A&M-Alabama (where I’ll be on Saturday afternoon) has the potential to reshape the SEC.
>> How will Nick Saban attack Johnny Football? Here’s a look at the X’s and O’s.
>> If you like your A&M-Bama previews a bit more “creative,” check out this from Good Bull Hunting.
>> Forget trying to live up to Tim Tebow or RG3, Kevin Van Valkenburg says. Embrace your inner outlaw, Johnny.
>> Doug Gottlieb with a thoughtful piece on Manziel, Time Magazine and college athletes’ entitlement.
>> Two sound bites that caught my attention while I consumed the national sports news:
– Eric Crouch, on the “Petros and Money” show on Fox Sports Radio, talking about Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. I figured Crouch would be a big fan. His skepticism surprised me. How many hits can Michael Vick take, Crouch said.
“You’re going to have a tough time being consistent. You’re playing with a new quarterback every three weeks. You’re not going to be able to get any chemistry with this offense. It looks great now, but I just think they’re going to have to be very careful in the play-calling and not running the quarterback too much because, if I’m a defensive coordinator, the first thing I’m saying is ‘Take out the quarterback when you have a chance. Not in a way that would be unsportsmanlike, but just be physical and take this guy out.’”
– Former Colts all-pro Jeff Saturday, on ESPN, talking about Ndamukong Suh’s illegal block, which cost him $100,000:
“He is a dirty player. Every player who plays against him understands it and knows it. This guy does things that football players — we have a code of conduct amongst ourselves. We don’t do certain things. You don’t try to hurt guys. You don’t try to finish guys’ careers. We all understand at the end of the day, this is our profession. We’re doing this to make money for our families and our community. What he does and continues to do is ridiculous.”
>> What a night in Columbus (Ohio) — and at Barrett’s in Omaha, I presume. The U.S. will be well-represented in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. And one reason is, for the first time, we’re seeing genuine depth at every position, writes Brian Straus.
>> How ‘bout two brilliant writers — Joe Posnanski and Scott Price — putting Rafa Nadal’s 13th Slam in perspective. Nadal, who looked better than ever in New York Monday night, will pass Roger Federer (17) in about 2 1/2 years, I’d guess. Assuming his knees hold up.
>> Zach Lowe lays out the case for the 40-minute NBA game. I think it’s a slam dunk. The regular season, especially, needs more urgency. The players need more rest. Nobody but the beer vendors and the 10th man on the roster are going to miss those eight minutes.
>> 21 years for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A beautiful little column about how long — and how short — that drought really is.
>> I have linked this story before on 9/11, but in case you haven’t seen it, “The Man in the Red Bandana.”
>> Fun little nugget here about Tim Miles’ quest to see the great state of Maine. Gotta hand it to the guy. He knows how to get his name out.
>> Troy in 2018? Meh. Considering the other non-con opponent on the books that fall is Colorado, Nebraska needs to find some meat. Buffalo burgers are shockingly lean these days.