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ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

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ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

Top 25 Intel: No. 20 NebraskaBo Pelini isn't satisfied with 9-4Comment Email Print Share  By Chris Sprow
ESPN The Magazine
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Bo Pelini likes to get into position groups, instead of taking a back seat in an administrative role.

Bo Pelini isn't impressed. Not at all.



Start listing a statistical area in which the Huskers improved during Bo Pelini's first year in Lincoln, like how his "blackshirts" defense is at least trending in the right direction, and he sounds like Happy Gilmore discussing sport coats. Bottom line: green shirts, yellow shirts or orange shirts, Pelini doesn't give a darn.



"Maybe the numbers say improvement, but we didn't play near the defense I'm used to playing," Pelini says. "We will be getting better. We don't have a choice, we have to get better."



But Pelini can't be entirely dismissive. They weren't great, but the Huskers did get better in 2008, and not just because the 9-4 season came with a bowl win. It just depends on your standards. Starting on defense, for instance, when Pelini came back to Nebraska from LSU, he had to do a lot not just to make the blackshirts proud again – he had to make sure they didn't look totally shirtless.



In 2007, the Huskers gave up a whopping 476.8 yards per game, and sacked opposing quarterbacks just 13 times.



Blackshirt Defense
The Huskers defense was vastly improved from 2007 to 2008.

2007 2008
Total YPG 476.8 349.9
Rush YPG 232.2 116.5
Scoring Defense 37.9 28.5
Sacks 13 35
Opp 3rd Down Pct. 50.3 33.7


While 2008's sack totals were technically an improvement – the 22-sack increase tied for the greatest jump in the country – to Pelini, it still doesn't qualify as much of an athletic achievement. More like: Congrats, you got off the couch, but everybody else was already jogging.



"I think we'll continue to be better up front, and that's where you can do a lot with getting to the quarterback," Pelini says of the 2009 team. "You can cite sack totals all you want, but if you have to send blitzers all the time to get them, it doesn't do much for you."

It certainly didn't last year, especially when Nebraska played better teams. Yes, the Huskers improved their scoring defense, but against four ranked opponents they gave up 35, 52, 37 and 62 points, respectively. The 62-28 beatdown in Norman, Okla., was a low point. The game dropped the Huskers to 5-4 and nearly out of the bowl picture. And of the defensive failures, Pelini doesn't want to hear about the spread, which is ubiquitous in the Big 12 – nearly every game had an Arena League scoreboard last year.



"Everybody talks about running the spread or facing the spread like it's a guarantee to give up a lot of points. But it's just a formation," Pelini says. "Just because you line up a certain way doesn't make the thing impossible to stop. We needed to get better, and besides, if you face any offense that much you think you'd get better stopping it, right?"



Fair enough.



But dissatisfaction aside, this program is undeniably on the up-trend.



For instance, after the Oklahoma drubbing, Nebraska regrouped and ended the season 4-0, including that bowl win over Clemson. And from last year's 9-4 team, the Huskers roll in to this season with all-everything DT Ndamukong Suh anchoring a line that's sure to be even better in the trenches.



So, while Nebraka might have been carried by their offense last year, there is continued improvement on both sides of the ball. That's not only giving the program a pulse, but the vigorous signs of life it had in its heyday.



The Huskers ranked 17th in the nation in scoring last year at 35.4 points per game, and while they'll have a new quarterback, almost surely Zac Lee, they'll be able to pound the running game, adding to an under-noticed, but much improved, ground attack from last year.



Back To The Old Days
Nebraska improved their run game in 2008.

Total Big 12 Rank
Pct of offense 37.66 4
Pct of plays on 1st down 38.31 5
Pct of plays 52.88 5
Rush YPG 169.77 4
20+ yard plays 20 t-4
Attempts 486 4


The Huskers return their top rusher from last year, Roy Helu, Jr., and expect him to get plenty of work this year. And while they lost some talent on the line, every returning lineman has seen playing time and Pelini liked the development that took place in the spring.



They'll lean on the RB because the greatest defections are from the receiving corp. Last year Joe Ganz threw for 3,565 yards and 25 TD's, but departed senior wideouts Nate Swift and Todd Peterson accounted for 125 catches, 14 TDs and more than 1,700 of those total yards. What's the good news? This spring, receiver Antonio Bell emerged as a possible threat on the outside.



While they wait for their wide receivers to emerge, the Huskers can rely on perhaps the deepest group of tight ends in the Midwest. Junior Dreu Young, sophomore Ryan Hill and freshmen Kyle Reed can all get involved there.

Fortunately, the schedule might allow Nebraska to work out a couple kinks. The Huskers will have Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State in for visits before they have a chance to avenge last year's 35-30 loss to Virginia Tech in a huge early season game at Blacksburg. If they manage a win there, Nebraska should be 4-0 heading into conference play, where Pelini is certain they can improve.



"I think we have a little momentum going in the program," he says. "You know, we finished last year with some pretty good results…"



Then, the coach pauses.



"Of course, I didn't come here to win nine games and start patting myself or the kids on the back," he says. "We finished well, but we still need to bring everybody down to earth, and work hard to make this thing go."



And he believes he will. When told where Nebraska ranks on Insider's Top 25, Pelini wastes no time reaching even higher. "Hopefully," he says, "we can end up a little better than that."



Statistical information and research provided by ESPN Stats & Information
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

you might want to ...change the title, not exactly a good way to uh...not look foolish ya know?
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

vuren said

you might want to …change the title, not exactly a good way to uh…not look foolish ya know?

I think it's fine, they are hicks and everyone is beatable.  He didn't say we ARE going to beat Nebraska, big difference.

I know a few people from Nebraska and they have no problem being called hicks.  It's like being called a Florida Cracker.

GO OWLS!
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

dusky256fc said

It's like being called a Florida Cracker.

Or a Florida Gator??

;D
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

vuren said

you might want to …change the title, not exactly a good way to uh…not look foolish ya know?

I agree.  This thread title is going to look foolish come September.
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

I'm a Owl and I'm a Florida cracker and dam proud of it
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

owlcountry40 said

I'm a Owl and I'm a Florida cracker and dam proud of it

Ditto.

GO OWLS!
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... We always beat FIU

i just posted it quick. really didn't think it over.
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

owlcountry40 said

I'm a Owl and I'm a Florida cracker and dam proud of it

Florida Cracker? Born and raised in South Florida, never heard that one before. I did get called a Florida Orange, once.

"FAU is on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time."
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Re: ESPN Insider on Nebraska.... These hicks are beatable.

One of my African American co-workers called me "the craziest cracka" he ever knew, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a reference to living in Florida.
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