Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Keys to the Game (Arizona)

With the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl just hours away, here's what the Huskers need to do to win their 2nd consecutive bowl game under Bo Pelini:

Nebraska needs to...
*Find an offense early.
Although it'd be nice to see the Huskers show a huge offensive explosion since that's all they've heard about the last month, it is unlikely. It is unlikely to be huge, but just some sort of offense early could keep the game out of reach. The defense has proved how great they can be, give them a lead to work with.

*Figure out there quarterback situation.
Both Lee and Green will play today. And after the game, the quarterback picture may be even more cloudy than when the game started. However, one of them has the prime opportunity to show they can lead this team in the future. Will it happen? In a few hours we'll know.

*Show their heart.
After a disappointing finish to the Big 12 Championship game, the Holiday Bowl doesn't seem like much to play for. However, this game can have a huge impact on exposure and recruiting. The Seniors need to finish strong and show their hearts for the future of this program.

Nebraska needs to control...
*The line of scrimmage.
Both sides of the ball need to dominate. The Husker D-Line shouldn't have too much of a problem, but Arizona has a powerful front 4 on defense. The Huskers need to show they can run early and set up a defense. That starts with the O-Line.

*The red zone.
Too many times this season have the Huskers drove the ball down and settled for a field goal. Against both VT and Texas, they had the defense to win the games, but couldn't score a single touchdown. If they expect to win now, or in the future, they need to get into the end zone, not through the uprights

*The turnovers.
Again, on both sides. Turnovers can kill an already struggling offense. However, turnovers can boost a struggling offense if you give them the short field to work their "magic." The Husker defense has shown they can take the ball away all year, so just keep it up.

*Cody Green will score on the ground.
Sure, it may just be a 1 or 2 yard run. However, I think he will show something on his legs in this game. Hopefully, he will create a dual threat that haunts the Wildcats

*Cody Green will be the quarterback of the future after this game.
The race will still be tight after this game and into the offseason. However, Green has superior athletic skills and just needs an offseason with Pelini and Watson to show he's the quarterback of the new decade.

*Nebraska will win by 10 points.
The offense will click (at least a little bit) and the defense will dominate. The game will be pretty close, but not too much of a nail biter. Nothing like the Big 12 Championship. The Huskers win 24-14.

Monday, December 21, 2009

All-Decade Team

As 2009 is coming to an end, there have been considerable amounts of All-Decade lists. I decided to look at the Nebraska teams of the 2000's and come up with the Nebraska All-Decade Team. Here's what I got:


*Quarterback: Eric Crouch (1998-2001)
Although he only played 2 seasons in the new millennium, in 2000 and 2001, he led the Cornhuskers to a 21-4 record as QB (35-7 total), including a National Championship berth. He received the Heisman in 2001, along with the Walter Camp and Davey O'Brien Award. He finished his senior season with over 1,000 rushing and passing each, and 25 total TDs. He finished his career with 7,915 total yards.
Honorable Mention: Joe Ganz, Zac Taylor

*I-back: Dahrran Diedrick (1999-2002)
Since the turn of the century, the Huskers have turned to more of a run-by-committee offense. Dahrran Diedrick racked up 2,523 yards from 2000 to 2003, and 24 touchdowns. He did all of this while splitting a lot of carries with quarterbacks (Eric Crouch and Jammal Lord).
Honorable Mention: Cory Ross, Brandon Jackson, Marlon Lucky

*Fullback: Judd Davies (2000-2003)
Davies led the way for some great Nebraska rushers, such as Dan Alexander, Dahrran Diedrick, Cory Ross, and Josh Davis, as long with quarterbacks Eric Crouch and Jammal Lord. Davies totaled 703 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. He was an academic All-American as well.

*Wide Receiver: Nate Swift (2005-2008)
Swift led his team in receptions and yards two of his four seasons. In his senior season, he had 63 catches for 941 yards and 10 TDs. His career numbers were 166 catches for 2,476 yards and 22 TDs. He was also an explosive punt returner, including a huge TD vs. Virginia Tech as a senior

*Wide Receiver: Maurice Purify (2006-2007)
Purify was JC Transfer, but in just two years, he had 1,444 yards and 16 TD grabs. His defining moment was a fade route catch from Zac Taylor to solidify a Nebraska comeback-from-behind victory to put them in the 2006 Big 12 Championship game. He currently plays for the CIncinnati Bengals
Honorable Mention: Todd Peterson, Wilson Thomas

*Tight End: Matt Herian (2002-2004, 2006)
Herian had a promising early career, where he led the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. Unfortunately, he broke his leg and was forced to miss the 2005 season. He amassed a total of 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns in his four years of playing.
Honorable Mention: Tracy Winstrom, Mike McNeill

*Offensive Tackle: Matt Slauson (2005-2008)
Slauson played both tackle and guard for the Huskers. He played two years at each position, and ended up being drafted by the New York Jets in the 2009 NFL Draft.

*Offensive Guard: Toniu Finoti (1998-2001)
Finoti finished with a career record of 379 pancakes and was an Outland Trophy finalist in 2001. He was drafted in the second round by the San Diego Chargers
Honorable Mention: Carl Nicks

*Center: Dominic Raiola (1997-2000)
He became the first freshman starter since 1991 and centered some great run-happy offenses. He was selected as an All-American in 2000.
Honorable Mention: Jacob Hickman

*Offensive Guard: Russ Hochstein (1997-2000)
Hochstein is another multiple-position offensive lineman. He showed his versatility at Nebraska and in the NFL, as he played all 3 OL positions for multiple clubs, including the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

*Offensive Tackle: Lydon Murtha (2005-2008)
Murtha started his final two seasons at Nebraska and was the main protector of quarterbacks Sam Keller and Joe Ganz. He was also drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft.


Defensive End: Adam Carricker (2003-2006)
In four years, Carricker totaled 134 tackles in four seasons, despite multiple ankle injuries. He also had 20 career sacks. As a blackshirt, he was selected Defensive MVP of the Huskers two consecutive seasons, and was honored as Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and a First-Team selection.

Defensive Tackle: Ndamukong Suh (2006-2009)
Suh came on defensively his junior and senior season, leading his team in tackles both seasons. Suh had 76 tackles his junior season and 82 tackles his senior season (not including the Holiday Bowl game). He also finished with 12 sacks, including 4.5 in the Big 12 Championship Game. Suh won the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award, Bill Willis Trophy, Outland Trophy, and Chuck Bednarik Award. He also finished 4th in the Heisman race.

Defensive Tackle: Le Kevin Smith (2002-2005)
Smith finished his career with 161 tackles including 34 for a loss, which was (at the time) second most in Nebraska history for a defensive lineman. He had 9 sacks, an INT, and 3 blocked kicks.
Honorable Mention: Ryon Bingham

Defensive End: Chris Kelsay (1999-2002)
In his 3 seasons of the decade (2000, 2001, and 2002), Kelsay had 118 tackles and 12.5 sacks. He was a two-time 2nd Team All-Big 12 pick and was drafted in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
Honorable Mention: Barry Turner, Pierre Allen, Zach Potter

Linebacker: Barrett Ruud (2001-2004)
In four seasons, Ruud had an amazing 432 tackles. He led (or tied) his team in tackles 3 of the 4 years he played. He was honorable mention, 3rd team, and a 1st team All-Big 12 Selection, as well as 3rd team All-America. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Linebacker: Stewart Bradley (2003-2006)
Bradley amassed 175 tackles, 4 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumbles, and an INT for a touchdown in a career where he started for 3 seasons.

Linebacker: Corey McKeon (2004-2007)
McKeon only saw significant action in 3 of his 4 seasons as a Husker but still notched 240 total tackles. He led 2005 Huskers in tackles and was in the top 3 in tackles his junior and season seasons. He also had 4 career INTs, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries
Honorable Mention: Bo Ruud, Carlos Polk, Phillip Dillard, Randy Stella

Cornerback: Fabian Washington (2002-2004)
As a 3 year starter, he totaled 137 tackles, 11 INTs, and 2 forced fumbles. Washington was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round after leaving Nebraska early.

Safety: Josh Bullocks (2002-2004)
Bullocks had 151 tackles in just 28 games, including 13 INT (an astounding 10 in 2003). He was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2003 as well.

Safety: Daniel Bullocks (2002-2005)
In his four years, Daniel (Josh's twin brother) has 226 tackles and was a senior co-captain in 2005. He started 22 games and had 8 INTs. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
Honorable Mention: Larry Asante, Demorrio Williams

Cornerback: Keyeo Craver (1998-2001)
In the two seasons of this decade, Craver had 116 tackles (finishing in the top 4 both seasons). He also had 3 INTs, a forced fumble, and 2.5 sacks. He has spent time in the NFL and CFL.
Honorable Mention: DeJuan Groce

Special Teams

Place Kicker: Josh Brown (1999-2002)
Brown is currently 3rd in scoring in Nebraska history (behind his brother Kris and Eric Crouch). He was a 1st team All-Big 12 Selection his senior season where he was 14-18 on FGs and perfect on PATs.
Honorable Mention: Alex Henery

Punter: Kyle Larson (2000-2003)
After walking on and redshirting, Larson went on to start for 3 years, where he was named an All-American by AFCA. In 2003, he set a Nebraska record by averaging 45.1 yds on 66 punts (although it was later broken).
Honorable Mention: Sam Koch

Kick/Punt Returner: DeJuan Groce (1999-2002)
Groce played cornerback for the Huskers and returned kicks. In 2002, he had 4 punt return touchdowns, including an 89-yarder. He averaged 17.0 yards a return. He also had a punt return for a touchdown his junior season.
Honorable Mention: Nate Swift

Monday, December 14, 2009

Suh Falls Short

Despite huge accolades from multiple sportswriters and commentators, Ndamukong Suh fell short of the Heisman. Mark Ingram of Alabama received just enough votes to edge out Toby Gerhart for the Heisman Trophy Saturday night. It's tough to criticize people for voting Ingram because of his success running the ball and carrying Alabama's offense to the BCS Championship game. However, Toby Gerhart had some phenomenal numbers, including a beastly 26 touchdown runs. He led the nation in most statistical categories. The Heisman Trophy has turned into a different award than what it was originally attended for. It definitely showed Saturday night.

Call me biased, but Ndamukong Suh showed day in and day out that he was the best player in the nation. The trophy is supposed to go to the "most outstanding player," and it is tough to say anybody was better than Suh. He led his teams in tackles and is in the top 5 in the nation in sacks. He almost single handily stopped Texas' high powered offense. Had that second run off the clock and the Huskers were going to a BCS Bowl game, would the results have changed? Ingram got his votes for a couple of reasons, and undoubtedly, his team's success was one of the major reasons.

Another huge advantage that Ingram (and actually Gerhart) had besides the offensive bias was location. Let's break the region into 6 major categories for simplicity:
West Coast (obvious)
Midwest (obvious)
Southwest (Texas area)
Southeast (Louisiana up through the Carolinas)
East Coast (obvious)

Gerhart would take the voters from the west (even though you could argue that the West gets shafted by the East Coast bias). Ingram likely takes the southeast, such as states like Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and maybe even Florida. The only player Ingram needed to battle was Tim Tebow. However, Tebow had pretty much a decent year, and I'd venture to say hardly any voters (even in Florida) chose him over Ingram. Ingram, then, likely took the East Coast as well. Being the most heavily populated areas in the nation, he probably won because of this bias alone. All the while, McCoy and Suh battled for the desolate midwest. Not only did Suh cause McCoy to almost lose the Big 12 two weeks ago, but he forced many uneasy voters to put him down rather than McCoy. The whole system has turned political. You win regions, not the nation. It's sad to see that the award isn't truly going to the right player.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Suh For Heisman

On Monday, Ndamukong Suh was officially invited to New York for the Heisman Presentation. Although his run for Heisman has been extraordinary, the outlook and general consensus is he deserves to win, but probably won't. According to this source, he has the most first place votes and points (as of 12/9), but still projected to finish 3rd behind Ingram and Gerhart. Since Ingram and Gerhart have both put up great numbers, I am not going to focus on why they shouldn't win the trophy. Instead, I will focus on why Ndamukong Suh does deserve the Heisman.

We'll start with my first graphic

Here is just simply the tackle breakdown for each game for the Huskers this season. I only included Ndamukong Suh along with the other 3 members of the front 4 (Jared Crick, Pierre Allen, and Barry Turner), and the leading linebacker Phillip Dillard. I will explain later why I only choose these other four players.

As you can see, there are 6 games where Ndamukong Suh was "below average" on tackles. (Note: 2 of the games he had 6 tackles, which I deemed as "equal" to his 6.3 tackles per game.) Of those 6 games, 1 was a non conference game against a Sun Belt opponent, so I threw it out of consideration. Therefore, Suh had 5 "below average" games vs. Big 12 teams, those games were Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. Remember, we're just talking tackles here.

Now we'll look at our second graphic:

Here is a representation of tackles above and below the average by the other players. As you can see, there is a significant amount of "above average" performances by Crick, Allen, Turner, and Dillard during these 5 games.

Why does this happen? As a defensive linemen, you have two primary jobs. During running plays, you want to clog the offensive line. There shouldn't be any holes for the backs to run through. What does this allow? It allows for linebackers to make the plays. In high school, our linebackers coach called it "scraping" to the ball. As you can tell by both graphics, Phillip Dillard (Nebraska's leading linebacker) had increases in tackles (on average) in games where Suh was often being double or triple teamed. The second job of defensive lineman is to get pass pressure (which we will go over later).

Now let's break it down, game by game:
Texas Tech: Suh's Stats: 4 tackles (2.3 tackles below average), 2 TFL, 4 QB Hurries
Comments: Sure Suh was below average on tackles, but half of his tackles were for a loss. Suh had 4 QB Hurries on the day and injured Taylor Potts late in the game. Potts would miss time after this game.

Baylor: Suh's Stats: 5 tackles (1.3 tackles below average), 2.5 TFL, 1 QB Hurry
Comments: Suh was just over a tackle below average but produced half of his tackles for a loss (again). Also, he had a QB hurry. More importantly, Jared Crick, the other defensive tackle, had a career best 5 sacks, and 13 total tackles in this game. Crick's ability to produce sacks had a lot to do with Suh's constant double/triple teams and the amount of time he was chop blocked.

Oklahoma: Suh's Stats: 4 tackles (2.3 tackles below average), 3 QB Hurries
Comments: Suh was below average on tackles (even though all four tackles were solo tackles), in a game where Landry Jones threw the ball 58 times. Jones contributed his interceptions to mental errors and pressure. He threw 5 INTs.

Kansas: Suh's Stats: 3 tackles (3.3 tackles below average) 2 QB Hurries
Comments: Suh was below average in tackles. Again, however, you must look at his supporting cast. Allen, Turner, and Dillard all had more tackles than average. Also, Todd Reesing threw the ball 41 times against the Huskers.

Colorado: Suh's Stats: 5 tackles (1.3 tackles below average), 1 TFL, 1 Sack, 2 QB Hurries
Comments: Suh was hardly below average, producing just 1.3 less tackles, but forcing a 17 yard sack that single handily put the Buffaloes out of field goal position. He added two more QB hurries on a night where the Buffs threw 3 INTs.

Lastly, it is important to remember Suh's dominant performances in the other games of the year. Specifically in 4 Big 12 games, Ndamukong Suh was able to change the course of the game. Let's take a look at those four games:
Missouri: In the spotlight, Suh started getting National Recognition. He had 6 tackles, but had a 6 yard sack and forced fumble on one play. Also, on the same play, he hobbled starting QB Blaine Gabbert. Later, Gabbert threw an INT to Suh, which set up a 4th quarter victory for the Huskers. Named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week.

Iowa State: In an embarrassing game for the Nebraska offense, Suh racked up 8 tackles, including a 6 yard sack. He had 3 more QB hurries, and he blocked an extra point and a field goal. He kept the sputtering and turnover-prone Huskers in the game.

Kansas State: In an effort to win the Big 12 North, the Huskers allowed just 3 points to KSU. Suh had 9 tackles (only one tackle behind the leader Larry Asante). However, he produced 1.5 sacks and had a QB hurry.

Texas: This is the game where Suh got truly recognized. Too little too late, probably. In a mammoth game, he produced 4.5 sacks and 2 more QB hurries. He tossed Heisman frontrunner Colt McCoy around like a rag doll. He finished with 12 total tackles and 7 TFL for a total of -22 yards.

If you are looking for the best player in college football, you've found him. His name is Ndamukong Suh. He is truly the most dominant force on the football field, whether it be this year, or in the last 30 years. He's got a truly unique (one-of-a-kind, literally) skill set. He's quick, he's strong, he's smart, and he's savvy. No player can impact a game like he can. Teams have to go out of their way to scheme against him, and it doesn't work. If it does work to shut him down, Suh's team mates get the resulting spotlight. If Suh doesn't win the Heisman, the award is a travesty.