Fortunately no Husker fans read this blog so I won’t get my house firebombed for such disloyal statements as I’ll make here. The Huskers just barely won a game yesterday that they should have put away without breaking a sweat, but, then, other Big10 teams crashed and burned providing more evidence of how weak this conference. Now ‘weak’ is not usually a word connected with the Big10 since the teams love brute force power football and get the players to push everyone around, but ‘weak’ can also apply to: no offense, clueless coaching, and lackadaisical (and arrogant) defense. Except for the heroic effort of a single player yesterday’s game could easily have gone into overtime (what I was expecting (and dreading since the drive home would be awful)) and evenly easily lost since McNeese State didn’t know they were supposed to lose and go home.
So what is the problem (and has been the problem for years). IMHO, it’s actually fairly simple – Nebraska and even all Big10 football doesn’t send quarterbacks to the NFL. And the promising high school kids have tons of information, even agents, to know that if they want the big NFL bucks they have to go to college where their skills will shine. And, that’s not Nebraska. Simple – when is the last time a Nebraska quarterback has (successfully) gone into the NFL? (successful as in Heisman winner Crouch’s fiasco).
But even if some kid who might be good enough, trained by playing in a good NFL level offense, does happen to get recruited to Nebraska the mindless running game, especially expecting the QB to do much of that running, almost guarantees failure in pursuing an NFL career. Now if the Huskers can’t recruit a top-level quarterback, what about receivers? Is some hot hands receiver going to want to come to Nebraska to learn to block?
So in the time I’ve been imprisoned here and, of course, required to both watch and cheer for the Huskers, I’ve seen the same pattern, over and over and over (as stupid Bo said yesterday when only referring to five penalties when NcNeese also had a TD called back and could complain as well, and after all, aren’t most penalties really on coaching, as Bo fakes taking responsibility for). Anyway, it’s run and run and run, the pre-60s style of play that has been over for decades, but still dominates both Nebraska and the Big10.
So other than putting this on the coaches (for a stupid offense and weak recruiting) and then on the fans (who love QB runs since it’s easy to watch and understand and it’s hearkens back to the glory days) I put it squarely on the QB, i.e. Armstrong as merely the latest in a long string of mediocre QBs who get away with mediocrity because they occasionally thrill the crowd with runs.
Playing QB is incredibly hard and I don’t even pretend to understand it. But if you just look at motion on the field and the strategy and tactics it’s not that hard to understand. Despite many teams who love it, QBs should almost never run. Yes, a few situations still exist where it is appropriate but the real job of the QB is to throw.
And as the press and fans endlessly hounded Martinez for throwing mechanics it’s not about a QBs arm and certainly not about their feet (Joe Willy could hardly move and he routed the old Colts in the Superbowl). What it is about is the eyes and mind and particularly ‘situational awareness’.
You can read lots about this. The Air Force and the Navy study it and try to find ways to improve it, even though it’s mostly an innate skill. It is the single thing that really allows combat pilots and QBs to succeed. To take a quick glance of visual information and create in the mind a mental map of all the relevant bits of matter and their trajectories (both first and second derivatives) in space and predict where all these bits will be in the time for a shot (a missile or cannon, or a passed forward) to intersect precisely, meanwhile with the hostile forces not in a position to interfere with your attack.
And the great QBs, like Joe Montana, have this quality in spades. It is the cornerstone of QB greatness.
Now it’s hard enough to recruit a QB with exceptional situational awareness, it is even harder to train them to maximize this skill. And every run interferes with this.
A QB has an unbelievably difficult task that he must accomplish in just a few seconds. For the great one time slows down and they see the field and all the moving bits of matter clearly; for the mediocre ones they have to study it AND they end up focusing only on a small section of the entire area where they should have situational awareness.
So that is hard enough BUT then throw in running and even the best QB’s senses go to pot. In that 2-3 seconds to intuitively and instinctively plot the course of all the moving bits of matter, distracting that awareness, even for milliseconds to look for gaps to run through destroys the coherency of the QBs view of the field. A QB who thinks running is an option is NOT devoting 100% of his situational awareness to throwing the ball. Many Husker QBs I’ve watched are even worse than Armstrong at this.
But it’s also the fans and the press. A Husker QB is not going to the NFL so the field and crowd at Memorial Stadium will be his glory days. So when he misses a read and tucks and runs, but then gets some yards and the fans, who don’t realize this was actually a MISTAKE then scream their heads off. That goes to the head of a glory seeking young man where those screams from the crowd are the biggest payday he’s going to get.
A great running back doesn’t see the whole field, he sees the obstacles in front of him, instantly computes how to be stronger or more agile than the bits of matter along his route – his focus is a narrow tunnel a few yards long. A QB has to look at about 1/3 acre!! of field and at least 10 moving bits of matter. That’s incredibly difficult and if his focus shifts to that narrow corridor a running back sees, he can not possibly regain his feel for an area 100x larger. The run is poison to a QB.
So the Huskers will stumble along. They face a weak schedule. They have 100+ M$ to put incredible muscle and conditioning on their players. They can move mountains. They just can’t move the ball when they really have to.
Plus in watching this team only once I can remember did they really fight to win. They’re so used to dominating and being safely in front that when the going gets tough they collapse. Independently of how much better Oregon is do you really think the Huskers could have rallied to defeat Michigan State yesterday.
I cringe every time I hear Bo talking about how he’ll have to watch the film and figure out what to do next week. Come on – you’re not getting huge bucks to take A WEEK to figure out what happened on Saturday – you do it in real time. Did USC or Oregon win yesterday because their coach spent hours watching film? No, they adjusted, right there, on the field in real time and turned adversity into advantage. Bo’s brain is just too damned slow to even be on the field on Saturdays – he should get coaches who think fast (which, of course, would embarrass him) and let them run the game if he can’t think fast enough to command the game in real time.
But most of all, absolutely most of all, they need QBs who couldn’t run if you attached jets to their feet so their entire, 101%, attention is focused on one and only one thing – getting the ball to the player who is supposed to run, whether by hand or by arm. DON’T RUN!