I’ll venture again in comments about football since fortunately no Husker fans read this blog and thus I won’t get my house firebombed (since in Nebraska criticizing the team, especially Pelini, is treason, punishable by severe penalties).
Yesterday the Huskers showed what they are, a really mediocre middle-of-the-pack offense with a credible defense and thus a “winning” team in the abysmal B1G, esp. the West division. Let’s just admit what we saw. Abdullah is a super star and without him the Huskers are fairly hopeless. Even if Ameer doesn’t touch the ball (and esp. since he has great hands and so a very effective receiver) the defense has to play him. That allows the otherwise weak offense to do something other than just give Ameer the ball. But take him out and there is not much left.
So in all the local press coverage and the coaches comments, esp. BloPeni, everyone except Armstrong is blamed. Amazingly it’s claimed two different centers mishandle the snaps (what about the common denominator, i.e. Armstrong, is any of this on him?) and then a couple of talented receiver are blamed for bad routes (i.e. the play didn’t follow the X’s and O’s diagram in Blo’s head) when Armstrong throws the ball into the turf, or worse, a receiver (i.e. defense) on the other team. Now, despite the obvious, they cover for Armstrong.
Now Armstrong may be a great kid trying as hard as he can, but the fact is he can’t pass. It’s not his arm or his mechanics or whatever other excuses they can concoct. No, he doesn’t have what good QBs have – situational awareness. I watched lots of open receivers that he never even saw – why, because the best he can do is follow the playbook. And sometimes plays don’t go the way Blo dreams them – the field is what it is and a good QB sees the whole field and finds throws he needs to make. Armstrong can’t do that, well, because: a) he’s not very good at that, and, b) his head is wrapped around running for glory, the fatal flaw I’ve seen for years watching Husker football. The crowd loves a running QB, the coaches love a running QB, so the QB runs. And being a QB is incredibly hard, so having his mind thinking about running means he can’t multitask to see either opportunistic throws or that his receiver maybe got slowed down or misdirected by the defense (after all, that is what they’re supposed to do, no obligation to follow Blo’s virtual scripted plays).
I think the coverup about Armstrong has little to do with him. It has to do with the fatal flaw of Husker football, not just the coaches but also the fans. They love the run and in good old-fashioned midwestern conservatism hate the pass (it’s so very very dangerous to let the ball be in the air). So the fear of the pass becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy: they set up plays to avoid it, they hire QBs to avoid it. Well, maybe that doesn’t matter if they have a monster and multidimesional run game, but when they have a star and adequate other backs, they can only win with the star.
Watching the game, in person, it was clear the offense was “flat” (not necessarily “sloppy” as Blo likes to claim). They expected an easy win and were thinking about MSU in the B1G championship, not the doormat team actually on the field. They would roll to a big win with Abdullah having a record day. But sometimes shits happens and yesterday the game didn’t unfold according to the script. And then desperation set in. The Huskers are lucky to have the win since Purdue got all the bad breaks early on and so had to do its own desperation (and thus risky) play to get back in it.
But what is this fascination with a run-oriented (and often, only) QB? Yesterday another pretty good QB ran for two TDs, but he also threw for 285 yards. And he did this against another crushing defense of a run-oriented team (in case you miss this, I’m taking about Marcus and Oregon). Marcus can run, but when it’s time to pass, as it usually is, his brain is reading the field for a pass, not looking for a hole to run for personal glory. When he runs it’s opportunistic and puts the defense off-balance. Playing Nebraska you know Armstrong is thinking run, run, and more run. When Abdullah is in the game the run threat is enough the run game works, but when the superstar is gone the QB tries to win the game himself, with his legs. I watched the fumbles and Tommy is doing what receivers are constantly told to do – get the ball securely in your hands before you start to run with it. How many times have you seen receivers botch this, they’re already moving downfield and they haven’t secured the ball yet. Running distracts the rest of the body. Again, it’s amazing what these kids can do, but when we’re talking about National Championship or the Pros, it’s what they’re supposed to do and paid to do.
So the fault for the game lies entirely with Blo, who is paid way too much for multiple 9 win seasons and wants a big sinecure by finding getting some sort of championship. So he continues to play conservatively and also do what the fans want and that is run the ball. It worked for Stanford for two games against Oregon but eventually high-output offense beats conservative, don’t-screw-up, grind-it-out offenses (we’ll see in two weeks when an even more conservative Wisconsin tries to grind the Huskers).
Now during the 15 years I’ve watched the Huskers (not entirely by choice, again your life is in danger here if you don’t) it’s been the same, run, run, run and mostly by the QB. Pass only when you’re so far in front failure doesn’t matter so you can make the stats look better. Does anything really think it’s any different.
The world of football has changed since Davaney or even Osborne. These high school kids get rated, many even have agents. Now QB is still the highest paid job in the NFL and they hire QBs to throw. Why? Simple, run in the NFL and you get pounded. Teams don’t pay $20M to watch their QB get busted up. Running backs are interchangeable and replaceable, QBs are, and so they don’t take injury risks for a few years (except in critical plays). So any good QB, dreaming of his $100M contract and TV exposure and glamour lifestyle looks at college teams and says: “Where will I be the star?”, Oregon, Yep, Alabama, Yep, TAM, Yep. Nebraska – No. (hometown star but they doesn’t pay so well as Eric Crouch discovered). So Nebraska can’t recruit a Mariota. So they get “dual-threat”, really meaning running backs who can barely throw, as their QBs. And then they coach them to run and they set up the plays to run. The Huskers have some amazing receivers (unusual, Kennie Bell has shades of Jerry Rice) and it’s unfortunate they don’t get to shine as much as they could by at least having a competent passing QB. And, again, it’s not the arm, it’s the brain – situational awareness, seeing the field as it is with lots of moving objects instead of a play diagrammed on a board.
So let’s call it like it is (and the way the national press, who is totally ignoring Nebraska) and the pros see it. Armstrong is competent to hand-off to Ameer and sometimes pass when Ameer has the defense scared. So, again, why is Blo covering for him? Well, it’s not Tommy Blo is covering for, it’s Blo himself. Someday the fans paying him the big bucks might see his beautiful invisible Emperor’s clothes. Blo is not a good tactical coach. He takes three days of watching film to figure out what happened in real time. He doesn’t adjust, he doesn’t play the game that is actually happening. And the QB run game and Armstrong are his creation, so its flaws are his flaws, and that’s what he is covering, his own bonus and raise. The rest of the team deserves a thinking coach, the fans deserve a winning team (although they need to understand what winning in the 21st century means and forget the leather helmet days). And they’re not getting it. And the excuses will fly if Abdullah doesn’t return (or at full strength) and they drop a couple of games in the end of the season.
So Ameer proved, by his absence, the kind of player he is. Let’s hope Blo doesn’t blow the season and ruin Ameer’s well-deserved shot in the pros. And Tommy, like the other Husker QBs can remember their glory days of 90,000 cheering fans as he watches Sunday football.