Nebraska coach Bo Pelini needs to sit his team down and say two very important words: Thank You.
We elevate college football coaches to god-like status in this country. They are portrayed as the wise masters teaching young, naïve pupils about their sport and the game of life.
Of course, in the wake of Saturday night’s wild win it’s easy to overlook this startling fact: Pelini was bailed out by those same young, impressionable players. If the Huskers don’t complete the biggest comeback in the history of Nebraska football, Pelini would have been skewered like roast lamb on Sunday and beyond. The players certainly saved the season Saturday night – who knows if they saved Pelini’s job.
Because if Huskers linebacker Lavonte David doesn’t make that now-infamous strip with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter, if Taylor Martinez doesn’t suddenly find accuracy, if Rex Burkhead doesn’t run nasty through Ohio State, if the Huskers don’t miraculously come back from a 27-6 deficit, the criticism over Pelini would have reached a fever pitch. The pitchforks would have been sharpened and the torches would have been lit.
Say it, Bo: Thank You.
I’m not here to rain on anybody’s comeback parade, but the Husker players were the ones who battled back, despite their head coach’s best efforts.
Simply put, Bo Pelini coached just about as poorly as a man can coach in the first half. He showed zero composure when the boo birds (rightfully) voiced their complaints before halftime and he again lost his composure during a boorish halftime interview with an ABC sideline reporter.
Here are Pelini’s transgressions:
1. No defensive strategy. I’m not sure if you know this but Michigan State absolutely slaughtered Ohio State one week prior using this thing we like to call the blitz. The Buckeyes couldn’t see straight as wave after wave of Michigan State players wreaked havoc in the Ohio State backfield. On Saturday night in Lincoln, we saw none of that. It was shocking. The Huskers defense generated nary a pass rush, couldn’t rattle Ohio State and looked completely lost in terms of strategy. When players did blitz, they backed up too far off the line and then tried to raid the backfield. It was ineffective and inexcusable. Did Pelini not watch game film from last week? What was the defense trying to accomplish in the first half? Why wasn’t it trying to exploit Ohio State’s offensive line – as Michigan State had done only seven days prior.
2. Atrocious clock management. The Huskers finished the first half by gifting three points to Ohio State. It was clumsy, awkward and just plain dumb. Let’s review. Nebraska forces Ohio State to punt with a little less than a minute to play in the first half. But Nebraska gets poor field position, inside its own 20. They have two timeouts. This is a tough one. Do you kneel on the ball and head into the lockerroom to regroup or do you try and push for points? Well, if you’re the Huskers, it turns out you do both. On the first play, with :52 seconds left, Martinez runs a keeper for minimal yards. He goes down with :46 left on the clock. The Huskers elect not to use one of their timeouts. OK, we get it, you’re trying to run out the clock. But that’s not accurate, the Huskers go into hurry-up mode as they race around in a no-huddle look, trying to get to the line. They spend 18 seconds trying to get the ball snapped. What is going on here? Martinez drops back and launches a duck, which is intercepted by Ohio State with :28 on the clock. The Buckeyes run one play, get into field goal position and hit a chip shot to close out the half. The Huskers mad-cap adventure during the final minute was the worst clock management you will ever see. Pelini just handed over points to Ohio State.
3. Lack of composure. After the Huskers – and specifically Taylor Martinez -- made another error in the first half, the Memorial Stadium crowd started booing. Pelini started waving his arms in opposition. Bad move. You have to be above that as head coach at Nebraska. You can’t worry about what the crowd is doing. You can’t try to protect your players from boos. That’s a recipe for disaster. If the crowd knows it has got into your head, the booing is only going to intensify. You can’t
3. Lack of composure PART II. Running off the field after the first half concluded, Pelini did a terrible interview with an ABC sideline reporter. She asked about not getting any pass rush and Pelini looked as if she had just insulted his mother. “It’s not about a lack of pass rush,” he lashed out. Uh, first of all, Bo. Calm down. It’s a football game, not the War in Afghanistan. Second of all, are you really this easily rattled? A simple question about X's and O's can get you this upset? And finally, the reporter was 100 percent correct. Your inability to put together any pass rush was the primary reason you found yourself in that position. What game were you watching? Excuse me, what game were you coaching?
Most times, the coach is the one who teaches. On Saturday night, the players hopefully taught Pelini a valuable lesson in strategy and preparedness.
Say it, Bo: Thank You.