Monday Recap: Domination v 4.0

Well that blew.  For almost three quarters, Nebraska looked like it belonged on the field with a top 10 team.  And then for one quarter, it was a flashback to several beatings the Badgers have handed out since the Huskers have been in the Big 10.  The teams have met 7 times in Big 10 play.  Wisconsin has won 4 of them by 21 points or more.

Is it the coaching staffs?  Tough to say.  Pelini got housed 3 of those times, including one to a five-loss Wisconsin team in the conference title game.  Riley ate that defeat pizza for the first time on Saturday.  On the other side, Wisconsin has had three coaches dole out that domination: Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen, and now Paul Chryst.  Despite changing faces, the results tend to stay the same.  Wisconsin either destroys Nebraska or it ends up being a barn burner.

So what is it that allows Wisconsin to thump the Huskers most of the time?  Institutional inertia, consistency of system, player development, take your pick.  When you watch Wisconsin play, you see a ruthless efficiency on both sides of the ball forged over years of running similar systems on both sides of the ball.  Paul Chryst has called his offense in Madison 10 out of the last 13 years.  On the other side, they’ve been running the 3-4 since 2013, when Dave Aranda took over, and they had two elite defensive coordinators running 4-3s before that.  Everything is meticulously recruited to fit both systems, and players know exactly how they’re supposed to do things on any given play.  Add it up and you get a Wisconsin team that frequently punches above its recruiting weight.  Very few missed steps and communication breakdowns, everyone working together to achieve the unit’s goal.

That’s what we saw on Saturday night, and unfortunately it’s all too common these days in the Huskers-Badgers match up.  In any event, let’s take a quick recap of some things that stood out to me.

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Let’s Talk “That” Defense

When Nebraska announced Bob Diaco as its new defensive coordinator, the first thing you thought was “Bet he’s going to give up 500 yards and 27 points in the opener” right?  Yeah, me neither.  Nebraska’s game against Arkansas State ranks up there with Louisiana Tech in 1998 and Wisconsin in the 2012 B1G Championship Game in the “What the f*@$ was that” category.

In a lot of ways, the game felt worse than it was.  If I told you the Red Wolves ranked 71st in the country in yards per play after Saturday, you’d probably call me a fool given the collective angst of Husker Nation right now.  And yet that’s exactly where they are heading into week 2.  Nebraska’s biggest problem was the inability to get off the field on third down in the first half.  After two 3 and outs early because of untimely penalties, Buster Faulkner’s unit ran off a stretch of converting 4 out of 5 third downs in the first half to end it with 17 offensive points.  The Blackshirts cleaned it up in the second half, but the psychological damage was already done.

Let’s take a look at some of what went wrong and what that portends–if anything–for Nebraska’s remaining schedule.

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Sunday Recap: Stranger Things Man

So that was an interesting start to 2017.  You get two special teams touchdowns, two safeties, two onside kicks, one recovered, a touchdown celebration that starts at the 40-yard line, and 100 combined passes in a game that doesn’t involve Texas Tech or Washington State.  Yeah, okay. 

Here are some quick thoughts on that bizarre opener.

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Talking Bob: What to Look For Early from the Blackshirts

In case you haven’t heard, Nebraska hired a new defensive coordinator.  They tell me he’s extremely handsome and some sort of football genius.  What he isn’t, apparently, is Kevin Steele, though I fail to see any relevance in that observation unless you’re a hopefully soon-to-be-retired local media scribe needing to drum up some material because you don’t have anything relevant to say once Tim Miles’s season is over.

Woooooosah.  In any event, Bob Diaco steps into an interesting position as the new coordinator of the Blackshirts.  On one hand, the Blackshirts were statistically a top 30 defense last year, so it’s apparent he’s got some toys to work with in the starting lineup.  On the other hand, Nebraska’s defense faltered down the stretch and at times looked completely overmatched, giving up 500+ yards twice in the last six games and allowing 6.86 yards per play in December and January.  

As always, expectations are high for the Huskers’ defensive coordinator, and he’ll try to meet them with his hybrid system blending 3-4 and 4-2-5 principles to create a variety of looks throughout the game.  Let’s take a look some things I’ll be focusing on against Arkansas State and Oregon.

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