The Nebraska Cornhuskers have had a little bit of a rough go of it so far this year, with a 3-6 record and 5 losses of 5 points or fewer. To learn more about these struggles and ask sad questions about Bo Pelini, we sat down with our friends over at Corn Nation. Check out my answers to their questions here.
1) Looks like the skill positions have been an injury mess the past few weeks. Receiver/generally dangerous dude De'Mornay Pierson-El is out for the year, and the statuses of QB Tommy Armstrong Jr and RB Terrell Newby are up in the air. Have there been any updates on those guys, and how much of an effect would their absences have?
Jon: Pierson-El is out for the season after fracturing his leg and tearing up his knee. It was announced Thursday that Tommy Armstrong will play, but Terrell Newby probably will not. Armstrong is the most irreplaceable of those players, so things aren't as bad as they could have been.
Joe (from Corn Nation): Let's just say it won't INCREASE the odds of an upset.
2) I'm sorry to bring this up so soon afterwards, but how'd you manage to give up 55 to the Boilermakers?
Step 1) Start the season perilously thin at LB and DE and hope that walk-ons or true freshman can contribute if someone gets hurt.
Step 2) Teach your defensive backs to NEVER, EVER look at the ball. Keep your back to that thing at all times. It's like the sun apparently, looking directly at it might damage your eyeballs.
Step 3) Watch as all your LBs and DEs, including the backups, proceed to get hurt and have to miss games or play hurt. (I think we have had some ridiculous number of players starting on defense this year -- like 20).
Step 4) Throw a lot of incomplete passes so your brand new defensive scheme (almost completely opposite of what the players ran last year) is on the field a lot, gets tired while already down to injured backup walk-ons, and loses all confidence by the 3rd quarter.
Joe: If you've watched this team this year you would know that ANYTHING (bad) is possible.
Husker Mike: I start with the offense. You have a backup quarterback making his first start, and for some reason, the coaches go pass crazy. Five turnovers by the quarterback is a recipe for disaster, and frankly, hard to understand when the running backs are averaging over 5 yards per carry in the game.
3) I get the feeling this Huskers squad is a little better than their record might indicate after 5 losses by 5 points or fewer. Is this team a little shell-shocked at this point, or do you expect them to continue to battle with (potentially) bowl eligibility on the line?
Ranchbabe: There is no lack of "try" in these players. Even when getting embarrassed at Purdue, there were guys limping to the line of scrimmage, making the play, and limping back for more. Injuries and fatigue will stop them before they give up. They are still saying all the right things, have a coach who is not making excuses (even if it is frustrating to hear his answers). There are two games so far this season where these guys have scored 24+ in the fourth quarter to rally (unfortunately both came up short). If MSU follows its season-long script of playing relatively close to its opponent, this Husker team will fight to the bitter end.
Joe: I haven't sensed them giving up. We've just failed in every instance where we NEEDED a stop or a first down to put the game away. Haven't nailed it once yet.
Husker Mike: They scored 29 points in the fourth quarter against Purdue. This is a bad team, but they haven't quit. Not by a long shot. It's not their fault that their new coaches are, well, just not very good at their jobs.
4) I'm ashamed to admit I know virtually zero names from Nebraska's defensive depth chart; Maliek Collins is a pretty good defensive lineman, right? Anyways, who are the defenders that MSU should be watching out for?
Joe: Vincent Valentine. Maliek. Maybe Freedom. Close your eyes for the rest.
Jon: Chris Weber is a sophomore linebacker that has played very well, and despite playing in only five games is fifth in total tackles for the season.
Husker Mike: If he's healthy, Michael Rose-Ivey is Nebraska's best linebacker.
5) You're probably sick of answering this question but I'm interested to hear the answer: do you miss Bo Pelini? Mike Riley seems like a good guy that has gotten some bad luck at the end of games, with injuries, and with turnovers. Do you think Riley could still be "the guy" long-term?
Ranchbabe: It was time for Pelini to go. As far as Riley, I am trying to keep an open mind. I was underwhelmed at first, but warmed up to the hire after he built a solid behind-the-scenes operation. I evolved to slightly alarmed due to bone-headed coaching and game-planning in some of those close losses. I've tried to remember there is a mismatch between this staff's schemes and the talent (or lack thereof in some spots) they inherited.
The Purdue game had me on the ledge and ready to accept a first-year firing. I have since taken a deep breath. What was supposed to be a move to get this program over the 9-win hump has turned into a full blown rebuild. Maybe we should have seen it coming despite the BS we were fed about the former. There are a lot of well-respected people stumping for Riley and preaching patience. I think at this point, a good case scenario is that he stabilizes this and makes it a desirable coaching job once he moves on in a few years.
Joe: No matter what happens this year, it's too early to make a final judgement on Riley. Now if we are 3-6 next year? Not good.
Jon: No, I don't miss Bo Pelini. He had seven years to improve his team and did not. He continued to lose big games the same way year after year. He burned his bridge with me (and a lot of others) when the audio tape was released of him talking to his players after he was fired.
Can Mike Riley still be the guy? If he's given the chance, why not? (Obviously I do not place the blame on this failure of a season entirely on his shoulders.)
6) Any bold predictions for this one? A score prediction?
Ranchbabe: I don't think I've ever picked the Huskers to lose since I started doing these, but I don't see how they can get past the Spartans. MSU 42 Huskers 21
Joe: I tried to stop giving predictions earlier this year because I thought I was jinxing the Huskers, but clearly a power greater than me is involved. I think we somehow keep it close till the fourth quarter. Spartans 33- us 22.
Jon: Bold prediction..... how ‘bout a homer prediction? Nebraska breaks Michigan State's winning streak with a last-second drive - this time Jordan Westerkamp holds on to a desperation pass in the last few seconds and everyone in Nebraska doesn't want to kill everyone else in Nebraska for at least another week. Nebraska 26, Michigan State 22