It was a dazed bunch of red-clad Nebraska football fans that walked out of The Fox & Hound in Broomfield, one of the better-known haunts of the Coloradoans for Nebraska. At least for the moment, after watching the Cornhuskers hang on for a 41-40 victory over a mid-major college football team, there were at least half a dozen of them willing to relocate to Lincoln if it meant they’d be able to take over as defensive coordinator.
There were many more volunteers outside Memorial Stadium after the Blackshirts got trampled for more than 600 yards by Ball State.
It would be hard for anyone to look worse than Kevin Cosgrove and the Nebraska defense have the past two weeks. Can you imagine how excited Dave Christensen, the offensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers is feeling right now? After all, if Ball State can hang 600 on the Blackshirts in Memorial Stadium, what will Chase Daniel, Tony Temple, Martin Rucker and the high-octane Tiger offense do in Columbia on Oct. 6? In fact, even Iowa State’s Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe should be salivating.
Missouri has a week off before hosting NU. It’s a good thing Nebraska doesn’t. The Huskers need a lot of work.
Much was made of the fact that NU practiced in full pads for two days, which was a big break from its usual routine. But judging by the results it really was “back to basics week” for the Blackshirts, it’s possible that someone else needs to start teaching the basics.
Cornerback Zack Bowman showed some leadership by removing his Blackshirt at practice this week. Saturday, as he sat out with a hamstring injury, is was obvious that his teammates need to turn in theirs as well.
Middle linebacker Corey McKeon looked much better two years ago as a sophomore. He whiffed on at least two open-field tackles and generally looked lackadaisical, especially on the simple toss sweep that Ball State’s MiQuale Lewis took 43 yards around left end for a score in the third quarter. It would be hard to find more confusion on a Pop Warner football field than the Blackshirts showed at times Saturday.
The most damning thing about Cosgrove’s soft-nosed defense is that it seems to be backpedaling in almost every situation, even when it has the opponent in a third-and-long. The Cardinals converted six of their first seven third-down opportunities Saturday, including at least three third-and-10 or longer. It’s one thing to get pushed around by the No. 1-rated team in the nation, but the Husker defensive line was not able to match up with a below-average Ball State offensive line.
The main bright spot on defense was that Cosgrove began to use some of his younger, faster players more often. Linebacker Phillip Dillard, a sophomore, had six tackles, including two key stops inside his own 10-yard line to keep the Huskers within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. He saw about as much time as McKeon, who had only four stops. Senior safety Tierre Green, who has been a step slow most of the season, has not been improving noticeably. Sophomore Rickey Thenarse may get burned a few times this year, but he will get better and has more potential than Green. Even Anthony West got into the game at defensive back. There’s no reason not to let the youngsters play and take their lumps, if necessary.
Right now, Cosgrove’s defense leaves the Husker offense very little margin for error. Keller and the offensive unit were able to pile up enough points against an outsized Ball State defense, and may be able to do it against Iowa State, but won’t be able to do it throughout October.
Cosgrove needs to simplify his defensive plan and get his athletes to play with intensity. He has given his army of critics at the Fox and Hound and elsewhere plenty of reasons to doubt him. Now he has the opportunity to shut them up. There’s no time to be lackadaisical anymore. He may not have many chances left.