What can I say about Nebraska? It's obsessed with corn, lost a baffling but awesome game to Northwestern, is known for permitting some nepotism in its coaching ranks, and (as seen above) has perfected the sad/dejected fan look.
Wait, when did I start talking about Iowa?
I kid, I kid.
(As a side note, consider that last jab at Nebraska/Iowa a parting gift -- I'm getting married Saturday, and taking a week off for a honeymoon, so I won't be around these parts next week. Don't worry, though, you'll still get a Potluck next week -- thanks Jonathan for pitching in to help)
Anyways, on to this week's Potluck, where we look at the Cornhuskers with 4 corn-themed dishes/questions (I forgot to do this last week -- forgive me. But every course links to an actual recipe, so feel free to use these recipes this weekend). Follow us after the jump to read about the Pelini brothers' separation anxiety, the non-conference vs. conference performance of Rex Burkhead, why T-Magic will prevent Nebraska from winning its SIXTH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, and creative ways to rid some B1G teams of their worst characteristics/history.
(EDITOR's NOTE/UPDATE: I forgot to mention -- we have a new writer at OTE: mikjones24 joins the OTE staff as an Iowa contributor....I initially left his excellent answers out below, so please read them now, and welcome Mike to the staff!)
If the Pelini Brothers took bath salts, this picture proves they'd be very adept at eating the faces of homeless people....
1. Panneed Oysters wth Sweet Corn Maque Choux, Tomato Jam and Crispy Bacon: Carl Pelini packed up his bags and left Lincoln for Florida Atlantic University, the warm weather of Boca Raton, Florida, and the chance to beat up on Sun Belt patsies and be cannon fodder for the SEC non-conference slate. Into the void steps John Papuchis, the Husker's former D-line coach. The advantage is obviously continuity -- the players know Papuchis, Papuchis knows the system the Huskers run, and Bo Pelini is comfortable with Papuchis. But will Bo end up missing Carl? Will Nebraska's defense slip at all due to the coaching change (note: they may slip regardless due to the loss of Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard)? And was it a mistake to delay a coaching staff shake-up on defense that might have pumped some new life into a Huskers defense that has slipped a bit from normally loftier Nebraska expectations (37th nationally in total defense with 350.69 ypg in 2011; 42nd in scoring defense at 23.38 ppg allowed)?
KennardHusker: I mentioned this a bit yesterday and I'll probably hit on it more tomorrow, but the bottom line is that I do not see this as a big deal right now. Papuchis is young and a Pelini disciple. As much as Carl was his own guy, I think that this was always supposed to be Bo's defense with someone at the DC to oversee the day to day operations. From what I've read, Papuchis is also a film junkie and a schemer, so I think if anything this could turn positive for Bo in the strategy department. Will we see a lot of change? Not too likely, but maybe the strategy entering a new conference will force some better adjustments. Last year was tough and everyone realized it early on. Should be fascinating to see how that changes. (Also, losing Crick and Dennard sucks. Losing Lavonte David could be disastrous.)
MSULaxer27: I wouldn't want to be a part of that awkward conversation where I ask my older brother to resign (lest I have to fire him) since his defense has slipped, so I'm not sure how you could speed up the process of that coaching change. Sometimes you have to let things take their natural course. A single season is too small of a sample size, but could Nebraska's defensive "slip" have anything to do with changing conferences? I wonder (and I don't presently have time to check) what the Huskers in conference numbers were last year versus their last couple of years in the Big XII?
mikjones24: In the short time that I've been watching Nebraska football there's one thing that has always stuck out to me: the relationship between Bo and his brother. An "active" coach on the sidelines, I can't count the number of times I watched Bo get in his brother's ear/face about something going wrong on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest question to me is: what's going to be the relationship between Bo and Papuchis? Will he get in his face? Will Papuchis bend to Bo's will and run the defense the way he wants it? Or will Papuchis tell Bo to kiss his ass, as he's the defensive coordinator?
I always like to see how coaches' work with their coordinators as it demonstrates (to me) the cohesiveness of the staff as a whole. Pelini has been with Papuchis since they were both at LSU so there's no doubt they're comfortable with each other. However, comfort goes out the door when you're working in a high pressure situation with your boss staring over your shoulder at every twist and turn. The defense may have slipped with Carl before he bailed for FAU but one can only assume that he ran the defense the way Bo wanted it ran. The question is whether Papuchis will do the same.
2. Southern Cornbread Salad: The brightest part of Nebraska's inaugural season was the play of running back Rex Burkhead, who exploded with 1,357 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Burkhead is undeniably talented (and, arguably, underrated nationally), but a deeper dive into his numbers reveals that 7 of those rushing touchdowns came in non-conference play, and that he was held below 4 yards a carry by five different opponents (Fresno State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan, and South Carolina), and was not much of a receiving option/threat (just 21 receptions for 177 yards receiving on the season, although that may have more to do with Taylor Martinez than Burkhead). And as KennardHusker poined out yesterday, the depth behind Burkhead is perilously thin after the transfers of Aaron Green to TCU and shift of Braylon Heard to defensive back. Will Burkhead be more effective during the conference slate in 2012? Can he improve on his 2011 season? Or will we see a slide in his production as defenses key on him (due to lack of faith in Taylor Martinez's arm) or because overuse/bad luck results in injury (we all certainly hope not, but injuries are a part of life in football)?
KennardHusker: The YPC and TD numbers are always funny to me. I get that they are a part of the bigger picture, but they cannot be relied upon. Burkhead is one of those workhorses. He gets behind his linemen and he keeps his head up. The thing about him was not just his 1,357 yards, but also his ridiculous 284 attempts. Against some of the top teams in the conference, he consistently moved the pile and got his yards one way or another (35 attempts vs. Michigan State's stingy Defense and 26 @ Penn State).
Still, the question is more about improving, and while I think his stats could improve a little, I am betting he'll be more effective regardless. There are signs that the talent is there behind Burkhead and I've heard nothing but good things about Abdullah, but it's hard to know exactly what to expect with Sophomores and Freshmen. He's been durable so far, and he seems to put his heart into everything, but the coaches need to keep an eye on the situation.
MSULaxer27: These guys don't make it to this level without wanting to be "the guy". In a similar situation to LeVeon Bell at MSU, Burkhead lost much of his competition at the running back spot...and teams are going to key on the running game (just like they will at MSU due to the graduation of Kirk Cousins and most of our receivers). Coaching isn't rocket science; focus on stopping what the other team does best. Make them uncomfortable and force them to change their game plan to beat you. I would say this is exactly what Burkhead wants/needs. We compete not just to win, but also to measure ourselves. Burkhead has a prime opportunity here to find out what he is made of and what his ceiling is.
mikjones24: I can't see Burkhead capitalizing on his 2011 success unless he gets some help in the backfield. 26 carries against Ohio State, 35 against Michigan State, 26 against Penn State and 38 against Iowa (admittedly, we didn't tackle him the majority of the time). I simply can't see him taking that many carries in 2012 because now everyone KNOWS he's getting the ball. It's not to say that he can't stay healthy...ok, yeah I'm saying I can't see him staying healthy if he's the only I-back.
3. Corned Beef and Cabbage: T-Magic. His armpunts are the elephant in the room when it comes to Nebraska's offense, and arguably their entire season. Last year, Taylor Martinez threw for 2089 yards, a 126.5 QB rating, and 13 TDs, while rushing for another 874 yards and 9 TDs. On the other hand, his completion percentage dropped to 56.3%, he threw 8 INTs, he had a completion percentage of 50% or below in six separate contests, and his throwing motion/arm strength/decision-making continues to be questioned. Can T-Magic improve in 2012? Will he improve? How can you teach accuracy to a QB that has demonstrated no ability to be the high-completion rate passer that modern college football requires? And at what point do we stop making excuses for T-Magic and call him what he is -- an inaccurate passing QB who can nonetheless sometimes move the offense because of his talent at rushing the ball?
KennardHusker:You almost got me to comment on this yesterday in the comments, but this seems like a great place to state T.Mart's case. None of us in Huskerland believe he's the second coming of Joe Montana, but I do believe he gets a bad wrap because his arm motion is so awful. Regardless of how it looks, he consistently hit receivers in stride who just flat out dropped the ball. Was he ever or will he ever be a pass-first guy? Well, no. Not even a little bit. However, he was a great game manager and if he can start breaking big runs with his legs again, who knows what happens next. All I know is that he is the starting QB for now and all I can do is hope that the improvements I've heard about come to fruition. There are far worse outcomes than that. Against Northwestern, he played out of his mind and they lost, so maybe Nebraska doesn't need that type of passer for this offense.
Lastly, let's stop and remember that he has now had to learn two entirely new offenses. This stuff takes time, and I for one am willing to give him a break. This year will be his do or die season, but I think we're all going to be really surprised at how T.Mart turns out. At least that's what I am telling myself.
BabaOReally: As a non-avid follower of Nebraska, I'm not sure what excuses people are making for Martinez. What I see is a competent running quarterback who can be enough of a passing threat to do some damage. I don't see Nebraska winning number six with Martinez running the show, but they will still be tough to beat. I would be shocked if he comes out like Vince Young next season, and I would be equally shocked if he starts playing like Nathan Scheelhaase did during Illinois' down period last year.
MSULaxer27: Martinez is what he is. Look, even with watered down non conference schedules, you don't throw for over 2000 yards in major college football with out some skill and talent. Still, I don't think he is the guy to take NU-L to the next level, but many guys have made the jump from their sophomore to junior seasons. It certainly isn't all on him, but except for the MSU game, the huskers looked bad in most of their games against high ranked opponents (UM, UW, South Crazolina). That's got to change.
Graham Filler: You can win with a quarterback who can't throw the ball. It's been proven for years and years. You just have to give the weak thrower throws he can make. Wheel routes, quick hitches, screen passes, etc. The only problem? If you don't gameplan effectively, or run the ball powerfully, one of those hitches is going to be picked off, one of those wheel routes is going to be floated into the waiting arms of some random cornerback or safety.
Can he improve? Let's look at Denard Robinson. Known as a running quarterback, obviously, Denard has turned into a pretty damn effective passer. How did he do it? Well sure, he's had good blocking, his receivers have been great at making plays. But the biggest thing we don't talk about is that Denard has a big arm. Robinson can make that 15 yard pass, the one that fits perfectly between the LB and the zoned CB, the one that is thrown so hard it sticks in his receivers hands or body because it's got no other place to go. T-Mart doesn't have a big arm. That's not going to change.
mikjones24: Asking whether Taylor Martinez is going to become a better quarterback is like asking whether Metta World Peace is going to become "less crazy." Simply put: you can't be something you aren't. T-Mart isn't a quarterback. He's a running back playing quarterback. His ugly throwing motion, wild inconsistency and poor completion percentage are evidence of this. Hell, even Tre Roberson had a better completion percentage than T-Mart and Tre threw 6 INTs and 3 TDs.
Martinez gets a pass because he's wildly athletic and can move the ball with his feet. And that's fine. If that puts points on the board for the Cornhuskers I don't see why anyone should complain. But don't call him something he isn't. T-Mart will continue to do just enough to keep the Husker offense humming during the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he won't be doing it through the air...and he never will.
The most terrifying children's book of all time.....
4. Emeril's Dessert Corn Pudding: Last week in discussion on Iowa, Nebraska fan commenters discussed the myriad of ways in which they would destroy the inflatable Lil' Red, including fire, dismemberment, and vaporizing him in a nuclear explosion that would take place for obvious reasons in South Bend, Indiana. What part of your team would you like to destroy and wipe from history, and in what creative way would you destroy it?
KennardHusker: Since you brought up Lil' Red already, I think I'm going to go with the, "Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football" sign that SP put up. It's one thing to believe you have the greatest fans in College Football and talk about it on the internet and such. It's annoying and subjective, but hey, at least it's just internet talk. I drew a picture of Pitbull with a bow and arrow once, so we don't exactly have high standards around these parts. However, that stupid sign is really just a fancy way of saying, "Look, we're just a little bit full of ourselves. Come openly mock us."
To rid ourselves of this hubris that has wreaked havoc on Huskerland since the late 90s and the curse of SP that followed, I believe we should tear down the sign and vandalize it much akin to the Russian people's action with Stalin's statue after the fall of communism. If you're wondering where I'm going with this, basically the Russian people beat the crap out of Stalin's statue and made it a mockery and instead of just tearing it down, they left it up as a reminder that hubris and megalomania (also insanity and despotism) leads to really crappy things (or at least that's how I imagine Fallen Heroes Park was created in Russia. Feel free to do research and let me know otherwise).
BabaOReally: I would like to destroy Cowboy Kyle Orton's fumble from the 2004 game against Wisconsin. To destroy this incident, I would like to go back in time and replace the ball with a fifth of Jack Daniel's for that play. In every picture I have seen with Cowboy KO and a bottle of Jack (there are more than one), he has a very strong grip on the liquor.
MSULaxer27: It's a cop out to be sure, but for the first time in as long as I can remember I am comfortable with where the Spartans are and where they are going. It's tough that we are breaking in a new QB and multiple receivers at the same time but I have confidence that even if a step back occurs this season we are poised for big things again in the future. Our program is solid. If there is anything I would change it is how our fans sing a part of our fight song. There is a line in it, "...see their team is weakening, we're going to win this game..."prior to about 2003 everybody sang it as written. Now a majority of people yell the word "WEAK" during this line. It's not necessarily my "get off the shed" moment, but there is a clear demarcation between who sings it this way and who doesn't. I like it the old way and classic coke and....
Graham Filler: The Michigan defense from 2009 and 2010. Any video, photos , game highlights, etc, involving that defensive unit...burn it down.
Oh my god, what is that, is that...is it really...a 3 MAN FRONT AGAINST A POWER RUSHING ATTACK???!! MY EYESSSSS
mikjones24: What part of Iowa football would I like to destroy and wipe from history? How about the years between 1961-1981? How would I do it? Well, do you remember the end of Braveheart? Yeah, something like that. I would hang, draw and quarter two decades of Iowa football.