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The 2015 Nebraska Cornhuskers Pain Scale: Your guide to a terrible start

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Nebraska Cornhuskers football is in a less than desirable place right now. In what is easily the most absurd start to a season in history, the Huskers are staring down the barrel of a 2-3 start with difficult games until the end of the month. Would it be unthinkable for them to be 2-6 heading into a showdown with the Purdue Boilermakers on Halloween? Furthermore, would there be a more worthless game than 2-6 Nebraska at Purdue? The answer to both of those - unfortunately - is no. A resounding no.

So after losing to the Illinois Fighting Illini is a game that was absolutely unnecessary to lose, it's time to assess the pain using the Mosby Pain Scale. You know the one, right? It's the little chart in the corner that's like, "Hey, tell me how almost smiley you are!" It's a good way for us to talk about how this season has gone for the Cornhuskers, and probably tells the story of where things will be headed for the rest of 2015 - pain.


Apple's Smiling Face With Open Mouth

0: No Pain At All

If a person sees no pain in the Nebraska program at this point, that person is either incredibly high - which, I don't necessarily blame him or her - or fell asleep in 1997 and just woke up from an amazing 18 year nap. Regardless of what you think may happen in the future of the program, to assume that nothing is wrong after the Illinois game would be a little ridiculous. It's not necessarily that Nebraska lost, it's... Well, actually it is absolutely because Nebraska lost. There are a lot of ways to lose a game, but having a breakdown where your QB and team is going rogue - or you are making terrible decisions and throwing said team under the bus... either way - is a telltale sign that things have not transitioned great.

For those of you who are unaware, Nebraska had the ball in Illinois territory with about 50 seconds to go. Illinois had no timeouts left. So what does Nebraska do? They run a rollout pass play. Coaches insist there was no pass option and it was always supposed to be a bootleg - that hadn't been all that productive anyway and that ran the risk of hitting the sideline for a stoppage of play as well. Why didn't Nebraska just hand the ball up the middle, get the clos to around 15 seconds or so? Not sure. Worst case scenario is you don't get it, punt it to like, the 10 and make Illinois go 90 yards in 10ish seconds. That did not happen.

That sequence was one of a few terrible sequences by Nebraska on Saturday and ignores the four previous games, which, we're at no pain at all people. This thing is about to get ugly.

Apple's Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes

1 - 2: Hurts a Little Bit

I always loved the smiling on the chart. Like, "Hey doc, I get that a pulled muscle isn't all that big a deal, but I'm not exactly smiling in this situation." Anyhow, this part of the Nebraska pain only hurts a little bit if you have circled as 2016 and beyond as a turning point. We just went through seven years of not breaking through what seemed like a ceiling of good, not great football. Maybe it will take a year or two of stepping back to get where we need to be, and while there are signs of bad things happening - time management, penalties, lack of leadership - there also needs to be a modicum of patience with a new staff.

I mean, is it possible that Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf just have no idea how to use the personnel they have? Is it also possible that bringing in a group of coaches with no experience in spread offensive schemes and high matchup-zone defensive schemes might have issues with players built solely for that purpose? So yeah, this hurts but did you see Patrick O'Brien so far? He is absolutely killing it out there and he's going to make it all better.

The downside to believing this pain only, 'Hurts a Little Bit' is that Nebraska had a greater than 98% chance to win both the BYU game and Illinois game. It's troublesome - at best - that there have been so many mistakes that directly led games that were essentially won into games that were lost. On that note, perhaps there were some real problems under the previous regime. Wait, that's a thing, right? We can totally blame previous regimes for current issues. I will be saving that for later in the season when I'm writing the, "Nebraska did not go bowling because Bo Pelini was an awful coach," article. That will be fun.

Apple's Neutral Face

3-4: Hurts a Little More

Sure, this year was never going to be a National Championship year, there were some baseline expectations. Play hard and smart, show progress, and make fans believe you could stay in any game. When Nebraska gave up a Hail Mary to BYU in week one, all was not lost because that happens and we have been on the plus side of that equation (I see you Northwestern). When Nebraska came up just short against the Miami Hurricanes after a furious comeback, all was not lost because they fought back and despite a bad first quarter, the team looked more than adequate for great stretches. Oh, and when Nebraska almost loss to Southern Mississippi because they could not convert red zone touches into touchdowns and because the secondary is in complete disarray, all was not lost because sometimes a win is a win.

The problem with all of this line of thinking is that it's fantasy land. In listening to coaches, there is an urgency to fix issues that have plagued this team in 2015 - penalties, terrible secondary play, bad scheme understanding, sketchy offensive play sequencing, etc - but instead of seeing things get better, they have seemingly stayed the same or gotten worst. For all of the things that drove Nebraska fans about a Bo Pelini team, the one thing you could not fault him for is getting players to buy into him. I would argue that five games in, Riley has not inspired his team as well as we had assumed in Week 1. Sure, the platitudes are still coming in, but uninspiring starts and iffy returns are not a good way to start.

That leads us to...

Apple's Disappointed Face

5-6: Hurts Even More

Getting rid of Pelini was not the wrong decision. We can argue about 9 wins until we are blue in the face, but with the depletion of DBs and LBs, this team was always going to be a sitting duck. Are we probably 4-1 at this point? Yes. Do we probably get smothered by Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Northwestern? Also probably yes. Nebraska needed to move on, and while it is too early to call Riley a bust, there are signs that things aren't alright. Losing to Illinois because of bad communication in playcalling just made that really come into focus.

(Worth saying, I do not advocate for anyone to get fired. That's crazy talk. It's game five people, and if you really are asking for Bo back, and if you really want a new staff, you're probably going to want to walk away from football for a little bit. That might just work out easier for your blood pressure. Okay? Okay.)

As I said before, Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf are well respected offensive minds. They have a lot of experience in the game of football and I respect that they have more knowledge about playcalling in their pinky fingers than I will acquire in a lifetime. That said, they should have never put any remote opportunity out there for Nebraska to throw the ball. Even if Tommy Armstrong, Jr. went rogue and tried to win the game himself, the fact that he - and not a draw up the middle or handoff to a back or pretty much anything in the middle of the field - was running towards the sideline at all is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Coaches at One Memorial Drive will be questioning themselves for a long time on that call, and they should. Moreover, they need to figure out how communication of the situation is handed down. Yes, Armstrong probably made a read and went for the dagger, but he should not have that option.

Apple's Weary Face

7-8: Hurts a Whole Lot

On that note, what happened after that play is equally terrible. On a windy day in Champaign, Nebraska decided that being up by more than one score was going to be difficult and that the FG attempt was not a great way to give Illinois field position. So, on fourth down Nebraska went for it. That was less than ideal. First off, if you do not think you can kick the FG, why not punt the ball and at least make Illinois work for it? I'm not saying that Nebraska should always punt that far into an opponent's territory, but the risk/reward factors seemed awful. If you do get the first down, obviously it is game over, but you haven't proven you can do that. The pass game was awful on Saturday and the run game was about as bad. Your defense - while decent all day - is known for giving up large pass plays. You had to make Illinois work for this one, but instead ran a quick pass play that did not work and setup the Illini for a winning drive. In a game where anything that could go wrong, generally did go wrong, this was a self inflicted wound. I would say you shot yourself in the foot, but that implies you had a foot left to shoot.

This is the crux of my issues with the Mike Riley regime through five games. What's the chain of command here and why does it feel like less of a machine and more of a clown show? One of the things Nebraska fans will point out during the Solich, Callahan, and Pelini eras is that coaches believed more in their specific scheme - or perceived scheme in the case of Pelini - that instead of understanding context (weather, how the game worked, other team's strategy, etc), it was all about how smart their team of coaches were. We've seen this before. Nebraska has dropped many games in my lifetime because of a simple insistence on running something no matter what. The hope was that Riley would be different. So far he seems to be taking an approach to gameplan, sticking with it, and hoping for the best. Sure, there have been tweaks, but after the pass game continued to fail, wouldn't you at least try to establish some more power runs? I have not rewatched the game yet, but in situations where running made sense - and this goes back to the BYU, Miami, and Southern Miss games - Riley got cute. That sounds like a dismal way to go about playing in the Big Ten.

With seven more games, Nebraska needs to find four wins to even go bowling. The way they are playing, I'm going to go ahead and assume that this will be easier said than done. Outside of Purdue and Rutgers, I'm not sure Nebraska will be favored in another game through the end of 2015, which means we will need to see a drastic switch to avoid the worst season since 2008. How fun is that? I realize the rest of the Big Ten probably sees this as hilarious, and sure, it's probably comeuppance for firing a 9 win coach. Still, this hurts a whole lot.

Apple's Loudly Crying Face

9-10: This Hurts the Worst*


Okay, not really, but Nebraska has issues it needs to clean up quickly. Whether it's leadership - have we talked about how Alex Lewis needs to be dealt with - or playcalling, or something much bigger, Nebraska has questions it needs answered. I do not believe all is lost personally and while losing to Illinois for the first time since like, the 20s or something stupid like that sucks really bad, five games does not make a tenure. There will be a lot of gnashing of teeth this year. Sometimes that will be reasonable, and sometimes it will be unreasonable. One thing I know is that this has been a really painful year so far, and the schedule doesn't look to let up in the near future.

*Literally the only consolation at this point is that this can't possibly hurt the worst. That designation goes to our good friends from the Lone Star State. Sorry Texas bros, looks like things aren't going so well. Look, it gets better. Or rather, look, we at least have volleyball.