Hard Questions Need to be Answered on the Field
Since late into the Saturday evening, just about every fan could spend hours trying to figure out if there is anything worth saying that has not been said by someone else about Saturday's heartbreaking loss to UCLA. To look at the stat line, the 36-30 game seemed like a much more like a significant blowout than a 1 TD game at the end. This off-season followed by about 90 minutes of football gave a handful of pundits, coaches, and of course myself a major case of confirmation bias. The good things meant that "we" were right about this team gearing up for a successful season, and the bad things meant that it was just an outlier. Those missed tackles, just off passes, or missed assignments on both sides of the ball were incidental occurrence not to be attributed to this team.
So to look back with a keen analytical eye, there are a few frustrations that clearly are hard to understand. Some of the defensive talent and speed might be right there, sitting on the sidelines because Bo Pelini would prefer that all college freshmen be redshirted. Weighing where talent trumps game knowledge is a fine line, one easily crossed when a player like Lavonte David took the field 2 years ago. Although, were it not for Will Compton's injury at that time, would David still have been on the field overrunning opponents with ease? What players this year are missed because three senior linebackers have earned their spots through practice, experience, and knowledge of the complex scheme (and avoided injury)?
Which brings it around to the next couple of frustrations. If a scheme is so complex that it cannot be picked up in a reasonable amount of time by a talented enough player, is it too complex? The answer depends on what Pelini is trying to accomplish. If the goal is to get the best talent to field quickly, then this is a failure. If the goal is to draw out the maximum potential from a player over 3 or 4 years, it is hard to evaluate whether this goal has been accomplished. The most senior players on the defense are available but underperforming. If a sufficiently experienced player can win out over a more talented backup by sheer knowledge, the scheme does not provide value.
And this ties in to the hardest part to comprehend, the evaluation of talent. In all of spring ball and summer preparation, the coaching staff evaluated, moved around depth charts, and looked at starting players who "earned" a spot in the rotation. Yet, a green player like Taylor Martinez a few short years ago was so talented there was no choice but to start him. A player like Jamal Turner was able to take the field, but pulled from it because of efforts in practice later on. Life lessons sure can be taught to players in those areas, but do the lessons come with a pill too tough to swallow?
Still in all of this, these questions have been on the minds and lips of Husker fans since the clock read 00:00. There is no new way to look at the problem. These questions need to be answered with some on-field success against stiff competition, not by platitudes in press conferences.