Is it Time for Bo to Let Go?
Despite the huge defensive improvements that Nebraska made under Bo Pelini in 2003, 2008 and 2009, his history as a defensive playcaller isn't as extensive as say a Bud Foster at Virginia Tech. After Nebraska, Pelini shared responsibilities in Oklahoma before heading to LSU. Now, he still seems to be the man making a lot of the major defensive calls despite his responsibilities as head coach. After some bad defensive performances over the last two seasons on defense in big games, it leads you to wonder. Should Bo fully hand over playcalling duties to his defensive coordinator (whether that's John Papuchis or someone else)?
We heard this refrain once before. When the offense seemed stymied in big games under Frank Solich, fans called for him to hand over playcalling duties to an offensive coordinator. Barney Cotton's one season calling the offense turned out to be even worse than the year before under Solich. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it was the wrong idea, maybe just that Cotton was the wrong guy.
When Pelini arrived in Lincoln in 2008, it was all about the defense. His focus was set squarely on it and it needed to be. He brought it from among the worst in college football to the middle of the pack. Shawn Watson's offense carried the team for most of that season. The following year Pelini's defense became one of college football's best. Meanwhile Watson's offense regressed dramatically. The 2010 season saw the Huskers continue to play good defense but the offense stalled when Taylor Martinez became injured. In 2011, the offense was re-invented under Tim Beck and required some attention from the head man. By 2012, it was mostly fixed (minus some turnover and penalty issues). Meanwhile, the defense, seemed noticably worse.
Might that be a function of the time Pelini has had to spent working and thinking about other aspects of his team? Is he at a disadvantage as a defensive playcaller when compared to coordinators with no responsibilities other than defense?
Can you hang all of the deficiencies of the defense on playcalling? Perhaps that's unfair. Personnel can do a lot to explain the highs and lows of the Pelini (and Solich) eras. With Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick the defense shined. Without them, they dropped off. Even this season the loss of Baker Steinkuhler at defensive tackle seemed rather substantial. Likewise, the injuries and growing pains for Martinez may have cost Watson his job. Taylor's improvement and experience had a lot to do with the offensive success for the Huskers this year.
So the major question is whether Pelini needs to find defensive playcalling help or if he just needs to bring in better defensive players. As Pelini's known to ask, "what do you think?"