When you looked to the Spring Game, most were synonymous in hoping that the offense didn't dominate. After all, considering what the NU offense did last year or should I say, didn't do, if they had a good game, that meant bad things for the team as a whole.
For this scrimmage, the thought process isn't going to be much different, because though it's different, this is basically the same group of players and though it's simpler, the amount of starters returning on defense along with all the "pub" Pelini's group has gotten during the off-season thus far, if the offense succeeds, most will interpret that as a season up-coming that most will already try to forget.
On the other hand, nobody wants to read the next day about how David Horne got stonewalled the entire contest or how Jammal Lord was under so much pressure, he couldn't figure out which way was up. Nobody wants to hear that Mr. Playmaker, Matt Herian didn't get a ball over 5 yards down the field.
Will the stats for the offense say anything that fans really want to hear? Or, what do they want to hear at all?
That's the tough part when you are scrimmaging against yourself. No matter how good one thing is, that means the other wasn't up to the task. If the defense is great, the offense stunk. If the running backs were having a lot of success up the middle, that means the interior D-line was getting pushed all over the place. Face it, in a scrimmage like this, there is no such thing as having your cake and eating it to. You don't even get the cake.
Some would say that they would want to see an equal output, thus indicating a balance of defense and offense. Others would disagree simply based on the fact that this defense is expected to carry the load for the team while the offense gets things figured out. That means if the offense has any success at all, well, if you are a half-empty type, that bodes badly for the entire team and you are already finding somewhere else to be on the 30th of this month.
If I can though, let me be a guide as to what you should see and what you might want to hope to see.
When you don't want to hear about a defense that gave up any sustained drives, but at the same time, you don't want to hear about an offense that was consistently shutout, what can you then hope for? Individual efforts.
The old saying is that big time players make big time plays during the most crucial moments. And frankly, that's what NU has lacked to a great degree in recent years. Not that one, but few players on the offense or defense for that matter that was consistently able to make those plays that either changed the game or put the game in the bag.
When a player does make a play like that, it's easier for the defense to adjust than if it's just a matter of the offense shoving the ball down your throat. It often means someone missed a tackle, was out of position and as bad as that sounds, it is much worse for a team to give up 10 consecutive plays resulting in a score than it is for them to give up that one big play. At least with the latter, you still have high hopes for the next chance. If it's the former though, your chances dwindle the more your defense is on the field.
David Horne gets a 42 yard run, Matt Herian gets a 35 yard catch or Ross Pilkington catches a 36 yarder for a touchdown. You might think that with the thought of facing a big-play team like Oklahoma State and their "super" big-play guy, Rashaun Woods, that's not a good thing.
It's actually not that bad.
Like I said, you can adjust better from a one-play mistake than you can when a team has just ran 11 consecutive plays on you, all the way into the end zone. So, big plays are good for the offense, but a big amount of plays per drive is always better.
The biggest thing for a Nebraska fan though to see is a lack of mental mistakes. Before you scroll down that stat sheet to see how many yards, how many touchdowns and what someone averaged per carry or reception, first check out the penalties and turnovers. There you could find the best or worst message this offense sends to you before their first game arrives.
Mental mistakes, costly penalties and inopportune turnovers made a clear and indelible impact on NU's season last year. Lack of defense to a certain degree aside, at times, NU was it's own worst enemy.
Outside of all the stats, these two are perhaps the most important, because it will mean that even if the offense hasn't figured everything out as far as the system, they will have at least learned a lesson that last year should have taught them in abundance. Before you can beat anyone else, you must first not beat yourself.
That includes coaches as well as players.
On defense, it comes down to consistency over dominance. Nobody wants to see this defense completely and totally shut down the NU offense, no matter how much they think the new "blackshirts" have the advantage. With all the cards in their favor, they should, but what you might want to expect from them is the philosophy of Bo Pelini personified.
Getting to the ball. More than one, two or even three players around the ball at any one time. Sideline to sideline in groups and tackles that are finished off with authority.
Call it a basic lesson in fundamentals with a decent amount of big plays thrown in and top that off with some blistering speed throughout and you have yourself a potentially dangerous defense. And let's not forget, they to are learning a new system.
Mistakes will happen in this scrimmage as with any other. Players still learning, some still so new to the college level of play, what mistakes you want to see mostly are those from too much effort rather than not enough.
In fact, you can summarize that as the ideal conclusion to the game in that if everyone gave everything they had, you have yourself a successful contest, regardless of the outcome.
And, the coaches are learning to. They'll make mistakes in this first scrimmage just as any other player. Adjustments, substitutions, play-calling, as players try to take it all in, coaches try to figure everything out.
You aren't going to see that and honestly, neither will those in attendance to any great extent. Only the coaches will know who's fault any breakdowns really were.
Let's sum it up though. The good and bad.
Sustained drives by the offense
A lot of three and outs
A few big plays here and there on either side of the ball
Full-out effort the entire game
A lot of players getting opportunities to play
Defense wins the war (They are holding most of the cards in this one)
When you play yourself, you can't win. There simply is no common-ground where everyone will be satisfied with the outcome. As fans, you can find something to complain about, because what this scrimmage ultimately ends up being isn't a barometer for the first game, rather it's the first real barometer for everyone on the team for the team itself.
Is there enough effort? Was there good execution on both sides? Were there too many mental mistakes, i.e., penalties, turnovers and how was overall clock management? Plays coming in fast enough, substitutions being made with efficiency, nothing is beyond scrutiny, but at the same time, nothing concrete can be garnered here in trying to learn what this team will do come August. 30th.
After it's all said and done, if the coaches appear happy if not satisfied, neither side completely dominated (especially the offense), everyone is healthy, but spent from giving everything they had, you got yourself a successful scrimmage.
What else do you want?
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619
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