Last year, he had the excuse. This is his first year, he's not had many snaps up until now, so it's going to be a learning process the entire season for Jammal Lord.
Ok, so what's the excuse this year?
You say his stats are better? Yes, they are better, but if you had watched the games and I would assume most had since all of them have been on TV thus far, you would have seen almost the same exact Jammal Lord everyone saw last year.
Runs well, passes ok at times, but more often than not, well, he runs well.
With the win over Penn State, Solich obviously couldn't come out as he did after the Iowa State game almost glaring, veins in the neck stretched tight, quite upset at the meltdown of his first-year starter. Solich did however say after Penn State that he "wasn't comfortable" with the passing game, thus the reason for the 6 passes for the entire contest.
I went through the NU statistics back to 1996 and can't find any game where NU had that low of a total. And, when you look at a total like that, you have to assume that the running game was working and working well. It was, but it needed to because the passing game was simply the same passing game NU has had for a little over a year now.
"Wasn't comfortable with" is actually a pretty large statement when you think about it. Coaches hardly ever come out and single out a player for doing exceptionally bad, but when the head coach does come out and say that they weren't comfortable with the passing game, you don't need a translator to figure out what a laymen would define that as.
Jammal isn't that good. Thus, the paradox, at least for myself.
When has Jammal Lord been good in the passing game?
You could pick out a game here and there where Lord did better than his season average would indicate, but that only means for as good as he was in one game, he was that bad in another.
Realistically, the only reason Jammal is the starter is because he's an exceptionally savvy runner. Strong, elusive and he makes very good decisions in the open-field. Before Barney Cotton, Nebraska was able to get away with that and with, if not a better runner, a faster and quicker mover in Eric Crouch.
Barney is here now and though I am sure he won't come clean as to whether there was any one point at New Mexico State where he was hamstrung by the lack of a passing game so much, but in articles and of course, that always eagerly-offered fan output, people are saying that the play-calling isn't any better than it was just a season ago.
That's probably because that when Cotton was at New Mexico State, he installed the passing-game knowing full well that the signal-caller he had as the starter was capable of putting the idea to the field with almost 60 percent success. They made the passes they were supposed to make, got quite a few of the harder ones, thus making New Mexico State a threat in that aspect, but it certainly helped the running game to boot.
Here, now, Cotton has had to level his own expectations a bit, adjust his playbook a bit and maybe in the back of his mind, concede the fact that he won't be able to call games like he did at NMSU. Cotton can't bring out his bag of tricks, because that bag can only be opened when the QB is getting the job done throwing the ball.
That's not going to happen with Lord and I would think that is quite clear to anyone that has gone frustrated at over the year plus now of Lord's sometimes opportunistic, but more oft-times, inconsistent play at the position.
Everyone said he got better though. During the off-season it was all about how much he had been passing the ball. Lord said it, his teammates said it and even come the season, the coaches said that Lord had worked on so many things to become a better QB in this new and more simplified system, a system that was simplified mostly so Lord himself could acclimate to it that much more efficiently.
Did Jammal regress? Did the starter have a relapse? What of his game exactly is better than last years? Lord's percentage is up, you say? Percentage-wise, yes, Lord is better, but he's thrown no touchdown passes, 2 interceptions, one of those in the end zone about ten yards away from the nearest receiver.
Last year, Lord had another excuse, that being the offensive line. They were almost porous, the protection broke down, but that hasn't even been close to the case this year. Everyone is lauding this version of the "Pipeline" almost to the extent Bo Pelini's defense is getting credit for keeping Nebraska out of the loser's column. So, again, it comes back to Jammal Lord.
I don't like or even think that you can refer to this as a piece meant only to bash NU's starting QB. I rather would look at it as a jaunt down common-sense-lane. While NU would apparently not have any immediate choices at back-up right now, Stuntz opting to redshirt and Dailey still woefully inexperienced, but in the end, it isn't about what you want, rather what you don't want to see.
Any QB regardless of their ability is asked to do a few things, but one of the most important is not to lose games. While the QB can at times win games seemingly on their own, their errors for mental-missteps can also have as much bearing on the outcome of the game. If your defense is good enough, you can stay it in at times, but that's probably not against the best teams you will see.
Sad thing for NU is, this is the Big XII and there are teams that are indeed amongst the best not that they will see all year, but that any will see this entire season. A top 25 laden with future opponents, Nebraska's defense can't beat them all and the offensive line can't be asked to run the ball right at people over 70 times a game. Even their new conditioning brought to you by Brian Bailey will not save them in the end.
They need a passing game.
In truth, this team is much, much better than I thought they would be. Defense is incredible, the special teams aren't near the disaster I figured them to be and the offensive line, well, kudos to them for making a Husker Nation turn their heads once, twice and even more in disbelief at just how fast they have become at least somewhat similar to some dominate trench-groups from before. Because of that, the running game has picked up, bested by the most recent game with Penn State where NU topped 300 yards on the ground for the first time this season, Josh Davis running out a career-high 178 yards. Yep, this is a really good team, except for one thing.
Nothing I have said is a revelation in the end. If you think fans are frustrated, imagine how coaches must feel, knowing full well that this year's version of "Air NU" will have about as much affect on a good team as trying to stop a waterfall with a screen door. They are fully aware of this obstacle before them and some of the tough choices that will have to be made.
Enter, Joe Dailey.
You have to give credit for the coaching staff to not succumbing to what had to be their own pressure to throw Dailey in as Lord was ineffective, sometimes to the point of utter-frustration. To not just throw him out there amidst the flames and have Dailey all of a sudden become the target for everyone's scrutiny. He's the back-up after all, which ultimately means, he's the most popular person for the spot as the back-up always is. But, he's also a true freshman.
How do you throw a true freshman in there knowing that doing so could ruin him mentally even if mentally, he's more than up for the challenge? It's a huge risk and your only payoff is having a kid that can do what you want him to do, but he's still going to be a freshman, prone to freshman mistakes.
Mistakes that you could surmise that would be no better for the team than having a QB that you are "not comfortable" with as a consistent passing threat.
It won't matter when it's all said and done.
Jammal Lord and the Huskers have skated by thus far playing teams that were either not prepared or they just weren't that good. NU handled Penn State, but it was a defensive line that was marginal at best. The real challenges have yet to begin.
So, if during a time where your team has a chance to figure things out, work those out together and as a unit, become better overall, where does that leave a passing game where percentages seems to be the only place it's increased, while other aspects have stayed the same or in some cases, gotten a bit worse?
You change quarterbacks, but when is the question. Against Souther Miss. who traditionally has a solid defense though they seem to be struggling right now? Against Troy State, the last "easy" team before conference play begins? No matter when you throw Dailey into the mix, the situation will not be any different than it was when he went in against Utah State. The same expectations will be there, the same system will be in use, so waiting for "mop-up" time might be irrelevant in the end.
His time will come, but not just because he's potentially a star for Nebraska. It will come simply because it has to as Nebraska has waited for Lord to become at least a resemblance of the QB hoped for, but that waiting has turned into wanting, alas, wanting in vain.
Lord is an exceptional runner, perhaps the best pure runner on the team. That is what he is, but for the most part, that's all he is. If Jammal hasn't learned any better judgement by this point, how much longer will you wait. Better yet, how much longer can you?
Nebraska could be waiting for Dailey to get healthy or maybe for the point in any one game where it seems like they feel most comfortable in putting him in. For the sake of a team that is potentially very good, I hope they don't wait too long.
There are so many great things about Jammal Lord, to say he isn't a QB isn't such a bad thing when you really think about it. He's athletic, he's good decent speed, he's an elusive and strong runner, plus his instincts in the open field are exceptional. Lord has proven as well, that he is a competitor out there, never giving up on a play.
He's just not a QB and really, what's so bad about that? It's not what he has been his entire career? Well, sympathy is great for stories, but it won't win football games. And, at QB, neither will Lord.
It's not a terrible thing. It's a necessary thing. The only question is when.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619