The long road back for Nebraska

I give up. I can't do it. I just can't figure out what a Nebraska "West Coast" offense is going to look like. I'm stuck in a rut, I tell ya. I am transfixed in the past and as much as I scoffed at those "modern" offenses, I now find myself perplexed as I try sorely, but willingly to adjust. But, it's not that easy to do. One does have to wonder if the team itself can manage the segue any easier than those that follow the Big Red and more importantly, are there the players to even try. Hmmmm.

If Nebraska was some type of "Fun 'n Gun" offense last year, going to the West Coast offense might seem a little bit of a slide. A drop if you will to a more boring but more manageable style of play.

Going from the option to the west coast offense though? That's like going from the "Single Wing" to the "Run 'n Shoot". I'm still in shock at the idea.

I am not one of those playbook aficionados that can mentally adjust their mind-set from one set of plays to another based on a totally different system. A fullback ISO to me is a fullback ISO, no matter what system you use. To the playbook pundit however, a half-step one way, to motion or not to motion or even "trips" to the left instead of the right, why to them, there's a world of difference.

I concede to their knowledge and just take the simple route to comprehension, but I am tellin ya, it's not that easy.

I'm stubborn.

The first time I see a fullback catch a pass out of the backfield, I am liable to have a coronary. And, if the FB catches a ball twice in one game? I'll yell at the team on the field for being total impostors and demand that the real Nebraska please stand up.

It's not that I don't want to change though. I remember the 7-7 season that for us Nebraska fans was as close to Armageddon as we have been in right around forty years. I remember the 62 points, the loss to Iowa State and the two-straight losses to the Wildcats of KSU. I remember all the reasons we are here right now, but I look at this still as a change that has me excited, but still with teeth clenched do I embrace the "modern era" for the Huskers.

First, why is one offense in the NFL a West Coast offense and another is not? Don't they all use relatively similar formations in the backfield? Don't they all require fairly athletic and smart skill-position players? I can see the difference between a one-back set with five-wides, but if one team has a fullback, a running back, two regular wideouts, a tight end and an O-line comprised of two tackles, two guards and a center, what is the difference between West Coast and whatever they are calling the rest?

Ok, I will admit it, I don't care. But, there are plenty of people that do and this dramatic change from an antiquated offense to the one pioneered by the legendary Bill Walsh himself, well, they are looking at every little nuance and can tell you just how a short timing-oriented passing-game is what makes that offense work and certain utilization of personnel make it that much more effective.

In fact, some will tell you that it isn't the system, it's the players.

Wait. It's the players? If that's the case, don't we have a problem?

I mean, much of the blame for the mediocrity that befell the Huskers is due to the fact that recruiting fell off so much for a span of two to three years. The war cry for Solich-detractors was that, sure he was a loyal Husker, but he couldn't call plays and it seemed obvious that he couldn't really recruit.

Thus the problems NU has now, most people not saying it's the system that has caused the demise of Nebraska and the fact that everyone had figured it out, it was rather the fact that NU just didn't have the overall talent that they did in the not-so-long past "glory days".

It is true that Nebraska isn't even a shadow of it's former, team-clobbering self, All-Everythings strewn from sideline to sideline. It's true that depth at almost every position isn't an expectation as much as it's now a luxury, one Nebraska simply doesn't have. And yes, it is true that if you are looking for a bevy of players that can be switched from position to position, them playing each with equal effectiveness, put in a video tape from about 7 years ago, because you just aren't going to see that now.

Ok, so if all this is true and NU didn't have the players to run even a so-called antiquated offense, how in the heck are they going to run this? Did someone somewhere just all of a sudden pull out 85 west coast-worthy players that will run this system effectively and efficiently enough so that the defense doesn't have to do all the work?

No, of course not.

The most recent recruiting class which at least addressed the QB position is the first of many works in progress for this new staff at Nebraska. And while the existing talent may have not come to Nebraska with Bill Walsh's offense in mind, it's not to say they aren't good enough to adjust just the same.

You pick an offense and I mean, any offense and there's some basic things they all need. Speed, speed and more speed. That's a great start. Nebraska isn't loaded in that area at the key positions such as running back and wide receiver, but they aren't sporting Mother Hubbard's cupboard either. Isaiah Fluellen has shown his speed, Mark LeFlore isn't without his own and true freshman, Terrance Nunn isn't exactly running in mud either. Plus, Tierre Green and another newbie, Brandon Jackson, they got some "wheels" of their own.

Intelligence is necessary as well and I'll be the first to say that this is an area you can just put in the back of your mind. There is no more complicated offense out there than what Nebraska was running before the modern age came to Lincoln. Even the over-simplified version that we have seen the last couple of years would make most offensive linemen from other systems cry. If a player can comprehend the option, no offense to Bill Walsh, the concept of the WCO should be nary a thing.

With any offense, you have to be physical up front and with a Nebraska line (no matter how thin), that's something you should be able to put in the bank. True enough this Nebraska O-line wasn't as physically dominant as lines from the past, but it wasn't because they weren't being physical. It was because of probably the most significant factor and the one factor that Nebraska finds themselves wanting and in a bad way.

Talent.

If you've got plenty, it's a word that you speak in sentences with pride, but if you don't, you would probably just not say it at all. And Nebraska fans are cringing as we speak.

The O-line, the D-line, at linebacker, in the secondary, though you can find some quality starters and some that might even be future "stars", overall and especially in depth, this Nebraska is as depleted a Nebraska team as I have seen since the late eighties and extremely early nineties. Nebraska Cornhuskers are normally synonymous with size, that being big, big and even bigger, but when it comes to the current state of the talent-pool, there's an epidemic of Anorexia in Lincoln.

And now, you are putting in a new offense?


There's a genuine excitement that permeates the atmosphere with this new and unknown Nebraska. Different coaches, different ideas, completely different philosophies. The problem is, this is the same Nebraska team that has been mostly defensive in it's ability to win games with an offense that is for the lack of a better way of putting it, offensive.

That can't be cured overnight, because it takes more than a few key players with a few quality coaches. For Nebraska fans to realize once again Nebraska-like goals, that being conference and national titles, NU fans will simply have to adhere to a very important early philosophy as they try to "evolve".

Patience.

You wouldn't think you would have tell that to a Nebraska fan, but once NU started winning, they did it in dramatic fashion and even the downturns in recent years hasn't stopped mouths from watering at the thought of winning a national title.

It's just not going to happen, folks. Not now and probably not within the next two or three years.

If it were just coaches trying to acclimate to a team that was stocked full of All-Everythings, that's one thing and Bob Stoops will tell you how nice of a situation that is. When you are pegging the "E" on the talent-fuel meter though, there's going to be just as many bad days as there are good ones for a long time to come.

Just remember this Husker fans as you watch the Spring Game and it turns out uglier than the love-child of "Herbie" and "Bevo". It's not going to be pretty and not for awhile. Possibly not for years.

The good news?

Maybe by the time Nebraska does find it's way back to being consistent winners, we will have all figured out what in the heck the "West Coast" offense is.

As long as Nebraska wins though, my guess is that most fans won't even care.

That much I CAN figure out.

Steve Ryan can be reached at huskerconnection@neb.rr.com or 402-730-5619


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