Media Days: It is what it is

To quote just about every coach in every sport on just about every level, "it is what it is." That's what Media Days are, a few hours of answering the same question, over and over again. There's irony from today's media days, though, as Husker head coach Bo Pelini talked more about what other offenses are doing rather than what his defense can do to rebound from the disastrous 2007 season.

With five of the top nine offenses in the country from 2007, the Big 12 boasts the most concentration of scoring explosions of any conference in the country. The good news for Husker fans is that they are one of those teams, the big red finishing as the ninth best offense averaging 479.77 yards per game.

The bad news is that Nebraska's defense coming off a year where it ranked seven spots from the bottom of the NCAA as opposed to the nine spots they ranked from the top offensively, will have to face three of those other four teams.

Texas Tech, Missouri and Kansas

Ranking second, fifth and eighth in total offense, respectively, even if you are a team which is coming off a stellar defensive year, you are going to have some head-scratching moments trying to figure out how to slow down any of those three teams above, much less stop them completely.

What do you think Nebraska coaches are thinking right now?

The other common denominator was something which became a theme of sorts for the first-year head coach Bo Pelini during today's Media Days, and that was how you address the type of offense all these teams currently run.

The Spread

Perhaps finding its fame at the collegiate level under Mike Leach, both at Oklahoma in 2000 as an offensive coordinator and as the head coach at Texas Tech, throwing coming off the bus wasn't a matter of game-planning. It was a way of life.

The spread has since seemingly taken over the conference, though, actual conference titles have escaped this offense for the most part. But for most, with so many points possible from these offenses and the varying ways in which these offenses go at teams, it's believed only to be a matter of time.

QB, Stephen McGee ran roughshod over
Nebraska's defense in record-setting style

That time has already come to Nebraska as they have given up 41 points to Missouri, 65 points to Colorado and 76 points to Kansas, all of which run some variation of this offense, and all of those humiliating losses coming last year.

For a defense which finished 112th in total defense out of 117 teams, that might not be considered daunting. It might be impossible.

Bo Pelini doesn't agree.

"Well, I hear a lot about spread offenses. And the bottom line is every spread offense is different. And there's not one -- there's very few that are the same," he said. "Everybody features different things and they obviously have different personnel. Defensively you have to be very multiple to be able to effectively deal with everything you're going to see on a week-to-week basis."

That was something Nebraska was decidedly unable to do last year, ranking as one of the worst in stopping teams, but also in creating opportunities for their offense, whether it was causing turnovers, tackles for loss or halting teams on third and long.

The odd thing, though, was that the arguments as to why Nebraska was so bad defensively and why they couldn't manage to seemingly get anything going never really got pointed towards the players. They didn't often say it was about talent. Not many times did many say they didn't have the speed to compete. Sure, if you face USC and you are Nebraska, there is an obvious disparity in the wealth of all-everythings from the prep ranks. That's the exception to the rule though. The blame almost always got pointed right to those who were responsible for what the players did game in and game out.

Former Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove became the weekly media punching bag as his defense got ripped week in and week out, even in Husker victories. His Big 10 philosophy built to stop teams who came right at you was getting absolutely devastated by teams who decided to go over or around.

Players were breaking offensive records, both individual and team, seemingly every single week. Jorvorski Lane, the almost 300 pound Texas A&M running back, set a personal record against Nebraska last season as he posted his single longest rush against the Blackshirts...

Three times

Fellow Aggie, quarterback Stephen McGee set a personal record for the most rushing yards in a game. Texas' Jammal Charles set a personal record for rushing yards in the fourth quarter as a Husker defense which actually shone quite well for three quarters, folded like a wet blanket during the last period of the game.

Kansas set passing records, Missouri set some of their own and all the while Cosgrove and the rest of the defensive staff was annihilated weekly, because they were seen as a group of coaches who took what should have been a very solid unit and made them one of the worst in Husker history.

The perception went so far that it seemed almost unanimous that not only could these coaches not figure out the offenses they were about to face, but couldn't make some players who came in as highly touted recruits any better in four years than they were the day they arrived in Lincoln.

It's never as bad as it looks, and it's never as good as it seems, but recruiting is one thing and coaching those recruits is another. But hey obviously have a direction connection. Pelini sees that as one of the major roles for a coach, because without it the schemes you run on defense ultimately don't mean a thing.

"Part of being a good recruiter, it's one thing about being able to recruit and bring in guys that have three stars, four stars, five stars, however they rank them," he said. "But it doesn't do you any good, because most of the time if you're not developing them once they get on campus -- because at the age you're getting, no matter how good they are in high school, they really can't fathom how much more there is for them to learn, grow and develop as a football player.

Bill Callahan's obvious love of "stars"
couldn't help stop the historic plummet
of the Huskers.
"So you want to get very good player and as good of players as you can, the guys that fit your system athletically, but at the same time once you get them on campus it's our job to make those kids the best they can be and keep pushing them to grow and become and to really get outside of their comfort zone and understand that they've never arrived."

Interesting concept, isn't it?

Not glorifying their prep ranking as if they were the next coming of...whomever.

Not talking about their stars and rankings as if that's who and what they are versus the player inside the helmet and pads.

Not emphasizing what everyone else thinks about them, seemingly trying to justify your ability as a recruiter and capability to woo some of the most prominent names in the country.

Pelini has never been about the names and stars. He proved that during his first signing-day press conference when he wouldn't address one single commit individually. He never even mentioned any one player's name.

He knows and believes that it says "coach" either on his shirt or somewhere on his resume'. It doesn't say "promoter."

"Kids at this age, once they graduate from you, they probably still haven't reached their potential. And there's just a lot more for them out there," Pelini said. "And the group we have understand that and are working to keep getting better every day."

That's another theme you can count on, something former head coach Bill Callahan preached, but those vows or looking back on it in hindsight – hopes, didn't really pan out as anticipated.

It's about getting better

Can you make more tackles in week two versus week one regardless of the opponent?

Can you force more turnovers at the midpoint of the year than you did perhaps in game one against a team which really didn't have a feel for what you might do?

Can you maintain consistency in your play, whether it's tackling, coverage, pass rush the blitz or even on special teams?

The good teams can and often do. For the great teams, though, it's almost instinctive.

Let's not kid ourselves, though, Nebraska is a long ways from "great" right now.

You may have one of the best offenses in the country coming back this year, but you have a team reeling from being one of the worst defenses in the history of the program. To make matters worse you lose close to 150 games in starting experience between those lost due to graduation in the linebacking corps and in the secondary.

Pelini has always been one to talk about progression, building the foundation and getting to where he wants to be. During today's media circus, just as he did the moment he stepped on campus as the head coach and even as the defensive coordinator back in 2003, it's maybe a little boring, but sometimes boring "is what it is." It's not sexy, but it's the truth.

"The process is ongoing, and we're not a finished product yet. I don't think anybody, any coach here in front of you over the next couple of days will tell you that they're a finished product yet," Pelini said. "We have a lot of work to do."

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