Attitude is everything

There are a lot of ways to define this year, but often they get broken down into numbers. You have to quantify it, or else it's hard to really pinpoint the reason for success. But I think that the biggest reason for this Husker turnaround stems from something no statistic will ever show.

I'm all about believing that the entire difference in this team, especially on defense, from last season to this one, was coaching.

I suppose that's the easy route.

It's just so obvious that these coaches know more, did more, understood more, therefore this team was going to be a success.

That's the easy route, but don't expect me to buy into it being the correct one.

I can understand that when you look at the age of some of those coaches in place last year, maybe they were a little entrenched in their ways. Maybe they had things they did which didn't necessarily fit in today's game or in particular, today's Big 12.

But were they stupid? Did they not know a thing about football? Did they just get back from a coaching clinic for Pop Warner and were suddenly coaches at one of the premier college programs in the country?

Please.

I know there isn't a fan out there reading this

The criticisms of Bill Callahan were never
about his knowledge of the game. Most
thought he didn't know his own players
even at the point he was let go at Nebraska
which has ever made a bad call, misjudged talent or ever done anything that would have equaled something other than a forty-point win. But in the real world of coaching you are going to be wrong a lot more than you are going to be right.

Find me a coach who would tell you otherwise.

I think you get into dangerous territory when you try to say that because such and such numbers this year are better than last year, that means the coaches must be better.

Did former Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove have an entire defensive line returning in 2007? No. Point of fact; every defensive lineman starting last year was a reserve the year before, and all they had to do was replace four full-time starters, one who went in the first round of the NFL Draft.

You can say what you want for all the experience they had at linebacker and at secondary a year ago, but for me if the defensive line doesn't work, the rest doesn't.

This year is a great example.

This defensive line has been very good, and at times dominant.

But the linebacking corps has been a work in progress the entire season, either due to inexperience, injury or both. Because Head Coach Bo Pelini made the decision to redshirt almost his entire class of 2008, you had a mix-and-match philosophy that when it came the bowl game your starting line up was two walk-ons and the lone scholarship athlete was a sophomore.

In the secondary you could say it's been even more of a mish-mosh, because many players who had only special teams experience prior to this season were now thrust into starting roles. Because of the four and five-wide offenses they would see almost the entire season, players like sophomore Eric Hagg, while very good athletically, still had a ways to go in regard to decision making. This wasn't a group which was going to be the anchor of a defense.

We know now where the anchors ultimately were.

It was a bit of a surprise, though, going from being one of the most porous defenses in the country to being at least respectable, and on that defensive line, sometimes downright stellar. Credit has to be given where it's due.

But there's no way you can convince me that it was simply scheme, half-time adjustments or knowledge of the game that turned a downtrodden group into one thriving off success.

I think it was attitude.

Even once the "Blackshirts" were finally
handed out, some starters who were on
scholarship didn't get them, while players
like Tyler Wortman(pictured) did.
It's been no secret that since the day we first met Bo Pelini in 2003 this was a guy who had played at this level, coached at even a higher level, but his time in coaching hadn't taken away what he appreciated most about playing the game.

Or maybe it was what he found within himself as well as great teams which seemed to be the thing that set them apart.

It was attitude, and Bo's has been since we knew him, that first and foremost, you are going to give everything you have and after that the coaches are going to figure out where that effort is going to go.

It was all about effort, but because Pelini was a younger guy not so removed from his own emotional days of playing defense with the Ohio State Buckeyes, he could still feel like a player on the sideline, and those players could in turn really trust and understand what he was doing, because he had done it before, and not decades before they were even born.

But it was more than just his fire and his enthusiasm. It was the fact that he simply didn't accept anything other than the highest standard he had for playing this game. He didn't care if you were a five-star scholarship player or a fifth-year walk-on from a school sporting an eight-man football team.

He didn't care if you were big, strong, athletic and freakish or a guy who could run OK, could move OK, and had OK instincts for the game.

If you were allowed on that field you had to do everything everyone else did and at the same level, or someone was crawling down your throat.

You think someone like Tyler Wortman would feel better about himself if you automatically expected less of him than you might of some kid who came in on a full ride? You think he would respect you as a coach more?

It's no secret that former Husker Head Coach Bill Callahan had to learn that you don't treat players differently. With Pelini it was automatic.

And with Cosgrove, he seemed to respond to mediocrity with a pat on the back telling you that it was going to be OK, and that you would get them next time.

Of his record-setting performance in the
last three games of the year last season,
Bill Callahan said of Joe's success that
it was system , it was coaching. This
current staff? They said it was Joe.

With Pelini it wasn't OK, and you were either going to get it fixed right now or you weren't going to be on the field.

It's easy enough to see and we have seen it more than enough, high-profile players arriving with a lot of hype. They have the expectations and pressure, but Pelini made sure to let each of them know, even if it wasn't him who recruited them the entire time, whether you were from a 5A team in the Dallas area coming off a state title or you were from a team in South Dakota who hadn't won a game, you were the same, you'd be treated the same and it was up to you to show him and the rest of the staff that you had what it took to succeed.

Depending on how much you had your ego stroked throughout your prep career, knowing that, realizing that and having to deal with that, could be a bit of a reality check. Some might flourish. Some might fold.

Take Justin Jackson for example:

What?

You don't know who that is?

Don't feel bad.

Jackson is a true freshman defensive lineman on the roster, hailing from the metropolitan area of Roca, Nebraska, Jackson an alum of Norris High School.

You know in your mind there's no doubt whatsoever that he can't do what someone like junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can do.

At 6-3, he's not as tall. At 255 pounds, he's not as big, and from the stories we have heard about Suh's prodigious strength he'll never be as big a success in the weight room.

He's a walk-on, and unless you know him or are related to him you have written him off already as a nice story if he ever gets on the field, but your expectations of any contribution he might make – well, you don't have any.

But you can bet Bo does.

You can be guaranteed that the second that kid gets on the field whether it's Scout Team work or simply in individual drills, he's expecting to see at the very least, the same kind of effort from those scholarship players, but be certain that he wants the same kind of execution as well.

That means the same kind of results.

It's not that Pelin is unrealistic about what he can do compared to what Suh can do. But the thing is, you can't sell these players short.

Bo came in not knowing much about this team, other than having brief relationships with a smattering of them from when he was at Nebraska

While schools like USC have seemingly
been defined by the stars who grace their
fields, Nebraska has often been defined
by the program itself. It's the fans, the
players and the coaches..together. It
would seem that they got back that
identity this year.
before. He intentionally didn't watch film, because he didn't want to build any preconceived notions about how players played, because he knew how they were going to play from that point orn or else they wouldn't see the field.

He didn't make assumptions about ability. He didn't make determinations about their character before he ever shook their hand in person. He simply came in and said that he's going to give them everything he's got and that's exactly what he expects in return.

I'm all about appreciating Xs and Os. I believe that you need to be an effective schemer and really understand the game to be a success. But if your players don't believe in you and worse, don't think you believe in them, the greatest football mind is orchestrating nothing more than a group of robots who play with no passion, with very little team-pride and have no sense of purpose in that game above and beyond not want to get beat individually on each play.

Pelini started with trust, never wavered in his support and in turn he's gotten a group of kids who are the foundation for this team's future, believing not just what he says, but in why he's saying it.

Too often in the time-constraints of collegiate coaching the meaning of the message gets lost, because coaches just want to get the message in, and they don't have enough time to let each of them truly sink in.

Pelini never had a problem backtracking a bit, forsaking going into the next thing, because he knew the first thing was the most important. If you didn't get that, the rest didn't matter.

The time, the effort, the energy and ability to even admit to his own mistakes throughout the season, Pelini made sure to blame himself before any player he coached. He always said that if it works it's the players, if it doesn't it's the coaches.

Almost the opposite of what we heard last year.

So, while I don't mean to say that Nebraska doesn't have a better scheme than they did or is better prepared from a coaching standpoint than they were, I think that where Nebraska is right now has a lot more to do than with stuff you can't teach or read out of a book.

It's about attitude, and if you can build that the way it should be, the way Bo did it this season, the rest of it just takes time.


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