Sam McKewon reviews the first year of the Pelini regime and also finds six strengths or items of note to the new Husker leader and his team.
First, while the team often started slowly, falling behind 113-98 in the opening quarter, the defense made adjustments (an idea Kevin Cosgrove should adopt for certain) and allowed the offense to spark some furious come from behind efforts including wins against Baylor and Colorado as well as a near misses versus Virginia Tech and Texas Tech. This was something almost entirely lacking in the Callahan years other than the lone come from behind win against A & M in 2006.
Secondly, Pelini's defensive philosophy appears tailored well to the current times, with a defensive scheme designed to compete with the plethora of spread offenses, one in which the base defense doesn't have to substitute against offensive personnel packages.
"Pelini wants a fast, agile defense, one durable and flexible enough to withstand offensive personnel changes from play to play without making its own. Pelini was forced to use a whole array of packages and players in 2008, calling on guys like Matt Holt and Matt May, linebackers in safeties’ bodies, to attack spread offenses. Long term, Pelini wants two dominant safeties, active linebackers and a couple heroes in the interior defensive line. This how the great college defenses are generally built today, with a back seven who can cover and tackle in space, with two shortish fireplugs down low."
Darren over at Big Red Network has also noted the DT recruits being pursued appear to be short and thick types, while the defensive backs are tall guys who can run with the big wideouts prevalent throughout the conference. Four of the five DB commits for 2009 are over 6 foot. He also noted that NU is pursuing kids from big time high school programs that are used to winning.
Thirdly, McKewon sees that Pelini doesn't throw the kids or other coaches under the bus after a loss, he takes the heat himself, which is a nice change from the previous regime. Watson appears to have the same attitude, telling reporters after the CU game he made a "stupid call" when Ganz was sacked to set up the third and 25 that led to the 57 yd FG from Alex Henery to win the game.
Next he addresses the impact hire of S & C Coach Jim Dobson from Iowa, which has led to a much trimmer squad able run and swarm to the ball on defense. Quick, lean and athletic with explosiveness is the new watchword in Lincoln. Another major change noted is in "saving for the future" and not burning players redshirts for special teams play or a particular opponent. (The loss of LB Lance Brandenburg's eligibility due to a handful of special teams plays five years ago still burns particularly bright in many minds.)
Last, he covers the fact that Pelini "gets it" when it comes to the peculiar and unique fan base that comprises the Husker Nation, and the obvious comraderie that exists between Pelini and his staff and the rest of the university's sports coaches, such as Doc Sadler, Mark Manning and John Cook.
"Making allies comes easily for Pelini. He might be better at it than Tom Osborne was, to be honest. Inter-departmental relationships are not a small thing, folks.
Former athletic director Steve Pederson flunked that part of the exam and nobody, outside his coaching staff, really seemed to know Callahan. Pelini stops at a local coffee shop nearly every morning before he drops his kids off for school, signs autographs, orders his drinks – you know, the regular people stuff. Those little details are the glue that helps makes a football coach an institution, and not just the richest public employee in the state."
Such little things go a long ways towards creating an atmosphere of trust and admiration with his customers (us fans) all across the state. Callahan certainly didn't understand it. Bo most certainly does, and has already achieved near cult status because of it.