Random Thoughts and Football Observations from RCT in Lincoln

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Call it a recap, call it a diary, call it whatever.  What it is, is a collection of my thoughts and observations about Lincoln, Nebraska v Kansas, Turner Gill and a last chance opportunity to watch our Jayhawks in Lincoln.

Wednesday afternoon I found out about an opportunity to go to LIncoln.  Being that I'd never seen a game in the "Sea of Red" it just made sense. Now it may not be a perfect comparison, but just as I would tell people they need to see a game in Allen Fieldhouse, I had heard I should see a game in Lincoln before it's all said an done.  The bucketlist so to speak.

A pair of phone calls to find my traveling compadre and I was in.  Seven and a half hours from Denver to Lincoln and an equal trip back so that I can watch Turner Gill and the Kansas Jayhawks take on the Cornhuskers for the final time as conference opponents. 

As it pertained to football, things related to football and even those completely unrelated to football, the trip was a winner.  I'll keep it short, bullet points where I can, quick stories where I can't.  All in all, it was well worth the trip.

Note: I have a video from about two feet away of the defensive backs huddling before heading onto the field.  Also one of Turner Gill entering the stadium but I'm having a hard time uploading.  If I figure it out I'll upload ASAP or perhaps a fanshot later. Video was prohibited though so maybe it's Corn karma blocking my technology.

Headed to Lincoln

  • Friday kicked off the trip with a drive from Denver to North Platte.  The late start meant stopping at the buzzing metropolis was a sort of midway point the perfect fit.  Arrive late, snag a couple beers at the North Platte Canteen before last call, take note that the basketball Jayhawks had successfully negotiated Longwood and crash for a few hours before and early wake up call to be in Lincoln by 10am

First Encounters

Surely everyone has heard of the legendary Husker hospitality, but haven't you always wondered if it's true?  The Corn are supposed to have some great fans. Nice, polite, football savvy and welcoming.  Turns out, this couldn't be more true. 

I went all in, blue Kansas hoodie, red letters.  I figured if they're as nice as everyone says, I've got nothing to lose. 

  • My first run in had me slightly concerned as I approached a stadium staff member walking down the street toward the stadium.  A glance at my shirt was abruptly followed by a "GO BIG RED!!!" That's it, nothing else.  I thought perhaps I should have gone into full on Rock Chalk chant mode to counteract her, but I decided to walk past without response.

Now things begin to look up from here.  Here's a quick assortment of the things I heard.

"we're so happy you're here, good luck."

"I wish we could both win today."

"We just love Turner Gill."

"Every Cornhuskers second favorite team is Kansas"

"We can be friends, we hate Mizzou too."

Pregame

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Seats were awesome.  Sat about eight rows above the Kansas band among friendlies. It was like a Noah's arc in the sea of red.  A safe haven even though they are definitely almost too nice a fanbase.

We actually walked in by the field and I thought I'd take a picture at which point I was quickly approached by security.  In my mind I must have missed the "no pictures" sign but it turns out he was just directing me to the entrance onto the field where another member of the event staff would take my picture on the field.  More Husker hospitality?  Maybe they'll let me call the first play too.

Now in being where I was it was actually the endzone where Kansas warmed up and the tunnel where the Jayhawks entered and exited.  From that perspective I just find it interesting how up close and personal the Husker program let's you get with both teams, the field and the overall gameday experience. 

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Football Observations S&C

  • From a S&C standpoint it's a little interesting to look at the players physically.  The belief and approach is that of integrity. The players should have the integrity to handle business in terms of workouts.  It's not completely a free for all by any means, but with Mangino there was strict oversight, currently that isn't really the case. When you look at players it's fairly obvious that some are handling that business and others just aren't.
  • On the subject of S&C, I have heard that there does appear to be a new program in the works for the upcoming offseason. I don't think we're going to see anyone let go as some have suggested, but I do think the approach should be changing.

Offense

  • Offensively it wasn't all playcalling, it wasn't Quinn Mecham, it was Nebraska.  The Husker D just overpowered us.  From early on they set the tone, brought heat on 3rd down and made almost any trick in the book difficult. Our running game wasn't going to go anywhere because of this, Quinn Mecham didn't have time to think because of it and even attempts at those pressure release plays like a screen were sniffed out and shut down in perfect fashion by the Corn.
  • Also on the subject of the offense.  There is no excuse for 15 yards passing in a game. You can't win that way, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times we had a receiver get off the line cleanly and gain any separation from the defensive back.  They were defending us as if they called the route themselves.  My point is, I'm not sure Webb, Mecham or Pick could have done much in the passing game.  We had no means of keeping them honest and they executed extremely well.
  • Wildcat.  This might have been the one thing I would have considered in terms of a QB change. We ran the wildcat, maybe Kale Pick was an option. I'm not convinced he was or if he was even available, but maybe that would have been a change worth trying.
  • Again, not excusing the sub 100 yard performance, but right now we're at a place offensively where we've just got too many things working against us.  The big one is depth on the offensive line and you'd have to believe based on the 6 committed o-lineman that Turner Gill identified that early.
  • Penalties. Hey, we kept these to a minimum.  Small victory, but it was the 3rd quarter before we had a penalty in this one.
  • Another killer. Nebraska's Punter, Henery.  Daymond did his best to return one, but Henery is one of the best in the country and there was virtually zero opportunity to return and the best we could manage was a fair catch at the 10 and avoid being pinned at the one.  There wasn't a thing we could have done differently minus blocking every kick. Henery and Nebraska were setting our offense up with bad field position all night long.

Defense

  • Confidence. It's growing. Right now the Jayhawks are starting to get key contributions from some key young players. You can see that this group is playing with more confidence. While three quarters weren't great against Colorado, the things that happened in the fourth might have made Torbush's message sink in a little more.  As a coach it helps when people are buying your message and your gameplan.
  • Tyler Patmon.  A player that looks to have a lot of confidence right now.
  • Toben Opurum. His play might be slightly overhyped but without a doubt he has a tremendous amount of upside right now.  4 weeks ago, I might have guessed he'd transfer at the end of the year.  I wouldn't do the same today. He's developed physically, he's finding a groove at his position and he's a smart player. Anyone recall the last time we had two passes batted down by one of our defensive lineman?
  • Youth is starting to mature. Greg Brown, Kevin Young, Keba Agostinho, Tyler Patmon and Toben Opurum are the players seeing the most minutes that appear to be taking some strides of late. 

Special Teams

Again, Kansas did about everything they could in this phase.  The areas where the performance could be viewed as poor was largely due to a solid special teams performance from Nebraska.  I can't say enough about the job Alex Henery does.  During pregame introductions he might have gotten the loudest applause outside of Taylor Martinez.

Overall Morale

Nothing replaces winning, and this team's morale was in a bad way earlier this season.  But going back to my point about players buying into the message, NDSU set us back early, the early conference blowouts hurt more.  But I think Saturday might give a little credence to the hope that Colorado's comeback may have started a "turning of the corner" so to speak.

When you have a new system and a coach trying a new scheme, gameplan and approach, a lack of results means that your battle becomes a little more difficult. If you're players aren't buying in, things can snowball in a hurry.  It's not that a team or player has quit on a coach, clearly that isn't the case.  It's more a situation where maybe they aren't truly trusting in the responsibility or the scheme being taught. 

It feels like maybe that's where the disconnect has been. Some areas we're getting closer, others we still have work to do.  Anyway you slice it, even if the offense stunk, Saturday was what we've all asked for.  Even if you lose, compete.  Up until late we were a couple drives away from another comeback. 

We were very conservative on offense and the defense stepped up.  Nebraska kept us at arms length but they didn't embarrass us and if Kansas falls on one more fumble or makes the catch on one more or even both of the dropped interceptions, then maybe things turn out even better. 

Turner Gill

They really do love this guy in Lincoln.  Tom Osborne got on the jumbotron prior to the game and made an announcement welcoming him back to Lincoln, saying that outside of this game they all wish him the best and are very happy that he's the head coach at Kansas.  Solid round of applause and it was neat to see. 

I almost wish the players had been out there to see it too, there might have been some residual benefit if they had.

 

Nebraska Crowd

Nebraska football fans remind me of Kansas basketball fans.  In the right environment and in a big game, I'm sure they go crazy.  In a boring game, where there might be an assumed outcome, it's just ok.  Yes they know football, but if there was a timeout or a lull you can hear a pin drop. It's almost a dutiful cheering style.

If Kansas was pinned in one endzone, that endzone group would stand and get loud, while the rest of the stadium remained seated. Then when the moment where a win is certain it's a mad dash for the car to beat traffic.  Like I said, it probably has something to do with the game at hand, maybe the cold weather, but it reminded me of when Kansas plays a team like Longwood in basketball and the crowd is pretty much bleh.

 

Lincoln

Pretty fun town.  Found a pretty good spot, drank as much Burning Skye Scottish Ale as I could find and rounded the night out with some solid live music.  Fittingly the band was Billy Bacon and his Porkestra.  If that doesn't sound like Lincoln Nebraska I don't know what does.  Oddly enough, he's from San Diego.

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