Bo Pelini doesn't belong in the same sentence with Kevin Cosgrove.
But after Nebraska allowed a Cosgrove-esque 653 yards to UCLA on Saturday night, countless Husker fans recited the line “worst defense since ...” you-know-who.
Pelini is still a first-class defensive mind. But he's a humbled defensive guru these days.
On Monday, that humility was written all over Coach Bo's face as he was grilled at his weekly press conference about defensive breakdowns and porous tackling.
He was calm and diplomatic, even philosophical when asked the difference between his defenses in 2009 and 2010 and now. He waxed on about the changes in college football and the offensive schemes you see week to week.
There is no great mystery or deeper meaning here, folks.
What's changed for Pelini is how he stocks his defensive cupboard. The depth chart is no longer full of playmakers.
What's changed is that Pelini can no longer dial up Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard, Eric Hagg or DeJon Gomes and aim them at the ball.
NU had no problem solving the spread — or any offense — with those NFL Huskers in the lineup.
Is Pelini better at coaching defense than recruiting to it? The evidence is on the field, but there's more evidence on the way in young recruits who haven't earned playing time yet.
What we know is that Pelini is like every other coach in the history of the pigskin: They earned their reputation and record by the quality of players they recruited.
Pelini inherited a handful of NFL players at NU in 2003. He coached great ones at Oklahoma and LSU. Then, he met Mr. Suh.
In the past, a hard-hitting mike backer like Will Compton would not have had to unfairly chase UCLA's running backs in coverage. That would have been left to a smaller and swifter Hagg or David, who now start in the NFL.
Compton, a senior leader, is doing fine. But Pelini has some personnel issues he must sort out, and fast. That might mean throwing some young horses into the fray before they have the scheme down. Would Pelini do that? Does he have those horses?
Jimmy Johnson, the former coach of the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys, always said the most important part of the team was the defensive line. Jimmy loved defense. He knew that if you had a monster front, it didn't matter what offense showed up.
Bo knows that, too. Meanwhile, he said on Monday he knows how to fix this defense. I believe him. But in the past, he always had better parts than the other guy.
>> Tackling was the hot topic on Monday. One reporter asked Pelini if his team had the “want to” to tackle. Coach Bo took offense and defended his team's integrity. Of course, they “want to” tackle. But tackling is position, technique and mostly it's attitude. It's hard to teach the latter in practice in the middle of the season, though a spot on the pine sometimes works.
>> Not long ago I wrote that I was worried about Iowa State's place in this crazy college sports world. Not to worry, ISU fans. You're sitting pretty. There's a great athletic director in Jamie Pollard making smart hires in Paul Rhoads and Fred Hoiberg and now a Big 12 TV contract for 13 years, including a grant-of-rights by all schools (including you-know-who). Which means stability. Good for the Cyclones. They're in position to thrive, not just survive.
>> Apparently there were special circumstances — team chemistry issues — to Wisconsin firing its offensive line coach after two games. Let's hope so. If a Big Ten school fired an assistant every time it had a bad loss, there would be a lot of jobs open in the league. For some reason, Husker fans were interested in this Monday.
>> Werner Park continues to have a positive effect on the Storm Chasers, who will play for a second straight PCL title in the second year of the park. It's definitely had an impact on the team's bank book. Team President Martie Cordaro said revenues are up 35 percent over the club's last year at Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010. Anyone still wonder why they wanted their own digs?
>> Preseason college hoops rankings are what you make of them. The folks on the Hilltop should be making a big deal out of a No. 8 ranking by “Lindy's” magazine. Are the Jays worthy? If Lindy's says so, they are. That's all coach Greg McDermott has to tell recruits: somebody thinks that the Jays are a top 10 team. Now if they can only convince the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee.
>> No disrespect to emerging star Ameer Abdullah, but if Rex Burkhead is healthy, I have to think that Tim Beck tries to pound the ball on the ground more in that fourth quarter.
>> The only pain in the neck involving Peyton Manning this year will be for opposing defensive coordinators.
>> Missouri, welcome to the Southeastern Conference. SEC, welcome to Gary Pinkel. Fake punt on your own 35 on fourth-and-11 with game in balance? Yikes.
>> Shout Out: To Darin Ruf, the former Westside and Creighton slugger, who earned a September call-up by the Philadelphia Phillies this week. During his “audition,” Ruf has a chance to make some noise; the Phils play the Marlins, Astros, Mets, Braves and Nationals. Ruf won't get a shot to face Stephen Strasburg. Then again, who will?
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