Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Q&A with Corn Nation

The three authors who produce the Web site Corn Nation were nice enough to answer an extended Q&A for the site. I'll post a link to the Q&A I did for their site when it's posted.

Here are my answers to Corn Nation's inquiries.

Q: What is the biggest difference between Nebraska under Pelini and under Callahan?

Blankman: I’d say that the biggest difference is the staffs. Under Callahan, Nebraska did have some dynamic individuals coaching, but I feel that perhaps their hands were shackled a bit. In respect to coaching, I think Pelini’s staff is superior as of this point, but he’s only three games in. When it comes to recruiting, Callahan is bleeding edge good. I would pay good money to have him on as a recruiting coordinator full time.

Husker Mike: I think Bo Pelini defers to his assistants much more than Bill Callahan did. There are many stories about how the previous staff wasn't in agreement on various issues, and in the end, Bill Callahan made almost all of the major decisions. My impression is that I think the current staff seems much more cohesive than the previous staff.

Corn Blight: I can’t answer that question without the inclusion of Steve Pederson our former athletic director that hit the street before Bill Callahan. Taking him into consideration, the difference could be likened to a state under an oppressive communist regime versus that of a freedom-loving democracy. No hyperbole, no kidding.

Q: How has the mentality of the fan base changed with Osborne and Pelini now in charge?

Blankman: By and large it’s been, “Happy days are here again” especially with the option wrinkles that Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson has put in for Husker QB Joe Ganz, but I think that there’s a general sense of normalcy. With Callahan at the helm, it was a fan base divided. It was always Thanksgiving dinner and you never knew when drunk Uncle Ernie was going to rip one or go off on how much of a bitch his third wife was.

Corn Blight: Before it was a constant battle between ending life slowly with alcohol consumption or quickly with a handgun. Now I enjoy ending my life slowly with alcohol without fear of family intervention. I’m fairly certain the police won’t come to my house this season. It’s a great feeling.

Q: How much do we really know about the Huskers after they led off the season with WMU, SJSU and NMSU?

Blankman: Very little. You’ll probably see about the same amount against Virginia Tech. Missouri is when you’ll see Nebraska’s full attack on both sides of the ball.

Husker Mike: Hopefully, not much. We've seen flashes of potential, but without much serious competition, it's hard to evaluate where the program is now. That won't be the case three weeks from now.

Q: On offense, the star appears to be running back Marlon Lucky. How important is it to the success of the offense for him to have a big game?

Blankman: Lucky is one aspect of the offense. The thing about the Nebraska offense is it can be utilized in so many ways. There are an abundance of backs (Lucky as the run/receiver combo, Castille as the bruiser, Helu Jr. as the young gun all-arounder) along with a fairly consistent QB in Joe Ganz who will make mistakes, but he’s fairly heady and deceptively fast.
Nebraska also features very physical wide receivers. In the grand scheme of things if a Defensive Coordinator only keyed on Lucky, he’d be foolish. If he focused entirely on the running game, however, that’d be my recommendation.

Husker Mike:
I'm going to be the contrarian on this one, as I don't think Marlon Lucky is "the star" on offense. I believe Marlon Lucky is the most exciting player in the open field, to be sure. But I think he's a role player that you exploit in certain circumstances. More important to me is the play of Joe Ganz in this offense, and whether he and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson can get Lucky the ball in space where he can utilize his speed to break things.

Corn Blight: It’s not important that Lucky have a great game, but it is important we establish the run. As Blankman mentioned, we have three good running backs. What hasn’t been mentioned is our two senior receivers, Todd Peterson and Nate Swift. Neither are fast, but both are chain-moving machines. Nate Swift is the quietest best receiver in Nebraska history and could break the all-time reception record this season. The guy gets open, catches the ball and keeps the chains moving, but if we can’t run, we’ll be in trouble.

Q: Most Hokie fans probably hadn't heard of Joe Ganz until late last season and some may still have never heard of him. What kind of quarterback is he and how good is he at running the offense?

Blankman: Well as I mentioned he’s solid. He’ll make mistakes and I look for him to make one or two against the Hokies. I’d wager an INT (possibly a housecall) or fumbled snap, but when he gets into a rhythm, the team ignites and feeds off of his energy. If he gets hot, watch out because more often than not the rest of the offense will follow.

Husker Mike: Ganz has a little Rich Gannon in him. He's got some mobility which allows him to run with the ball as well as throw, but the big thing is his understanding of the offense. His only downside is that sometimes he sometimes forced the ball into coverage which were intercepted.

Corn Blight: The only reason people haven’t heard of Ganz is because there are so many other great Big 12 quarterbacks. I wouldn’t trade Ganz for any of them. He’s a playmaker who can hurt you with his feet. He’s better throwing on the run because of a baseball background. If he’s forced to stay in the pocket, he’ll make mistakes.

Q: In what ways has the Nebraska offense changed with Ganz as the quarterback compared to when Sam Keller was under center?

Blankman: Keller didn’t have enough time to learn what was going on and Ganz had so much more time to pick up what OC Watson was laying down. You’re going to see a lot more confidence and simplicity in the huddle, guys knowing what they’re doing and giving effort. There won’t be a lackadaisical attitude.

Husker Mike: They've added some option and zone read into the offense to exploit Ganz's mobility. I don't think Keller ever got confident in the offense; he was always quick to check down to his safety valve on his reads.

Corn Blight: Sam Kelller.… Sam Keller.… not ringing a bell, sorry. The foundation is still the same West Coast Offense, but the keyword for Nebraska’s offense this year is ‘multiple’. That means we can run anything and you’ll see a bunch of different formations. Ganz is experienced and confident and knows the offense well.

Q: Pelini was outstanding at LSU, but when he was Oklahoma, his secondary regressed dramatically from the previous year (under Mike Stoops) and often seemed confused by his scheme. How has your secondary taken to the new coaching staff and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Blankman: Cornerback play is very encouraging. You’ll see Armando Murillo, Prince Amukamara and Anthony West quite a bit. I think you’ll be impressed with the last two as they are very young. Safety play has been horrific. At this point it’s like playing darts. Throw a player into the fire and see if he can make a play. Larry Asante stepped up his game against NMSU a bit, but that’s NMSU.

Corn Blight: The last year under Callahan the defense was completely lost. I’ll spare you the statistics, but they didn’t tackle, weren’t physical and were unwatchable (see previous alcoholism reference). This year, they have life. They play with passion (mostly), they tackle well (mostly), and they understand (mostly) what their coaches expect of them. Once we get rid of (mostly) we’ll be fine.

Main difference between this year and last - last year they were defeated before they walked on the field. This year they’ll play ‘til the end.

Q: What does your defense do best?

Blankman: Want to kill people. The attitude of the defense is to maul, scrap, scrape and get the ball back or at least punish the carrier/QB trying.

Corn Blight: Against y’all, we’ll stay mostly with a 4-3. The defensive line should play well and stand their ground against the run. Linebackers are playing better than was to be expected given we had four experienced seniors graduate. Cody Glenn converted from running back to linebacker for his final season and has proved himself to be a player, compiling 12 tackles in his first game as a starter against Western Michigan.

Given that Tech doesn’t run a spread, we won’t be forced into playing five, six or seven defensive backs. The secondary we show against Tech should be pretty decent, the cornerbacks are fine, the safeties adequate.

Q: How do Nebraska fans view Virginia Tech's football program?

Blankman: I felt VT would be far better than they’ve shown so far this year. Overall I feel that the Hokies are a mid-tier program, but I could say the same about Nebraska. I remember the 1996 Orange Bowl and felt VT would be a scrappy bunch. I still marvel at Beamerball and think it’s a lot of fun. I admire what Frank’s been through and how much of a good time he has with his kids.

Overall? I like VT and look forward to not only this game but the trip to Blacksburg because of it’s rep of being a snake pit. I don’t know if Tech will ever be in the national elite, but then again I never thought Gary Pinkel would ever have a team ranked #1, so shows what I know.

Corn Blight: Frank Beamer, stand up guy, great coach, runs a good program but just hasn’t put it over the top. The Hokies have established themselves as a team to not be taken lightly, a team that always plays hard and finds ways to win. They’ll always be competitive and contend for their conference championship.

I’m not sure what Hokies fans expect from their program this season, but after losing Brandon Ore, their four top receivers and a host of injuries, they’re going to have problems. You don’t just replace playmakers like you’re swapping people in a video game.

If the Hokies have a bad season, I hope they have some patience with Beamer. He’s a great coach.

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