I've heard a few devoted Husker football fans in recent weeks complaining about the state of the Cornhusker State's beloved Big Red.
Those fans, along with all the former national championship coaches now employed as sports writers for the state's big daily newspapers (my small attempt at sarcasm) have offered opinions on the struggles of Coach Bo Pelini's offense this season. Those opinions have grew louder in recent days, coming off the heels of the last two NU losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State.
I'm sure Husker fans were frustrated last Saturday watching NU bobble away a chance at victory against the Cyclones. I know I was, and I'm not overly disappointed that I passed on the offer from my old buddy Frank from Omaha, who offered yours truly a free ticket to last Saturday's "Fumble in the Jungle" in Lincoln.
Some of the loudest complaints I've heard and read is why Coach Pelini doesn't insert true freshmen Cody Green as the starting quarterback to replace junior Zac Lee. The argument from the Husker faithful and other experts is that Lee has been ineffective as the Huskers have "struggled" to a 4-3 record.
Before we pass judgment, let's look at a few facts with the opinions of this 'expert' mixed in.
In last weeks debacle against Iowa State, Lee completed 20 of 37 passes for 248 yards, and he did throw three interceptions. One pick came when tight end Mike McNeill bobbled the ball near the Iowa State end zone, and a Cyclone defender picked the ball off the turf (I still want to see a super slow-mo replay of that play to see if the ball did or did not hit the ground). Another ISU interception was tipped by a Husker receiver (Culenski Gilleylen, I believe) right into the Cyclone defender's hands. In the receiver's defense, the ball appeared to be thrown slightly behind him.
Lee also threw an interception late in the game deep in Husker territory that ended NU's last gasp at trying to salvage a win.
Lee has struggled in big games for Nebraska. NU fans will remember his 11-for-30 passing effort in the one-point loss at Virginia Tech. No doubt Husker fans recall Lee's dismal performance in the monsoon at Missouri before his fourth-quarter heroics boosted the Huskers to a huge victory.
Don't lose sight of the fact that this is Lee's second season playing major college football. I believe he transfered to Lincoln after a successful 2006 campaign at San Francisco City College. Zac redshirted in 2007 and saw limited duty as backup to quarterback Joe Ganz last season.
I guess one problem I have with Husker fans calling for Lee's head is how much better do they think Cody Green will perform? Especially with huge Big 12 Conference contests on the horizon?
Green is a true freshmen in his first fall playing for the Huskers. Coach Pelini, in my opinion, is doing the right thing, bringing Green along slowly, as he could very well be the future of Nebraska football. But how bright will that future be if he suffers through horrible performances the rest of that season and he hears boos from the home crowds?
In my opinion, the Husker offensive woes are much deeper than the quarterback position. Roy Helu, Jr. is ailing, and has not been effective in recent weeks. Take away freshman Rex Burkhead, who hasn't played in several weeks due to injury, and the NU run attack has been non-existent -- just 114 yards against Iowa State.
I think the NU offensive line has to take some of the blame. It's been quite a few years since the Big Red has featured a dominant front line like Nebraska seemed to have every fall when the Huskers were registering double-digit victory totals every season and contending for national titles.
Any Husker football fan worth his salt knows that a potent rushing attack would make Lee and the NU passing game much more effective. And a dominant line would make both parts of the Husker offense more effective.
To all the NU experts ready to blame Lee for last week's loss, remember this. Zac didn't fumble five times, four in the shadow of the ISU end zone.
I said this a few weeks ago in this column, and I think it bears repeating. I looked at the Husker depth chart on the Web site Huskers.com Thursday morning. I could see only 12 seniors listed on the two-deep chart. Coach Pelini has a young squad filled with talented players at every position. NU is starting young, inexperienced players all over the field -- players that will turn into All-Big 12 Conference and perhaps All-American candidates in the coming years.
This year's Husker edition is a work in progress, and a team to be reckoned with in the future. Pelini has the program going in the right direction, and I think in two seasons, NU fans -- with a little patience -- will see Big Red back in the national title picture. Probably with Cody Green leading a high-scoring offense.
I loved some of Pelini's comments in recent weeks. On his TV show last Sunday night, he stated with no uncertainty that his team could not win by making mistakes like they committed Saturday. But he also said that those miscues were his fault -- as the head coach, he takes full responsibility for the performance of his team.
I read a statement the fiery coach made recently, in response to some of his critics on the quarterback situation. He basically said as long as he was the head coach of the Huskers and putting in all the time running practices, that he would be responsible for making the decisions in regards to the team, and that public opinion would not sway those decisions.
Bo knows what he's doing, and he will bring the Huskers back to national prominence. Hopefully the Huskers will find a higher gear offensively and contend for the Big 12 North title this fall.
Go Big Red!