TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

Husker Art Is Work In Progress

Wouldn’t it be nice if fashioning a winning football team was as easy as paint-by-numbers?

Coaches could simply take their pallette of colors, follow the numbers, stay within the lines and quickly produce finished works.
Of course, in reality, it’s not that simple. As in art, it takes imagination, vision, a steady hand, deft strokes and patience to conjur a gridiron masterpiece.

We saw Saturday that Bo Pelini’s “Portrait of Nebraska Football” is a work in progress. You could certainly see some beautiful lines emerging, but there were also more than a few rough edges.

It’s going to take time, but Pelini has laid a nice base. Now it’s a matter of coordinating the colors, bringing the picture to focus and completing the details.

There were some nice, bold brush strokes in Saturday’s season-opening 47-24 victory over Western Michigan, to be sure. Quarterback Joe Ganz made a vivid 2008 debut; Nate Swift was, indeed, swift and sure; Cody Glenn proved his improbable move to linebacker might become one of the great stories of this college football season; the defensive line was much more stout than a year ago and it appears the Huskers have several potential big-play threats at tight end.

However, there were also some spills and splatters that Bo and staff will need to clean up the next several weeks. The ground game, after much chest-thumping rhetoric in fall camp, failed to make an impact Saturday; the front four still didn’t have a real pass-rush push on its own and, while the young cornerbacks showed flashes, Nebraska’s safety play was, well, woeful.

There was much talk Sunday and Monday from Husker coaches and players that Saturday’s problems stemmed from mental mistakes and blown assignments. To be expected in a season-opener certainly, but also a tune we heard often as last season’s disaster unfolded.
As a friend reminded me Sunday, there was much optimism a year ago after a rousing season-opening victory. Praise of Marlon Lucky’s 200-yard performance, raves about Steve Octavian’s speed, high hopes for Sam Keller, etc., etc.
We all know how that turned out.

I have little doubt this season will not follow 2007’s tortured path though. There were too many encouraging signs Saturday – some tangible, others more intangible, yet still evident and important.

There seems to be a renewed spark around Memorial Stadium with the return of Tom Osborne and Bo. There was certainly more effort and passion Saturday than we saw down the stretch last season. The key will be keeping that passion at a high level when the team hits those inevitable rocky spots in the 2008 campaign.

That’s where the new coaching staff comes in. In watching the game a second time Monday, it was fairly easy to see the blown assignments and mental errors. They are correctable, as we heard coaches and players point out the past several days. And, unlike last year, when such comments often seemed like mere lip service, you get the feeling there will be a concerted effort to do just that this time around.

We’ve heard Pelini quoted as saying Nebraska coaches will settle for nothing less than perfection. Obviously, that’s unrealistic, but the quest for perfection is what will eventually produce a Husker football masterpiece.

Expect to see those spills and splatters wiped up over the next several weeks. Watch the vivid hues blend together appropriately and the brush strokes become more sure. See the key details emerge from the clutter and begin to produce the focus of a finished product.

When you have true artists at work, it becomes fun again to watch the process. And, at some point – this year, next year, 2010? – we’ll have another stunning work of football art to hang in Nebraska’s prestigious gallery of greatness.

Let the process continue.