Thursday, December 04, 2008

Osborne pleased with Pelini's first year at NU

By Mitch Sherman

November 30, 2008

Tom Osborne stopped short of proclaiming surprise with Nebraska's level of success this season under Bo Pelini.

After all, it was Osborne's decision to hire the guy.

But the progress of the Huskers during an 8-4 regular season left Osborne with a good feeling about his first-year coach.

"That's one thing you're always looking for," Osborne said. "Which way are you going? Most teams are either getting better or they're tailing off. I think, obviously, we have improved. The chemistry on the team among coaches and between coaches and players is good. The players have enjoyed playing football this year.

"I feel good about it. A lot of good things happened this year."

Osborne, the former coach on the job as athletic director for 13 months, said Friday after Nebraska rallied to beat Colorado 40-31 that he saw growth in the Huskers and Pelini.

"I think Bo has really transitioned well from a defensive coordinator to a head coach," Osborne said. "There are added responsibilities. I've been very pleased with the way he's handled the team, discipline matters."

Notably, Osborne said, Pelini's demeanor on the sideline improved. The 40-year-old coach faced scrutiny early in the year after drawing a costly unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty late in a Nebraska loss to Virginia Tech.

Then on Nov. 1 at Oklahoma, television cameras caught him often losing his temper during another NU defeat.

Osborne and Pelini discussed the matter early this month. The coach has toned it down of late, even Friday in an emotional game featuring busted plays that led to three Colorado touchdowns.

Pelini blamed himself for the botched field-goal fake that allowed CU to score on a 58-yard return to tie the game at halftime.

"Bo is a really smart guy. He's very intelligent," Osborne said. "There isn't very much I've told Bo or suggested to him that he didn't already know. We talked from time to time, but I don't tell him how to coach. I don't micromanage anything.

"I've just been really pleased with his progress and development as a head coach. I think he's done a great job this year."

As for the team's progress, Osborne said he looked for improvement on defense after a 5-7 finish last year that cost Bill Callahan his coaching job.

"You look at where we ranked in total defense," Osborne said, "and that obviously had to change. I thought that one of the main attractions of Bo was that we knew we were going to face a lot of great offenses this year."

Nebraska ranked last in the Big 12 and 112th nationally a year ago in total defense, surrendering 476.8 yards per game. It has allowed 361.5 this season to rank third in the Big 12 through Friday and second in conference games at 364.9.

NU allows 29.2 points per game, a drop of 8.7 from last year, and 3.9 yards per rush after foes averaged 5.2 in 2007.

Some numbers don't show improvement: Nebraska opponents averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt and 13.8 per completion this season, up from 7.2 and 12.4 last year.

The biggest difference one year can make on defense? It had to do with the NU offense. The Huskers lead the nation in time of possession, holding the ball for 34 minutes per game. That's the best figure nationally in at least the past four years -- TOP data before 2005 was not immediately available.

In Big 12 games, it's an astounding 36:27 average after another dominant clock performance Friday.

As a result, NU opponents this year ran 201 fewer plays through 12 games than last season.

"Definitely, the offense has helped out the defense this year," Osborne said. "We've become more of a complete football team."

Osborne praised the work of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, among two assistants on Callahan's staff retained by Pelini.

"I think Shawn made some very good moves this year," said Osborne, himself a former longtime play-caller. "He obviously has put more emphasis on the running game. He's added some option football. He's added some zone-read with the quarterback having the ability to keep the ball. And he's done very well with the passing game, too.

"We've done very well on offense and become pretty hard to stop."

Keeping Watson, according to Osborne, remains a priority. The 49-year-old assistant drew interest from Alabama after last season and figures to attract attention again soon.

In addition, receivers coach Ted Gilmore is believed to be a candidate for the head coaching job at Wyoming.

"You always like to keep your coaching staff intact," Osborne said. "But you also realize the fact that if people get an opportunity, that's good for them. You wish them well, and you help them. We'll see what happens."

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