Posted: Wednesday September 21, 2005 11:26AM; Updated: Thursday September 22, 2005 4:53PM
Wannstedt made his name as a defensive coordinator. His offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh is Matt Cavanaugh, who served in a similar capacity last year for the Baltimore Ravens -- the same Ravens whose passing offense ranked 29th in the NFL in 2004. Gone are the four-receiver packages and pro-style pass patterns that Harris had the Panthers running in 2004 -- when Palko threw 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Pitt fans aren't quite sure what has taken their place, except that nothing seems to be working right now.
Like Wannstedt, Callahan established himself as an assistant. A student of the West Coast offense, he took over the Raiders after Jon Gruden left for Tampa Bay in 2002. With a team of established veterans -- including Tim Brown, Rich Gannon and Jerry Rice -- Callahan led Oakland to the Super Bowl XXXVII, which it lost 48-21 to the Buccaneers. The next season, after a few injuries and a little adversity hit, the team collapsed like a wet taco. Callahan was fired less than a year after reaching the pinnacle of his profession.
Undaunted, the powers-that-be in Lincoln brought him in to replace Frank Solich, who had had the temerity to go 9-3 in 2003. Solich lost his job because the school didn't think his option game -- the same one he had been coaching under Tom Osborne for decades -- was capable of winning national championships. Callahan promised to start winning, and soon, with a West Coast attack.
After the Huskers finished 5-6 and ranked 81st in the country in passing offense last fall, fans were told that it was exceedingly hard to turn a running team into a passing team. Things were supposed to be different this fall, with strong-armed quarterback Zac Taylor. Things are different, all right, but not in the way fans in the Corn Belt were hoping. Nebraska ranks 106th in total offense, 104th in passing. And that 3-0 record has come at the expense of Maine, Wake Forest and pitiful Pitt.
Of the two men, I suppose Wannstedt has a better chance of turning things around this year. He has great talent at quarterback and receiver, whether he's comfortable with it or not. I'll be curious to see how things go in a few years, when he plugs his own recruits into his own system. I could always be wrong, but I expect that Pitt will muddle through those seasons, like Wannstedt's teams always do.
As for Callahan, I don't know if he has much more time. Against Pitt, the Cornhuskers were called for six procedure penalties, two for setting up with only six men on the line of scrimmage. Nebraska looks lost out there, which is not a vibe I get when I watch Notre Dame or Florida. I know these Huskers were recruited to run the ball, and Callahan might have more success if he tried to do more of that, but something tells me his problems go deeper.
Fashion statement of the week
I'm not sure if this is an According-to-Hoyle trend, but I saw two different quarterbacks on Saturday -- Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler and Michigan State's Drew Stanton -- roaming the sidelines with their mouthpieces tucked up on top of their ears. This seems to be a new one, sort of an icky Bluetooth look.
The conservative approach
Speaking of Michigan State, why did coach John L. Smith button up his offense so early in the fourth quarter Saturday? Up 38-17, he seemed too eager to run out the clock. The Irish run blitzed for several series, forced the Spartans into a couple of three-and-outs and tied the game.
Have hope, Sooners fans
Oklahoma fans should be excited about Rhett Bomar. Take away his fumble problems, and I think he looked pretty good Saturday. Of the Sooners and Cornhuskers -- traditional powers who have fallen on hard times of late -- I like the boys from Norman to be back in the top 10 very soon.