By Randy York
If Bo Pelini shops like his teams play defense in bowl games, his family won't find much under the tree this weekend. Whenever Pelini gets extra time to prepare for a bowl match-up, whether he's the head coach or the defensive coordinator, pickings are pretty slim for the offensive opponent on the other side of the line. His excellent track record of defensive success in bowl games can be described in one word ... stingy. I guess that makes Bo the Grinch of Bowl Games. He plots strategy, limits yards, steals points, then walks off the field victorious 85.7 percent of the time.
Consider his 3-1 record in bowls as Nebraska's head coach, counting his Blackshirts holding Michigan State to three points in a 2003 Alamo Bowl win when Pelini was the Huskers' interim head coach. Throw in his 3-year record as LSU's defensive coordinator before coming to Nebraska, and Pelini-coached defenses are 6-1 overall in bowl games. We all know which game was the stinker ... an unfortunate and unproductive 19-7 loss in that unwanted, unforgiven rematch with Washington a year ago in the Holiday Bowl.
Still, even when that game takes its rightful place under the microscope, in its four bowl games under Pelini as head coach, Nebraska has allowed just 10.8 points per game. The highlight, of course, is a 33-0 shutout of Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl. That historic whitewash against Mike Stoops stands as Nebraska's only shutout in 47 bowl games.
In Four Bowls, Just 13 Points on Sustained Drives
It gets even more interesting. Of the 43 points scored against Pelini's four Nebraska teams, nine points have been scored by the opposing defense and another 21 points followed Nebraska turnovers. In other words, opponents have scored just 13 points on sustained offensive drives against four Pelini-coached bowl teams, making Bo the best candidate I can think of to play the Grinch this Christmas. Remember, I'm just the narrator, so I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore, and after I call Bo the Grinch, I can think of no more.
Pelini is, after all, the only coach in college football since 1986 to have his defenses allow fewer than 30 points in his first three bowls games as a head coach. Nebraska also has allowed just 208.3 yards per game in four bowl games under Pelini, not to mention just 88.3 rushing yards per contest. Three of Nebraska's four bowl opponents under Pelini have been held to 63 or fewer rushing yards. The Blackshirts have allowed an average of just 3.4 yards per play in Pelini's four bowl games, forcing three-and-outs on 52 percent of opponent possessions.
Pelini's stingy schemes have worked well against Michigan State, Clemson, Arizona and Washington. But his defensive success in bowl games is hardly limited to Nebraska. He was also dominant in three bowl games as LSU's defensive coordinator, helping the Tigers to three victories, including two in BCS contests. His Tiger defenses allowed an average of 13.7 points per game, 265.6 total yards and 113.7 rushing yards per game. In seven overall bowl games in which Pelini has been the head coach or the lone defensive coordinator, his teams have allowed an average of just 12.0 points, 99.1 rushing yards and 232.9 total yards per game. That's solid research from NU's media relations staff, but frankly, the only important stat in the midst of all that is the 6 wins in 7 bowl games.
The bottom line? If the Grinch is as stingy as ever and Nebraska upsets Top 10-ranked South Carolina in Orlando's Capital One Bowl, Bo's reputation will only increase exponentially. If nothing else, it will prove that we really may be on to something here.
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