In what will hopefully become a regular item on the blog this season, here’s our look at this week’s Washington opponent, Nebraska, through the eyes of someone who follows the team closely.
This week’s guest in answering five questions about UW’s opponent is Aaron Babcock, the General Manager/Editor of Huskers Illustrated Magazine. He’s a native of Auburn, Wash. You can follow him on twitter at twitter.com/aaron_babcock.
Q: Can you give us a general overview of the Nebraska offense?
A: Nebraska’s offense was practically non-existent at times a year ago, thanks to a depleted offensive line and a quarterback who played injured the majority of the season. As a result, the Cornhuskers averaged just 147 rushing yards per game and threw just 16 touchdown passes, compared to 12 interceptions.
This year’s offense has the ability to be much more explosive behind a physical three-headed rushing attack. Running backs Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead give the Huskers a combination of speed and power, while freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez’s blazing speed (that’s Martinez pictured to the right in an Associated Press photo) makes him a home-run threat.
There have been two sides of the offense in the first two weeks. Coach Bo Pelini was relatively pleased after week one, but noticeably upset about the Huskers sloppy effort against Idaho, which included eight fumbles. Despite those troubles, Nebraska is averaging 503 yards per game, including 324 on the ground, and 8.8 yards per carry.
The biggest question Saturday will be the composure and maturity of Martinez. The redshirt freshman will be playing in his first road game, and he was responsible for some of the sloppy plays and fumbles against Idaho. His success has been running a zone-read offense out of the shotgun, but I expect Nebraska to expand its playbook this week. Don’t be surprised to see some triple option or Burkhead lining up in the Wildcat formation, as he did in Nebraska’s 33-0 win against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.
Q: And can you comment specifically on Taylor Martinez and how he came to be the starter?
A: Martinez beat out returning starter Zac Lee and sophomore Cody Green for the starting job in a race that went down to the final week of fall camp. Lee started 12 games last season as the Huskers compiled a 10-4 record and a Big 12 North Division title. But Lee was forced to sit out the spring after undergoing surgery on a tendon in his throwing arm, opening the door for Martinez. Martinez immediately captured the imagination of Husker Nation at the spring game, rushing nine times for 60 yards and throwing for another two scores in front of 77,936 fans. Green will be the first quarterback off the bench. An incredible athlete with a strong arm, he has been working on improving as a game manager.
Q: How about an overview of the defense?
A: Three years ago, the Blackshirt defense had become a laughing stock and was ranked among the worst in the country. Enter head coach Bo Pelini. Pelini has established himself as one of the top defensive minds in college football and in just two years turned Nebraska into the top scoring defense in the country.
It doesn’t appear there will be much of a drop-off this season as the secondary is shaping up to be among the nation’s best. Unlike the offense, Pelini was “embarrassed” after week one, but saw marked improvement in week two. The majority of Nebraska’s problems in week one came after losing starting linebacker Will Compton, who was responsible for the defensive play calls. Those responsibilities now fall on his replacement Eric Martin, who made great strides in week two.
Nebraska’s defensive backs are big and aggressive and Pelini will often employ as many as seven DBs on the field at once. Left corner Prince Amukamara, a projected first-round draft pick, and safety DeJon Gomes are the leaders of the secondary. Last week Nebraska intercepted five passes, returning two for touchdowns.
Despite losing Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in the NFL draft, Nebraska’s front line will come after Jake Locker. The Huskers led the nation in sacks a year ago, so junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and senior defensive end Pierre Allen should present some challenges for the Husky offensive line.
Q: How has Bo Pelini changed the program since he took over?
A: Pelini inherited a program that had lost its identity during the Bill Callahan era. Outside of Nebraska’s dramatic defensive turnaround, the most dramatic change has been the culture of the program. Pelini is a fiery, hard-nosed competitor who will not make, or accept excuses. He demands perfection from his players and assistant coaches, and the team has quickly become a reflection of his personality.
Q: Finally, what are the general expectations of this team this season?
A: After dropping a heart-breaker to Texas in the Big 12 title game last season, Husker fans expect a return trip to Dallas. Huskers Illustrated Magazine conducted an informal preseason poll of media covering the team and the majority predicted an 11- or 12-win season.
Nebraska’s schedule is set up for a legitimate run at the Big 12 title in its final season in the conference before moving to the Big Ten. If the Huskers can defeat Texas on Oct. 16 in Lincoln, fans will start chirping about their chances of playing for a national title.
September 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM
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