2012 Opponent Preview: Nebraska

Submitted by Heiko on June 18th, 2012 at 5:09 PM

Previously: Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State

Nebraska

Dear Brian Santa, Ace and I thought it would be great if we could go to this game. We promise to be extra good this year.

Offense line matters. Toward the end of last season it became increasingly clear that you could use trench matchups (O-line vs. D-line, D-line vs. O-line) as a heuristic for how teams would do against each other. Which is to say that it wasn't a great year for the league's skill positions. 

Nebraska was an outlier. Coming into the season the Huskers were the B1G's version of Virginia Tech. They were loaded at every skill position save wideout, but they were relatively mediocre on the lines, particularly on offense. Their issues became pronounced on defense early in the season when DT Jared Crick got injured against Washington and on offense later in the season when injury robbed them of their starting tight end and a guard or two.  

By the time they got to Michigan they were doing things like this:

screencap via BWS

And then all of a sudden it didn't matter that they had a speedy running quarterback and a bulldozer of a tailback. The Wolverines defense could choke them to death three yards behind the line of scrimmage every other play. 

Nebraska finished fifth in the conference in yards per game (379.9 ypg, 66th nationally) and fourth in scoring (29.2 ppg, 49th nationally), which was disappointing given the preseason advertising. Part of that comes from the intangible aspects of transitioning into a new conference, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that their offensive line wasn't very deep or very good even though they got by decently in the Big 12 where teams generally sit back on defense and try to outscore you on offense. 

The point is the Huskers are going to have to recruit a lot more big uglies if they want to gain elite status in the B1G. So far they haven't really done that,

#5 Nebraska - 8 Commits
Name Position State Rivals Scout 24/7 ESPN
Marcus McWilson S OH 4 4 4 3
Josh Banderas LB NE 4 3 4 4
Tre'vell Dixon ATH LA 4 3 3 4
Christian Lacouture DE TX 3 4 3 3
A.J. Natter DE WI 3 4 3 3
Courtney Love LB OH 3 3 4 4
Greg Hart TE OH 3 3 3 3
Dan Samuelson OL IN 3 3 3 3

but I guess it is still only June.

Obligatory Taylor Martinez shotput Youtube clip:

If you ever want to know how to throw like this, grab a football and pretend there's a foot-long string connecting it to your ear.

The actual preview part.

1000-foot view.

I would get the presser transcripts done so fast if I were there.

Nebraska's B1G debut in 2011 didn't go completely according to plan. They lost three conference games -- at Michigan and at Wisconsin in spectacular blow-outs and vs. Northwestern in game that even Brady Hoke couldn't believe happened. Other than that they had the singular highlight of clobbering Michigan State. They also beat Ohio State, but I'm sure Huskers fans talk about what happened during that game the way Michigan fans talk about what happened during the Sugar Bowl. 

If the Huskers want to prove that their are truly of the B1G elite as they were billed to be, they need to put on a more convincing show and reach Indianapolis this season. They need their defense to stop underachieving, and in addition to to keeping their offensive line healthy, they need their offense as a whole to learn how to deal with adversity. Nebraska was frankly underwhelming on defense last season despite the number of star players, and their offense crumbled often on the road whenever they fell behind in the count. Much of that can be attributed to problems in leadership and coaching, so whether or not Bo Pelini is worth his paycheck, his evaluation period begins now. 

Schedule.

  • Sept 1, Southern Miss
  • Sept 8, @ UCLA
  • Sept 15, Arkansas State
  • Sept 22, Idaho State
  • Sept 29, Wisconsin
  • Oct 6, @ Ohio State
  • Oct 13, WIFEDAY
  • Oct 20, @ Northwestern
  • Oct 27, Michigan
  • Nov 3, @ Michigan State
  • Nov 10, Penn State
  • Nov 17, Minnesota

Another part of the problem last year was the scheduling -- Nebraska's B1G slate was ... shitty. The Huskers played all five of the Bigs: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State, three of which were away games. No other B1G team faced more than four upper tier teams, even if you count Nebraska itself as one.

The matchups don't get any softer this season, but Nebraska will benefit marginally by having just two of those teams on the road and eight home games total. A well timed bye after Wisconsin and Ohio State should help the Huskers regroup for the bulk of the conference schedule. 

Even with a visit to UCLA in week two, I see Nebraska sweeping their nonconference opponents. They'll likely lose to Ohio State and one if not both of the Michigans, but any more than three or four B1G losses would be highly surprising. 

This schedule is as favorable as: Swimming 1000 yards, downstream.

X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes

Offense

"What was that?" "Idunno I've never seen that before."

Style: Spread/option, but a lot more option than spread.

Key losses: backup RB Aaron Green (105 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TD) , WR Brandon Kinnie (257 yards, 1 TD), C Mike Caputo, LT Yoshi Hardrick, RT Marcel Jones.

Top returners: QB Taylor Martinez (56.3%, 2089 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT), RB Rex Burkhead (1357 yards, 4.8 ypc, 15 TD), RB Ameer Abdullah (150 yards, 3.6 ypc, 3 TD), WR Kenny Bell (461 yards, 3 TD), WR Quincy Enunwa (293 yards, 2 TD), TE Ben Cotton (189 yards, 0 TD), TE Kyler Reed (257 yards, 1 TD). 

Nebraska's offense was a lot like Michigan's offense last year -- frequently unstoppable on the ground, temperamental through the air -- but not quite as good. Like the Wolverines, the Huskers were adjusting to a new offensive coordinator with a second-year starting quarterback who was equally capable of breaking open the game or inciting a fan to break his TV screen on any given play. 

Not much will change going into 2012. The offensive line may get better, which would allow Nebraska's talented and experienced backfield to do some fancier stuff, but the backbone of their offense -- option -- will be predicated on whether Taylor Martinez makes the right reads and decisions. Lots of offseason fluff has been devoted to his throwing mechanics and accuracy, which is silly. The bread and butter of the Huskers offensive identity is the option run game, and that's equal parts athletic talent/skill and decision-making. So far Martinez hasn't proven himself to be that good at the latter.

The good news for him is that Rex Burkhead, the quintessential workhorse that Nebraska can always feed the ball to from the I formation when all else fails, returns at tailback. The Huskers should be mindful of his mileage, though. 38 carries against Iowa was cool last season, but after Cody Green's transfer, Nebraska a high ankle sprain away from being Iowa.  

On the "needs improvement" list: receivers. None of the Huskers receivers were that good last season, and it's pretty safe to say they won't be unearthing any new talent this fall. Again, because of the nature of their offense and the play-action potential, it may be unnecessary, but preventing opposing safeties from sucking up against the run every play would make things a lot easier.

This offense is as frightening as: A musket. Fear level = 6.

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Defense

No. 94 Cameron Meredith

Style: 4-3

Key losses: DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Austin Cassidy (61 tackles, 2 INT)

Top returners: DT Baker Steinkuhler (25 tackles, 2 sacks), DE Cameron Meredith (56 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT), DE Jason Ankrah (17 tackles, 1 sack), LB Will Compton (69 tackles, 1 sack), LB Sean Fisher (21 tackles), CB Andrew Green (38 tackles, 1 INT), S P.J. Smith (33 tackles, 1 INT)

Nebraska's disappointing defense in 2011 was much weaker against the run (158.5 ypg, 64th) than expected. They suffered from the loss of DT Jared Crick, who tore his pectoral muscle against Washington and eventually sat out the remainder of the season after Ohio State two games later, but to be honest, they were underwhelming even before that happened. 

Against the past they fared okay (192.2 ypg, 19th), but you can mentally adjust that for how good you think B1G passing offenses were last year. 

This season they lose the stars -- Crick, David, and Dennard -- but return a solid squad. Cameron Meredith was impressive last year and should continue to trend up. There's not much to say about anyone else.

Perhaps the most intriguing development for this defense was the hiring of defensive coordinator John Papuchis to replace Carl Pelini prior to the Capitol One bowl. Papuchis was the D-line coach under Bo Pelini while he was defensive coordinator at LSU during the 2005-2007 seasons, the last of which ended with a national championship. The reuniting of the Papuchis/Pelini duo should rejuvenate the Huskers defense, and with a full offseason of coaching, there should be tangible results in 2012. 

If anything, it adds some oomf to recruiting, which means that Nebraska could be very good in a few years.

This defense is as frightening as: a 12-year-old kid who wets his bed, is cruel to small animals, and likes starting fires. You are a 28-year-old woman who reminds him of his mother. Fear level = 7, trending up with time. 

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Special teams

Loses ball in 3 ... 2 ... 

Key losses: No one important.

Top returners: K/P Brett Maher (44.5 ypp, 19/23 FG), KR/PR Ameer Abdullah (29.3 yards/kickoff, 7.1 yards/punt)

They should be really good! When they're not fumbling kickoffs.

*****

Predictions:

I would bring my fancy camera and take sweet wide-angle photos. If I were there.

Record: 9-3 overall, 5-3 B1G.

Against Michigan: Lincoln is a difficult stadium to play in, and Michigan has been pretty bad on the road, so I'll give Nebraska the edge for that. Without a Mike Martin ragdolling backup offensive linemen, the Huskers will probably put up more points than they did last year. Going out on a limb here -- if Michigan wins, it'll be really close, like 27-24. 

Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: Swimming 1000 yards, downstream, in a race vs. Michael Phelps, who has just donated blood.

Comments

Blueroller

June 18th, 2012 at 5:40 PM ^

"This defense is as frightening as: a 12-year-old kid who wets his bed, is cruel to small animals, and likes starting fires. You are a 28-year-old woman who reminds him of his mother."

That is inspired!

Hank Hill

June 18th, 2012 at 5:43 PM ^

And then he throws Phelps in there! Good preview.
I will be attending this game and the inside the stadium panorama picture looks as though it was taken from just about where I will be sitting. The night sky in the background got me so jacked to be there for what should be an amazing experience.

WolvinLA2

June 18th, 2012 at 6:29 PM ^

So you said that their OL was bad, they lose three starters from that unit, and you think it will be better next year?  Do they have some super recruits coming in?  Because losing three starters from an OL usually does not make it better, especially if it was thin to begin with.

unWavering

June 18th, 2012 at 7:33 PM ^

"Lots of offseason fluff has been devoted to his throwing mechanics and accuracy, which is silly"

Huh?  You just said Nebraska's offense is similar to ours, and a lot of our offseason fluff has been Denard improving his mechanics and accuracy.  Is that silly?

justingoblue

June 18th, 2012 at 7:43 PM ^

but it seems like he meant that Nebraska isn't going to go out and throw a ton next year, so the fluff on Martinez'[s?] arm is silly. His next sentence is describing how Nebraska will be an option running team no matter what, and then he evaluates TM's (there, that's better) skills in those areas, which seems like he's saying are much more important.

For Denard, it seems pretty clear that Borges would like Denard to throw, and throw deep, so the hype about him becoming a better passer is actually pretty relevant to how we'll play football this season.

Heiko

June 18th, 2012 at 8:29 PM ^

Right-o. Martinez's ability to make the right reads in the option game will carry their offense much further than how pretty his throws are. While his accuracy is important, missing a wide open receiver in ther system is less detrimental than mising a receiver in coverage.

So that's why I think the reports on Denard's improving mechanics are more relevant in comparison.

uminks

June 19th, 2012 at 1:12 AM ^

It will be difficult for NE to keep up with the points! This is one of the toss up games for Michigan. If the offense sputters and NE D plays well in front of the home crowd, they could win this game. I think by the end of the year our D will be playing quite well. Just my hunch!

jbibiza

June 19th, 2012 at 5:24 AM ^

My impression last year was that without Lavonte David their defense would have been atrocious.  There were numerous plays wherein he got a piece of Denard to stop what otherwise would have been a long TD.  His loss plus the loss of a top CB in Dennard makes the blackshirts very suspect indeed.  

ChicagoB1GRed

June 19th, 2012 at 10:52 AM ^

Completely agree about the schedule, transitioning personnel and schemes to a new conference, and having an up-and-down QB adjusting to a new OC as being factors working against Nebraska last year.  You make some good points about the D underachieving even with star players and the O's meltdowns on the road. And agree we'll likely lose to OSU and either UM or MSU.

Turnover margin has been a problem, the Blackshirts were unable to get two takeaways per game in either 2010 or 2011. Giving the offense a short field to work with once or twice a game would go a long way toward a Big Ten title. A  few tackles for loss (NU rated 112th among all major college teams last fall) would be welcome. It would help the Huskers get off the field on third down more often than in 2011, when they rated 64th in that category. Meanwhile, Michigan came in at No. 68 in tackles for loss and No. 36 in third down defense.

On the plus side and where I'd disagree or counterpoint:

This year's team and the defense in particular will have a lot more depth and experience across the board, Pelini redshirted heavily beginning his first year. That should mean more consistency and less meltdowns (UM, Wisconsin) and letdowns (Northwestern). And the schedule, though just as brutal as last year, should be easier to deal with the second time around.

Many rate the receivers rated tops in the B1G, such as BTN's Tom Dienhart and Phil Steele.

Martinez has done a lot better running our offense than you give him credit for, and should be even better this year as a third year starting junior. In his freshman-sophomore seasons, he's already one of Nebraska's all-time leaders in rushing, passing, and total yards, (and would put him with Michigan's all-time leaders as well) with 2 more seasons to go running the same offense for the first time.

You could make a good case for Michigan, State, or Nebraska winning the Legends, all three have their strengths and weaknesses and it should be a dogfight. Wisconsin looks to have a pretty easy path the Conference Title game again.

M-Wolverine

June 19th, 2012 at 11:14 AM ^

 

Anyone else glad to see us doing it to someone else, rather than the infamous picture of our O-line standing around and watching guys go right by them? (2008, right?)