This weekend, I took a trip to Happy Valley. Yes, your read that right. Why, you ask? This had been planned for months as a good time to visit a friend in grad school there on a Michigan away game week, that conveniently matched up two good teams that should've been talking about a rematch from their last contest and the possible budding of a new rivalry. My ticket was purchased, my friend expected me, so I went. I'll delve a little into the awkwardness of everything but mostly wanted to give an in person preview of what Michigan can expect when Nebraska comes to Ann Arbor in a few days.
The tailgating to start the day was more than slightly subdued. Sure, they still had beer, brats and music, but it did not feel like a matchup between two ranked teams vying for a possible path to the inaugural B1G Championship game. Appropriately so given the awful tragedies that had taken place. How much was out of respect for the kids and how much was the fact that they missed JoePa is up for debate, but I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and lean towards the former. Those of you that watched the game on TV likely saw the pregame honoring of the victims, which was done quite well. When the teams met at midfield to pray, you could faintly hear the man speaking at the 50 from 20 rows up around the 5 yard line. It was that silent. Small groups of people tried to start chants but were appropriately shushed. The crowd eventually got impatient and started a slow clap, which was not really disprespectful but did somewhat dampen an otherwise nice moment. As the game started, there was cheering from the student section, but it all felt quite hollow, as it should have. Late in the game it got as loud as I assume Beaver Stadium normally gets, but only for a brief period of time. Overall, the weirdest and most awkward game I've been to by a longshot. Downright eery. Anyways, on to football things.
Taylor Martinez - boy oh boy is it tough to watch him throw. But you already knew that. What perhaps you didn't know is that every throw he makes is a frozen rope about 6 feet off the ground. And this is not a good thing for him. It appears that his chicken wing delivery doesn't afford him the ability to put any touch on his throws. If I were the coaching staff, I would put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the D line getting their hands up. Having not watched a ton of their offense this year, I was suprised to see how often they went to the air early. It appears that their game plan was to try to relax Penn State's stout defense, then run the ball late. They stuck with the passing game despite its ineffectiveness for quite a long time.
Rex Burkhead - Quick as hell and incredibly frustrating to try to stop. They frequently will line up in the I and have Burkhead and Martinez switch places. Burkhead is such an effective runner and Martinez such a terrible passer that it sometimes feels like they should do this permanently. He's a decisive runner with solid vision and decent power who always seems to fall forward. They've got a power runner whose name escapes me that they used in goal line. He's effective.
The punter - Yea, the punter. He's the third player I'm talking about. The punter. He's that good. He's like the space emperor. He can coffin corner better than anyone I've seen in a long time and he'll bomb it as well. Someone nearby asked what the name for the punter of the year award in college football was and suggested it be renamed after the Nebraska punter.
Nebraska's corners - they're good. It's hard to tell how much of Penn State's ineffectiveness passing was due to McGloin - or, as he's known, "The Scranton Slinger", and how much was due to the corners, but I felt like receivers were consistently well-covered. Penn State doesn't have world beaters, but Moye is a solid receiver and I often watched him get locked down. Obviously everyone knows about Alphonso Dennard, and he was as advertised. The rest of the secondary was also great, though.
I had more to say, but my memory escapes me on a few of my mental game notes. Overall, Nebraska definitely seems beatable. They execute the triple option damn well, and can eventually burn you with it, but their offense feels like a middle of the road B1G one, and I think the statistics bear that out. Their defense is meh, but the secondary does worry me. An ability to lock down several receivers with man coverage could pose problems. This will definitely be a game where I'd like to see a lot of 4 wide with zone running. Getting into an Ace formation and the like and running play action pass probably won't fly as they'll be able to both confidently load the box and shut down whoever is on the outside.