Howdy folks! I have to say its good to be back here (again!) as this has been hands down my favorite opposing blog to hang around in the week running up to the game. I know both Gekko and John have picks to make, so I thought I'd give you all a Nebraska-eye view of the 2011 Cornhuskers.
Defense: Bo Pelini and various media analysts (including Big Ten people who've visited practices) have touted this defense as his deepest and most athletic defense yet....we haven't seen it yet. Undoubtedly a large part of it is the absence of our top CB Alfonzo Dennard (pre-season All American). The secondary got nicked up pretty badly by Fresno's Carr, although there's no question the kid has an NFL level arm just like his brother. The real concern again is the interior of the defensive line which was supposed to be the strong point of the defense. They played absolutely horrible against Fresno. The front four accounted for 4 tackles while our two linebackers and the nickle back accounted for 41. No, that's not a typo. The Fresno back gained around 160 yards and seemed to gain steam as the Blackshirts wore down.
Yes, there's some good news for Husker fans: Dennard is expected to return for UW. Additionally (this may be a bit of homeristic optimism), but Bo Pelini wasn't happy with the defense on Saturday and in his 43 games here I still haven't seen him unhappy about 2 in a row. In other words, I expect the Blackshirts to play much better on Saturday. The talent to shut down anybody is clearly there, the issue is putting together all the moving pieces.
The good news for Husky fans is that (based on what I saw in UW's game against Hawaii) UW's attack might look alot what Fresno used to great effectiveness (rolling out the qb to avoid pressure, power running up the middle). NU's defense has its work cut out this week but for the most part I'm confident they'll answer the bell like usual.
Offense: Over the offseason OC Shawn Watson was nudged out the door. Enter Tim Beck. Beck installed a new offense and the best way I can describe it even though I despise the cliche: multiple. In two games we've seen triple option, power option, speed option, zone read option, pistol, air it out spread, power running in the I formation. Oh and its all no-huddle.
Passing game: Taylor Martinez is still not a great passer, but he is better...sort of. His throwing motion is really weird, almost like a shot putter, and that motion has consequences, namely his intermediate passing game is very hit or miss. The good news is that he's become pretty consistent in the <10 yard passing game and he showed really great touch on the long ball. The latter is very important moving forward because both Fresno and Chattanooga stacked 9 guys in the box to try to take away the running game. While we didn't try any long balls on UTC due to Beck's desire to treat the game more like a practice, we hit 5 or 6 25+ yarders on Fresno, a couple of which were closer to 50. We've got some great young talent at receiver, which is good because our (supposed) leading returning receiver has more drops than catches, by far.
Running game: A tale of two running games here. Our inside game has been almost non-existant. We have nearly a brand new line and they couldn't get a push or open holes against Chattanooga. Out of nowhere we managed to ice the Fresno game with 6 straight gutty runs by Rex Burkhead for around 40 yards when they knew what we were going to do of all times, so I think the talent is there on the line, it's a matter of it all coming together and it just happened to on that one possession in the 4th quarter.
The perimeter rushing game has been nothing short of lethal. Three option plays against Fresno went for close to 100 yards. The blocking has been quite good here. If the offensive line could get its act together, we'd be looking at a pretty fearsome running attack, which again sets up the long ball.
The No Huddle: Eh. This got fans really excited in the off season, but so far they haven't gone fast enough to knock opposing defenses off their game (although they insist they can go a lot faster if they want...we'll see). So while I'm not seeing much direct benefit from it, it without a doubt, contributed to the exhaustion of the Blackshirts on display (38-22 TOP advantage for Fresno) at the end of the game.
Special teams: Out: Alex Henery. In: Brett Maher. Ok, yeah it's not quite the same, but Maher has been a pleasant surprise so far. He's 4 for 4 on field goals, his long is 50 (into a 15mph wind and it would've gone from 55). 10/10 on PAT's. He's also averaging around 50 yards a punt. Time will tell on consistency but he probably has a slightly bigger leg than Henery.
Kick coverage has been decent with the exception of a punt return for a touchdown by Fresno last week. That could be a sign of trouble, although no one else has come even close, so it could just be a fluky thing.
Nebraska is poised to have its best year in a long, long time in kick returning. Freshman Ameer Abdullah took a kickoff back for a touchdown last week (despite cramping up at the 50) and could easily have a couple more already. He's electric. Tim Marlowe does punt returns, likely sacrificing mobility for surehandedness.
Prediction: If I learned anything from our two games last year, it's that these two teams are bound and determined to embarrass anyone who tries to guess how this is going to come out. To me Nebraska being a 17 point favorite is too high by about 10 points, but there's no way in hell I'd put money behind that statement by taking UW and the points. This series has just been too unpredictable.
What I will say is that I think the Blackshirts will play well and make both yards and points difficult to come by for UW. I see Washington's final score somewhere in between 10 and 20. Nebraska's? Well I don't think you'll shut us out. Apart from that, good luck. Last year's NU scores were 56 and 7, so yeah, I'm not touching this one.
Looking forward to a fun week guys. Post any questions or comments below. I'll see you all around.