John Congemi will be the color commentator for ESPNU's broadcast of the Nebraska vs. Illinois game at 11 am Saturday morning. Congemi was a four year starter at quarterback for Pitt, and is second all-time in career passing yards behind Dan Marino. Congemi was the MVP of the 1984 Fiesta Bowl, and went on to play eight seasons in the Canadian Football League from 1987 to 1994, playing in the Grey Cup his first and last seasons. In 2000, he joined ESPN as an analyst for Big East football games and has called games on ESPNU since 2005.
Congemi sat down with CornNation and discussed this week's game:
Q: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase has thrown for nearly as many yards in four games this season as he did all of 2012. What do you see as the reasons behind his improvement this season?
I believe that Nathan feels more comfortable in this offensive system directed by Bill Cubit. Sometimes a change in offensive philosophy and confidence in the plays that are called can give a quarterback the edge he's looking for. Ball is also coming out on time and it's clear Nathan understands his role in this system.
Q: As a freshman, Scheelhaase more often made plays with his legs than his arm. His rushing statistics have dropped each season since, and this year, he's only rushed for a net of 31 yards. Is this by design, or is this a result of his growth as a passing quarterback? How aggressive can the Nebraska pass rush try to be against Scheelhaase?
This offense isn't built for the quarterback to drop and takeoff after his first read is taken away. Scheelhaase really understands progression and also where his second and third options are in the passing game, and that takes away the pressure to beat teams with his legs. Nebraska still must be disciplined when rushing the quarterback because he still has the ability to tuck the football down and move the chains.
Q: The Illinois defense has given up a lot of yards this season - nearly as much as Nebraska's. What are the biggest issues plaguing the lllini.
Not sure what the problem is with both of these defenses! At some point you need to identify what you do well as a defensive unit and play to your strengths and I'm not sure either defense know what that is through four football games. Saturday's matchup should tell us more about which coaching staff has figured that out.
Q: Taylor Martinez may not play again this week with his turf toe injury. Against the Illini, do you see an advantage in playing the inexperienced, dynamic playmaker in freshman Tommy Armstrong at quarterback, or the experienced, veteran, technically solid passer in senior Ron Kellogg III.
I believe that we will see both back-up quarterbacks for Nebraska on Saturday. They both give you a little something different for the defense to prepare for and it adds to the preparation time throughout the week for the Illinois defensive coaching staff. That's probably the advantage for Nebraska although Armstrong looks like he has every intangible that you're looking for in a young, athletic quarterback.
Q: This season, Nebraska has had to depend on a lot of freshmen on the defensive line and at linebacker....and has been scorched by Wyoming, UCLA, and South Dakota State. How valuable do you think the bye week was in trying to solve Nebraska's defensive woes?
I believe that it can only help out this side of the football. Sometimes the bye-week is good just to self-scout yourself and see if what you're teaching and the schemes that you're running fit the personnel that actually have to go out and execute it on Saturday afternoons! I'm sure that's what Bo Pelini is hoping to see this week in his defense, playing fast without thinking if I'm in the correct gap or worried about their technique in the secondary, etc...
Q: As a national broadcaster, what's your take on the current state of Nebraska's football program?
Maybe not what you expect when you think about it on the national level, but trending upwards. When I think of Nebraska, I think toughness and I think passionate fan base. Players that say I want to play for Nebraska probably have felt that way since they learned how to play the game, so I believe that all the tradition that was built by men like Tom Osborne, the five national championships still resonate around the country. This is a huge year for "Big Red" to go out and prove it in the Big Ten.
Q: Have you ever been to Lincoln before?
Never been to Lincoln so I'm really looking forward to it.
Q: Since you are a Pitt alum, I almost have to ask you this: In your mind, how is former Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson doing in his second stint in charge of Panther athletics?
I can only say that my daughter attends Pitt as a student/athlete on the women's volleyball team and she's having a blast. Steve has always treated me well and there's probably never been a better time for Pitt seeing their move into the ACC this season. Pederson was very instrumental in that move and that alone probably gives him a passing grade in my evaluation.
(Sorry, I couldn't resist asking that one.)
Thanks again to ESPN's John Congemi for his insight into the Big Ten opener between Nebraska and Illinois! Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JohnCongemi