No doubt that last week's win over the Mocs left Husker fans wanting more. The offensive line didn't play well, the receivers had the dropsies, and Taylor Martinez still has some funky bizarre throwing motion that'll probably never be cured.
Here we are at week two. Everyone is expecting a much better performance out of their Huskers. Hey, if we don't get it maybe ticket prices to Big Ten games will go down (always looking for something positive, I am).
Before I get to some keys, let me first get rid of a pet peeve.
I received a comment last week, if I remember correctly, on twitter, that Nebraska can't win games with explosive plays and that they'll need to sustain drives to win games in the Big Ten. I don't understand the sentiment here so help me out. If Taylor Martinez has an open field in front of him, is he supposed to fall down and not get a 46-yard touchdown just so we can grind out some more three and four yard gains?
Okay, I get it. You want to see the team play the same offense they played under Osborne (Fullback got a carry last week and they ran the triple option a few times, woohooo!) and pummel opposing defenses into the ground just like the old days. It ain't going to happen. Maybe in a couple years when we have more depth and experience on the offensive line, but if that's what you're watching for, be prepared to be continually disappointed.
Simply put, Nebraska is not going to win a lot of games this season by clogging up the middle, i.e., constantly using a fullback, the triple option, or heavy sets. While you don't want Taylor Martinez leading the team in carries every week, he's still the best playmaker the Huskers have, and to best utilize him (and not get him killed), you need to get him into open space.
The same goes with the three freshmen running backs, Braylon Heard, Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green. They're speed backs, they're not guys like Rex Burkhead who are going to pound the middle of the line for punishing gains. Get them on the edge, and everything will be fine. You saw a fair amount of speed option last week (without a fullback). As the offense gets more experience, they'll get better at execution. Things will be fine.
On to the keys!
The most obvious keys are cutting down on penalties and turnovers. That's a given in every game. If there's one big positive from last week it's that Nebraska executed 68 offensive plays with only one false start penalty last week.
Stop The Run
It ain't like Fresno State is going to sit back and throw the ball 40 times - doing so will get their quarterback, Derek Carr, killed. Expect that the Bulldogs run Robbie Rouse at every opportunity. If they can establish any kind of running game, it'll accomplish the most important thing every underdog wants to do - extend the time that your offense is on the field, shorten the game and keep the score closer than the opponent wants.
The Husker defense did pretty well last week, allowing less than two yards per carry average against the Mocs, but that was against an offensive line that was pretty small. Still, you want to win Big Ten games, then this is an area in which the defense must excel.
First Down Gains
Maybe if you took the "sustained drives" concept and said "Hey, it'd be great if we could gain more than two yards on first down", then you'd have something. Nebraska was in third and long way too often last week, with Martinez completing some passes but mostly using his legs to make plays.
If Nebraska wants a successful season, it's going to come on first down. There's nothing particularly brilliant about that, but it will be interesting to see how Tim Beck calls this week's game to assure that the Huskers do better on first downs. Read that as - let's hope we see less power plays trying to run into a pile of bodies to gain yards - this isn't the NFL.
Receivers Block First, Catch Second
Brandon Kinnie and Quincy Enunwa are both good sized, physical receivers. Kinnie had some problems with drops, but Enunwa proved himself solid in the receiving game. Ben Cotton is another guy who's proven he can take hits in the passing game.
All of these guys need to do a better job of blocking. There were a few plays last week in which the play was blown up because receivers missed their blocks completely (whif!) or didn't know who they were supposed to be blocking. The offensive line took a lot of crap for their performance. This week watch for a better effort in this area.
Remember that edge concept.
It's nice to know that if the offense sputters that Nebraska has a new weapon in the special teams department. Ameer Abdullah did an incredible job (especially for a guy playing in his first-ever collegiate game) of making the first guy miss on punt returns, and on top of that, he doesn't make you hold your breath and turn blue like you did when Niles Paul was back there. It's been a while since Nebraska had a real consistent playmaker in the return game.
Brett Maher. Enough said.