By the time September rolls around, college football fans are so starved for a game, any game, they’ll settle for a match-up against anyone.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers begin their stint as the new “powerhouse” team of the Big Ten in fairly dormant fashion against the harmless University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs football team on September 3. The latter group is a second-tier (albeit hard-working) bunch that went 6-5 last year and isn’t expected to pose much of a threat past the first quarter. But the Mocs should give Huskers players a chance to work out the kinks on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
On defense, expect Nebraska superstars Jared Crick and Lavonte David to essentially have their way with the Mocs offense, which simply doesn’t have the manpower to protect against them in any consistent fashion. David is coming off a record-breaking 2010 campaign in which he racked up 152 tackles (and six sacks) en route to All American prestige. As a group, the Huskers ranked No. 11 nationally in total defense allowing 307 yards per game. They’ll like harass and bother quarterback B.J. Coleman to no end, and make it a point to ensure that he doesn’t get the ball to the team’s senior receiver Joel Bradford. The latter player could have probably had a surprisingly solid game given the Huskers’ secondary woes, but his quarterback won’t be upright long enough to exploit that weakness.
The Mocs’ other quarterback -- and son of the team’s head coach Russ -- Jacob Huesman is the leader of the scout team, and with that noteworthy distinction, will be doing his best Taylor Martinez impression during these last few practices.
What that means, though, is anybody’s guess.
Are the Mocs preparing for Martinez 1.0, the dual-threat who looked poised to become one of college’s football’s most prominent rising stars in early goings of 2010? Or, are they expecting to see the hobbled, inconsistent, half-threat Martinez 0.5 that fans and critics tore into at the conclusion of last season? All in all, the talented passer threw for 1,631 yards and ran for another 965 as a freshman, but it was far too wild a ride for anyone’s taste. This is a year of redemption for Martinez, and that redemption begins against Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Martinez isn’t the only offensive name with something to prove, though. The Huskers’ starting running back, Rex Burkhead, needs to show one and all that he is ready to take that difficult next step from dependable backup to trusted starter in 2011. Nebraska’s chronically injured, painfully inconsistent offensive line has to step up and show that they can protect Martinez and Burkhead against the grueling defenses they’ll face this year, starting with a fairly easy opponent in the Mocs. And, finally, new offensive coordinator Tim Beck needs to find a way to implement his “speedier offense” in actual, in-game situations – with Tennessee-Chattanooga unfortunately serving as the guinea pigs for his experiment in Week 1.
The Tennessee-Chattanooga defense returns eight starters from a 2010 group that was eighth in the Southern Conference in scoring defense and sixth in total defense, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to do much against Nebraska.
All in all, this is a much needed run for a Huskers team that didn’t get to play with each other as much during camp as they might have liked. Repetition is key when you’re working in a new offense and are trying to get guys who are coming back from injuries to gel with the other players, and game-speed repetition against the Mocs is exactly what the doctor ordered for Nebraska.
Are you ready for some football?