Sports

3 Offensive Keys to Nebraska vs. Wyoming

| by Alex Groberman

The Nebraska Cornhuskers offense, love them or hate them, has been absolutely instrumental in every victory that the team has picked up thus far in 2011. Whereas in the past a lot of success could be attributed to the hard-nosed efforts of the defense, which in turn sort of made up for the offense’s deficiencies – that is clearly no longer the case.

With that in mind, there is no reason to assume that this week’s outing against the Wyoming Cowboys will be any different than the ones Nebraska had against the Chattanooga Mocs, Fresno State Bulldogs or Washington Huskies. The offense will need to come to play, and if the defense finally wakes up, then that will simply be an added bonus.

Here are three things that Nebraska needs from their offense for the squad to emerge victorious from Saturday’s game:

Taylor Martinez needs to keep on keepin’ on. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all past the point of expecting Martinez to look like a more traditional passer. He is what he is, and that’s a dual-threat in the most genuine sense of the term. Through three weeks, the Husker quarterback isn’t exactly putting up mind-blowing statistics: 490 passing yards and three passing touchdowns on 48 percent efficiency. On the ground, clearly, he’s been more effective, serving as the team’s leading rusher with 344 yards and six touchdowns – with a 6.7 yard per carry average.

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The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story. Last week as the defense gave up big play after big play and seemingly couldn’t put the Huskies away, it was Martinez’s steady hands and quiet leadership that kept Nebraska afloat. Sure, the officials bungled a few calls and special teams came to play (again), but Martinez’s lack of mistakes coupled with his ability to move the team down the field was huge.

Rex Burkhead must keep improving. One of the truly disappointing things about the first two games Nebraska played this year was Burkhead’s inefficiency. Coming off a campaign where he put together numerous 100-yard games and averaged over five yards per carry as a backup, it was startling to see him physically unable to run between the tackles against the likes of Chattanooga and Fresno State. Especially in that first game, where aside from one big 50+ yard run Burkhead was largely a non-factor, things looked bad.

Against Washington, however, Burkhead seemed to pick up steam. He ran for 120 yards and two scores on 22 carries, and put up an average of 5.5 yards per run. In a very telling feat, that marked the first time all year that the Nebraska running back actually out-rushed his quarterback in a game.

Currently, Burkhead has 5 touchdowns on the year and 247 total rushing yards. The Huskers need another Washington-like effort out of him against Wyoming to show that he’s finally ready to breakout, and be the workhouse that the team needs him to be against their scary Big Ten competition.

The offensive line needs back-to-back good games. Coming into the year, the only thing more uncertain than Alfonzo Dennard’s health was the status of the team’s offensive line. It was a major cause for concern, and when the year began and the protection was sloppy, everyone realized that the concern was justified.

Through two games, Martinez was forced to run at seemingly all times because absolutely nothing was holding the defense back. Along the same lines, Burkhead’s production was limited because of a lack of holes to run through. All of that, in turn, limited the ability of the wide receivers to get into any sort of rhythm, and further down the line, wore the defense out.

Against Washington, though, it seemed like the offensive line finally found a winning mixture. The successful formula featured Mike Caputo and Spencer Long playing from beginning to end, and two groups consisting of Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Hardrick and Seung Hoon Choi and Marcel Jones, Brandon Thompson and Jeremiah Sirles alternating.

The system worked, obviously, as the Huskers racked up 51 points last Saturday, making it the first time since 1995 that they opened the first three games of the year scoring 40+ points.