There was little doubt going into Saturday that the Nebraska Cornhuskers would handily defeat the Wyoming Cowboys. And, as predicted, the Huskers thumped their overwhelmed opponents 38-14 in their first road effort of the 2011 season.
More importantly, though, they also gave pundits, fans and everyone in between a taste of what we may or may not see when they square off in the game of the year next week against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Through four outings, Nebraska has been inconsistent at best. In the first game against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs, the offense put up hefty totals, but looked sloppy doing it.
Against the Fresno State Bulldogs in Week 2, the offense looked better, but the defense completely imploded. Week 3’s showdown against the Washington Huskies offered a pleasant surprise on the offensive side, what with Taylor Martinez and Co. playing almost perfectly, but the defense once again seemed out of whack.
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And, finally, this past game against Wyoming offered some similarly interesting takeaways that show us just how far Nebraska has come and, equally importantly, how far it still has to go before next Saturday.
Here are the three most important lessons learned from yesterday’s win:
The offense knows how to do enough to win. By now, Husker fans realize that they have an untraditional quarterback leading an untraditional offense. The notion that Martinez, at any point, will throw for 400 yards while standing in the pocket and surveying the defense is hopefully just a faint memory at this point. Rather, it’s important to appreciate the talented dual threat for what he is, and adjust expectations accordingly.
Once again, Martinez led the offense throughout the entire game against Wyoming’s defense, even if the statistics don’t entirely reflect that. For the day, he racked up 157 yards and one score on 12 of 21 passing, and 37 yards and one touchdown on 12 rushing attempts. The decline in ground totals from weeks past is a direct result of Rex Burkhead’s re-emergence. The starting running back exploded on Saturday, accumulating 170 yards and two touchdowns on 15 rushes for the day.
So long as Martinez and Burkhead can keeping moving the ball downfield, even if it doesn’t come in pretty fashion, the Huskers will be in good position to hang with any opponent they face – including Wisconsin.
The only thing that Tim Beck really has to instill in Martinez’s head, at this point, is keeping the under-throws in check. Whereas the Cowboys may not know how capitalize off those, the Badgers surely will.
The defense is back. Maybe. It’s been a strange year for all involved, and one of the strangest things about it has been the inconsistency of an always-consistent Nebraska defense. After a startlingly weak performance against Washington in the last go-round, the Huskers buckled down against Wyoming and limited Brett Smith to under 170 passing yards for the game. Similarly, they kept the Cowboys’ ground attack in check, not allowing anyone to put up more than 60 yards.
Really, the only question mark now is how quickly the squad can get Jared Crick back and, how quickly Alfonzo Dennard will be able to return to form. Against Wyoming, Dennard had four solo tackles in limited action, but he was still noticeably adjusting to in-game speed. The Huskers will desperately need him to as close to 100 percent as possible to hang with Wisconsin.
The special teams unit can’t walk on water. After three weeks of play, the most reliable unit that Nebraska seemingly had was special teams. Ameer Abdullah, in particular, was a rising star among the ranks as he consistently either brought the ball all the way back for a score in clutch situations or, put the offense in opportune position when they desperately needed it.
Against Wyoming, the special teams unit wasn’t as impressive as all involved had gotten used to them being. In the coming week, Nebraska will need all hands (and feet) on deck against a Wisconsin bunch that can be absolutely lethal, so hopefully special teams got all of the jitters out this time around, and can return to full efficiency against the Badgers in Week 5.