Sports

After Chattanooga Win, Nebraska Has 1 Less Concern for 2011

| by Alex Groberman

Brett Maher has a big shoe to fill.

In an interesting outing against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs, one Nebraska Cornhuskers player surpassed expectations.

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The defense, mind you, did exactly what was expected of them. They harassed Mocs quarterback B.J. Coleman all day long, holding him to a single touchdown and absolutely zilch in the way of actual production en route to a three-sack, one-interception outing. The offense similarly lived up to tepid expectations with their topsy-turvy effort that showcased the good, bad and ugly of a group we’ll get to know well in 2011.

But the one player who actually went above and beyond what many thought they’d see was kicker, Brett Maher. The newly-appointed official replacement for special teams god, Alex Henery, filled his predecessor’s void admirably connecting on 4-of-4 field goals, including two tough ones from 50- and 48-yards away. Similarly, he was impressive on punts averaging 52 yards on four tries. And, on seven total kickoffs he had three touchbacks.

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With the new kicker so admirably handling business on Saturday -- in place of one of the best kickers in history -- everyone had to be impressed, right?

"He was everything we hoped and more," John Papuchis, the team’s special teams coordinator said after the game. "Now you know as well as I do, a kicker is judged on his last kick. So next week he has to bring it, and the week after and the week after. But today he was very good."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement but, tough love never hurt anyone. How is Maher adjusting to living in Henery’s shadow, though?

"I think it provided me with some motivation," Maher said. "But at the same time, I understand what a great career he had, and to go out there and expect to have a career like him is probably a little bit far-fetched. So I just tried to stay grounded."

So, while Henery is off making his bones in the professional ranks, Maher is dealing with the fallout – living in a giant foot’s shadow  and coping with it surprisingly well. Given the level of importance that special teams has consistently played in Nebraska’s success, look for more and more praise to be showered upon Maher’s shoulders as he continues to set the bar higher.

Plus, considering Nebraska’s newfound devotion to speeding up the offensive game, kicking will inevitably get an increased dosage of activity. A faster attack invariably means more three-and-outs, and more three-and-outs mean more Maher. During Saturday’s first game of the year versus Chattanooga, the Huskers were able to convert on half of their third downs – a feat that they won’t achieve against tougher opponents and stiffer defenses. Thus, expect Maher’s magnified role to really take center stage as the season progresses.

For now, though, Maher is left to play the good, humble solider forgotten in the midst of “more important” components. Between an attention-grabbing offense and dizzying defense, who has time for the kicker?