It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the 2-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Why exactly?
The Huskers have been forced to deal with the unfortunate consequences that come from beating weak opponents in less-than-impressive fashion. Fortunately for them, there is still plenty of time to right the ship against two substandard opponents in the coming weeks -- and prep for Big 10 play.
The first such inferior opponent, the Washington Huskies, will make their first trip to Nebraska since 1998 riding a similarly topsy-turvy 2-0 start against equally unimpressive opponents. The difference, of course, is that Washington isn’t burdened by a No. 10 ranking in the country and massive expectations from a rabid fan base. For them (this is only the second time in 10 years they’ve started 2-0) the Huskies last couple of weeks have been a sign of good times ahead, and beating the “overhyped” Huskers would simply be icing on the cake.
They also, as it turns out, happen to be the perfect guinea pigs for Nebraska.
The truth is, while the Huskers have no doubt experienced some growing pains in the 33- and 13-point victories over the last two weeks, their problems haven’t been particularly tough to diagnose. Really, the hardest part is fixing the problem. But, as any doctor will tell you, curing ailments you know are there is much easier than battling against something you can’t see.
If the Huskers can fix these problems -- or at least put a band-aid over them -- then they will be in good position to put together a dominant win against the Huskies.
Protect the football. Bo Pelini should line the team up in front of a chalkboard, and make everyone write “No more fumbles!” 100 times. Heck, in the case of Taylor Martinez, maybe 200 times. The Huskers’ quarterback has been responsible for five fumbles in the last two games alone. In 14 games with Nebraska, he has accumulated 21 fumbles. In nine games last year, he fumbled at least once in each one.
Not that the rest of the team is much better. As a group, Nebraska racked up seven total fumbles, which means that on top of the person who handles the ball the most over the course of the game trying to give the ball away, on two other occasions others have attempted to do the same. This is simply not conducive to winning and will (not might will) bite the Huskers in the you-know-what before all is said and done.
This game against Washington is the perfect opportunity for Martinez and the rest of the gang to practice holding on tight to the ball against a defense that is anything but imposing. Habits take a long time to form, and protecting the ball is a habit like any other.
Play Nebraska defense. Everyone is allowed a bad game, and the Huskers ‘D’ had theirs against Fresno State this past Saturday. They let the other squad’s quarterback, Derek Carr, mosey along untouched for the entire game to the tune of 250+ yards, all the while not sacking him once. Not once. Furthermore, they also allowed Fresno State running back, Robbie Rouse, to carve them up for 169 yards on 36 carries. And, of course, if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there were the battles that they lost along the way: snaps, time of possession and yardage.
Pelini no doubt let the group have it this week, and it would be shocking to see them come out with anything but absolute rage this week – trying to make everyone forget about the embarrassment that was their effort versus Fresno State.
Get Rex Burkhead going. As the Bulldogs were quick to showcase, the offense tends to move a lot smoother when multiple parts of it are functioning according to plan. Thus far, the Huskers’ plan of attack has been Martinez surveying the field very briefly, and then taking off at the first sign of trouble. Now, to be fair, the offensive line hasn’t given him a lot to work with.
One of the downsides to this run-and-gun approach by Martinez, however, is that Burkhead has been unable to get into any sort of rhythm and, as such, hasn’t been able to provide any legitimate backup to the quarterback in terms of being a secondary scoring option. Getting Burkhead back into the flow is absolutely vital to Nebraska’s success in the coming week and, there is no better time to get into the swing of things than this Saturday versus Washington.