There is something to be said for not counting your chickens before they hatch, but this unwavering pessimism about the Nebraska Cornhuskers is getting to be a bit tedious. O
On Saturday, the Huskers picked up their third victory in as many games with a 51-38 thriller versus the Washington Huskies. If you go by what the pundits and fans are saying, however, that’s no reason to rejoice. Doom and gloom are just around the corner and, the sky – well that’s definitely about to fall on Bo Pelini and Co.
The Huskers have two things working against them as they progress through their 2011 campaign. One, they’ve been pretty successful under Pelini’s regime and, at this point, improvement is expected.
Two, this year, despite shifting from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, the polls determined that they are/were worthy of a No.10ish rank in the country. As a result of these two pesky circumstances and a looming sense of unease due to how 2010 ended, fans and critics alike have taken to looking for reasons to deem the Huskers overrated or unworthy of the praise levied upon them in the early going.
Here is what we know:
Taylor Martinez, although he’s doing it unconventionally, is leading the offense and surpassing expectations. Yes, the stats aren’t exactly what you would like to see from the passer at the helm of your program and, yes, he does have a certain run-first-ask-questions-later mentality.
But none of that cancels out Martinez’s productivity which, to date, has been good enough to compensate for the defense’s noticeable issues through three games.
Against Washington, he put up two scores through the air (with no interceptions) and one on the ground (with no fumbles). More importantly, though, he showed an inherent ability to check down the defense and actually understand what was going on in front of him – precisely what is asked of any starting quarterback.
Also, we can now safely proclaim that Rex Burkhead is finally back on track. This past Saturday, the Huskers’ starting running back racked up 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He averaged an impressive 5.5 yards for the outing and showcased his unheralded ability to run through the defense, something that he hadn’t done in his two prior underwhelming efforts against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs and Fresno State Bulldogs. On top of it all, his production was timely – with all but 84 of his yards coming in the second half.
Burkhead’s awakening can be directly attributed to the continuing improvement of the protection up front, with Nebraska’s much maligned offensive line doing precisely what was needed to keep Washington’s defense at bay.
It appears as though the Huskers have finally solidified their rotation, with the winning formula featuring Mike Caputo and Spencer Long playing from start to finish and two groups consisting of Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Hardrick and Seung Hoon Choi and Marcel Jones, Brandon Thompson and Jeremiah Sirles alternating. For all of the talk about how they were and are a major liability for Nebraska, the protection up front has managed to do something that other Husker lines haven’t since 1995 – allow the offense to score at least 40 points in the first three games of a season (yes Jon Johnson, it’s an excellent stat).
Heck, even the receiving core is stepping up. While there is no breakout star in the unit as many expected there would be (although Jamal Turner does have All-American swagger), Martinez has had no trouble spreading the ball around to a myriad of guys ready to come down with the necessary catch.
So, any way you cut, the offense is exceeding everyone’s preseason expectations.
Now, obviously, the defense has problems that are going to need to be addressed. Starting from that slip in the secondary against Chattanooga that prevented that ballgame from being a complete shutout, and ending with the Huskers’ inability to put the Huskies away for good on Saturday after countless opportunities, the problems are pretty blatant.
That being said, there is absolutely no one you would rather have at the helm of a defensive unit that needs improvement than Pelini. He will identify the proper way to make up for the squad’s obvious lack of playmakers in the secondary, and address that problem accordingly.
It’s not as if there is some mysterious ailment that’s bringing down the Nebraska defense. We all see it. The team can’t bring sufficient pressure on the quarterback because of a domino effect initially caused by a lack of confidence in the secondary's ability to protect against the throw. Losing experience and talent will do that to a unit. But, again, it’s much easier to fight the disorder you see versus the one you can’t figure out.
Finally, everyone who watched Saturday’s game saw the blown calls. Yes, the officials certainly helped Nebraska out – this is undeniable. That being said, bad calls are as innate a part of football as concussions and sleazy boosters, and acting as though they don’t happen every week andm at some point, to every team, is ridiculous. This week, the Huskers got the calls. Down the line, they won’t. It happens.
For now, everyone should simply take a step back and breathe deep. Despite all of the worrying and all of the naysayers, the Huskers are 3-0. To date, they have yet to win by less than 13 points. The offense is overachieving. The defense will improve. The sky will not fall on Lincoln. The earth will keep spinning.
Winning is winning and, so long as Nebraska keeps winning, how it happens will become less important with each passing game.