After three weeks of play, a certain picture of Nebraska Cornhuskers football is forming in everyone’s minds, and it’s very unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years.
A team once renowned for their world class defense and toughness is now getting by on the unorthodox quarterbacking of a dual-threat passer in Taylor Martinez. A defensive unit that could once simultaneously pressure opposing quarterbacks with ease all the while shutting down their best wide receivers, is now playing second-fiddle to an offensive line thrown together from spare, walk-on parts.
The 2011 Huskers, really, are like something out of the Twilight Zone. Of course, the team is still 3-0, so take that for what you will.
Saturday’s 51-38 victory over the Washington Huskies was just more of the same for Nebraska. Somehow, they skated by despite the fact that their defense surrendered three scores in the fourth quarter and could never fully find a way to drive a stake through their opponent’s heart. And now, as a result of their less-than-convincing way of defeating the Huskies, some are suggesting that the Huskers are prime upset-alert candidates for this coming week’s game versus the Wyoming Cowboys.
Regardless of what your opinion of Nebraska is going forward, this past week’s game had a number of important takeaways, and we’ll tackle all of them in this week’s edition of The Good, Bad and Ugly.
Nebraska’s offense finally, finally appears to be firing on all cylinders. Whereas over the last couple of weeks it felt like the Huskers’ only shot at scoring was Martinez doing something special with the ball, the rest of the unit opted to show up against Washington and carry part of the load as well.
Martinez was solid, as usual, racking up two touchdowns through the air (with no interceptions) and one touchdown through the ground (with no fumbles) en route to victory. Running back, Rex Burkhead came alive this week as well, put up two scores and 120 rushing yards on 22 attempts. And the receivers, although nobody really had a breakout game per se, came together with a good solid team effort seemingly getting open at the opportune times.
Heck, even the offensive line rotation that the Huskers threw out there seemed oddly effective, seemingly alternating at just the right times and taking advantage of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses accordingly.
Nothing. There was nothing simply bad about the way Nebraska played against Washington, no middle area. There was just the good and the atrocious, and the latter bit could have cost the Huskers both the game and their shot at a Big Ten title. What was so ugly about Saturday’s victory? Well…
Obviously, the defense hasn’t been up to standard all year long, and Saturday’s outing simply reaffirmed it. Currently, through three games, the Huskers are ranked 61st in rushing defense, 66th in scoring defense, 67th total defense and 78th in pass defense in the country. Those numbers are absolutely staggering for a Bo Pelini coached team.
A mere week after surrendering all of the daylight in the world to Derek Carr and not being able to sack him once, Nebraska gave up four touchdowns (and, again, three scores in the final quarter) to Keith Price. Similarly, after Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse ran all over the squad to the tune of 169 yards in Week 2, they gave up 130 yards to Washington’s Chris Polk without batting an eye.
Jared Crick, the team’s preseason All-American, got his first sack of the year three games in.
The pass rush is substandard. The line play is weak. The secondary is, perhaps, as flawed as it’s been any time in recent memory. And this has been against the likes of Chattanooga, Fresno State and Washington. If it’s that bad against them, what’s the defense going to look like against Wisconsin and Ohio State?
Pelini is preaching calmness at the moment, but if the defense continues to struggle like it has, that’s only going to put even more pressure on the already over performing offense to compensate for the other side’s weaknesses.