The Nebraska Cornhuskers haven’t had a problem winning in 2011. Two games, two victories.
Simple enough, right?
And yet, there seems to be a strange uneasiness in the Lincoln air. A certain dissatisfaction regarding just how these victories have been coming. Against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs, mind you, Nebraska pounded its opponents by 33 points. Then, last week, versus the Fresno State Bulldogs, the Huskers put forth a slightly more sloppy performance, but still managed to beat their surprisingly fiery opponents by 13 points.
Any way you cut it, the Huskers have won both of the games they played – and they’ve done so with a comfortable final margin.
So, is all of the uncertainty regarding the Huskers completely unfounded and baseless? Absolutely not.
Nebraska has a very tough in-conference schedule in 2011 with games against Wisconsin, Ohio State and a myriad of other Big Ten programs. In the early going, however, they are pitted against a bunch of weaker teams like Chattanooga, Fresno State, Washington and Wyoming against whom, theoretically, they would play well against to build up momentum for more difficult games in the future.
Only, that hasn’t happened yet.
Against Chattanooga, although the team dominated from start to finish, there were certain problem signs that immediately caught the eyes of Husker faithful. For one thing, Taylor Martinez, the team’s surprisingly polarizing passer, rarely surveyed the field in the pocket or delivered timely passes. Although he essentially ran all over the Mocs’ defensive unit, largely at will, he simply couldn’t put together any sort of consistency via the air attack. That, coupled with the young offensive line’s struggles in holding the inferior Chattanooga defense off to give Martinez some time to throw, was equally disconcerting.
The game with Fresno State brought forth a whole new set of worries. Shockingly, an average Bulldogs team hung in the game for the entire first half and part of the third quarter, at times looking like the best squad on the field. It took a very strong effort from Martinez and the rest of the offense (plus a big play from Ameer Abdullah) to get the Huskers back into it and eventually allow them to come out victorious. Most troubling in the game, however, was the defense’s inability to, well, do just about anything against Derek Carr and a largely young and inexperienced offensive line (pot meet kettle, I know).
So, despite two wins in as many games and 46 points scored more than the opposition, Nebraska still has to prove itself as being worthy of all of the preseason hype.
Fortunately, there is plenty of time to right the ship and, with Bo Pelini, the Huskers likely possess leadership at the top to accomplish this feat.
First and foremost, regardless of how committed Tim Beck is to implementing this run-and-gun offensive scheme of his, he must make time in it for Martinez to have time to survey the field and have a pass-first mindset. Two, Rex Burkhead must get involved. Beck has to make the running attack that doesn’t come as a byproduct of Martinez’s innate ability to scramble from defenses a priority. Three, limit the live-or-die plays. Through two games, the team has put up 499 yards on 12 plays. They’ve also put up a yard or less 54 times. Unacceptable.
Finally, Pelini must gauge what it is that took the defensive unit off kilter in the last game. Was it Beck’s offense not giving them enough time to breath? Did Fresno State’s offensive scheme really simply catch Nebraska off-guard as Carl Pelini continues to maintain? Was this the absence of Alfonzo Dennard and the subsequent need to compensate for his presence finally rearing its ugly head?
The Huskers didn’t get the No. 10 ranking in the country based off of the colors of their pretty uniforms. Contrary to what many would have you believe, the hype going into 2011 wasn’t unfounded, and it wasn’t baseless. This is a team worthy of the praise that has been piled on in the preseason. One problem: It just hasn’t lived up to it – yet.
There’s no time to start like the present, though. If Pelini and Co. really want to silence the doubters, one dominant effort against Washington will more than do the trick.