After all of the endless preparation, all of the talk, and all of the speculation – the Nebraska Cornhuskers will set off on their mission to nab at least a Big Ten Championship on Saturday when they square off against the Chattanooga Mocs at home.
Mocs head coach Russ Huesman realizes that the road through Nebraska is a tough one, but he’s used to things not coming easy. Ever since taking over at Chattanooga, Huesman has been leading the school on a slow and steady -- albeit, at times rocky -- road to redemption.
Over the last two seasons, the program has put together consecutive 6-5 years, an accomplishment that isn’t particularly awe-inspiring until you realize that with their 5-3 record in the Southern Conference in 2010, the school garnered the most league wins since 1985.
The Huskers, of course, boast a fierce defensive core that can inflict serious damage against even the best of teams, so understandably, there is doubt regarding how the No. 21 ranked FCS school will fare. Nebraska ranked nine in scoring defense last year, and 11th in yards allowed. Still, B.J. Coleman and Joel Bradford come into this game hoping to send an emphatic message, especially given the moderate success they experienced moving the ball -- on the FCS level -- in 2010.
Coleman, in particular, put together a 26-touchdown, 13-interception campaign en route to nearly 3,000 yards and 56 percent efficiency. Bradford, for his part, was responsible for bringing in eight touchdowns on 81 catches and a school record 1,284 yards.
On the ground, J.J. Jackson will hope to do some damage of his own after starting a mere four games in 2010, and scoring three times on a limited amount of carries. Considering the noted weaknesses of the Mocs’ offensive line, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be a factor against Nebraska in this one, though.
As a group, Chattanooga averaged 430 yards per game for a total of nearly 32 points per outing. While it’s almost a given that Jared Crick, Lavonte David and the like will destroy the Mocs in the middle, the lack of secondary depth for the Huskers could mean a big play or two for Bradford – assuming Coleman can stay on his feet long enough to deliver him the ball.
Although the Nebraska offense isn’t exactly sending shivers down the spine of Big Ten teams just yet, it should be sufficient enough to run all over a less-than-stellar Mocs defense. Last year, Chattanooga allowed 31.2 points per game and 370 yards of total offense – good enough for 80th in the FCS. Similarly, they were 95th in scoring defense. Taylor Martinez’s 2011 expectations, Rex Burkhead’s increased role, the offensive line’s injury concerns and Tim Beck’s new offensive plans have been discussed ad nauseum – so now it’s just time to see it all in action.
In 2010, Second-Team All-Southern Conference linebacker Ryan Consiglio was the defensive star the Mocs, racking up a team-leading 110 tackles, but it remains to see how he does against a Huskers offensive line that’s coming in with some problems of their own. Kadeem Wise, the South Conference’s Freshman of the Year is flying high after a 29-tackles, six interceptions campaign, and is another player to keep an eye on – particularly given Martinez’s likely jitters in the first game of the year.
All in all, this could prove to be a somewhat interesting showing in the early going if Coleman can stay on his feet long enough to exploit Nebraska’s secondary woes. And, on the other side of the field, if the Mocs substandard defense finds a way to give the chronically injured Huskers offensive line and inconsistent quarterback some trouble – Bo Pelini may just cut the entire team before Week 2.
Nebraska and Chattanooga will kick off at 2:30 p.m., CDT.