Sunday, September 18, 2011

Huskers still a work in progress

While it was disturbing to see No. 11 Nebraska make Saturday's 51-38 closer than it needed to be, the pluses definitely outweighed the minuses.

The Huskers led 20-17 at halftime and then opened the floodgates by taking a 44-17 lead early in the fourth quarter only to let the Huskies back in the game. Nebraska was never in danger of losing the game mind you but for the second time in as many weeks the defense lost its edge. Washington amassed 420 yards of offense and even more more disturbing Nebraska allowed to covert 7 of 14 third downs.

Granted, the loss of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with a quad injury is a glaring one. His replacement (sophomore Andrew Green) got picked on all day. One would think Green will get better but he is not yet ready for primetime, all the more reason the Huskers really need Dennard healthy this season

You cannot expect Nebraska to have the kind of production in the back end when you have lost four NFL-caliber players (Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes, Eric Hagg (with Dennard still out due to injury.) While Ciante Evans, Green, Josh Mitchell, Daimion Stafford and other youngsters s are taking their licks (and their shots from opposing quarterbacks), it is incumbent on the front seven to generate pressure – particularly the front four.

In general the defensive line (especially defensive tackle Baker Steinkuher) played better than in last week's 42-29 win over Fresno State by getting more pressure on Keith Price than they did on Derek Carr but the fact that the defense did not capitalize on the offense's momentum is rather alarming.

The Huskers are going to need more quarters like the third when they head to Madison, Wisconsin, to play the Badgers.

Speaking of the offense, that unit enjoyed a definite growth spurt. Sure there were big plays but there were also drives. Nebraska had four scoring drives of seven or more plays, including a 10 play march late in the third that was capped with another Brett Maher field goal. So much for the concern over losing alex Henery as Maher is now 7 for 7.

The offensive line certainly deserves ample praise, especially walk-on Seung Hoon Choi and Tyler Moore. Nebraska put up 464 yards of total offense (404 rushing) as for the first time this season first-year coordinator Tim Beck used one play to set up another. On the game's opening play, with the defense thinking run, quarterback Taylor Martinez lofted a 50-yard completion to Kenny Bell to the Washington 3. On the next play, Martinez completed a touchdown pass to fullbak Tyler Legate on a bootleg.

As for Martinez, his passing numbers weren't pretty in completing 10 of 21 for 155 yards but he made much better decisions and protected the ball much better. Martinez will never be an NFL caliber passer or media friendly but he appears to be growing into his role.

It was also encouraging that when the offense had to run the ball to seal the win, they did. Running back Rex Burkhead rushed 22 times for 120 yards and two scores but most importantly, freshmen running backs Braylon Heard and Aaron Green supplied some good relief off the bench.

It wasn't pretty but overall an improvement over Fresno State.

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