Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Opening games set the tone for process as much as result

I have never been big on a team looking great on opening day (unless they are playing a Top 10-15 team). Let’s face it, getting a group of 18-22 year olds to pick up the offense or defense in fall camp after a summer off etc. Also, the fact they scrimmage each other and not another team makes it hard to get up to “game speed.”

You have to look at the process as much as the result. Remember 2004? Nebraska kicked off the Bill Callahan era with a 56-17 win over Western Illinois but the process was anything but good as the Huskers turned the ball over six times, which was a problem through a 5-6 season. In 2006 and 2007, Nebraska looked smooth in a 49-7 win over Louisiana Tech and 52-9 win over Nevada but had 9-5 and 5-7 records respectively.

We have heard a lot about how players are making each other more accountable on and off the field. Besides head coach Bo Pelini’s persuasive personality and running back Rex Burkhead leading by example, leadership has been lacking. I am interested who steps up on offense and who steps up on defense. Leading by example is great but at some point you need a couple of players that will grab the team by the scruff of the neck.

Untimely penalties and turnovers have prevented the Huskers from making the jump from good to great in the Bo Pelini era. The first place to start is getting the plays in on time, players in the right position and turning the right direction to catch a pass. On defense, that means no misreads by defensive backs leaving a wide receiver running free. That also means wrapup when you tackles as opposed to giving a shoulder block tackle. Oh yes, and no injuries.

On offense, seeing an improved Taylor Martinez as a passer would be nice as well as seeing other weapons besides running back Rex Burkhead emerge. However, it is equally true that receivers need to hang on to the ball and show skills of running after the catch. Of course, the offense’s success also comes down to the offensive line developing cohesiveness.

The Huskers enter their second year of employing a more “up-tempo” offense, which means to run it at its intended purpose, the ball should be snapped off before the play clock even gets under 15 seconds.

On defense, forcing turnovers would definitely be nice, preferably a few forced and recovered fumbles. Those type of takeaways show more desire than interceptions but I won’t turn those down either. It all starts with the pass rush, which the Huskers seldom generated last season.

Linebacker Will Compton has demonstrated more leadership, how does that translate as a player? How much will cornerback Andrew Green improve as a junior? Green was brutal to watch at times early last year but improved markedly in the second half.


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