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2010 Sep 10

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Five Keys to Idaho

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By HuskerLocker

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Ah yes. The other team from the potato state. It’s fairly appropriate that Nebraska’s second opponent, the Vandals, are located in Moscow. Given all the attention heaped on Boise State, Idaho might as well be in Siberia.

Does that irk the Vandals? You kiddin?

Just as BSU was beginning its meteoric rise through college football, Idaho was trudging through several sudden coaching changes, including a strange one-year stint by Dennis Erickson. When Robb Akey took over - he’s entering his fourth year - the Vandals didn’t have a lick of offense in the cupboard. From 2004-2008, they never averaged more than 350 yards per game.

Then Idaho took a dramatic, surprising leap in 2009, serving as cardiac kids with a series of wild comebacks that culminated, somewhat ironically, at Bronco Stadium, in a 43-42 win over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl that not only preempted on television the beginning of the Holiday Bowl - oh, to see Matty O’s interception! - but served as the “one shining moment” game of last year’s bowl season.

Because it’s been awhile since Nebraska sampled the WAC’s offerings - it was 2008 - a helpful reminder may be in order: These are not exactly the runts of the Sun Belt. The WAC is weak overall, no question, but the variety of BCS cast-offs, partial qualifiers and hidden high school gems from the Pacific Northwest shouldn’t be dismissed. Ask Oklahoma and USC, which got scares from Utah State and Hawai’i, respectively, in week one.

On to the keys, as we warm up the bus for Washington - and really kick this season into gear with breakfast at Memorial Stadium.

Second-game jump: Nebraska presumably put a bandage on all those warts produced by first-game jitters and communication errors. Not only did NU’s defense look confused and harried at times, it looked surprised, occasionally, by the push of the Western Kentucky line. Trust us: The Hilltoppers weren’t doing anything cute out there. The Huskers were just excited and a little out of sync. And without their proverbial defensive quarterback in Will Compton.

Compton’s still out, but LaVonte David and Alonzo Whaley should be more rooted in the scheme and more comfortable with the calls this week.

On offense, look for improved, cohesive play on the line - whether or not that produces more push and success remains to be seen - with better, more complete routes from the wide receivers.

Endgame for Enderle: By sticking with Idaho, the school that wanted him first and most, North Platte product Nathan Enderle did an honorable thing when Nebraska started recruiting him after Josh Freeman decommitted from NU to attend Kansas State.

In doing so, let’s face it: He gave up a very real chance to be the Huskers’ starting quarterback in 2009 and 2010. Enderle’s that good, folks. NFL arm. Good release. Terrific frame: 6-foot-5, 227 pounds.

“He’s an opportune scrambler,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “You don’t think of him as a runner and yet over and over again you see him moving the chains.”

He is a little reminiscent of Florida Atlantic’s Rusty Smith in 2009 and New Mexico State’s Chase Holbrook in 2008. And neither of those quarterbacks cracked an egg vs. the Huskers aside from a couple sharp passes.

Enderle has a little bit more motivation and support from the North Platte enclave, but he’ll have his work cut out for him. Although take this note: Idaho racked up 514 yards at Boise last year in a 63-25 loss. It just simply lost the turnover battle by seven. Maybe the Vandals should take note of that, too.

T-Magic’s Encore: NU quarterback Taylor Martinez is unique. His upper body is sturdy, bigger than most running quarterbacks, his shoulders almost as broad as a linebacker’s. He’s hard to pull down because of it, which is why fans saw him so effortlessly break out of tackles in the second half of the Western Kentucky game. It also allows him to run with lean that creates a snowball effect of momentum on his football speed. Tugging at his shoulder pads won’t do much good if he’s pitched at a 45-degree angle.

Teams will adjust, but not easily. Unless a defense can consistently guess right on run blitzes, Martinez will eventually isolate himself on a linebacker or a safety. And he won those battles every time vs. Western Kentucky.

And if there’s one advantage to Martinez’s throwing motion: He almost has to square his shoulders to the target. He’s not going to sling it submarine-style or short-arm a throw - which Zac Lee did too often last year. I’m curious to see how well Martinez’s mechanics hold up on the run and on deep balls - he wasn’t challenged much there vs. WKU - but he looks much further ahead in the passing game than he was in the spring.

Stingy Vandals: Aside from Boise State, Idaho could have the WAC’s best, most experienced defense with ten returning starters and 26 returning lettermen. This isn’t their first rodeo in a hostile stadium, either; besides playing at Boise every other year, this crop of seniors has visited USC, Arizona, Michigan State and Washington, too. The best of the bunch is free safety Shiloh Keo, who finished 2009 with 113 tackles and three interceptions, but the strongest unit is the linebacking corps. The very folks who required to effectively stop the zone read.

What does Idaho need from them? A couple early stops. A frustrating first quarter for Martinez. The low murmur that runs through Memorial Stadium with the slightest hiccup.

Sack Attack: A hidden statistic from the Vandals’ 45-0 win over North Dakota last week: Idaho’s massive offensive live gave up four sacks despite a pretty, basic vanilla game plan. With Western Kentucky often running max protection schemes to ward off the Huskers’ pass rush last week, it only looked like NU’s front four had a rough game.

If Idaho has designs on competing this Saturday - not just picking up a paycheck - it’ll have to spread out its skill players and throw the ball. And not just the quick stuff, either. Nebraska eats those plays for lunch. Enderle will have to chuck it. And to do that, the Vandals will have to expose him to a pass rush. No other way around it.

Tags: five keys, nathan enderle, idaho week, taylor martinez, alonzo whaley, carl pelini, bo pelini

Comments (1)

Profile image for huskerfinatic5
huskerfinatic5

Pretty accurate keys. But,I think that we will be seeing the QB's,
including Zac Lee,rotate. As for our defense,well...... I call last weeks performance first-game jitters. You know,they're getting used to not having Suh on that line,and we lost Compton and Fisher at linebacker,so those are some slightly significant losses. But,I see the defense improve in this game. If North Dakota can sack Nathan Enderle 4 times,I don't see why the Nebraska Blackshirts can't do even better than that!! Martinez
will most likely be facing adversary for the first time. WKU wasn't that much of a threat,and Idaho's defense is much better. So we'll see how the kid pulls through. Looking forward to seeing him play.

– Sep 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm

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