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2010 Sep 27

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Husker Monday Review - SDSU

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By HuskerLocker

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There’s a silver lining, you know, to that Saturday nightmare. Well, two.

1. It’s out of the way, the ugly game.
2. It’s not as if any team in the Big 12 is about to run away and hide.

The league keeps winning at a pretty good clip - Texas’ 34-12 loss to UCLA notwithstanding. But not one Big 12 team hasn’t been without its struggles through four games.

Oklahoma, arguably the second best team in the league, is 97th in total defense nationally. Is this Bob Stoops or Biff Smoops we’re talking about here? Texas is 76th in total offense with a painfully-bad running game and a fan base ready to turn on its team. Kansas State is giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert can’t shake dumb interceptions. Oklahoma State’s defense is 78th. Texas A&M is 111th in sacks allowed and 89th in turnover margin.

So Nebraska fits right in. Actually, the Huskers are cut above. For now.

I wasn’t stunned that Bo Pelini took a thoughtful tone in his post-game presser. He knew. The Jackrabbits’ scheme was refreshingly simple - make Taylor Martinez throw the ball - and probably naïve. It should not *really* have worked. But the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line. SDSU walked it. Nebraska responded with passivity and confusion. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson - whom I’ve supported more than most pundits - called the game, it seemed, with a vague hope that it’d turn out all right if NU could just get through it without too many disasters.

But a fortuitously-thrown penalty on Derek Domino’s interception return for a touchdown was all that kept the Huskers from a fourth-quarter upset threat. Watson needs to be more aggressive, use those big receivers to his advantage, and play whichever quarterback can exploit the mismatch.

On with the review:

Five Players We Loved

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: He collected his third spectacular interception of the season, and created another for P.J. Smith.

Linebacker Alonzo Whaley: Just had the one fourth-down play on the goal-line stand, but it stole back some key momentum that, as it turned out, might have ultimately decided the game.

Linebacker LaVonte David: Apparently No. 4 picks the wrong times to play well. Twice head coach Bo Pelini has been asked about the junior’s performance in a post-game presser, and twice Pelini has deflected any notion of praise to reiterate that David has a lot to fix.

Duly noted there, Bo - but throw the kid a bone. He played nearly every snap, scored 19 tackles, and had two crucial pass breakups. Statistics don’t tell the whole story - but they tell some of it. David - who’s better as an outside linebacker than playing smack in the middle of the box - is doing the best he can (which is pretty good) with limited training and virtually no depth behind him.

Receiver Mike McNeill: Played sparingly after getting injured on an extra-point try, but his 64-yard catch-and-run with a nice play on the ball. McNeill’s been open this year than he was in 2009; he needs a quarterback who can consistently deliver it to him.

Punter Alex Henery: So-so coverage issues on punt returns weren’t Henery’s fault. He downed another punt inside the 5 and hit a key field goal. He always comes prepared.

Three Concerns

Taylor Martinez’s poor play: Did the redshirt freshman quarterback eat a bad batch of eggs before the game? Sunday film review wasn't pretty. Martinez often made the wrong decisions in the zone read and his mechanics broke down in the passing game. He is not, it would seem, a particularly good thrower on the run. And he doesn’t put much mustard on the deep ball.

He also failed, it appeared, to get Nebraska out of some bad plays when South Dakota crowded the line. SDSU was creeping nine guys toward the line, and Martinez would pivot and hand off to Helu or Burkhead. The 1972 Miami Dolphins offensive line couldn’t block that against that front.

Linebacker depth: Once Eric Martin got dinged up Saturday, the Brothers Pelini chose to play Dejon Gomes next to David. That’ll work against a Division 1-A/FCS school. But NU cannot seriously trot Gomes out there to tangle with Daniel Thomas 25 times per game, can it? Gomes is a corner/safety. He’s a terrific athlete, but you’re risking huge mismatches with him at a linebacker slot vs. Big 12 teams.

NU has two weeks to get Whaley ready to start, or play significant minutes. Kansas State’s massive offense will come out in a double-tight Wildcat formation with Thomas taking the direct snap. That’s a lot of bulge.

Flatliners: Why does Nebraska struggle with consistency in games? Is it a maturity issue? The Huskers had no business overlooking the Jackrabbits - especially not after that 9-7 debacle vs. Iowa State. Yet, to a player, it happened. Sobering stuff. You’d think Bo’s bunch was over that by now, considering how much of a stickler he is for execution.

Three Questions

How does Nebraska handle its first dose of adversity? My hunch is very well. NU plays better angry, with something to prove. Bo coaches better than way, too.

Will NU adjust its run defense for the Big 12 campaign? The Huskers occasionally get gashed. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini can’t be thrilled with being 56th in the nation vs. the run. And yet NU rarely breaks when it does bend. Running the ball against Nebraska takes time, commitment and a willingness to win a 17-14 game. The nation’s top five - Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Oregon and TCU - can play that way. Can the rest of the Big 12? Does Nebraska have to adapt?

Are NU fans ready for ten days of Wildcat chatter from that peaceful enclave in Manhattan? You might just have the Big 12 North game of the year on Oct. 7. Bill Snyder’s last chance at Nebraska. As I entered Memorial Stadium Saturday, I heard a lot of groans when Kansas State pulled out a win over Central Florida. Couldn’t figure it out. Isn’t it more dramatic if the Wildcats roll into an ESPN Thursday night undefeated?

See also: Report Card and Game Photos

Tags: husker monday review, sdsu game, alfonzo dennard, mike mcneill, niles paul, taylor martinez, alex henery, lavonte david, alonzo whaley

Comments (2)

Profile image for MrGoodLifeLocker Pass member
MrGoodLife

The silver lining to me is that it can't get much worse for Watson if he tried. Talk about coaching down to your opponent's skill level.

– Sep 27, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Profile image for Tmagicgreatuncle
Tmagicgreatuncl
e

Lets give some credit to a well coached advisary who came in with everything to gain and nothing to lose attitude. On the other hand no matter how hard the coaches tried to get NU ready, they were not able to do so- they are still college players..... Although play was sloppy and not what we say at Washington, I am sure the coaches will take this "opportunity" to remind the kids that they must play a great game, 100%, every week if they want to get to the BIG game.........

– Sep 27, 2010 at 9:43 am

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