Official Husker Locker Blog
2011 Sep 08
NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Top Five Things to Watch For Versus Fresno State
After last week's game, Nebraska fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths – one that reminded them of the 2010 season. It wasn’t just the fans that felt uneasy about the win. "We won, but it just felt like it wasn't a great win," senior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie said.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers now turn their attention to Fresno State. This is the first time that the two programs will meet, but it won’t be the last as they play again in 2014 and 2016. While Nebraska and Fresno State will have plenty to look out for as the season progresses, the Cornhuskers have a few crucial areas to keep a sharp eye on.
1.) Offensive Line
The offensive line is young – that’s been determined. True freshman Tyler Moore, walk-on sophomore Spencer Long and sophomore Andrew Rodriguez have been put in roles that demand experience one way or another. With only one game under their belts, UTC provided an opportunity to learn. While most would not wish to call the Mocs a “glorified practice,” it very well may have been for the young talent.
Fresno State will be another challenge for the young line that is working to gel quickly. Maturing as a team takes time, but when Wisconsin and Ohio State are peeking over the horizon, the Huskers are going to have to find a way to grow up fast. The job is to protect and create holes to run through. Without that protection, plays become rushed and the offense falls apart.
What will Husker fans be looking for from the offensive line on Saturday? Simple – growth.
While sophomore Quincy Enunwa downplayed his connection with quarterback Taylor Martinez, it’s hard to ignore the bond that was there. Enunwa caught four passes for 58 yards, leading the receivers in yardage. Even Jamal Turner had a strong first showing, catching a 19-yard pass.
However, for the positives that were seen, it was far from a perfect performance for the receivers. Senior Brandon Kinnie only caught two balls for a total of seven yards. Many passes were often behind receivers and difficult to catch. At the same time, catchable passes were bobbled and dropped. It was a difficult combination that showed just how much work the receivers have to do.
To become truly successful, the passing game will need to become a joint effort between Martinez and the receivers. The connection needs to be there with all wide outs, not just Enunwa. Martinez needs to start throwing the ball more efficiently. This combined with extra effort from the receivers should provide continued growth and plenty to cheer about for Nebraska fans.
While penalty issues were clearly addressed, fumbles were still an issue for the Cornhuskers in the season opener. Fumbling four times, Nebraska only recovered two. Putting the pigskin on the ground for times in the first game of the season doesn’t speak highly of Nebraska’s ball-handling.
Fumbling only puts added pressure on an offense that doesn’t need any more distractions. What will it take to keep the ball in the hands of the offense? It’s hard to say, but hopefully the issue can be resolved by Ron Brown sooner rather than later.
4.) Brett Maher
The season opener was a big success for kicker Brett Maher. Adjusting for the wind, Maher hit all four of his field goal attempts, clearing one by more than ten yards. Maher also averaged 52 yards on four punts. Coach Bo Pelini was quick to compliment Maher on his strong first outing.
However, Fresno State is currently leading the nation in blocking kicks. Since 2002, the Bulldogs have blocked an impressive 59 kicks. Fresno State blocked two kicks in last week’s season opener against California alone. These numbers are important for Maher to take note of as he is aiming to create his own legacy at Nebraska.
Husker fans should be looking for continued maturity with Maher. How he handles himself with the looming possibility of blocked kicks will be telling. Will he fall apart or keep nailing kicks? Saturday’s game will tell us all we need to know.
5.) Leadership on Defense
In 2009, Nebraska had a big leader on the field in Ndamukong Suh. Whenever the defense was on the field, Suh’s presence was made known. It was more than his talent that was brought to each play, but also the leadership that radiated from No. 93. Suh’s drive and passion for the team was contagious and it was clear that other players fed off of it.
During the Post-Suh era in 2010, there was a clear lack of leadership on the defense. When leadership was needed, it appeared as if no one was truly willing to step up. While still very dominant, the defense lacked something in 2010 – a leader. After UTC, two players emerged as strong contenders as the leaders of the defense. Cameron Meredith and Daimion Stafford both showed strong talent and fire. Alongside Jared Crick, Meredith and Stafford have an opportunity to lead the defense to be even stronger.
Saturday will be a game of firsts and growth. The Big Ten will soon be at Nebraska’s door and the Cornhuskers’ welcoming party won’t be too festive if their big problems don’t get solved quickly. What will Nebraska fans be watching for? A big win that actually feels like one.
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