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  1. 2012 Apr 04

    How Bo Pelini can Break the Four-Loss Curse

    2,330 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    By Chris Labenz

    There’s no question that Bo Pelini has had a positive influence on Nebraska football since taking over prior to the 2008 season.

    Since his hiring, Pelini has led the Huskers to four nine-win seasons, making Nebraska one of only seven teams to win at least nine games during that period.

    Digging further into Pelini’s record, you'll find that Nebraska has also lost four games each year, usually falling against ranked opponents.

    2011: 9-4 (5-3 Big 10) 1-3 vs. Top 25 (Best win: No. 11 Michigan State)
    2010: 10-4 (6-3 Big 12) 2-2 vs. Top 25 (Best win @ No. 13 Oklahoma St.)
    2009: 10-4 (6-3 Big 12) 0-3 vs. Top 25 (Best win @ Missouri)
    2008: 9-4 (5-3 Big 12) 0-4 vs. Top 25 (Best win: Clemson)

    How does Nebraska break this “Four Loss Curse” in 2012? There’s no simple response to this question, and it’s likely caused the Husker head coach to put in some late hours trying to solve the riddle.

    Despite the many reasons for Nebraska’s struggles, all discussed ad nauseum in newspapers and on message boards, let’s examine some specific components of Pelini’s team that must be fixed in order for the Big Red to overcome potential roadblocks set.

    While obvious, it’s critical that Taylor Martinez make strides in the passing game for the Husker offense to put up points against quality opponents.

    In the four games Nebraska played against AP Top 25 teams last year, the Huskers were only able to put up 17.8 points per game, 12 below their season average.

    A big reason for this meager output was that Martinez struggled mightily when throwing the ball against ranked teams, averaging a pedestrian 123 yards passing per game.



    This was partially due to Tim Beck allowing (and trusting) T-Mart to throw the ball only 18 times per game, of which No. 3 completed only half on average. In those same games, the then-sophomore signal-caller threw just three touchdowns to six interceptions.

    Since these teams were able to force Beck’s offense to be so one-dimensional, the Nebraska rushing attack struggled to consistently move the ball against eight-man fronts that could play with reckless abandon knowing there was such a limited threat through the air.

    It’s clear Pelini and Beck want the offense’s main course to be the rushing attack, but success demands a more balanced passing game as a side dish.

    If this can't happen, Big Red opponents will continue to feast on the Husker offense, constantly asking head chef Tim Beck for more helpings of Rex Burkhead draw plays and Martinez read-options smothered in three and outs and field goals.

    In that same vein, wide receivers coach Ross Fisher has a lot of work to do this summer in terms of developing the current group of Husker pass-catchers.

    While a good portion of of the blame for Nebraska’s passing woes falls on the shoulders of Martinez, he didn’t always get the best assistance from his receivers in 2011.

    Catching Martinez-thrown balls half the time produced a mind-numbing three touchdown catches. The leading receiver was Kenny Bell, who was good for 35 yards per game.

    These numbers have to improve noticeably in 2012 if Beck’s group is to average more than 18 points against their best competition.

    While Martinez doesn’t throw the prettiest or most catchable ball, Husker receivers have to help him out by eliminating the high number of frustrating drops and hauling in those throws even when they are catchable, but not on target.



    While improving the passing game will be a tremendous challenge, Beck and Fisher won’t be lacking the talent to do so. Along with Bell, Nebraska has assembled perhaps its most talented group of receivers in team history.

    Sophomore Jamal Turner has elite athletic ability and we should see his route running and pass-catching technique develop in only his second year as a full-time wideout.

    Quincy Enunwa is a wrecking ball out wide when he’s asked to run block, and has enough speed and size to be a solid weapon over the middle, giving Martinez a safety valve when things get hectic around or in the pocket.

    Tim Marlowe was reliable in 2011, if not spectacular at times. While it’s unlikely they'll make a huge impact in 2012, redshirt freshman Taariq Allen and incoming freshman Jordan Westerkamp have the skills to be All-Big Ten receivers once they have a total understanding of Beck’s system.

    I expect the first group to be on a short leash this year. If the drops and errors pile up, don’t be shocked if Bo tells Beck to throw Allen and Westerkamp into the fire.

    On the other side of the ball, Pelini must remold his Blackshirts if he wants to achieve the sort of success he became accustomed to while he was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and LSU.

    Nebraska allowed a disastrous 173 rushing yards per game (3.8 yards per carry) against Top 25 opposition last year.

    In these same games, the Huskers gave up 11 rushing touchdowns, five more than the Big Red offense produced.

    Opposing quarterbacks had a field day through the air against the Blackshirts in these four games throwing for 188 yards per game and averaging a shocking 9 yards per attempt.

    Nebraska’s secondary, one year removed from being considered the best in the nation, gave up six touchdowns and only grabbed two interceptions against these teams.



    While Bo Pelini is considered by many to be one of the brightest defensive minds in football, the former All-Conference safety was unable to brainstorm ways to stop opponents on a week-to-week basis.

    Carl Pelini’s departure is potentially good news for Pelini’s stress level and for Nebraska’s defense as a good friend of the head man taking his brother’s spot in John Papuchis.

    The two go back several years to when Bo was making the calls in Baton Rouge, and there is definitely a level of trust between the two fiery coaches which will aid Pelini in handing off the reigns.

    New secondary coach Terry Joseph will have to learn Pelini’s famed pattern-matching scheme on the fly as he works to rebuild the confidence of a back seven who looked confused and out of place all too often in 2011.

    If this new-look coaching staff can get back to basics and teach the Huskers to play fast, smart, and mistake free (all characteristics of Pelini’s best defenses), then Nebraska should get the stops it needs to win close games in 2012 and break the Four-Loss Curse.

    Follow Chris on Twitter: @chris_labenz
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    Tags: bo pelini, tim beck, taylor martinez, quincy enunwa, jamal turner, taariq allen, jordan westerkamp, kenny bell, rex burkhead, carl pelini, terry joseph, john papuchis

  2. 2012 Feb 10

    NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: The OFFICIAL Husker Locker Podcast (2/10/2012) - The Wide Receiver Battle Royale Edition

    1,724 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Explore the Archives

    Vote for Rex Burkhead to receive the 2012 Rare Disease Champion Award! (One entry per person)

    On the docket:

    A podcast featuring questions and topics submitted ONLY by you, the Husker Locker fan base:

    - How much playing time can Jordan Westerkamp expect?
    - Kenny Bell vs. Jamal Turner
    - How will the first month of Nebraska baseball go?
    - Did Alfonzo Dennard hurt his stock after his All-Star weekend troubles?

    Have a topic or question that you'd like to hear discussed? Send us an e-mail or a message to any of us on Twitter.

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.



    Follow the panel on Twitter:

    Brandon: @huskerlocker
    Erin: @helloerinmarie
    Greg: @thehooch36

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    Tags: jordan westerkamp, kenny bell, jamal turner, baseball, alfonzo dennard, podcast, podcasts

  3. 2012 Jan 12

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Playing The Redshirt Game

    6,285 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    By James Stevenson

    An important part of roster management in college football is utilizing redshirts correctly. High school players, especially those that join major BCS programs, are usually not physically ready to play at that level. Even those that are physically gifted must adjust to new college systems and increased speed of the game.

    An initial redshirt year costs a team a scholarship, but allows a player time to mature and potentially contribute significantly in the future. There is a fine balance to the use of redshirts as with only 85 scholarships available, keeping every player on the roster for five years would only allow 17 players to be signed during each recruiting cycle (assuming no one leaves).

    The Nebraska philosophy appears to be that if a player can make a year-long impact, that player sees the field. Nebraska’s success with freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell, who led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns is one example.

    On the surface, it appears the current coaching staff’s philosophy on playing true freshmen is similar to Callahan’s in that players who can quickly learn the system have the best shot of playing early. Countless young wide receivers and running backs under the Callahan and Watson offenses struggled to find playing time their first season, such as Marlon Lucky who struggled to learn pass protection assignments.

    Under Pelini, young defensive talent usually doesn’t immediately grasp his system. Given the sheer lack of depth at linebacker, it surprised some observers that true freshman David Santos didn’t see the field at all in 2011.

    Perhaps worse than leaving a potential contributor on the bench for the year is wasting a potential four-year contributor’s first season by not redshirting them. The most notable example of this in recent years was Niles Paul, who caught one pass and returned two kickoffs during 2007.

    Having Paul in 2011 would’ve been a boost to a young receiving corps, but that season was traded for minimal action in Callahan’s final year. Conversely, redshirting players that will never contribute leaves them on the roster, and counts against scholarship limits for five years instead of four handicapping recruiting efforts.

    Pelini fell into this trap in 2008 as nearly the entire freshman class was redshirted. While this certainly helped build needed depth and Nebraska achieved a respectable 9-4 record, the Huskers are left with players who have contributed little to nothing in Lester Ward, Collins Okafor, Micah Kreikemeier, and Khiry Cooper for an additional season, tying up scholarships the 2012 recruiting class desperately needs.

    2011 offered some significant head-scratchers. True freshman wide receiver Jamal Turner excited Husker fans in the spring game. Despite limited action, he still finished the season sixth on Nebraska's reception chart with 15.

    Similarly, Nebraska played true freshman offensive lineman Tyler Moore early in the year, but his time lessened during conference play including showing up literally once against Wisconsin. After causing a false start penalty, he was yanked.

    Nebraska certainly seemed committed to playing the freshmen receivers and lineman early in the year, only to put them on the shelf. It’s hard to know if these were disciplinary actions, the result of other players having better work ethics or simply fitting in the system better. However, with Turner having arguably the best combination of speed and moves of any offensive skill player, his absence was puzzling. Is a redshirt worth 17 touches over the course of a season?

    The Huskers also dealt with a good problem to have last season what with three stud true freshmen running backs. Two came straight from high school in prep stars Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green. The third, Braylon Heard, had taken a year between high school and college to become academically qualified.

    Nebraska lacked any sort of backup behind Rex Burkhead, so it’s understandable that the coaching staff would try to find an eventual replacement or someone to spell Burkhead. There’s something to be said for having running backs test the waters during an actual FBS game and seeing who reacts best, too.

    However, when you have a logjam at a position with three players, all of whom are used to having the ball all the time, it makes sense to redshirt one of those players. Nebraska instead played all three with Heard and Green totaling 49 carries. At one point, Heard disappeared with a mysterious injury. It looked like he may have been headed for a medical redshirt, but he returned to play late in the season.

    As it stands, the Huskers will have three true sophomore running backs behind Rex Burkhead next season aside from any signings. It doesn’t seem that all three, along with wide receivers Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, and incoming prep star Jordan Westerkamp can have enough touches spread between them to keep everyone happy.

    While the coaching staff’s strategy on redshirts is hard to decipher, there is one pitfall they've avoided: taking a redshirt off of players late in the season. A player who dodges a redshirt year and gets snaps in games while competing to be first string all season is much better than a practice squad player who is forced into action due to injuries. That player than loses an entire year of eligibility.

    Nebraska’s lack of depth at linebacker could’ve been temptation for the staff to play Santos as the year progressed, but they rightfully resisted the urge. That’s something the previous regime couldn’t say.

    Going forward, with a small recruiting class and obvious holes on the depth chart, it will be interesting to see who Pelini and his staff redshirt in 2012. Unfortunately, it’s an inexact science, where only hindsight allows fans to wish that stud players had an extra year of eligibility remaining.

    Follow James on Twitter: @jamesstevenson
    Follow Husker Locker on Twitter: @huskerlocker
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    Tags: kenny bell, jamal turner, niles paul, david santos, lester ward, collins okafor, micah kreikemeier, khiry cooper, tyler moore, rex burkhead, jordan westerkamp

  4. 2012 Jan 10

    Husker Heartbeat 1/10: Westerkamp Makes Final Decision, David and Dennard Bowl Bound and Crouch's Done (Again)

    2,654 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    A daily dose of what's new in Husker Nation from Monday through Friday:

    - Coveted WR recruit Jordan Westerkamp reaffirms his commitment to Nebraska

    - Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard received their Senior Bowl invitations

    - Eric Crouch is done with football...for real, this time

    - There's room for both hope and growth under Pelini's umbrella

    Follow us on Twitter: @huskerlocker
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    Tags: jordan westerkamp, lavonte david, alfonzo dennard, eric crouch, bo pelini

  5. 2012 Jan 10

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL RECRUITING: Why Retaining Jordan Westerkamp is Huge for Nebraska

    897 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Why is Westerkamp's presence in Lincoln huge and what tipped his final decision in Nebraska's favor?

    Tags: jordan westerkamp, recruiting

  6. 2012 Jan 09

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL RECRUITING: Jordan Westerkamp Stays a Husker

    2,831 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska's 4-star wide receiver pledge Jordan Westerkamp has decided he will not flip his commitment to Notre Dame. He told Jason Sapp of Blue and Gold Illustrated via text, "I have decided to stay a Husker."

    He then told BigRedReport.com, "I love everything about NU."

    Just before the two reports came out, Westerkamp (@JordanWesty81) tweeted: "GBR!"

    This is big news for the Nebraska Cornhuskers heading into National Signing Day on February 1st.

    Tags: jordan westerkamp, recruiting

  7. 2011 Dec 22

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL RECRUITING: A New Commit and Regrouping

    970 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    A wrap up of Nebraska's newest recruit, another that's on the fence, a Big Ten battle coming down to the wire an the audience of coaches visits Tommy Armstrong

    Tags: mohammed seisay, jordan westerkamp, quanzell lambert, tommy armstrong

  8. 2011 Dec 15

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL RECRUITING: Notes From the Recruiting Trail - 12/15

    898 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Some troubling news hits the Husker recruiting effort.

    Tags: jordan westerkamp, ronnie stanley, zaire anderson

  9. 2011 Nov 10

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL RECRUITING: Jordan Westerkamp Update

    783 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Find out what Nebraska's stud receiver commit has been up to.

    Tags: jordan westerkamp, brandon kinnie

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