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  1. 2012 Apr 04

    How Bo Pelini can Break the Four-Loss Curse


    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 Mar 20

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The 2012 Numbers Game


    By HuskerLocker

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    By Chris Labenz

    Statistics don’t always tell the whole story of why a team wins or loses, but the old adage remains true – the numbers don’t lie.

    During the course of the 2011 season, Nebraska struggled in key areas, and statistics help underline why Bo Pelini’s squad failed to capture the Big Ten Title.

    Let’s have a look at the areas where Nebraska must improve in order to have any hope of getting to Indianapolis for a chance at the conference crown this season.


    - Scoring Offense: 29.2 points per game (fourth in the Big Ten); Wisconsin led the conference in scoring with 44.1 points per game.

    - Completion Percentage: 56 percent (seventh in the Big Ten)

    - Yards per attempt (passing): 7.2 yards (sixth in the Big Ten)

    - Passing touchdowns: 13 (ninth in the Big Ten)

    - Passing yards/game: 162.7 (tenth in the Big Ten)

    “Long” Plays from Scrimmage:

    - Total plays where 10-plus yards were gained - 162 (seventh in Big Ten)

    - Total plays where 20-plus yards were gained - 51 (sixth in Big Ten)

    What the Numbers Say -

    During Tim Beck’s first season as the Huskers’ offensive coordinator, Nebraska showed flashes of quick strike ability.

    The Huskers also continued to lack consistency against the Big Ten big dogs when it came to sustaining drives and converting on crucial third downs.

    The Taylor Martinez-led passing game went stagnant far too often, allowing opposing defenses to play eight or nine defenders close to the line of scrimmage. This boxed Rex Burkhead in, and removed the threat of Martinez's big runs, perhaps his best asset.

    If the Huskers can’t find ways to be more effective in competing passes, especially downfield the offense will again struggle.

    To make matters worse, athletic defenses that can keep Martinez’s running threat in check, and force Beck into making risky calls on third and long will have a field day.

    Nebraska has the talent at wide receiver to complement a solid running game, but only if No. 3 becomes a true dual-threat quarterback on a weekly basis.


    Passing Defense:

    - Yards per attempt allowed - 6.9 yards (seventh in the Big Ten)

    - "Long" pass plays (20-plus yards) allowed - 38 (ninth in the Big Ten)

    Rushing Defense:

    - Yards per carry allowed - 4.00 (seventh in Big Ten)

    - Rushing yards allowed per game - 158.46 (eighth in Big Ten)

    Other Key Defensive Stats:

    - Opponent’s third down conversion percentage - 40.21 percent (sixth in Big Ten)

    - Tackles for loss per game - 4.31 (last in Big Ten)

    - Opponent’s red zone conversion percentage - 69.23% (eleventh in the Big Ten)

    What the Numbers Say –

    Again, the stats mirror what Husker fans witnessed. Nebraska allowed opponents to easily move the ball on the ground, giving up four yards per carry. This led to easily-converted third downs.

    Since opponents had confidence in being able to run right at the Husker defensive line, deep passing lanes opened up against an inexperienced secondary that had little confidence due to poor run support

    On third down, the Blackshirts were forced to gamble in hopes of making a big play since they struggled against both the run and pass, leading to broken assignments and far too many easy conversions.

    This problem only became amplified in the red zone, where opponents could essentially pick and choose how to score. Because of this overall uncertainty, neither Bo nor Carl Pelini could draw up many blitzes and expose the Husker back seven, thus leading to such a small number of tackles for loss.

    Other Notable Statistics:

    - Turnover margin: On defense, Nebraska forced 18 turnovers, including eight fumbles and ten interceptions. On offense, the Huskers lost 11 fumbles and threw eight interceptions, for a total of 19 turnovers lost.

    Nebraska’s -1 turnover margin was good for ninth in the Big Ten. If the Huskers want a legitimate shot at winning the conference, they must win the turnover battle and stop opponents from gaining momentum as seen against Wisconsin, Michigan and South Carolina in 2011.

    - Penalties per game: Nebraska committed an average of 6.6 penalties per game in 2011 (ninth in the Big Ten). The Huskers have been known to draw a handful of yellow flags per game during Pelini’s tenure, and this trend continued in the Huskers’ first year of Big Ten play.

    While there weren't many sideline outbursts, this didn’t stop Nebraska from making costly mental errors, stalling offensive drives, and allowing opponents an extra down which they often turned into six points.

    Overall, the Huskers obviously have several areas that demand improvement entering 2012. If they can turn the passing game into a legitimate threat across the field, and shore up the defensive line, the Huskers can easily top last season’s results.

    However, to return to elite status, Nebraska must learn to focus by limiting turnovers and penalties, which is the tell-tale sign of a disciplined and well-coached football team.

    Follow Chris on Twitter: @chris_labenz
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    Tags: taylor martinez, rex burkhead, tim beck, bo pelini

  3. 2012 Mar 09

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Mucho Hooch-O - Who's at Second...Behind Rex?


    By HuskerLocker

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    The fifteenth edition of Mucho Hooch-O, an audio blog by Husker Locker's own Greg "Hooch" Mehochko examines one of the biggest questions that may not be answered until the fall. Who's Nebraska's No. 2 running back?

    Topics on the docket:

    - Redshirt remorse
    - How will Mike Marrow affect the race?
    - The hybrid that is Imani Cross
    - The Husker backfield's favorite superheroes

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Follow Greg a.k.a. Hooch on Twitter: @thehooch36
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    Tags: rex burkhead, ameer abdullah, braylon heard, aaron green, mike marrow, imani cross

  4. 2012 Mar 07

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Spring Practice Opening Press Conference Notes


    By HuskerLocker

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    By Erin Sorensen

    - Bo Pelini announced that he will be opening up Pro Day and first day of practice to media.

    - Pelini is anxious to start spring football, saying, “I like the potential of what we have coming back on defense.”

    - He also added, “I like the leadership, I like the potential.”

    - When asked about Taylor Martinez: “We watch a lot of film and watch all the things from last year. Last year, he was putting in a new offense.

    There were a lot of new things for him to learn. You put a quarterback in the type of system we run, he had a lot of things on his plate and had to learn what to do. Now it’s refining that.”

    - The status of Jamal Turner was brought up. Pelini said he knows they can move Turner to quarterback if needed to take a few snaps, but that he feels good about the quarterback position as it stands right now.

    - Pelini believes Brion Carnes will have an important spring. He also believes he will bring a lot of competition to the table. “He’s going to be fun to watch.”

    - He would not comment on defensive backs coach Terry Joseph, but did offer up one thing: “He’s about as perfect a fit as you can have.”

    - When it comes to replacing Lavonte David, David Santos and Alonzo Whaley will get the first shot.

    - On Rex Burkhead: “He’s his toughest critic. I think he’s anxious.”

    - Pelini believes the team is ready for spring football: “I like the attitude. I think our guys are hungry. I think they understand that this spring practice is important.”

    - “You have to be ready to live it, and that’s a challenge to do it day in and day out,” Pelini said.

    - On his coaching style: “Every coach is different. Everybody has a different personality. I’m different than JP, I’m different than Tim (Beck). You have to coach within your personality. You have to play to your strengths and continue to work on your weaknesses.”

    “I don’t want to surround myself with a bunch of people who are going to tell me I’m right all the time, because I’m not right all the time,” Pelini said about his staff.

    - Pelini confirmed that Khiry Cooper is no longer with the team and that the decision was Cooper’s. He is set to graduate in May. Pelini also made it clear that the door is open if he ever wants to come back.

    - Jake Cotton, Chase Rome, and Todd Peat, Jr. will most likely miss all of spring practice.

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    Tags: spring practice, bo pelini, taylor martinez, rex burkhead, jamal turner, brion carnes, terry joseph, lavonte david, david santos, alonzo whaley, john papuchis, tim beck, khiry cooper, jake cotton, chase rome, todd peat

  5. 2012 Mar 01

    Husker Heartbeat 3/1: Burkhead a True Champion, Dennard One Mile High and Doc's Final Game in Lincoln?


    By HuskerLocker

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

    - Rex Burkhead was honored as the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion for his work with Jack Hoffman

    - Husker fans are curious about how the new kickoff rule changes could impact special teams come the fall

    - The Broncos are another team likely giving Alfonzo Dennard a hard look

    - Iowa potentially slams the lid on Doc's home court appearances at Nebraska

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    Tags: rex burkhead, alfonzo dennard, basketball, doc sadler

  6. 2012 Feb 21

    Husker Heartbeat 2/21: More Passing at NU, Strickland as New Roundball Coach Rumors and Vote for Burkhead!


    By HuskerLocker

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

    - QB prospect Malik Zaire likes what he hears from Tim Beck about "more passing"

    - Four-star DE Chikwe Obasih will cheer on his sister and see the sights in Lincoln

    - Erick Strickland as Nebraska's next head basketball coach? Probably not.

    - Voting for Rex Burkhead to win the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award ends Sunday, so be sure to get out and vote!

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    Tags: mailk zaire, chikwe obasih, erick strickland, basketball, rex burkhead

  7. 2012 Feb 20

    Husker Heartbeat 2/20: Early Signing Day Strikes, Less Burkhead and the 20 Greatest Blackshirts


    By HuskerLocker

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

    - Nebraska's Junior Day sets up for a better success rate once National Signing Day arrives

    - A little less Burkhead and a little more backup is in store for 2012's running game

    - Ranking the 20 greatest Blackshirts that ever were

    - Shatel: It's time to transform Nebrasketball

    - The Lady Huskers get back to their winning ways by knocking off Wisconsin

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    Tags: recruiting, rex burkhead, blackshirts, basketball

  8. 2012 Feb 08

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Audible Audibles Feat. FWAA's Kevin McGuire


    By HuskerLocker

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    Husker Locker's Brandon Cavanaugh sits down with some of the biggest and brightest minds in college football as a part of Audible Audibles.

    This week, Kevin McGuire, writer for College Football Examiner, host of the Two-Minute Warning Podcast and Radio Show, and member of the Football Writers Association of America joins the show.

    Topics include:

    - The Anti-Offseason Crew
    - McGuire's advice to visiting coaches
    - Rex Burkhead's place in the Big Ten
    - Bo Pelini's tenure at Nebraska
    - Jim Delany's four-team playoff proposal
    - Trimming down National Signing Day
    - An early signing period

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinOnCFB
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    Tags: rex burkhead, bo pelini, jim delany, playoff, recruiting

  9. 2012 Feb 02

    Husker Heartbeat 2/2: Pelini in Car Wreck, Heard to CB? and Vote for Superman


    By HuskerLocker

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

    - Bo Pelini was involved in a car accident; Coach reported fine, car not so lucky

    - Braylon Heard may be making the switch to cornerback

    - Pelini still has a smile on his face despite not landing Andrus Peat

    - Vote for Rex Burkhead as one of four finalists for the 2012 Rare Disease Champion Award

    - Spring Game tickets are available now

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    Tags: bo pelini, braylon heard, rex burkhead, spring game

  10. 2012 Jan 26

    Husker Heartbeat 1/26: Dennard Out of Senior Bowl, Chargers Eyeing David and Burkhead Soon Needs Your Help


    By HuskerLocker

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

    - Alfonzo Dennard won't be playing in this weekend's Senior Bowl due to injury

    - The San Diego Chargers have their eye on Lavonte David

    - Nebraska head baseball coach Erstad isready to prove skeptics wrong

    - Rex Burkhead and Team Jack will soon need your help

    - Reviewed Big Ten plays were overturned 1/3 of the time

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    Tags: alfonzo dennard, lavonte david, rex burkhead, darin erstad, big ten

  11. 2012 Jan 18

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Audible Audibles Feat. ESPN College Football Live's Lyndsay Lee


    By HuskerLocker

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    Husker Locker's Brandon Cavanaugh sits down with some of the biggest and brightest minds in college football with the site's newest feature: Audible Audibles.

    This week, a Husker-centric show as ESPN College Football Live's own Lyndsay Lee checks in with some of the most outrageous statements ever made on AA.

    Topics include:

    - Lee's take on Nebraska
    - The aftershocks of Steve Sipple's Uni Chat-quake reach us
    - Crowd commentary
    - Is Burkhead for Heisman 2012 realistic?

    Finally, the Four Letters' Diva of Digital Discourse goes Three and Out. Will Lee answer the three questions given or call an audible?

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

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    Tags: uniforms, black helmet, black uniforms, rex burkhead, heisman, espn

  12. 2012 Jan 12

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Playing The Redshirt Game


    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
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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

  13. 2012 Jan 11

    Husker Heartbeat 1/11: NU's 2012 NC Plans, Big Ten Transition Toll and a Transfer to KSU


    By HuskerLocker

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

    - 2011 Husker running backs in review

    - Listing off the keys to a 2012 Cornhusker National Championship

    - The transition to the Big Ten hasn't been easy for LSU transfer Bo Spencer

    - Volleyballer Taylor Simpson looks to be transferring to Kansas State

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    Tags: rex burkhead, bo spencer, taylor simpson

  14. 2012 Jan 07

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Three Tales That Made the Huskers' Season Special


    By HuskerLocker

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    By Erin Sorensen

    A blue jersey, a missed opportunity by LSU, the friendship of a little boy named Jack.

    Every season is filled with stories; some good, some bad. However, there are occasionally stories that resonate deeper than any other. These are the ones that define a team and a program, the stories that go above wins and losses.

    For Nebraska, there were three stories that stood out in 2011. They involved trio of Huskers from three different backgrounds. Yet, all three provided reasons that make Husker Nation great.

    - Kenny Bell and his Blue Jersey

    Kenny Bell spent his first year at Nebraska on the scout team. It was there that Bell learned the true meaning of hard work. He is not shy to tell anyone that asks the lessons gained.

    When Bell’s second year began, the scout team was behind him. Would he forget his roots or what taught him the value of hard work? That’s when it was noticed.

    Worn under his game jersey, the edges of a royal blue jersey often snuck into sight. It created buzz. People wondered what the jersey could mean. Many assumed it was his high school jersey. That’s not a bad assumption either, considering Bell is a vocal fan of his hometown, Boulder, Colorado. It was actually the one he wore on the scout team.

    As it turns out, the garment was something much more than mesh.

    The equipment staffed laughed. They refused to take care of the jersey for Bell. If he wanted to wear it, it would be his responsibility to pack it. Bell only forgot it once this season – Penn State. He hoped no one noticed.

    That blue jersey became as much about Bell as anything else. It became iconic for fans that dressed up as the redshirt freshman for Halloween. Add an afro and two arm bands with “F.O.E.” (Family Over Everything) and “T.Hoog” (for Tyler Hoog, his cousin), and Bell became a favorite that kept fans curious.

    - LSU’s Loss is Nebraska’s Biggest Gain

    Fort Scott Community College is well-known by Husker fans. It has produced the likes of Brandon Kinnie, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Jermacus “Yoshi” Hardrick and Lavonte David. Of all the players included on that list, David’s story is probably the most interesting. It is also a testament to friendship.

    When Hardrick was being recruited out of the small Kansas community college, he had some heavy-hitting SEC schools knocking on his door. In fact, Hardrick originally committed to LSU while at Fort Scott. A southern boy himself, Hardrick couldn’t wait to get back.

    There was only one thing stopping him: Lavonte David.

    LSU didn’t want David. Neither did any of the other SEC schools Hardrick talked to. It was clear that Hardrick wanted to stick with his best friend, though. He wanted them to keep playing with the playmaking linebacker. Where Yoshi ended up as a result was in the air.

    Enter Bo Pelini.

    Nebraska offered Hardrick, but before the lineman would commit, he had a single request: Offer David too. The next day, the Cornhuskers did just that.

    The rest is really history. Any fan would agree that LSU’s loss is one of Nebraska greatest gains.

    - Team Jack and Superman

    On April 22, 2011, Jack Hoffman, only five years old at the time, experienced a life-threatening seizure. That unexpected seizure would immediately begin a journey that put young Jack through two brain surgeries, countless MRIs, pathology reports, neuro-surgery appointments and much more.

    While a daunting road, it was one that would create “Team Jack.” The support system that was and is Team Jack grew quickly. It was hard not to want to support a young boy who was so brave in the face of something so frightening.

    It was that strength and courage that caused I-Back Rex Burkhead take notice. Jack’s first tour of Memorial Stadium resulted in the two meeting and becoming buddies. From there, Burkhead began to sport a Team Jack bracelet and his teammates followed suit.

    To Jack, Burkhead may have been “Superman,” but Burkhead made it clear the feelings were mutual.

    "No matter how tough it gets for us on the practice field or in a game, it's nothing compared to what he's going through with his illness and all the struggles that go with that illness. Jack's a great kid. He has a great family and a lot of friends behind him, and I'm really proud to be one of them. He's going through so much, but still manages to stay so positive. He motivates me."

    In 2011, Jack didn’t just motivate Burkhead, but all of Husker Nation.

    These are only a few of the stories that help build the foundation of Nebraska’s 2011 season. Behind every player and coach, every win or loss, are stories that made everything more than just another game.

    Follow Erin on Twitter: @helloerinmarie
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    Tags: kenny bell, yoshi hardrick, lavonte david, bo pelini, rex burkhead, jack hoffman

  15. 2012 Jan 05

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Husker Nation's MVPs of 2011


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Erin Sorensen

    We asked and you answered, Husker Nation. Who is your 2011 Husker MVP? After polling the masses, three MVPs were selected with two honorable mentions:

    Lavonte David

    Andrew Ritta (@AndrewRitta): Lavonte is MVP. Made EVERY big play on defense after Crick injury, singlehandedly won Ohio State game.

    Old Gold Knights (@OldGoldKnights): @BRASKA_4's the most deserving #Huskers MVP. His determination, focus & consistently high level of play were unmatched.

    David was the clear winner here. The amount of tweets received mentioning No. 4 was overwhelming. His season's stats justify the response with 123 total tackes, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions. Arguably the Big Ten's best linebacker, David should be an early pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

    Rex Burkhead

    Lanny Holstein (@Lanny_Holstein): Rex Burkhead. Season would have been an epic failure without the workhorse. His intensity kept us in games.

    This is an obvious as Burkhead became known this season as “Superman” to Nebraska fans. With 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season, he clearly sealed himself as the third best running back in the Big Ten. His legs never stopped moving and the 2012 season seems nothing short of promising for the workhorse.

    Taylor Martinez

    Dean Dougie (@TheRealM****): Taylor Martinez the soph QB had less to work with then previous years. Solid productivity. 20+ combined TD's.

    The second year veteran grew up a lot this season. The once famously known “ball hog” became a team player, opting to hand the ball off more often than not. His numbers were down, but the team’s production was up. With 2,089 yards on the season and a combined 22 touchdowns, Martinez made his mark.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Brett Maher

    Doug Belsaas (@belsaas26): Unorthodox - Maher. Biggest ?mark b4 season. Expected drop off. Ability to count on him impacted how NU could call a game.

    Forget the Capital One Bowl because that miss was a freak accident. Maher’s leg is near perfect. And don’t call him the next Alex Henery because Maher stands on his own. With 59 punts on the season averaging 44.5 yard/punt and nailing 19 of 23 field goal attempts, Maher proved that Nebraska knows its kickers.

    Alfonzo Dennard

    I was completely floored that no one mentioned Dennard. His 31 tackles on the season was not bad. A career total of 93 tackles and four interceptions were even better. When in the game, Dennard was a force to be reckoned with. He was sorely missed at the start of the season when he was out with an injury. He will be sorely missed now that he’s gone.

    Do you agree with the 2011 MVPs as selected by Husker Nation? Head over to the Official Husker Locker Page and vote now for who you think deserves the title.

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    Tags: huskers, alfonzo dennard, lavonte david, brett maher, rex burkhead, taylor martinez

  16. 2012 Jan 04

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: 10 Huskers to Watch in 2012


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Guest Columnist Sean Berger

    10. Defensive Line Youngins: Chase Rome and Jason Ankrah

    Young blood on the defensive line. With all of their playing time this year, much was asked of these guys. The early injury to Jared Crick becomes a blessing in disguise for the short-term future of our beloved Blackshirts.

    9. Quarterback Taylor Martinez

    An obvious selection, the entire fan base expects improvement No. 1 signal-caller. We need to see him improve his focus on protecting the ball when running this pistol-option-hybrid thing that Tim Beck and Shawn Watson developed. This year he improved in checking down on routes. We couldn't have asked him to spread the ball around more. (Thank you, Joe Ganz?)

    He involved nearly every tight end and wide receiver on the depth chart. Throwing the ball away when necessary seems natural for this guy. He may get outplayed at quarterback in his final two seasons if he can't develop new passing mechanics, though. His current mechanics combined with his lack of arm strength for the deep ball are not a long term solution. They're a liability in the games that matter most.

    8. Wide receivers Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell

    Personal intuition tells me that Enunwa will plateau into a "nice" Kenny Cheatham, but we've only begun to see Bell's potential, of which the only ceiling becomes his 6’1” frame. Enunwa prove me wrong! Nonetheless, Nebraska finally has playmakers at wide receiver. Improving hands seem to be the priority, but these guys have speed, too.

    7. Offensive linemen Seung Hoon Choi, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez

    Here's the beef that has to continue to get stronger. These are the underclassmen with playing time under their belts. For the read-option-pistol thinger to continue to evolve, these guys need to give Martinez the running room and the extra seconds of decision time for Beck to utilize his best athletes: Rex Burkhead, Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Turner.

    6. Running back Ameer Abdullah

    All of his athletic capabilities — strength, agility and speed — points to this guy being a consistent No. 2 running back for 2012. He's an exciting player with game-changing capabilities on special teams.

    5. Linebacker Will Compton

    This guy becomes the anchor of the defense. During his last two games, he seemed to be more aggressive off the ball. He's a playmaker in his best moments. I think he'll be a strong leader for the defense because he's just as committed as the next guy to the team's desire to write chapters of championship legacy.

    4. Wide receiver Jamal Turner

    In my opinion, I think Tim Beck will give him a strong look at quarterback during the offseason this offseason. We saw flashes of his athleticism this season. He has the speed of a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Does he have an arm that can unseat Taylor Martinez? Beck is just crazy enough to involve three quarterbacks (Burkhead, Martinez and Turner) if the need arises.

    3. Defensive lineman Cameron Meredith

    I have to believe he'll get some Mel Kiper talk following his senior year at Nebraska. Everyone loves the curly locks, right? They resemble the raw gutsy leader that he is on the field and off.

    2. Running back Rex Burkhead

    The best running back in the categories of muscle and heart, Rex Burkhead didn't miss a beat for a Nebraska running attack that experienced the loss of third-round NFL draft selection Roy Helu, Jr. Every carry by Burkhead featured No. 22 inching out tough-as-nails yards after contract and reminding every Husker fan why Lincoln is the Pittsburgh of the Midwest in the process.

    1. Safety Daimion Stafford

    A hard-hitting safety, Stafford had some great moments in coverage this year. With all of the problems in the secondary this year - the change in coaching, a transition of philosophies, the loss of Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes and Ricky Thenarse - there were almost too many holes to for the Blackshirts to fill in pass coverage.

    Nebraska will need two solid corners to compliment Stafford but there's no overlooking the fact that he was an answer amidst all of the questions. Stafford will be the heart of the defensive backfield in 2012.

    Follow Sean on Twitter: @bergrbergr
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    Tags: chase rome, jason ankrah, taylor martinez, quincy enunwa, kenny bell, seung hoon choi, heremiah sirles, andrew rodriguez, ameer abdullah, will compton, jamal turner, cameron meredith, rex burkhead, daimion stafford

  17. 2012 Jan 03

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The Top Five Things We Saw Against South Carolina


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Erin Sorensen

    30-13 - a score Nebraska fans were neither expecting nor hoping for. Well, maybe fans hoped the score was flipped in the Big Red's favor. Unfortunately, the Huskers landed on the bad end, recording their second consecutive bowl loss. The game was filled with plenty of game-changing moments. Fans were asked to keep an eye on five very important areas. How did they fare in the season finale?

    1. Connor Shaw Was Contained…For a While

    South Carolina’s quarterback saw the ground more than he was probably expecting yesterday. At times, it appeared as if the Blackshirts had the Gamecock offense more than figured out. At others, it was Wisconsin and Michigan all over again.

    The Blackshirts of the Michigan State game made various appearances during the game. It wasn’t consistent, but it was clear Shaw was getting tired of being run around. Had the Huskers been able to keep it up, Shaw could have been worn down.

    2. The Rex Burkhead Show (With a Supporting Cast)

    Everyone saw this coming a mile away including the Gamecocks, The Rex Burkhead Show made another appearance yesterday. However, Burkhead is a player than can break blocks and find holes where there are none, so this wasn't much of an issue. When it seemed impossible for him to run, he broke free. The month-long break was clearly good for his legs.

    Interestingly, Nebraska's offense wasn't a one man act this time. Thankfully, he had a supporting cast that did what they could when they could. Ameer Abdullah scored a touchdown, for instance. That more players were seeing the ball was a positive note for Tim Beck and his play calling. Again, this might not have been much but it was something worth noting.

    However, Abdullah also proved why the ball is often handed solely to Burkhead – he fumbled the ball on the Gamecocks' eight-yard line. Abdullah shouldn’t be vilified for one fumble, but this one was a momentum changer. Fans can expect to see Burkhead in an even bigger role come 2012, making sure his young backups learn to hold on to the ball.

    3. The Results of Team Preparation

    It turns out that “team preparation” wasn’t what should have been the biggest thing to watch for with the Huskers. No, it was “team discipline.” Calling this Nebraska team unprepared would be inaccurate. This team was prepared. You could see it in those several glimmering moments of hope. You saw the groundwork laid that resulted in Kenny Bell’s 30-yard touchdown catch. Unfortunately, you also saw the lack of discipline in the reaction to the following blocked PAT.

    More often than not, players were in it for themselves. The things they were coached to do went out the window. Emotions were worn on sleeves and frustration got the better of many. It overshadowed every bit of preparation the Huskers had. You can watch as much game film as you want, but without attention to discipline, none of it matters.

    The blame cannot rest fully on the players. While they did make mistakes, their lack of composure reflected their head coach who stood on the sidelines yelling at referees. This is a passionate team and fans know that. However, it’s time to start finding balance.

    4. Lavonte David’s Finest Hour

    As was said post-game, “Lavonte David is a freak.” He really is. David had a stellar game against South Carolina. Don’t agree? You might have missed it between every blown coverage and poorly read South Carolina offense. David held up his end of the deal by being where he needed to be, as always.

    If anything, he solidified himself as a desirable early-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. For his size, David is a tough player. When the going got tough, he kept playing. He was also the player to offer words of wisdom and comfort cornerback Alfonzo Dennard after he was ejected from the game. David is truly a special player through and through.

    It may not have been Nebraska’s finest hour, but it surely was one of David’s.

    5. Lack of Confidence by Taylor Martinez

    Taylor Martinez’s confidence level has been a rollercoaster this season to say the least. He has had extreme highs (Ohio State and Northwestern) along with severe lows (Wisconsin and Michigan). How he handles adversity has been a crapshoot each and every game of his career. Yesterday’s performance has been added to the extreme lows for the sophomore quarterback.

    Martinez is now a veteran. He has been the starting quarterback for two years. There are no more excuses in 2012. He has the talent. The confidence needs to be there, too. Here’s hoping Brion Carnes and incoming recruit Tommy Armstrong can provide some stiff competition in the offseason. Martinez feeds off of that competition. With enough coaching, the low-confidence days of 2010 and 2011 could be a distant memory. It’s time for him to be the CEO of the huddle.

    It really has been a wild ride. The SEC once again dominated the Big Ten. Nebraska must be feeling right at home among their conference brothers. The Capital One Bowl didn’t end as fans had hoped and it is sending the team into a long offseason with a bitter taste in their mouths…again. How will it ultimately affect the program? Husker fans have plenty of time to wait and see.

    Follow Erin on Twitter: @helloerinmarie
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    Tags: capital one bowl, taylor martinez, rex burkhead, ameer abdullah, kenny bell, bo pelini

  18. 2012 Jan 03

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Knee-Jerk Reactions - South Carolina


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Brandon Cavanaugh

    - If Tim Beck figures out how to replicate a gameplan like the first quarter against South Carolina, cut him a check for whatever he asks.

    - If Tim Beck continues to be as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotters game to any decent defensive coordinator, tear the check up.

    - Taylor Martinez made progress in 2011. Here’s hoping a legitimate quarterback competition takes place in the offseason to push him to do so even more.

    - Really wanted to make a joke about a Burkhead touchdown being brought to you by Norelco.

    - Tim Marlowe drops a pass and Brett Maher misses a 35-yard field goal. The Mayans were right.

    - While the officiating crew made some severe errors, they did not cost Nebraska this game. The Cornhuskers' worst enemy was themselves.

    - That said, it’s not surprising that Pelini nearly had a Texas A&M 2010-style meltdown. Glad he didn’t for a number of reasons.

    - Alfonzo Dennard deserved to walk into the sunset with his team, not after being on the winning end of a 10-9 decision against Alshon Jeffery

    - There are those who chastise others for being frustrated or even irate with Bo Pelini for losing three or four game per season. It’s not the losses anymore, but rather how embarrassing they’ve become.

    - 29 days until National Signing Day. This’ll be interesting.

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    Tags: tim beck, taylor martinez, rex burkhead, tim marlowe, brett maher, bo pelini, alfonzo dennard

  19. 2012 Jan 03

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Most Valuable Huskers vs. South Carolina


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By James Stevenson

    Offensive MVH: This is one of those awards that’s really hard to give to anyone, but let’s pass it out to Nebraska’s workhorse running back, junior Rex Burkhead. He rushed for 89 yards on 23 carries and caught five passes for 35 yards.

    Burkhead was a bright spot early, and was criminally underused in the second half. It’s not a surprise Nebraska’s offense sputtered late. With Burkhead getting fewer touches, South Carolina keyed on him when he did get onto the field.

    Defensive MVH: Senior linebacker Lavonte David will be sorely missed in 2012. One of the best linebackers the team has had in recent years, David more than doubled any other Blackshirt’s output with 11 tackles on the day, 20 percent of the Cornhuskers’ total. He also accounted for two sacks and a forced fumble.

    Special Teams MVH: On a day where junior kicking specialist Brett Maher had a PAT blocked and returned for two points, and missed Nebraska’s first sub-40 yard field goal since 2009, this award can’t be handed out. Maher did have a decent day punting, but both Nebraska’s coverage and return units had below average days.

    South Carolina MVP: Senior receiver Alshon Jeffery caught four passes for 148 yards. His touchdown reception came on a Hail Mary pass to close the first half deflated the Huskers heading into the locker room. His constant sparring with senior Husker cornerback Alfonzo Dennard led to both players being ejected in the third quarter, robbing the Husker defense of one of its key contributors.

    Lost on the Stat Sheet: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had a solid day running the football as he gained 82 yards on 10 carries. Unfortunately, he was also sacked six times. The resulting loss of 45 yards put a severe dent in his final tally. Martinez looked as good on his feet against South Carolina as he did early in 2010.

    Red Alert Zone: The Huskers converted only one out of three red zone attempts, missing a short field goal and fumbling the ball away on two. In a game decided by 17 points (and a blocked PAT return being a three point swing), those missed opportunities loom large.

    DEFCON 1: Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini came dangerously close to losing his cool against the officials in the second half. He was shown by ESPN berating the officials on the sideline and screaming into his headset. What was disturbing was how the Nebraska football team itself seemed to reflect the lack of composure showed by its head coach. If Bo can’t keep it together, why should the team?

    Another Season, Another Slide: Remember when Bo Pelini was viewed as invincible in bowl games? His defeats of Michigan State, Clemson and Arizona had him viewed as a bowl game and defensive genius with extra time to prepare.

    After Nebraska’s 2010 season finished by losing three of its last four games including a Holiday Bowl rematch against Washington, the Huskers lost three of their last five games to close the 2011 campaign. To put that into even more perspective, the Huskers are only 10-7 in their last 17 games and that record drops to 7-7 in their last 14 games against BCS conference competition.

    Now What?: The Huskers will attempt to fill a small recruiting class with as many studs as possible before looking forward to spring practice. The big question: How will Pelini replace key seniors Alfonzo Dennard, Lavonte David and Jared Crick from a defense that underperformed in 2011 even with the star power?

    Follow James on Twitter: @jamesstevenson
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    Tags: rex burkhead, lavonte david, brett maher, bo pelini, taylor martinez

  20. 2012 Jan 02

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The Top Five Things to Watch for Against South Carolina


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Erin Sorensenn

    What a wild ride it has been. It's hard to believe that Nebraska’s season comes to an end today. Before it does, the Huskers have the potential to set up the off-season on a strong note. A win could positively affect recruiting and make life a little easier going into spring ball. What will it take for Nebraska to seal up a win against South Carolina?

    1. Contain Connor Shaw

    South Carolina's quarterback is going to provide a big challenge for the Nebraska defense. A dual-threat athlete, the Huskers will need to contain Shaw early and force him to put the ball in the air. His confidence will also be an obstacle for the Nebraska defense as the quarterback has settled in nicely to his role after Stephen Garcia was removed from the team.

    The Cornhuskers will have their hands full with Shaw, so look for the defensive line to put pressure on him to throw. While a good passer, his legs are of bigger concern. If Nebraska can force the ball in the air, Alfonzo Dennard can take care of the rest.

    Dennard will be matched up against Gamecock star wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who Shaw is guaranteed to be looking to frequently. If the Huskers can force this situation, Dennard should have no issue shutting Jeffrey down like he did Iowa's Marvin McNutt. A lot will rest on the back of the defensive line. If the Blackshirts of the Michigan State game can show up by kickoff, things will be looking up.

    2. Rex Burkhead, Rex Burkhead, Rex Burkhead (with a cameo of the younger backs)

    Here’s hoping Burkhead got plenty of rest over the last month, because his legs are going to be put to the test today. With South Carolina's outstanding secondary, trusting quarterback Taylor Martinez to throw often is a poor gameplan. The ball will be in Burkhead's hands more often than not and the junior I-Back will need to power through.

    Nebraska's offensive line will be relied on heavily to help Burkhead be successful. Yoshi Hardrick and Marcel Jones have both had stellar games and less than perfect ones, but they will need to be as close to perfect as possible against the Gamecocks. Holding blocks will be imperative, as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will do anything he can to get to Martinez and Burkhead.

    However, running Burkhead into the ground isn't ideal, so expect to see brief appearances by the younger running backs. Their time with the ball will be short-lived, but enough to rest Burkhead before pounding the ball into the USC defensive line even more.

    3. The Results of Team Preparation

    Head coach Bo Pelini promised Husker fans in yesterday's pep rally that they would be proud of what they see on the field today. Hopefully the coach is right, as expectations are high. The Huskers have had a full week to prepare in Orlando, taking yesterday off to rest up before the big game. Practices were reported as "good," but no one will know for sure until it is seen on the field.

    Nebraska was unprepared for Northwestern. A loss that should not have happened, the Huskers learned a great deal by what happens when preparation is not there. It has been an interesting month with coaching changes, but fans should expect to see a focused Pelini-led team. Anything less and South Carolina will take advantage of the holes while running away with the game.

    4. Lavonte David's Finest Hour

    Lavonte David is walking into today's game with 122 tackles, an impressive feat for a linebacker that is being touted as a potential early-round draft pick. For David, the Capital One Bowl is a final chance to prove his value before the NFL Combine. A strong showing and David does nothing but improve his stock for the 2012 NFL Draft.

    South Carolina will try to take advantage of David's weak side and keep him from moving around the field quite as much, but he’s tough to contain. Expect to see David helping to stop the strong South Carolina receivers when necessary, while also holding down the defensive line when possible. David might be dead tired by the end of this game, but he won't show it.

    5. Confidence by Taylor Martinez

    Martinez needs a Michigan State-style performance today, not a Michigan repeat. This will require confidence, as well as support from his team. He’s has had a rough season, but when confidence is there, good things do happen.

    He needs to execute like he never has before. The Gamecock secondary will put even more pressure on his passing, which has potential for problems. If Martinez can keep a level head, he should be able to overcome many problems. It's ultimately about focus. How he handles the pressure will be very telling.

    Will the 2011 season end on a good or bad note for Nebraska? We’ll know soon enough.

    Follow Erin on Twitter: @helloerinmarie
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    Tags: capital one bowl, taylor martinez, rex burkhead, yoshi hardrick, marcel jones, connor shaw, alshon jeffery, bo pelini, lavonte david, alfonzo dennard

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