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  1. 2012 Apr 04

    How Bo Pelini can Break the Four-Loss Curse

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    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 11

    NEBRASKA SPRING FOOTBALL: Spring Superstars of 2012

    3,229 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    By Chris Labenz

    Every spring in Nebraska, flowers start to bloom, the weather changes by the hour, students long for a break, and a few previously unheralded Husker football players make headlines, only to disappear when fall begins.

    Let’s take a look at five such players, who will spark interest and draw outlandish predictions due to their dazzling ability, only to find themselves buried on the depth chart come August.

    Wide receiver Taariq Allen – Allen was a surprise addition to the 2010 Nebraska recruiting class, deciding to head west despite residing from Weston, Massachusetts, a state the Huskers rarely looks at for future talent.

    Allen showcased an impressive skillset during his days at Rivers School, running precise routes, exhibiting solid speed, and attacking passes with strong hands for a high school receiver.

    While his competition was average at best, the future Husker was still able to garner offers from Boston College and Wisconsin. Last year, No. 7 spent time studying the intricacies of Tim Beck’s offense, adding muscle, and learning the tricks of the trade from veterans like Brandon Kinnie.

    Now that Kinnie is gone and Allen has another offseason under his belt, the rangy redshirt freshman will have a chance to push for playing time this spring.

    Wide receiver is a position for which practices usually include heavy rotation, even more so in Spring drills. Allen will get plenty of opportunities to show off his good hands and skillful route running, but will likely end up third on the depth chart come fall with Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Quincy Enunwa, and Tim Marlowe all returning.

    All this before considering the arrival of incoming freshman Jordan Westerkamp, one of last cycle’s most highly-coveted receivers.

    Quarterback Tyson Broekemeier – As a recruit, Broekemeier turned down lower level offers to follow his brother to Nebraska with the dream of one day shining in front of 85,000 red-clan fans.

    Now that he’s recovered from a knee injury, the Aurora native will make headlines over the next month by showing off his ability to do what Taylor Martinez has been unable to – consistently and accurately find receivers downfield.

    He completed over 71 percent of his passes as a senior at Aurora High School, and impressively threw 31 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He was able to put up over 600 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, as well.

    While he does not possess the speed of Martinez, or the quickness and elusiveness of Brion Carnes, Broekemeier has more than enough mobility to make a few defenders miss in and out of the pocket.

    However, no matter how well he plays, it won’t make one lick difference unless Pelini and Beck are willing to swallow the tough pill of benching a two-year starter and injuries pile up. Even then, he'd have to beat out Rex Burkhead.

    Defensive Tackle Jay Guy – The robust Texan was a defining piece of Nebraska’s 2010 recruiting class, providing key depth and ability to the defensive tackle position after the Huskers were able to sway Guy away from over 30 other big-time BCS suitors.

    Coming into his freshman season, the All-Texas tackle carried a good deal of unnecessary weight, and like most freshmen linemen, he needed to add solid muscle mass.

    Despite his status as an unfinished product, Guy ended up taking snaps last year due to the abundance of injuries Nebraska experienced at defensive tackle. With Chase Rome and Todd Peat out this spring, the sophomore wrecking ball will get his shot to line up next to Baker Steinkuhler and take on the first team offense.

    However, Rome will almost certainly knock him back on the depth chart in the fall with Kevin Williams pushing him for backup minutes as well. Expect Guy to be a key contributor for the Huskers, but not in 2012.

    Cornerback Braylon Heard – Heard made plays from the running back position last year that made fans realize why he was so highly sought after upon graduating from Cardinal Mooney High School.

    What is forgotten is that Heard was perhaps even more distinguished as a high school cornerback. He even drew serious interest from the in-state Buckeyes to play on the scarlet and gray's defense.

    While Heard likely would’ve ended up being a reliable ball-carrier for Nebraska, Pelini correctly recognized that No. 5’s talents can best be used at cornerback, as Heard possessing more raw natural ability than any other returning player.

    The Ohio prep star will make waves this Spring, but it’ll take at least a redshirt year for him to fully understand the defense, let alone gain the trust of both Bo and new secondary coach Terry Joseph.

    Fullback Mike Marrow – Marrow, a transfer from Eastern Michigan (and Alabama prior), comes into this spring carrying high hopes from the Husker faithful, fans who have always loved a stout fullback to shred winded defenses in the fourth quarter.

    Nebraska graduate assistant Vince Marrow’s son has the size to be the ‘big-back’ Pelini and Beck have expressed interest in finding, it’ll be tough for him to see serious minutes this fall with so many returning playmakers.

    Marrow will get looks at both third and short and goal line situations, but as we’ve seen, when the moment of truth arrives, Bo turns to Rex Burkhead.

    Additionally, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah will be tough competition for the bruising runner, especially in Beck’s spread-based system where the ability to make people miss in open space is mandatory.

    Follow Chris on Twitter: @chris_labenz
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    Tags: sprince practice, taariq allen, tyson broekemeier, jay guy, mike marrow, braylon heard

  3. 2012 Mar 07

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Spring Practice Position Primer

    2,135 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    By Brandon Cavanaugh

    Quarterback: Without Tommy Armstrong in camp, Martinez has no threat to his starting spot. He’s showed tremendous athletic potential last spring.

    If Carnes continues to improve athletically, and the mental aspect of the game can be reinforced, while the gap between he and Martinez isn’t likely to shrink that much, a legitimate backup candidate could be crowned.

    Running back: Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green start on equal footing heading into Saturday and could very well end up where they started following April’s spring game.

    Thanks to Abdullah’s edge in experience during actual FBS play, one has to think he has a leg up on Green. His fumbling problems may level the playing field, however.

    Wide receiver: Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, Tim Marlowe and Jamal Turner will all have the opportunity to solidify their starting roles.

    With the departure of Khiry Cooper, look for Taariq Allen, who followed wide receivers coach Rich Fisher from Weston, Massachusetts, to vie for the fifth spot. KC Hyland and Tyler Evans are two other talents with an opportunity to shine.

    Tight End: Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed aren’t going anywhere, but David Sutton and Eddie Ridder have the opportunity to showcase their potential.

    Offensive Line: Departed center Mike Caputo’s replacement could come from a number of candidates including Cole Pensick, Nick Ash and Ryan Klachko. Pensick and Ash may have seniority, but Klachko sticks out as the prospect with a higher ceiling.

    Brandon Thompson, Andrew Rodriguez, Mike Moudy and Ryne Reeves look to be the favorites to hold down the guard spots. Rodriguez’s attitude has reportedly been lackadaisical, but Moudy and Reeves have the tenacity to step up should he slack off.

    Sirles and Qvale will start out spring at the tackle spots with Tyler Moore giving them all they can handle in an attempt to take one of their spots. Zach Sterup is a likely backup candidate with Givens Price needing a strong spring to assert himself as a legitimate threat for playing time.

    Defensive Line: Cameron Meredith, Jason Ankrah, Eric Martin and Joseph Cater have the end positions on lockdown barring injury. Donovan Vestal and Walker Ashburn need huge springs to hold off the incoming Avery Moss and Greg McMullen come the fall.

    The interior’s been decimated by injury with Chase Rome and Todd Peat, Jr. now out for the entirety of spring ball. Once Kevin Williams and Thad Randle return from injury, they’ll be plugged in next to Baker Steinkuhler in an attempt to hone their abilities, and find a suitable replacement for Rome’s spring absence.

    Having a deeper interior for rotation’s sake won’t hurt heading into Big Ten play. Jay Guy and newly-placed Tobi Okuyemi will have the opportunity to show that their work ethic has improved.

    Linebackers: Will Compton has the MIKE slot on lockdown while Sean Fisher will spend most of his time trying to cement the BUCK slot by the end of spring. Max Pirman could find himself trying to work into rotation behind him.

    Pelini mentioned to look for David Santos and Alonzo Whaley to work at the WILL position to begin the essentially-impossible task of taking over for Lavonte David. Don’t be surprised to see Santos win that battle by mid-April.

    Defensive back: Mohammed Seisay will be one of the most-watched players on the entire team this spring. Not only will he be wearing the departed David’s No. 4, but he looks to lock down the title of Nebraska’s elite cornerback.

    Andrew Green, Cinate Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and recently-switched Braylon Heard will likely get the opportunity to lock down the opposite end.

    Safety: Daimion Stafford, Courtney Osborne and P.J. Smith are the likely candidates to lock down starting role. Osborne’s recent concussion issues may cause Pelini and company to take things slow with him.

    Kicker/Punter: Brett Maher is light years ahead of Mauro Bondi, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Boca Raton native can narrow the gap in the slightest.

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    Tags: spring practice, taylor martinez, brion carnes, ameer abdullah, aaron green, kenny bell, quincy enunwa, tim marlowe, jamal turner, taariq allen, ben cotton, kyler reed, cole pensick, nick ash, ryan klachko, brandon thompson, andrew rodriguez, mike moudy, ryne reeves, cameron meredith, eric martin, chase rome, todd peat, baker steinkuhler, will compton, david santos, mohammed seisay, brett maher

  4. 2011 Feb 08

    RECRUITING PROFILE: Taariq Allen

    396 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Our recruiting profiles offer honest, no-nonsense assessments of the newest Husker recruits! Sam starts with WR prospect Taariq Allen, whose versatility could be a real bonus for the Huskers!

    Tags: recruiting, recruiting profile, taariq allen

  5. 2010 Oct 26

    RECRUITING: Instant Analysis: Taariq Allen

    374 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Sam breaks down the skills and talents of NU's newest recruit. Where does he fit in? How can he contribute early? Find out with a 30-day free trial of Husker Locker Pass!

    Tags: recruiting, taariq allen

  6. 2010 Oct 26

    RECRUITING: Massachusetts WR Commits to NU

    8,019 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska football rarely ventures into New England to fill out its recruiting class, but the 14th verbal commitment of the 2011 class hails from that hotbed of hockey players and hoopsters – Massachusetts.

    Wide receiver Taariq Allen, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Weston, Mass., officially switched his commitment from Connecticut to Nebraska Tuesday night, two recruiting sites confirmed.

    Allen attended one of NU's football camps in June. He pledged to UConn in July, opened back up his selection process this fall, and set a visit date to Nebraska for the Nov. 26 Colorado game.

    He plays wide receiver and safety at The Rivers School in Weston, a bedroom community of Boston. The Huskers last signed a recruit from Massachusetts in 2002 - fullback Grant Miller, who played sparingly.

    Another high school player high on NU's list – San Antonio Madison running back Aaron Green – announces at his church Wednesday his decision between Nebraska, Florida State, California and Texas. Aaron's brother Andrew currently plays Peso for the Huskers.

    See also: Instant Analysis - Taariq Allen

    Tags: recruiting, taariq allen

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