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  1. 2010 Mar 10

    50 Huskers to Know: No. 19


    By HuskerLocker

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    RB Dontrayevous Robinson 6-1, 215, So.

    We liked this kid before the 2009 season began. He seemed determined, angry in drills. He’s serious about being a complete back, and when pressed into service, he seemed chastened by his costly fumble in the Iowa State game (although it was only one of nine turnovers).

    Robinson is a strong, straight-ahead, no-fuss runner who needs to improve his speed and ball security. He could also stand to get a few moves, instead of attacking defenders like Christian Okoye. Once Robinson learns to run with a little patience and flow - while maintaining that tenacity, he’ll become what Quentin Castille was on his way to becoming before he got booted from the team.

    Another advantage of playing Robinson is that, because of his playing experience at Euless (Tex.) Trinity High School, he’s versatile. He can catch passes and pass block. That’s more than could be said of Roy Helu or Castille when they entered college.

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    Tags: 50 huskers to know 2010, traye robinson

  2. 2009 Nov 03

    Podcast 11/3: Injury/TV Update


    By HuskerLocker

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    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

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    Tags: podcasts, roy helu, traye robinson, volleyball, kyler reed

  3. 2009 Nov 02

    What You Don't Know About NU's Newest Weapon...


    By HuskerLocker

    Tim Beck reveals what makes the quiet, intense Dontrayevous Robinson tick. Cool inside stuff! Want to know? You can with a 14-day free trial to Husker Locker Pass!

    Tags: tim beck, traye robinson

  4. 2009 Nov 02

    Husker Monday Review: Baylor


    By HuskerLocker

    Right after Bo Pelini was hired to coach Nebraska in 2007, a good helping of Cornhusker fans, well-versed in both modern and historical college football, pointed to this upcoming week as an early mid-term, if you will, on NU's progress under Pelini.

    A home game vs. Oklahoma, the standard-bearer of the Big 12 in the 21st Century, coached by Pelini's old buddy, Bob Stoops. If Pelini had a grace period of, say, 20 games – he's coached 21 thus far – OU, with its balance, talent, speed and reputation, would be an apt measuring stick for how far the Huskers had come – and how far, still, they had to go.

    As we stand here now, with both fighters bruised and frustrated, it's harder to see that stick in the mist of injuries, offensive woes and close, painful losses.

    But it's still there. And all of Nebraska's goals are still there, too. The Huskers control their destiny. Win out and punch a ticket to Dallas and the Big 12 Championship vs. Texas. Win out, and NU, with its fan base and classy reputation, is guaranteed no worse than the Holiday Bowl to tangle with another of Pelini's mentors, Pete Carroll and his USC Trojans.

    Yes – win out, and a fairly cool prize awaits at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box.

    NU's 20-10 victory over Baylor isn't the kind you love to relive, aside from one particular performance. We'll do it anyway, with an eye on the big stick that Nebraska would very much like to carry into the final quarter of its season – after measuring up to it, of course.

    Five Players We Loved

    Defensive tackle Jared Crick: Opponents pay so much attention to Ndamukong Suh that Crick feasts on the single-blocker approach. But Saturday, he tossed those blockers aside and chased Baylor quarterback Nick Florence like a wolfman. Thirteen tackles? Absurd. Crick's small-town persona only adds to the appeal.

    Linebacker Eric Martin: He's been threatening to make a big special teams play all year; Saturday, he finally made it by setting up a blocked punt that was returned by Justin Blatchford for the Huskers' first touchdown. If Martin is able to make the leap defensive back Alfonzo Dennard made from his freshman to sophomore season, watch out.

    Quarterback Cody Green: Warts and all, Green ran hard, competed bravely and generally seemed in command. He's got some work to do, particularly on timing routes, but he's finally a position to do something about it on the field.

    Punter/kicker Alex Henery: Nailed two important field goals – Baylor's Ben Parks missed a chip shot of his own – and made a touchdown-saving tackle on a wild BU punt return right at the end of the game. Athlete first. Kicker second.

    Cornerback Prince Amukamara: One terrific interceptions with three more pass breakups to boot. Amukamara rebounded from a so-so game vs. Texas Tech with a strong performance here.

    Three Concerns We Have

    No Daylight: Nebraska ran the ball 19 times in the second half for 61 yards. How many teams is that going to beat? The beefy offensive line has to earn its keep.

    Going Horizontal: Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson laid off the sideways passes for the first half. Then, with a seemingly comfy 20-0 lead, he started getting cute again, trying to burn Baylor for loading the box by throwing 20 yards sideways, in the hopes of creating one-on-one situations on the perimeter. You all know what eventually happened. If Watson wants to go horizontal, here's a thought: Run wide receiver sweeps.

    Shaky coverage: Baylor was close on a couple kick and punt returns to busting one open for a touchdown. The Huskers have to keep lane discipline and learn to break down and tackle better, instead of searching for the killshot.

    Reviewing The Five Keys

    Play to win, not to dominate: Nebraska did just that with a modest offensive gameplan and a defensive strategy that called for maximum coverage and zero blitzes. The result? Seven sacks and three turnovers on defense. Safe to say the plan worked.

    Match up and move it: Dejon Gomes, Lance Thorell and Sean Fisher probably were exhausted by game's end, running in and out of the game as NU mixed and matched nickel, dime and dollar coverages, but the Huskers were rarely out of position, and almost always had double coverage on the deep receiver, which led to Gomes' interception. The Huskers were lucky that Florence wasn't more accurate on that skinny slant pattern to Kendall Wright, though.

    Neutralize the earth-movers: Baylor couldn't do anything against Crick and Suh, while Nebraska had initial success against the Bears' front four, with that success waning by the second half.

    Traye and Jay: Dontrayevous Robinson looked like Nebraska's best running option until he got hurt in the fourth quarter; Robinson, like Green, competes hard on every play. BU's Jay Finley was not a factor.

    Bo vs. Briles: Baylor head coach Art Briles threw the kitchen sink at Nebraska, and the Brothers Pelini dodged nearly every bullet and landed some haymakers of their own. NU won this coaching chess match with a big dose of help from Crick and Suh.

    Three Questions We Still Have

    Is Roy Helu anywhere near getting healthy? Why did he play Saturday? Repeat: Why? If Nebraska couldn't beat Baylor without Helu – and, just for the record, the Huskers pretty much did – then Nebraska had no business winning, period. Helu should have stayed home and nursed his injured shoulder.

    Where in the world is Mike McNeill, and how does Watson get him involved in the offense again? McNeill's too good to be wasted on well-covered tight end routes. Give the kid a chance to work on the edge and use his size advantage. He's a mismatch waiting to happen. Isn't Watson all about that?

    Can the Nebraska crowd find some inner resolve? And create a nightmarish atmosphere for Oklahoma this week? Memorial Stadium needs to be the toughest environment that OU quarterback Landry Jones has ever played in.

    Tags: husker monday review, baylor game, jared crick, ndamukong suh, prince amukamara, cody green, traye robinson, alex henery, bo pelini, mike mcneill, roy helu

  5. 2009 Oct 31

    COMMENTARY: Offense Still Under Siege


    By HuskerLocker

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    WACO, Texas - Finally. Maybe. We think. We hope. Sigh.

    Yes, it's like that, right now, for Nebraska's offense. For Nebraska, period.

    NU seemed to locate its offensive identity Saturday in 20-10 win over Baylor. For a half, anyway. It's not fully-formed, it still remains trapped a bit in the inane intricacies of West Coast Offense, but it's a start. Maybe. We think. We hope. Sigh.

    Cody Green at quarterback, scrambling when necessary, running with poise and authority. A power offense designed to punish lesser teams and set up deep passes. A strong, forward-leaning running back in true freshman Traye Robinson. And, at long last, a compliment of big-bodied tight ends on the field – at the same time.

    Fireworks, it wasn't. Well – unless you count the ones that got shot off after Baylor intercepted and returned one of Green's two mistakes for a touchdown.

    What did you expect after a month of sideways passes, soft-bellied screens and tentative quarterback play from Zac Lee? Sixty points? Saturday was a modest step forward. Finally. Maybe. We think. We hope. Green had all the advantages - a special teams touchdown, a dominant defensive performance, a Baylor offense, set to the melt setting every time it ventured into Nebraska territory. And there were times – like most of the second half – where he didn't do anything with those advantages.

    But this is change we can believe in. Finally. Maybe. We think. We hope. It's an offense that, at long last, suits the kind of defense Nebraska has become. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson had to descend from his perch – physically and philosophically – for it to happen. Yes, that was Watson on the sidelines, in his trademark sunglasses, barking excitedly, getting in the faces of his linemen at key moments.

    “That was to help Cody,” Watson said. “We've got a freshman tailback (Robinson) that's playing a lot, we've got a freshman quarterback now. I wanted to be there with the guys. Something some of the older guys asked me about. I did that for them.”

    It was good to see. He took ownership Saturday. He didn't have much of a choice.

    Oh, Watson got cute again midway through the third quarter – and Green got lazy. Watson started calling the horizontal passes again, and Green locked onto receiver Khiry Cooper on a third-down play. The result: A Pick Six that might have had the last remaining members of the Zac Lee camp saying “I told you so.” A fourth-quarter fumble – when Green rather inexplicably left his feet on a quarterback draw – had them roaring a little bit louder.

    We think they're wrong. Maybe. We hope so.

    It really doesn't matter if NU can't run the ball. Once again Saturday, Barney Cotton's bunch did not deliver on its potential or responsibility. They played hard, but not in sync, and not as a smoothly-operating, confident unit. And head coach Bo Pelini was plenty vocal about it after the game.

    “It's a huge concern,” he said. “We've got to be able to run the football better. We didn't run the ball to my liking today.”

    This is the tone Pelini has to strike – the same kind of aggression and expectation he shows with his defense. He needs to show it weekly – heck, daily - with Watson, Cotton and that offensive line, which is too big and too experienced to make communication gaffes for the bulk of the second half. Watson tried pounding the ball with big sets, fullbacks, inside zones and the old-school Callahan stretch play. The offensive line didn't respond with enough gashes for Robinson, Roy Helu, Lester Ward and Austin Jones.

    Yes, I just named four running backs there. Marcus Mendoza played a couple snaps, too. If Helu isn't 100 percent healthy, the Huskers really have no bellcow. Robinson can only do so much with the time he's been given, and the rest of the backs are not consistently good runners. Baylor wisely took away Green's running lanes on the zone read Saturday, forcing Helu and crew to pick their way through narrow holes, just hoping to stay upright and healthy. Helu got dinged again. So did Robinson.

    Even if NU stumbled into success Saturday – even if it's a first step to something better – the Huskers have to healthy and confident enough to keep it going.

    Bo pulled the trigger on Green. It was a must. Lee might have given the Huskers some looks in the passing game. But, honestly, I doubt it. NU's receivers were again average. Baylor's corners mostly did stayed with them. The Bears brought two or three blitzes that Green stepped away from for positive scrambles, or withstood in the pocket to throw first downs. Lee wilted under those same blitzes in recent weeks. Green gives defenses an element to worry about. And right now, the Huskers need every element on the periodic table they can get.

    But now, Bo has to aim his sights on that offensive line. Whatever they've given already to the team – they've got to dig in and give a little more. The unit is not completely healthy – center Jacob Hickman is nursing a severely sprained ankle – but it's healthy enough.

    Time for Cotton – who is a tough, honest coach and a skilled teacher from this point of view – to drive that unit just a little harder, and get them to execute a little better. Oklahoma blows into Lincoln next week plenty ticked off – with a wicked defense to match. If NU can't dent that OU front line, the Sooners will eat Green – or Lee – alive.

    This is a unit fighting back the light, folks. The offense remains under siege from pundits and fans. Just one minute into Pelini's press conference, a fan clutching a white gate just feet away screamed a particular insult about Watson.

    His boss took it in stride at the moment, but after his media session was done, he walked over to that fence, shook hands with athletic director Tom Osborne, and looked into that crowd. He wanted to know – who had the big mouth? It wasn't the most politically correct moment, but it was vintage Bo. Loyal and tenacious to the last. Nebraska fans may not always like it. But it's what they paid Osborne to find, and Bo to do.

    Bo's in the thick of tough, grueling season. He knows it. This is the year that will forge his coaching character even more than he's already forged it himself. And he's fighting back with the best defensive front four I've seen at NU in years.

    Now that offensive front five has to do their part.

    Can it? Finally?

    Maybe. We think. We hope. Sigh.

    Tags: baylor game, cody green, shawn watson, barney cotton, bo pelini, traye robinson

  6. 2009 Oct 17

    Commentary: Defending Shawn Watson...For Now


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    I'm probably going to tick off some people by doing what must seem unthinkable right about now.

    Defend Shawn Watson.

    Don't worry. It's just a few words, and they're conditional on Watson taking some concrete steps this week – which I think he'll take – toward building an offense that can win a wide, wide open Big 12 North.

    Sifting through the rubble of a 31-10 loss, it'd be easy to lay the blame on Watson, who is, after all, responsible for the whole offensive package. He's the one who gets the extra cash, who gets labeled a genius in the offseason, who gets the credit when things go right. He answers the tough questions when they don't.

    Thing is: He did that Saturday. And unlike his boss, Bo Pelini, he didn't slough off questions with a trademark “What do you think?” which is quickly become Bo's least desirable media trait.

    And Watson didn't call a bad game on Saturday. He didn't call a good one, either. He called the game his offense – and his boss - allowed him to call. Which is – not much of a game at all.

    Watson can't control when Pelini defers every coin toss Nebraska wins, and prefers to gain momentum with a stop instead of a score. Texas Tech scored, of course, immediately putting NU in a match mode.

    Watson can't control his offensive line being so leaky that NU can't even run its safest playaction plays – four yard passes to the tight ends. He can't control that the Huskers' running game, no matter how many running plays he would have called, was going nowhere. Read: nowhere. And, other than an inspired performance at Virginia Tech – more attributable to Roy Helu than anything else – it's been an issue from week one. Nobody's going to confuse the Huskers with Alabama or Florida's offensive line, is the point.

    Watson can't control Niles Paul's bad hands.

    Watson can't control that his quarterback, Zac Lee either didn't see open receivers or was afraid to throw the ball downfield. On this issue, after the game, Watson was clear: Lee didn't see it. NU was sending its receivers on deep posts to clear the safeties and bringing receivers into the vacated space. Lee wouldn't deliver the ball. He just wouldn't Chris Brooks and Menelik Holt were open on those crossing routes all day.

    “Zac's got to squeeze the trigger,” Watson said. “My job is to help him learn from it. I just don't think he was seeing it well. Maybe over-analyzed it a little bit.”

    Watson tried to compensate. He called some quick five-yard stops to get Lee in the rhythm; Lee hit a couple, but two others were knocked down. He tried the bubble screens, which were mostly a disaster. He tried a shovel pass – natch. Tried a reverse. Tried the zone read with Lee running it. Tried to go wide. Tried to slam it inside. None of it would go.

    It was a far cry from Watson's masterpiece at Texas Tech last year. But NU's quarterback and wide receivers are a far cry from Joe Ganz, Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, too.

    Yeah – color me surprised, too. But, even when Nebraska couldn't run the ball in 2008, they could always throw it. Ganz was just better than Lee is now. Ganz was canny, for one thing; he was a lot more accurate under 20 yards, for another.

    Right now, the Huskers can't do either one. And while the entire performance falls under Watson's supervision, the specific ugliness of Saturday was, to some extent, beyond his control.

    Of course, he can fix that.

    He has start Cody Green next week. And the week after. Not simply because “it's time.” Because Green earned it by going into the game and taking the shots downfield that Lee wouldn't. Because his personality, a mixture of maturity and “aw heck” hominess works for the players. Because he runs with his head up. Because he's taller, even. And faster.

    Let's not make Green out to “the answer.” He's not that guy, yet. Lee is, when his head's on straight, a better passer. Green slings it, which isn't conducive to throwing the deep ball. He threw into coverage, oh, 10 times on Saturday, was lucky to only toss one interception. But he's willing to fight downfield, and make plays. Lee, for whatever reason, shrunk from that challenge Saturday. And coaches can't abide by that.

    Watson also has to develop a quicker running game. He doesn't have to ditch the shotgun zone game, but he could incorporate more pistol and more quick, simple counter plays to offset Nebraska's shoddy run blocking. These are in the West Coast Offense, so Watson doesn't have to dream them up.

    Watson has to use Traye Robinson, pronto. NU burned his redshirt on kickoff returns Saturday for a reason. He didn't play at running back Saturday. But he will – and he needs to. Robinson can become the big back option for the last half of the season. Husker fans may be surprised by his talents.

    Watson needs to get back to his bread and butter, playaction and tight ends. If Nebraska can't make every block, well, at least make the edge blocks, which will allow Green (or Lee) to get some breathing room outside of the pocket.

    Watson needs to cut down on the number of allowable audibles. Run the play as called. Get the team in the habit of playing the hand they're dealt. Lee's more interested in shaking his hands dry than he is delivering the ball downfield. If Green's inexperienced, don't send him out there with a trunk full of options.

    Watson, finally, has to go to his offensive line, if he didn't already on Saturday, and lay out a workable plan for improvement, play selection and snap counts. If they can't block it, don't run it.

    "Shawn Watson's a good football coach," Pelini said. "He's stood the test over a long time...that hasn't changed and that won't change."

    That's coachspeak, sure. But Watson dragged NU's defense through some ugly moments in 2008. He gets a shot here to turn it around.

    See also: You're Shawn Watson...what do you do?

    Tags: shawn watson, zac lee, cody green, traye robinson

  7. 2009 Aug 22



    By HuskerLocker

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    How does the running back situation shape up now that Quentin Castille has been thrown off the team? Check it out with a free 30-day trial of Husker Locker Pass! Insight you need to have!

    Tags: fall camp, quentin castille, roy helu, rex burkhead, traye robinson

  8. 2009 Aug 14

    Podcast 8/14: The New Elder Statesmen


    By HuskerLocker

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    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

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    Tags: podcasts, fall camp, roy hely quentin castille, rex burkhead, traye robinson, tim beck

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