photo and story by Patrick Runge
Nebraska football fans endured (that’s really the correct term for it) a sloppy 35-14 victory over Purdue to see NU head into its second bye week at 8-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play. But with the meat of its conference schedule ahead of it, how Nebraska performs in the final three games of the regular season will determine if NU breaks out of its four-loss rut and makes a run at a conference championship.
So what has to happen in this bye week to get Nebraska ready for its final gauntlet? Here are five things the Cornhuskers should be looking to improve.
Ameer Abdullah’s Knee
It’s not exactly rocket science to diagnose that a healthy Ameer Abdullah would do wonders for Nebraska’s chances against a suddenly-resurgent Wisconsin. According to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, Abdullah had a mild knee sprain and head coach Bo Pelini is “optimistic” about his return for Wisconsin.
Nebraska fans should hope his optimism is well founded. Imani Cross and Terrell Newby are nice replacement options, but neither is the kind of game-changer a healthy Abdullah is when on the field. And with Wisconsin in the last few weeks looking like the Badger crew we thought we would see at the start of the season, Nebraska might need that game-changer to escape Madison with a win.
Drew Brown’s Foot
True freshman Drew Brown missed a makeable field goal in each of Nebraska’s last three games, putting him at a less-than-stellar 9-of-14 in field goals for the season. In each of the contests, the misses ended up making no difference in the outcome. But that doesn’t mean the time won’t come this year where Nebraska’s hopes for a conference title will rest on a kicker’s foot.
It’s difficult to replicate game conditions and game pressures in a bye week, of course. But Nebraska will certainly go into this off week hoping to find some confidence in its placekicking game.
Tommy Armstrong’s Rapport
When you see a quarterback throw a horrific interception—or two—it’s easy to point the finger at him and ask what in the world he is seeing. But many times, a throw is made before a receiver makes a cut or a move. If the quarterback and receiver are thinking two different things—in other words, if the receiver zags when the quarterback expects him to zig—then you can end up with some pretty horrific throws into a waiting defender’s arms.
According to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Armstrong’s two interceptions against Purdue came from receivers running the wrong routes. That’s certainly possible, and Armstrong is not solely to blame for his struggles. But if Nebraska is going to survive the three-game gauntlet before it (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa) and win the Big Ten West, Armstrong and his receivers must be on the same metaphorical page.
Mark Pelini and Ryne Reeve’s Snapping
Against Michigan State, the center-quarterback exchange problem was blamed on renegade clapping by Spartans defenders, mimicking Nebraska’s snap signal. But “clap-gate” doesn’t explain the ongoing problems with the exchange against Rutgers and Purdue. Botched snaps cost Nebraska points and set up opposing scores. Against Rutgers and Purdue, those mistakes did not make a difference in the final outcome. Against better opponents, like Nebraska will be facing to end the season, those mistakes almost certainly will make a bigger difference.
According to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star, the snap issues are “mystifying” and not showing up in practice. That might make fixing the problem in the bye week challenging, but it is an issue that simply must be solved if Nebraska wants to return from Madison with a victory.
Tim Beck’s Preparation
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck gets credit for being honest, sometimes to his own detriment. According to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Beck said that he “confused” the offense by giving them too much to work on, rather than simplifying the message and making adjustments throughout the game.
Sound familiar? It’s the same mea culpa he gave after the Michigan State game to explain Nebraska’s sluggish offensive performance.
I remain a little skeptical that being over-prepared is the primary culprit for Nebraska’s offensive woes post Michigan State. Outside of Ameer Abdullah’s brilliance and a solid half of play from Tommy Armstrong against Northwestern, Nebraska’s offense has looked disjointed and out of rhythm since returning from East Lansing.
Nebraska fans certainly hope, though, that a simplification of preparation during the bye week will be the tonic for NU’s offensive struggles.
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