Nebraska Football: Five Things For the Cornhuskers To Improve During the Bye Week

DSC00174

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.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Advertisements

Ranking the 5 Most Important Seniors on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2014

DSC08817

photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know how important seniors are to the success of the Cornhuskers in 2014. Not only do seniors provide the leadership that sets the tone on the field and in the weight room, seniors also tend to be the players that make the plays to win games.

So for Nebraska to be successful in 2014, NU’s seniors will have to shine. Here, in order of importance, are Nebraska’s five most critical seniors.

No. 5: Zaire Anderson

Nebraska’s linebacker corps is full of youth, much of it untested. Middle linebacker Josh Banderas got playing time last year as a true freshman, but is now in the position due to a season-ending injury to Michael Rose. Courtney Love, Marcus Newby, and other young linebackers will help provide depth to the position.

But it is Anderson, a senior who arrived in Lincoln as a junior-college transfer, who can provide leadership as a starter to Nebraska’s linebacker corps. Anderson has not been able to avoid the injury bug during his Nebraska career, but if he is able to stay off the training table he could be massively important for the Blackshirts.

No. 4: Mark Pelini

Never underestimate the importance of a center to an offense. While Nebraska is starting four new offensive linemen, and having flashy stars like Alex Lewis to watch, it’s Pelini’s senior leadership directing the line and making the necessary calls to keep drives clicking.

In other words, if you’re going to have just one senior on the offensive line, having him at center is a pretty good way to go.

No. 3: Kenny Bell

“The Fro” has been a fixture for Nebraska’s offense since he arrived in Lincoln. But as a senior, Bell will be leading Nebraska’s wide receiver corps. And as Nebraska’s primary threat to stretch the field, combined with a quarterback in Tommy Armstrong who particularly excels at throwing the deep pass, Bell could become even a bigger part of NU’s offense than he has been in seasons past.

No. 2: Josh Mitchell

Mitchell isn’t the tallest Blackshirt, nor is he the fastest, nor is he the hardest hitter. But Mitchell is without question the vocal and spiritual leader of Nebraska’s defense. And his pugnacious attitude, as much as his cover skills and his tackling ability, will help drive the Blackshirts in 2014.

No. 1: Ameer Abdullah

What more can be said about the spiritual and physical leader of the 2014 Cornhuskers? Particularly with the injury to defensive end Randy Gregory, Abdullah is unquestionably the best player on the team. And his leadership off the field, as best demonstrated by this speech Abdullah gave at Big Ten Media Days, sets the kind of hard-working and selfless tone head coach Bo Pelini wants to see.