The Huskers are 5-1, right where most people pegged them to be. Granted, the play behind that 5-1 record does little to inspire confidence for the rest of the season. Let’s look at some statistics, and then go to Four Downs.
Preseason AP Ranking: 10
Current AP Ranking: 14
Football Outsiders S&P+ Ranking: 34
Opponents record: 19-14
Opponents record (minus Wisconsin): 14-14
Total Defense Ranking: 60 (372.7 yards)
Scoring Defense Ranking: 65 (27.2 points)
Tackles For Losses Ranking: 109
Total Offense Ranking: 46 (419.0 yards)
Scoring Offense Ranking: 25 (37.0 points)
Kickoff Returns Ranking: 3 (28.8 yards)
Punt Returns Ranking: 35 (10.3 yards)
Opponent Kickoff Returns Ranking: 85 (22.9 yards)
Opponent Punt Returns Ranking: 111 (15.0 yards)
Kickoffs Ranking: 9
Turnover Margin Ranking: 70 (-1 for season)
Penalties Ranking: 48 (49.3 yards)
3rd Down Conversions Ranking: 53 (42.7%)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions Ranking: 96 (44.7%)
Rushing Attempts: 276
Passing Attempts: 132
Team stats courtesy of College Football Stats
First Down: Don’t Award Blackshirts – The biggest surprise of the season has been the Huskers’ defense not playing near the standard that has been established during Bo Pelini’s tenure. The rankings for total defense and scoring defense are bad, especially when you consider the competition. You can talk about opponents throwing different formations at the defense, but you didn’t hear a lot of that in previous years when the Huskers were going up against more potent offenses in the Big 12 and shutting them down. And now with the news that Jared Crick is out for the season? Yikes. Granted, he wasn’t playing at the level most were hoping for, but losing your All-American candidate is a big loss. Lavonte David will have to continue to carry the defense on his back. Don’t expect the Blackshirts to be awarded any time soon.
Second Down: The Glory Days of Power Running – There were question marks about the offensive line coming into the season, but they’ve asserted themselves well in the first few games. With the exception of Wisconsin, they’ve dominated the opponent in the second half. The holes they have created help Taylor and Rex’s runs go for bigger gains. The offensive line’s play bodes well for the rest of the season, if Nebraska sticks with running the football consistently. The stick with the run, and establish it, it opens up the rest of the offense. It gets playmakers like Jamal Turner involved, because the passing game opens up more. It takes pressure off Taylor Martinez and allows him to play to his strengths.
Third Down: Ameer Abdullah, Under the Radar MVP – At times, the offensive execution has been inconsistent. It’s nice to have Ameer Abdullah making such a big difference in the return game. He is a threat to score each time on a return, and has been a huge difference maker with field position. He puts the Huskers in a much better place on the field, and sets up a short field so Brett Maher is always in play for a field goal.
Fourth Down: Blame Shifting – What’s starting to get old is the blame shifting going on by the coaches. There always seems to be a reason the coaches are giving as to why the team isn’t performing. And, if it’s not that, the fans are blamed. Bo’s bullying of Omaha World-Herald reporter Dirk Chatelain, in the Ohio State postgame press conference, was ugly. Tom Osborne didn’t help when he misrepresented Dirk with his own comments a few days later. Take away the fringe element of some talk radio callers, and anonymous online comments, I think the press and fans have been fair with their response to the team. When the boos came out during the Ohio State game, I don’t think most were directed at Taylor. They were directed at the team, at the play calling. The Huskers were getting beaten handily, at home, by a team with one of the worst rated offenses in the country. The fans want Taylor to succeed. If Bo and Tom think there is no place for the booing at a collegiate game, I’d offer up there is not place for Bo’s sideline histrionics and unjustified bullying of media either. For the most part, Division I college football players are use to the fame and pressure. They’ve been under a microscope throughout high school. Those that play at a school like Nebraska know what they are getting into when they play here. If the players are old enough to vote, and old enough to fight in wars, then they are old enough to face some criticism as to why they didn’t execute well when they played. (Please, no more tallying of how many games Taylor has played, and how this excuses his play. This is his third year in the program. He is in his second FULL season of starting at QB. You’re not doing him any favors if you continue to repeat those lines.)
Looking Ahead: At the start of the season I said the Huskers would go 10-2. After the first game against Tennessee Chattanooga, I changed that to 9-3. Now? No idea. While everyone, including me, is happy about the comeback win against Ohio State, the continuing narrative of that game masks some issues with the team. The defense benefited from Braxton Miller’s injury and Ohio State getting away from the running game with Joe Bauserman. The offense wasn’t executing well until late in the third quarter. What happens when they play the defenses of Michigan State or Penn State?
Nebraska will beat Minnesota. I think they will lose to Michigan, unless Denard Robinson is injured. Assuming those results, Nebraska is 6-2. Can they go 3-1 against Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa? Again, I have no idea because those four teams have their own glaring issues. Nebraska could be in the Big Ten Championship Game, or they could finish 7-5. Who knows?