ASU-Nebraska Preview

There are questions in Husker land. Questions that point to a season in doubt. Questions to point to players not yet tested. Inquiries across the board and despite a barrage of practices and grueling and in-depth scrimmages along with analysis throughout, the only way to help NU understand what it has and what it can do, well, a real game has to be played.

With ASU, there are some striking similarities in the need to replace key personnel, but for our needs today, we simply concentrate on NU.

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How do you replace a Heisman Trophy winner? After such an interrogative statement, you would expect something funny in retort. It's not. Eric Crouch was the Nebraska offense, Dahrran Diedrick's efforts not withstanding. He broke records and tackles as he led NU to the national title game. His ability or in some cases, lack of ability though has people actually smiling this season. Jammal Lord has a handful of snaps, a smattering of throws and no experience when the game is in his hands. What Lord does have though is the confidence of a team ready to follow him combined with his obvious ability. Jammal is considered to be one of the best throwing quarterbacks to wear the scarlet and cream since Brooke Berringer and it will be that along with his impressive running ability that will make this year inviting if not interesting. Make not mistake about Lord though. His inexperience does not show in his play and it does not show in what he says. He's ready to take the lead. Backing up Jammal will be Mike Stuntz, who, like Lord is new to the system, but Stuntz actually does have one completion in competition. A touchdown strike to Eric Crouch against Oklahoma. Oh, you remember that one? Most people do.

The quarterbacks are young, but their diversity is what has people thinking that NU could be better there this season than it has been the last couple of years. We don't want to take away from Eric as he will be a Husker legend, but any diversity in an otherwise non-diverse offense is an advantage people will take.


Dahhran Diedrick led the conference last year in rushing, putting up 1299 yards on the ground. That alone makes him a real threat, but what has happened in the off-season has been the real fire that burns within the rumor mill about his eventual impact on the team. While Diedrick did not languish in anonymity prior to this year, he was either backing up seniors or simply being a compliment to a QB that was the key to NU's success. This year, its' different and in the off-season, he proved just how much he wanted it, propelling himself on all of the performance index tests much higher than ever before, making no small statement that this year is his year to shine.

Backing up Diedrick, but listed as a co-starter, will be Thunder Collins. A junior college transfer from California, Thunder's biggest battles have been with himself or rather, with his body. His inability to put on weight contributed mightily to his inability to stay healthy, thus fans were treated to far less of what Collins could do than had been hoped. This year, he's up to weight and he's been healthy throughout. Thunder is also expected to make a push on Diedrick for some serious minutes on the field.

Diedrick is the all around back, both elusive and physical. His frame makes it quite possible to attack opponents in a variety of ways. Great feet, great break away speed and the tenacity to run people over. He's NU's best all-around back and should contend again not just for conference honors in terms of leading in rushing, but will be battling for the national spotlight as well. Thunder's ability lies more in his elusiveness. Very sleek, very sly and he's deceptively fast. His cuts up field are crisp, while his moves down field are smooth and he has great vision and can navigate the gaps with the best of them. Don't think that he isn't physical, because he can be. Thunder's best attributes are though in playing a game of catch.

The O-line.

Strewn with youngsters, this line is like ASU's in that there are a lot of questions to be answered. NU lost the bruising phenom, Toniu Fonoti to early departure and graduation decimated them yet further. For NU fans though, experience is all their losing as talent, speed and strength are in abundance. John Garrison anchors this line from the center position. He's the oldest, the wisest and is the field general of sorts. The antithesis of Garrison might be the most promising offensive lineman on the team though as Richie Incognito has done nothing but turned heads since he got here. Incognito has now become NU's next best chance at scoring some serious hardware. His youth is not so much a problem as is his energy level. Sometimes, he's just a little over hyped. In this game, it will be even more so considering the recent bitter history between himself and the coaches of ASU. His temperament might be as crucial to this game as anything for the O line as they are expected to be good, just not overly clean as youth takes time to develop.

The Wide Receivers:

An area of obscurity as perceived by the national media. Glorified blockers are what Nebraska wideouts really are. Nothing could be further from the truth and this year, with NU's new signal caller, if opponents spend too much time watching the ground, it's those things in the sky that could end up biting them. Wilson Thomas leads the charge for the NU receivers. At 6'6" and approx. 220 lbs., he's a Florida receiver playing at Nebraska and that's no joke. He can run like the wind, fly like an eagle and if you get a ball within three feet of him, it's his. He will be a major target for Jammal Lord all year and even against what should be a stout ASU secondary, Wilson will definitely get his opportunities.

Along with Thomas, John Klem, Ross Pilkington, Troy Hassebroek and Ben Cornelson should all make for weapons the defense has to take into account, but for the sake of fans of the opposing team, Wilson Thomas is the name you should remember.

Tight End:

A position that NU uses with devastating effectiveness at times, Nebraska relies on their tight ends not just as blockers, but game breakers. This year, Aaron Golliday takes the helm at the Big Red starter, replacing Tracey Wistrom. Golliday saw time in every game last season, starting two, subbing for an injured Wistrom. Tall, big and extremely nimble for his size, Golliday is a proven weapon. His hands though are his greatest strength. Golliday has shown a propensity for bringing just about everything around him, in. Expected to contribute along with Golliday will be Kyle Ringenberg and Jon Bowling. The tight end position has always played a major key in NU's offense. Don't expect this year to be any different.

The Defense:

When you allow almost 100 points in your last two games, people wonder. Regardless of how good those teams are, people question. Nebraska has a slogan this year, "start strong, finish stronger", that no doubt stems from these two games in which NU's defensive collapse was national news. The absence of Eric Crouch is significant, but the questions about the defense seem to come first. For Nebraska fans, there will be much to be glad about and for opponents; NU's apparent lack of experience could be just what the black shirts needed.

The Line:

Across the line, there are new faces just about everywhere you look. Bingham and Kabongo on the interior, Lekevin Smith and Seppo Evwaraye establishing depth and Jon Clanton being the experienced anchor that helps everyone else to bring all of this together. Loads of talent, loads of speed and size, they got that in abundance. Ryon Bingham - 6-3, 280 - LeKevin Smith - 6-2, 300 - Jon Clanton - 6-2, 290, Seppo Evwaraye - 6-5, 305 and Patrick Kabongo - 6-6, 305. That's enough to get a defensive person drooling and for good reason. There's more than measurables here, there's a true and noticeable nastiness. The entire spring and fall, it's been the defense that has literally hamstrung the offense, tallying 10 sacks in one particular scrimmage. You might say it's because the offense isn't good, but that would be an error in analysis. This interior line can play and they will be facing an ASU O-line that like Nebraska has to find out just who they are.

The Ends

Another parallel to ASU, Nebraska brings back both starters from the year before. Chris Kelsay is a dark horse for hardware, but this year is considered to be his to shine. The Nebraska defense led the conference last season in total sacks and it was in great part due to Chris Kelsay and the other bookend, Demoine Adams. Both are seniors and both have very high expectation put upon them this year as each is looked to bring back the tradition of dominating rush ends the likes of Rucker and Wistrom.

The linebackers

Youth. Yep, there it is again. Prominent, foreboding, it screams inexperience and a lack of adeptness at knowing what the system is all about. This is defense though and though you do have to learn plays, have to stick to assignments, sometimes, even the most inexperienced defender can have an immeasurable impact. NU brings back one true returning starter in Scott Shanle. Very athletic and despite late-season performances, a remarkable defender against the pass. Take into account that Shanle had to guard two of the best Tight Ends in the country the last two games of the year. He's definitely the rock of this core, which is complimented by Barrett Ruud and Demorrio Williams. Ruud comes from a hallowed tradition of Huskers as his legacy at Nebraska spans almost a century. His play has simply reinforced what a legacy that is by getting on the field as a true freshman. He now starts and his mobility and speed are expected to seal up the MLB spot to stay. He's great going up the field, but his major strength is closing on the ball. His speed to the ball is astounding at times and this kid loves to hit and hit hard. Demorrio Williams is a question mark, but only if he has earned all the pre-season hype he has gotten. An all-American JUCO transfer, Demorrio has been called everything from super to Terrell Farley, a former Nebraska star. Without taking a snap, we don't know what he will do, but it's quite obvious, the potential is there. He's fanatical to the ball, fanatical in run pursuit and fanatical about getting to the QB. There's a trend there you might say. Yeah, he's fanatical. With ASU's wide receivers no doubt running a variety of patterns, his fanaticism in pass coverage could also be tested.

The secondary

An All-American hopeful, DeJuan Groce leads an inexperienced unit to the field this year. In truth, this is considered to be the one area where people have the most questions. Against ASU in particular, this unit looks to be tested and often. Against their all-star, McDonald, Nebraska could have memories that haunt them, of Troy Edwards. Thankfully for Nebraska though, they don't have Tim Rattay. DeJuan is the glove of a secondary that could take some early lumps, but athleticism isn't the question here. Pat Ricketts and Lornell McPherson, Phllip Bland and Aaron Terpening are all big enough and fast enough, but in the secondary, lack of experience really shows. With ASU's passing attack, this could be a worry for Nebraska coaches as this unit will no doubt be good, but when, that would be the best question.

Special teams.

They are special. That is about all you can say about them. Every starter returns. Josh Davis ranked in the country in kick returns. DeJuan Groce ranked in the country in punt returns. Kyle Larson could end up being one of the best punters in the country, especially when it comes to stranding the opponent deep in their own territory. Josh Brown compliments the group, coming off a good year, but is determined to do even better this coming campaign. Unlike a hiccup a couple of years ago, this unit on both sides simply has no weakness. Of all the units, it's the special teams that actually bring back everyone and it will show. Expect this unit to have a major impact for Nebraska this year.


You've got one question mark versus another in this game between the Huskers and the Sun Devils. Inexperienced offensive lines versus inexperienced defensive lines and their signal callers being called to arms for the first time as starters for their squads. It has the makings of a good TV show, but for an even more interesting game. The key individuals are obviously for the NU offense, Diedrick and Lord, but it could also be argued that Richie Incognito might see the biggest spotlight as he takes his ill will towards ASU in general against what might be one of the best ends in the country in Terrell Suggs. A pre-season All-American, Suggs will be the key ASU's success. Granted, ASU brings back a hearty secondary, but against Nebraska, their coverage skills won't be challenged so much as their ability to hit and hold on.

Games like this are notoriously not one of attrition as they are a game of who figures things out first. Nebraska does have an edge though and it's an edge that NU usually has. It's that ability to reload. You bet Nebraska lost a lot of guys, but you better be just as sure that they are bringing some pretty quality players in. Not to take anything away from ASU, Nebraska is never wanting when it comes to talent, regardless of what the press might say. This team is deep at some very key positions and will test ASU's depth to its fullest extent.

Nebraska did an incredible job in picking up this game. It's a game that will give them yet another so that the team can figure out where it's at before conference play. It's also a game that offers challenges for the Huskers to address. ASU's passing attack is potent despite being led by a green around the years signal caller. Chad Christiansen's accuracy within twenty or so yards is well noted.

ASU is good enough to give Nebraska a real good early tussle. Given that, I don't believe they have the overall team to win. I do see ASU making some plays, doing some damage and showing just what they will have for others as the season goes along, but when you are looking at all that inexperience on both sides, across the board, what wins games like this is sheer talent, speed and strength. NU has that. They have that in abundance and in this game, I think that will be the difference.

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