The Huskers out-gained UTC 364 to 230 in total yards limiting Chattanooga to just 60 yards of rushing. Still, the Huskers had to settle for four field goal tries, of which Brett Maher made them all, and could have won by more than 33 points.
There is one thing that I have reminded myself about the score, about the offense not finding a rhythm and basically a game that at times seemed out of sync. That thing is that it was the first game. I am not sure what to make of the game beyond being a glorified practice.
Personally, I don't take a lot away from it in terms of the score. I saw a lot of quarterback runs. A lot of options. I don't think that you will see it again this week though. This week should be different when it comes to the attack of the Nebraska offense. The Nebraska defense might come away from the Fresno State game looking better than they did against UTC.
Here is what I will be watching on Saturday:
1. Adjustments along the offensive line - By the sound of it, every starting spot on the offensive line is fluid and up for grab on a weekly basis. Do teams get better by the competition through practice? The answer, most of the time. What Nebraska lacks along the offensive line isn't talent. This is a talented group…two U.S. Army All-Americans…Honorable Mention All-Big 12 center…2nd team Freshman All-American at left tackle…etc. What this group lacks is chemistry. You can start to develop that in practice, but the only way for it to really take hold is playing time. Yes, it's going to be rocky for a while. Nebraska has three new starting offensive linemen out of five total starters. What did people expect? It will get better. Look for some substitutions to be made to find personnel groupings to be tested and look for more consistent play out of the brutes up front.
2. Limiting the number of runs by Martinez - Let's be honest here, the less times that Martinez is the actual ball carrier the better I feel. Yes, Martinez is a threat to make the big run, hit the home run and take it 50+ yards to the house. However, it's clear that based on last season he is susceptible to injury. So what do you have behind him? Is the backup better than the starter? Do you feel better about Nebraska's chances to win with or without Martinez? There has to be a limit to the number of times the coaches want Martinez to carry the ball and inevitably be possibly tackled. I have serious doubts about him making it through a Big Ten season carrying the ball as many times as he did last week.
3. Continued dominance by the defensive line - The Nebraska defensive line last week looked very, very good being led by dominating performances from Jared Crick and Cameron Meredith. Both were tough for UTC to contain. This weekend, going up against a very, very inexperienced offensive line for Fresno State, the Husker defense will be pushed to get quick and constant pressure on the Fresno State quarterback, Derek Carr. Expect Fresno State to try and slow down Nebraska with their running back doing the swing passes and screens. I would also expect a number of slip and jailbreak screens to the wide receivers. Still, it will be on Nebraska's defensive line to get to Carr early and often.
Three Players To Watch:
1. Baker Steinkuhler - Call it a hunch, but I think that Steinkuhler could have a Jared Crick at Baylor a couple of years ago type performance this weekend. Steinkuhler wasn't racking up the sacks or the tackles this past weekend, but he's doing what he's been asked to do. I am sure that a point of emphasis with Fresno State's offensive line will be to slow down the rush of Crick and Meredith. That should leave Steinkuhler with some matchups that he can win time and time again. Soon, the nation will know Steinkuhler's name too and he will be on the "watch lists" just like the Baylor game put Crick on the map two years ago.
2. Rex Burkhead – I think that there will be a better effort to run the football this weekend by trying to go between the tackles. This is where Burkhead will be important to Nebraska because once they are able to run between the tackles expect some things to go outside and also for Nebraska to test the field vertically. I fully expect Nebraska will have some big plays on Saturday night against Fresno State because they will take some chances and try to come up with the big play themselves. If Nebraska just plays solid football they will be able to capitalize on the errors of Fresno State.
3. Ciante Evans and Andrew Green – It's possible that Alfonzo Dennard might be back this weekend, but I doubt it. That puts the attention squarely back on these two sophomores and trying to slow down Carr, little brother of the former #1 pick in the NFL David Carr, from establishing the passing game on Nebraska. Evans and Green will have to stay with their man for about three seconds to cause Carr to go through some progressions to allow the Nebraska defensive linemen to beat their blocker and get to Carr. It's a process and while it does "start up front" if the "guys in the back" can't hang with the oppositions' wide receivers then there won't be enough time for the defensive linemen to have an impact.
Fresno State struggled last week against Cal; more so than some believe Nebraska struggled against UTC. Let's be honest here, how many people really think that the offense that Nebraska fans should expect to see is what was shown against UTC? If there is one thing that I have come to realize about Bo Pelini and the first games of the season it's that he's not going out there trying to win a beauty contest.
On one hand, I agree. Nebraska must see how they perform with specific situations and personnel. They must also know why it doesn't work and try to address the issues. The Huskers got a lot of good looks at some things that the coaching staff can fix. The guys on the field just need to put forth the effort and execute.
On the other hand, I wonder why guys like Jamal Turner didn't get more touches on offense and nothing on special teams? I would also like to know why the limited looks for Damian Stafford at safety? Is there a conscientious effort to bring these guys along slowly? If so, why do they differ from the likes of Tyler Moore, Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Aaron Green when it comes to opportunities?
In my opinion, the season two years ago was saved by the emergence of Dejon Gomes. The Huskers needed a guy to step up opposite some of the other talented players in the secondary and Gomes did it. Like Gomes, Stafford could have that impact. Like Stafford, Turner could have that impact on an entire offense by taking some pressure of it as he starts to roll by gaining chemistry with the quarterbacks and making plays.
Both of those players are people that would need to be accounted for on every down. Nebraska should take the gloves off when it comes to the inclusion of them into the game plan and I would expect to see a lot more of them this week as Nebraska faces Fresno State. I will take the Huskers again over Fresno State allowing a few more points than last week, but scoring a few more too. Give me the Huskers 52-14.