Grading the Huskers........Offense

Spring games are what they are. Part scrimmage, part showcase with a big emphasis on the showcase. You can only learn so much, but there was something to learn from this year's Red/White game. The tests are done, the papers are checked and here's how I graded your Spring Nebraska Cornhuskers – the offense.



Zac Taylor.jpg - 40434 Bytes
Taylor cemented status as the man for the
future at NU.
The Good: There's little doubting the numbers: 20-27 (74%) for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns, all of that coming in the first half. Zac Taylor took a quarterback controversy and squashed it like there was no tomorrow. Amongst Taylor 's highlights were touchdown strikes of 34 and 53 yards to Terrence Nunn along with a 22 yard score to Tyler Kenney. In addition, Taylor had no interceptions.


Beau Davis also tossed a touchdown pass, a 4-yard strike to Grant Mulkey and despite the fact that Davis was almost inundated with linemen in his face, he still managed to go 7 of 14 and also had no interceptions.


The Bad: The lone interception either offense did have on the day was thrown by Joe Dailey. In a rather disappointing example of consistency from last year, Dailey threw a slant rout that safety Daniel Bullocks was waiting on, Dailey never seeing the junior standout until it was too late, D.B. taking the errant toss 58 yards the other way for the score. Dailey completed just over a third of his passes, going 7 for 20 for a total of 121 yards.


If you take out Taylor 's performance, the rest of the Nebraska quarterbacks were 19 of 49 for 249 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. In NCAA pass efficiency terms, that's an 84.11 compared to Zac Taylor's 221.81.


Yeah, but: Yes, it was a wonderfully stupendous game for Taylor and he looked like superman out there, able to throw over defenders (mostly Titus Brothers) in a single toss and he checked down, looked off and read through with the best of them.

Against everyone BUT the first string defense.


A defense that tallied 12 sacks against the offensive reserves, the dynamic of the pass rush was almost nonexistent against Zac Taylor, even though his offensive line wasn't stellar by any stretch of the imagination. That's how the game was set up though and Taylor took advantage, especially in showing his ability to hit the deep ball with frightening accuracy. If there were a couple of drawbacks to his game, they were that he needs a little more juice on his short passes, especially out in the flats. Against a quality secondary with cornerbacks that can close on the ball quickly, there's a few of those casual tosses to the outside that would have been taken back for touchdowns.


Overall: The fans got the show they were wanting and they got it from the quarterback that has been stealing the show all spring. Zac Taylor proved to be worth his weight in gold for a spring performance, hitting passes and best of all, making solid decisions. With the thought that the much improved receiving core is going to be even more improved with the addition of talents like Chris Brook, Frantz Hardy and others, when fall arrives, this offense might actually do some good.



Cory Ross.jpg - 45874 Bytes
It was a long day for the running backs, but
Ross came out healthy, relieving one and
The Good: Cory Ross stayed healthy. Yeah, that's better than good, it's great. Especially when Ross went down and stayed down for an extended period of time, the crowd holding its breath collectively, some probably even praying a little that he would get up.


He did and fortunately for everyone, it was just the wind being knocked out of him that kept him down for the elongated period of time.


The Bad: When your star running back is the only sure-fire back that is actually able to carry the ball, you don't get to see a lot of what the running game is going to do or its potential. Point of fact, head coach, Bill Callahan admitted after the game that because of the injury situation with Brandon Jackson and the depth chart being so thin, this was going to be "Air Nebraska " from the outset.


Thomas Lawson and Marque McCray did a serviceable job at the position, but it's clear that Nebraska won't even know until everyone is in and healthy for the Fall, it's full effectiveness will be unknown. The sparse use of Ross (carried the ball just 12 times) means the running game wasn't going to get its full measure, so the rather diminished grade could just as well be incomplete.


Overall: You can't get overly critical of something that wasn't really seen. When the passing outpaces the rushes from the I-backs by over a two to one margin, this game becomes almost moot in trying to evaluate just what NU fans can expect for the future. So, the Overall is basically irrelevant at this point.







Terrence Nunn.jpg - 47340 Bytes
Nunn p;roved once more that his regular
season could be a special one indeed.
The Good: Isaiah Fluellen grabs 6 receptions for 106 yards, with a long of 50. Terrence Nunn grabs 4 balls for 133 yards, with a long of 53 yards and he scored twice. You can add a myriad of other solid performances there as the receiving core proved opportunistic, but most of all, efficient. The story line all of last year was wide open receivers. Well, that theme was consistent this year or this spring at least, but the difference this time around, some of those guys were actually getting balls thrown to them.


You might say that's a slight to the quarterback, but I'd say it's only half of one as the wide receivers, while learning from a coach (Turner Gill), who was learning himself, well, it wasn't going to be the prettiest thing to watch and who's to say that all the receivers were wide open and where they needed to be or they were just wide open, because they were running all over.


Even on the number two offense, receivers were cutting flat on their routes, turning in or out on their outside foot and exhibiting many of the fundamentals that you would expect of receivers that are used to being receivers and not glorified blockers.


The Bad: There's some quality here, but not enough of it. With three, possibly four guys that you think are legit contenders for a spot on the two-deep come fall, there's a lot of space Nebraska is going to have to fill if they want consistent threats throughout the course of a game. There's also little versatility in this group right now as you have only one legit deep threat (Fluellen), while the other contenders are solid to stellar possession guys. That's good, but this is a numbers game and right now, NU doesn't have the kind they need to have a realistically diverse or deep group.


The other receivers, that being the tight ends, they need help. With the loss of Herian, you have guys on the field that have fair hands, are decent blockers for the most part, but not one can be even close to the playmaker that Herian was most of his career with the Huskers.


J.B. Phillips is a ferocious blocker with good hands, but his range is 15 yards and under. Josh Mueller shows glimpses that he can be an all-around threat, but he's extremely inconsistent with his hands and his discipline at the line of scrimmage. Andy Sand has great hands, but he's undersized at 225 pounds and not able to stretch the field like Herian could on just about any defense out there. Brian Hohlen, another tight end that had a reception in yesterday's game, well, he hasn't seen enough opportunities to know what in the heck he can do.


Overall: This is a group with potential. Ted Gilmore's addition has already paid huge dividends in the execution of the receivers and them being able to find the page Zac Taylor is on and stay there.

They run pretty solid routes most of the time, have shown fair to solid hands and work well within the concept of the west coast offense.


This unit is going to change, however. With the addition of Chris Brooks, Frantz Hardy, Tyrell Spain and others, Nebraska could find the depth they need, some possible stars in the bunch and at least with Hardy, another legit deep threat.


At tight end, there's more than a few fingers crossed that the athletic Justin Tomerlin can be Matt Herian number two, because right now, Nebraska doesn't even have the original or a reasonable facsimile.

The horizon looks good for this group, but let's hope it's not a real horizon or Nebraska will never truly reach that combination of speed, hands and physicality they need to succeed.




Wali Muhammad.jpg - 44392 Bytes
Wali Muhammad was one of five different
players to get sacks on the number one
offensive line.
The Good : Kurt Mann is probably going to be just fine, Mann suffering from a kick, but isn't expected to miss any significant time over the summer, if any at all. Yes, I am reaching here when it comes to finding the good, because it takes a long arm to get there. For the most part, the protection was good for Zac Taylor, though he was sacked 3 times in the half he was on the field.


The Bad: That was quick, wasn't it? Well, that's because this unit and it didn't matter which one it was. But, we are looking at the first-team unit, because like their own defense, they were facing a second-team unit that they SHOULD have had a distinct advantage over.


SHOULD, being the key word.


When the offense was running the ball, they didn't even manage a 2.5 yard per carry average. Yes, Ross only got 12 carries and he did average over 2.5 yards per carry, Cory actually toting it for almost 6 yards a pop. But, that's where the production ended.


Yes, I will give some latitude here as to the fact that Brandon Jackson wasn't in there and in his stead, you had a walk-on in Thomas Lawson, plus a converted receiver in Marque McCray taking up the rest of the duties.


It's hard to get around the six sacks allowed, though, even if you take into account that simply tagging the quarterback meant they were sacked.

At times, both the starting tackles (Thomas and Evwaraye) were convincingly beat on the outside and only one of those sacks was by speed-rusher Wali Muhammad. You have sacks by Adam Blankenship (2), Andy Kadavy and Tony Sullivan along with Ola Dagundoro. People might give a little slack to Dagundoro's sack and maybe some slack to Blankenship having success, but there's some issues both inside and outside with this group.


Probably the biggest surprise was the standout Lydon Murtha. To put it simply, he was simply abused most of the game out there when faced with one-on-one situations. Jay Moore ate him up, Adam Carriker ate him up and Murtha spent more time looking behind him to see if his guy was going to get the QB than he did facing up-field.


His performance wasn't an isolated one, the deficiencies at center being illustrated quite well when Kurt Mann went out, Gary Pike coming in as a substitute and Taylor promptly mishandling three out of four early snaps, two of them hitting the turf.


You could see some good out of this line at times, but it's not the individuals that matter with this particular unit, because as offensive line coach Dennis Wagner has said many times over, if one cog is off, the entire thing breaks down. I would say that for the most part, it did.


Overall: The last three days of spring that saw the defense basically manhandle the offense, wasn't an aberration. Yes, there are a lot of schemes on both sides that weren't utilized, but even Callahan admitted that there were a variety of things that the defense didn't even have installed, giving the quarterbacks a decided advantage.


Ganz didn't see any of those advantages, Joe passing the ball four times, completing one, but getting sacked three times in the process.


This group needs work and while there is and should be plenty of faith in Wagner to do what needs to be done, it was unfortunate to see that they aren't any farther at this point.


The additions of the junior college transfers Jordan Picou and Brock Pasteur will be welcome and don't rule out the chances of players like Craig Roark and Jordan 's cousin, Rodney Picou and if things aren't tip top at that point, Ndamukong Suh is a great candidate for the offensive side of the ball. That's the position he played at the US ARMY All-American Bowl, where he had to face some of the country's best DTs in Roy Miller and Marcus Shavers along with practicing against the likes of Jerrell Powe and Demarcus Granger.


Kickoff Cover -  D-


Marque McCray.jpg - 43359 Bytes
Marque McCray had to be all smiles as he
averaged 32 yards per return during the
spring game.


The Good : If you are the return team, you can't be unhappy with the result of the spring game, Marque McCray and Titus Brothers combining to average over 25 yards a return. Last year, Nebraska ranked 67th in the country, not even averaging 20. With the 25 yard average, that would have put them in the top six.

Yes, I know, we are talking about the good part of kickoff cover, not return, but you can see where this is going.


The Bad: (See The Good)


Overall: There's probably issues here with kickoff placement, but as I can't sit here and say exactly where the ball was supposed to go, I can just see that the ball didn't go in the end zone most of the time, if any at all. That's not always an indication that the kicking was errant, because sometimes it's just a matter of placing the ball where your coverage team expects it to go, so that the overall scheme works.


It didn't work and allowing two players that have barely worked at kickoffs, because so many have gotten opportunities, to average an almost nation-leading total, special teams seems to need a little more time on the drawing board.






Summary: Zac Taylor highlights, despite the fact that the offensive line didn't. The running game was all but absent, but that was out of intent. The receivers proved that it's just a matter of coaching and now that they have a legit coach at the helm, they are showing solid improvement.


What? The fullbacks? No carries, no receptions and the rushing game was all but absent for both sides. ‘Nuff said.


There's a long ways to go with this group. Yes, they have the guy at the helm that needs to be there and Ross is the man and will stay that way his final year at Nebraska . But, they are going to need some help. More consistency on the offensive line, some more help at TE and more receivers that will compliment and add to the group already here.


There's reason to be optimistic about this group, but the biggest reason right now is that they have time to learn, re-learn and then, get some help I think that in some areas, they desperately need.

Coming soon…………………….the defense

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