From the grandstands: Nebraska vs Maine

As the curtain is about to be raised on the 2005 Husker season one thought come to mine…THANK GOODNESS!!!!! I can not remember a time or circumstance when a program of any kind or type more desperately needed a game to focus on. Well finally Saturday night we get to see what it is that has been so closely guarded this fall.

First things first, I did get a chance to study up a little on the Maine Black Bears. This trip to Lincoln will be the biggest crowd they have ever played in front of. Assuming the unthinkable doesn't happen, and half of the stadium is empty, Maine will play in front of a crowd that is roughly twice the size of the biggest crowd they have ever as a program seen.

What does this mean?


Who really knows, but I have seen the crowds in Lincoln be a little reserved in the first game of the season when the opponent appears to be a fairly overmatched team. That said, I still get chills walking into Memorial Stadium even after years of doing so, so I would assume the Black Bears will be a little in awe of the entire deal.


Overall the Black Bear return 11 starters, 6 on offense and 5 on defense, with 0 specialist returning. 9 of the 11 started all of the games and 1 missed only I game.


All things generally start with the QB and with Maine they are in good hands. Junior QB Ron Whitcomb has pretty much started forever for the Black Bears and will destroy all the records by the time he leaves the program. He has thrown for 4746 yards and is in 5th place on the all time Maine charts. Last season he completed 60% of his passes last season and threw for 2318 yards and 22 TDs. He did throw 13 INTs on 350 attempts.


On the ground the Black Bears are also in good hands with Montell Owens getting the chance to shine after being behind a talented senior last season. Owens was able to average close to 4 yards per carry last season when he got the chance, and it seems like he has embraced the chance he is getting to show what he can do.


The receiving corps is stocked as well. Ryan Waller returns with 1459 career yards receiving as does Kevin McMahan, which will add experience and talent for Whitcomb to throw to.


On special teams, the Black Bears return an exciting return man in Junior Arel Gordon. As a sophomore Gordon racked up 2 TDs and over 700 yards in Kick Off returns with an average of 27 yards per try.


Defensively, Maine returns several players that were near the tops of the tackle charts and also two players that led the team in sacks. Linebacker Jermaine Walker a 6 foot, 232 pound senior returns to anchor the defense. He is joined by junior corner Daren Stone who will need to play big against the NU offense.


As most people believe this is a mismatch, on paper there is no way that Maine should stay on the field with NU. Well tell that to Mississippi State last year. The Black Bears played the perfect upset game last year when they defeated the Bulldogs on their own field 9-7.


MSU was able to out gain and out first down Maine but struggled to score points. They allowed a young team to stick around and gain confidence and it came back to bite them in the end with Maine scoring with 2:55 left in the game, sealing the victory for the Black Bears. The best way to get upset is to have breakdowns in the kicking game and turnovers, two things that NU must avoid.


Things to look for on offense


Game management

          I am very interested to see if the Offense is a finely oiled machine. They need to be at the line early in the play clock to run the shifts and motions that are a part of the offense.


Command of the offense

          We have all read the stories and heard about how well Taylor knows the offense and how he will lead the offense. That is greatm, but I want to see it on the field against different colored jerseys.


Use of "packages"

          How well will the coaches utilize the different skill-sets of the offensive players. Ok, this may have to wait until week 2 or maybe even week 3, because they may be saving some stuff for the tougher games.


How well the Oline communicates

          This is always tougher to see when it is working, but really easy to see when it isn't. Busted blocking assignment on blitz pickups will tell the tale. Hey it is going to happen, Maine will send the house if they are smart, and there will be breakdowns in protections, BUT what I will be looking for is how the O-line reacts and how Taylor reacts.


The timing between the WR and QBs

          Between the lack of quality QB play and receivers running sloppy routes last year, it was a toss up what caused the most harm to the offense. I will be interested to see if some of the stories of great chemistry between Taylor and the wide receivers are true and if it will carry over to game time.


The Newcomers…of course

          I am sure everyone will be abuzz the first time Lucky steps in the huddle, and I am right there with you. It is kind of like Christmas morning and having all the new toys to play with. I am also very excited to see the old toy, Cory Ross, who after the warrior-like performance against OU will forever be one of my Husker heroes.



Things to look for on defense


Playing together

          This unit has to get off to a good start and play with great enthusiasm. They need to look like they know what they are doing and fly around. I came away from the opener last year very troubled with the defense. They were thinking too much on the field, which slows everything down. I want to see them reacting and blowing stuff up.


Inside pressure on the QB

          It seems like NU has the guys to come off the edge and get pressure on the QB. What I want to see is the push up the middle, making the QB feel the heat right in his face. I want to see this form Nebraska's base defense,  not when they add rushers to the front. They need to be able to get pressure with 4 or 5 not 6 or 7.


The use of "packages"

          I am very curious to see how the defensive coaches use some of their skill players. How will the 3 man front look who will stay on the field and who will be replaced?


The rotations

          I want to see players getting snaps on defense to prepare them for later in the season.

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