Nebraska is not an offensive juggernaut this year by any means, ranked #27 in total offense averaging 41 points a game and ranked #21 in passing offense with about 281 yards through the air per contest, compared to the way that they finished up last year in the top 10 for total offense. While Nebraska's offense has sputtered at times, that's what happens in the first games of the season, it has also clicked and ran like they were in mid-season form.
The question now for Nebraska is how will NMSU defend them? What is a 3-3-5 and what is the idea of running a 3-3-5 predicated upon? Why are people talking about a 3-3-5 anyway? These are things to consider when it comes to Nebraska looking at New Mexico State.
Going for Nebraska: The Huskers have another night game where they arguably performed better against Western Michigan than they did against San Jose State. The Huskers also seem to be ready to get back players like Lydon Murtha and possibly Ricky Thenarse this game. There is also a need to be excited about Nebraska's scoring potential in their defense and their special teams. Nebraska scored off of an interception which was returned for a touchdown by Ndamukong Suh and a kick return that was returned by Niles Paul. The Huskers have the #24 rated return average per kickoff and seem to be hitting their stride with Paul and Alphonzo Dennard in to return.
Going for NMSU: There is some uncertainty as to what Nebraska might see on defense tonight in Lincoln from NMSU. NMSU changed their defensive coordinator and brought in Joe Lee Dunn to run the 3-3-5 specifically. He has done it before. I am not sure if people remember it, but I remember watching Memphis games, with DeAngelo Williams at running back, and seeing their defense with three defensive lineman that are to one side of the center or one guy is in a three-point stance and the other two are in a two-point. What's tough about it is recognizing in a timely manner where the pressure is going to come from and making sure the pass protection is going to block them all.
Going against Nebraska: Obviously, besides the type of defense that NMSU will try and throw at Nebraska will be the challenge to get better overall. The Huskers have gone out and proven that they can throw the football against WMU and SJSU. However, Nebraska has struggled to run between the tackles and even keep a drive alive when it came to just being efficient running the football. Additionally, there is going to be the challenge to Joe Ganz and his receivers to remain consistent through four quarters of football. The Nebraska defense is going to play against their third spread offense in as many games and needs to find a way to replace Barry Turner who was injured in the San Jose State game.
Going against NMSU: I think that there are a number of things going against NMSU tonight and it begins with the defense that they run. It's not that I think that they can't be successful running the defense, it's that it's new and might not have the right personnel to do it. What these types of defenses need is a bunch of players that are typically not the right size or shape to play the traditional 4-3 defenses and are defined as "tweeners". More than that, what tweeners usually are underneath that label are great athletes. I am just not sure that the personnel that NMSU has is suitable for the defense, right now.
Offensive player of interest for Nebraska: I am going to take Marlon Lucky today. Why I like Lucky today is because I think that in the passing game it's going to be necessary to find him and allow him to make and create plays underneath. The NMSU defense is going to be different and with a lot of players potentially dropping off into coverage, or the possibility of bringing pressure from a number of different areas, Ganz might need to find his outlet pass to Lucky quite a bit today. Lucky could have a huge day.
Offensive player of interest for NMSU:Nebraska is going to have to know where wide receiver, A.J. Harris, is for the Aggies all night long. The senior is now the leading receiver in NMSU history with 191 receptions and is now eyeing the national record for career receptions which is held by Taylor Stubblefied from Purdue. He also has the guy to throw them to him in Chase Holbrook. Holbrook has three games in his career where he led his offense to over 500 total yards and has also thrown for four touchdowns in six contests. Holbrook has 8,485 yards, 60 touchdowns and a 70% completion percentage over his career.
Defensive player of interest for Nebraska: The obvious one here would have to be Pierre Allen. I had a chance to re-watch the San Jose State game the other night and I really thought that Allen had a very good game and should step up into the role. I am going to be looking at the second guys coming off the bench at this position though, particularly, if the red shirt is possibly pulled off of either Cameron Meredith or Josh Williams potentially to step up and make an impact. Early word is that both are playing well, however if one is more physically ready to go than the other then it would have to be Meredith. I am betting we could see him tonight.
Defensive player of interest for NMSU: It's hard to overlook the sheer numbers that NMSU has to play in the defensive secondary and one of the standouts that NMSU has is Derrick Richardson. Richardson was the second leading tackler on the team last year with 108 tackles. Davon House, a sophomore, appears to be the person in the secondary that Ganz needs to avoid as he hauled in four interceptions last year as well as returning one, 100 yards for a touchdown.
Deciding factors: Defenses that are predicated around chaos are that way for one reason. Typically, they are trying to cover up for their deficiencies from a talent perspective. Don't get me wrong, I think that NMSU has talent, but not all the way across the board and they need something else to help bridge the gap between them and their competition. People call the spread a gimmick, but the comparison of the spread to the 3-3-5 or 30-stack is apples to oranges. Many teams run the spread now nationally and are total offense leaders. How many defenses are based on the 3-3-5 nationally and what type of success have they had? Not a lot and not a lot.
Personally, I see this being too much for NMSU for a number of reasons. First, I think that Nebraska's offense is good at taking what is being given. In fact, I think that entire game plans in the West Coast Offense are planned around the weaknesses of particular defenses. I also think that there could be some issues with the new defense and under a new defensive coordinator, kind of like trying to run the West Coast Offense with option offense personnel or vice versa. It's just not going to be a polished product. Also, this game is at night and is just another tune up for Virginia Tech. Nebraska isn't overlooking this game. This season isn't about looking ahead, it's about the here and the now.
Nebraska wins, 42-13.