What Nebraska also didn't do last week was hurt themselves a lot. Just one interception and one fumble that they didn't lose. However, there was some "sloppy play" that will need to be shored up for this weekend and the rest of the season. Below are my 10 things that I will be watching this weekend and that I think are key not just for a win, but the development of this team as the season progresses.
1. Don't overlook Arkansas State – Nebraska is in a dangerous position. It's unlikely that Bo and his staff will allow the players to look ahead to Virginia Tech, but if they did Arkansas State is the type of team that can capitalize on getting anything less that 100%. Arkansas State knocked off Mississippi Valley State 61-0 last week allowing no third down conversions and just 1.6 yards per play. Arkansas State will also not be in awe of Nebraska as they have faced a Big 12 opponent each of the last seven seasons (beating Texas A&M last season at College Station).
2. Getting set defensively is key – Arkansas State is a team that will take advantage of a defense. For those of you that saw Nebraska last week, there was a lot of time being taken by the defense to get set. In fact on one play Florida Atlantic quick snapped the ball and hit an uncovered wide receiver along the Nebraska sideline for a big gain. Nebraska will have to recognize things a little more quickly this week or find themselves getting set and having the Arkansas State offense coming right at them.
3. Suh vs. Arnold – Florida Atlantic had some difficulty establishing the run against Nebraska. One of the big reasons they failed to do so was because of Ndamukong Suh. Suh was second on the team in tackles last weekend with seven including one for a loss of yardage. Reggie Arnold is on the Doak Walker Watch List and was all-conference last year after rushing for 1,000 yards in his first three seasons at Arkansas State. The size comparison between the Florida Atlantic offensive lineman and the Arkansas State line is literally a push.
4. Elimination of penalties – Now, I am going to say that I didn't think that Nebraska got any breaks last weekend by the officials. There were numerous holding penalties that I thought were overlooked by the officials on Florida Atlantic (particularly against Suh) as well as the late hit by Crick and the personal foul call against Eric Martin. Nothing you can do about the first one, the last two are preventable and I am sure that they will be addressed. The Huskers can not become their own worst enemy on the field.
5. Better personnel rotation – I was a bit surprised to see some players so late in the game last week. I believe that Suh was still in the game with 11 minutes left. I know that Blake Lawrence was in even later and I am sure that it's not a great idea to keep Blake on the field anymore than necessary considering the fire that is there with a potential concussion and what it means to his career and life. It's also necessary to get Cody Green and running backs beyond Rex Burkhead ready to play in case of injury.
6. Another step forward for Lee – Zac Lee really had great composure and played nearly a perfect game last week. I counted dropped passes by Mike McNeil, Menolik Holt, Roy Helu and Curenski Gilleylen that makes his 15 for 22 for 213 yards and two scores all the more impressive. What really impressed me the most was Lee's comfort in the pocket and not being to anxious to break the pocket on his feet. Lee did a fine job of elongating the play by his movement in the pocket and really threw well on the run. The interception came late in the game, but it's one of those types of situations that Lee is likely to not forget and will play better because of it.
7. More dominance upfront – I thought that Ricky Henry, for his first action in DI football, played remarkably well. Everyone knew that he was aggressive and really looks like one of those lineman that played back in the 90s clearing the way for Frazier, LP and Green. However, there were some struggles with the tackles with the edge rushers, particularly with Mike Smith, and Arkansas State brings with them Alex Carrington. Carrington was the Sun Belt player of the year last year as a defensive end. This will be an interesting matchup.
8. Give more than three steps – I didn't know what Pierre Allen and Barry Turner were being asked to do, but they did a lot of up three yards then read and react. I know that I saw some zone blitz in there, but it wasn't until Cameron Meredith got in the game that I really saw a defensive end getting after the quarterback and applying pressure from the ends. Allen is one of those players that needs to start taking advantage of the one on one blocking he is getting because he is more than capable to exploit that and make plays.
9. Little more consistency – It feels like we are all singing Henry the Eighth I Am when it comes to talking about the lack of consistency out of the receivers. It needs to be said that this goes beyond just the wide receivers and extends to the tight ends and the running backs as well. At critical points in the game, drops occurred that could have put Nebraska in a better position to convert a first down or to actually convert a first down. These drive killers that are caused by drops are going to make or break bigger, more competitive games.
10. Color me impressed – I really think that this team has come together well given the people that they have had to step up and replace like Matt Slauson, Ty Steinkuhler, Quentin Castille, Todd Peterson, Nate Swift and of course holes in the secondary. I really had some big questions answered by the play of Will Compton, Jared Crick, Sean Fisher, Rex Burkhead, Menolik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen. These players have accepted the need to fill the hold left by someone that is no longer around and there has been little drop off at some of these positions. Still, these players need to take steps forward, every week, and are keys to the team's overall success.
Bottom line this weekend is going to be about no overlooking the opponent at hand and focusing on becoming better, sharper for the weeks to come. There is some rust on the machine and it needs to be kicked off and oiled a little bit. It's to be expected. It was only the first game, but Nebraska in a lot of ways is back to reloading the personnel at certain positions and just keeping on. While Arkansas State will come in and maybe even scare the Nebraska fans with their offense, that really benefits by experience, everyone needs to remember that the teeth of this Nebraska team is in on the defensive side of the ball.
While only allowing 1.6 yards per play against Mississippi Valley is impressive, Nebraska's offensive is a bit more dynamic and efficient I am sure. The biggest key for every weekend is for the Nebraska offense to take what the defense is giving to them as well as establish the run. I look for Nebraska to have their full focus on the task at hand and win the ball game, 38-13.