If Nebraska turns the tables this season, a large part will likely be because of a vastly improved offense that is averaging 41.6 yards per game, including 337.6 rushing yards per game. For the most part, those yards have been churned up in huge chunks … Nebraska has had 17 scoring drives of five plays or less.
The Cornhuskers' personnel is largely the same that it was last season, with one key exception: redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez. Not only is Martinez the Big 12's top rusher, averaging 147.4 yards per game, 10.8 yards per carry and putting up 12 touchdowns, he's also one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks, completing 61 percent of his throws for a little more than 130 yards per game.
Martinez's development has allowed an already strong group of running backs to be even better. Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead are one-cut runners with power and deceptive speed. Between them, they average more than 155 rushing yards per game at better than 7.5 yards per carry, while they've scored eight touchdowns. Tyler Legate is a bruising blocker at fullback.
The receivers are good enough that they would likely excel in more of a passing attack. Niles Paul is the headliner and an excellent big-play threat. Brandon Kinnie is actually the team's leader in receptions and yards, while Mike McNeill, a converted tight end, essentially plays a Dallas Clark-like role out of the slot. Ben Cotton is a big blocker who hasn't been a huge factor in the receiving game.
Nebraska's offensive line has been excellent this year, a product of a more healthy group with increased depth. Not only do they excel at the point of attack, they've been strong at getting to the second level, creating creases for Martinez to run through.
Defensively, Bo Pelini has said he thinks this year's group could be even better than last year's. They're allowing just 12.8 points and 275 yards per game.
The defensive line is minus All-American Ndamukong Suh, though the tackle duo of Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler has fled in nicely, making nine tackles for loss and six sacks between them. Pierre Allen is solid, experienced and rarely out of position.
One place where the 'Huskers might be improved is at linebacker, where JUCO transfer Lavonte David has emerged as a tackling machine. David has 60 stops on the year, including four tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and three quarterback hurries. Eric Martin and Alonzo Whaley have combined for 26 tackles at the other spot. Eric Hagg, listed as a nickel back, is essentially a third linebacker with speed and coverage ability. He has 10 tackles and two interceptions this year.
Most teams would enjoy having one shutdown cornerback, while Nebraska has two in Prince Amukamara, a future first-round NFL draft pick, and junior Alfonzo Dennard. DeJon Gomes, Rickey Thenarse and P.J. Smith are all active from the safety position.
Alex Henery is one of the country's top kickers, making four of four field goals and all 28 of his extra point attempts. He also serves as Nebraska's punter, averaging 44.4 yards per boot. Adi Kunalic is a strong kickoff specialist who has 15 touchbacks on 37 kicks. Nebraska hasn't been great on kickoff returns, but Paul is an excellent punt returner.
QB: 3 Taylor Martinez (6-1 205, rFr.)
IB: 10 Roy Helu Jr. (6-0 220, Sr.), OR 22 Rex Burkhead (5-11 210, So.)
FB: 48 Tyler Legate (5-10 235, Jr.)
WR: 24 Niles Paul (6-1 220, Sr.)
WR: 84 Brandon Kinnie (6-3 220, Jr.)
WR: 44 Mike McNeill (6-4 235, Sr.)
TE: 81 Ben Cotton (6-6 255, So.)
LT: 71 Jeremiah Sirles (6-6 310, rFr.)
LG: 68 Keith Williams (6-5 310, Sr.)
C: 58 Mike Caputo (6-1 275, Jr.)
RG: 74 Ricky Henry (6-4 305, Sr.)
RT: 73 D. J. Jones (6-5 315, Sr.), OR 78 Marcel Jones (6-7 315, Jr.)
DE: 95 Pierre Allen (6-5 265, Sr.)
DT: 94 Jared Crick (6-6 285, Jr.)
DT: 55 Baker Steinkuhler (6-6 290, So.)
DE: 34 Cameron Meredith (6-4 265, So.)
MIKE: 46 Eric Martin (6-2 240, So.), OR 45 Alonzo Whaley (6-1 225, So.)
LCB: 21 Prince Amukamara (6-1 205, Sr.)
RCB: 15 Alfonzo Dennard (5-10 195, Jr.)
NB: 28 Eric Hagg (6-2 210, Sr.)
S: 7 DeJon Gomes (6-0 200, Sr.)
S: 3 Rickey Thenarse (6-0 210, Sr.), OR 13 P.J. Smith (6-2 210, So.)
PK: 90 Alex Henery (6-2 175, Sr.)
KO: 1 Adi Kunalic (6-0 190, Sr.)
KOR: Paul AND Kinnie
LS: 92 P.J. Mangieri (6-4 245, So.)
H: 96 Brett Maher (6-0 170, So.)