Yesterday, Bellephoron took a look at the vaunted Blackshirt defense of Nebraska. While there offense has not looked great in the early going this season, there is plenty of talent to test the Bruins on Saturday. The focus today is on the strength of Nebraska's team, their high performing offense.
Now Nebraska's offense has not gotten off to the strongest start but is still good for #33 in the country in total yards through two games against Division 1 opponents, averaging 504 yards per game. The rushing offense in particular has been impressive, at 330 yards per game (8th in the NCAA). Last season, as was evident in the UCLA game, Nebraska can score with the best of them (nearly 35 points per game in 2012, 28th in the country).
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck has put together a talented, well coached group of players on offense. So, gravitas aside, let's take a look at the position groups for the Cornhuskers.
The consensus on the front line is that this group is the best that Bo Pelini has had in his time at the helm in Nebraska. Tough to argue from my perspective. In addition to being the best group, it is an absurdly deep group with 26(!) offensive lineman listed on their official roster. Everyone of those guys is 275 pounds or larger and I'd guess that around 75% are 6'4" or taller, so it is a large group of players.
The starters in both games this season from left to right have been senior Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310), junior Jake Cotton (6'6", 305), senior Cole Pensick (6'2", 275, the "runt" of the litter), senior Spencer Long (6'4", 315) and senior Andrew Rodriguez (6'6", 330). Of that group, both Sirles and Long were All-Conference players in 2012. Between Sirles, Long, Rodriguez and prominent senior backup tackle Brent Qvale (6'7", 315), the Cornhuskers return 76 total starts on their offensive line.
This is an experienced, physical and successful group of offensive lineman that are one of few units that on paper surpass the Bruins size up front. If Cassius Marsh wants to build up some stock as an NFL DE, he needs to have a big game against the Cornhusker front. The same goes for Anthony Barr and the other Bruin pass rushers.
The tight end spot is not featured heavily in the Cornhusker's passing game so far this season, but senior Jake Long (6'4", 240) will be on the field quite a bit. Through 2 games he has 2 catches for 44 yards (6 for 55 and a TD in 2012). His backup is freshman Cetan Carter (6'4", 240) and he has a catch for 12 yards so far this year.
I'd expect to see this spot tested a little bit because the TE spot was targeted nearly 80 times last season (out of 368 attempts). These guys aren't going to burn any of the Bruins down the middle, but are talented enough to test the linebackers and safeties in the short game.
There are some talented guys in this group, but the star is the X receiver. Junior Kenny Bell (6'1", 185) was the most consistent threat on the Cornhuskers roster last season (50 catches for 863 yards and 8 touchdowns). He is actually a very similar player to Shaq Evans and had a solid game against the Bruins last year. He's started off 2013 right where he left off with 10 catches for 102 yards in two games where the Cornhuskers ran the hell out of the ball.
The option on the otherside at the Z is senior Quincy Enuwa (6'2", 225). He was also a big part of their passing game last year, finishing second in catches, yards and targets (42, 470 and 69 targets). He's been a favorite of Martinez in the early going this year, putting up 8 catches for 82 yards along with a team leading 3 touchdowns so far.
Nebraska's starter at the last WR spot (the A position) is junior Jamal Turner (32 catches for 417 yards in 2012). Turner is backed up by a former 4 star recruit in redshirt freshman Jamaal Westerkamp.
There is no huge size mismatch like there was against Nevada's 6'5" converted QB. This is a good collection of players that could be used more if not for the physical limitations of their quarterback, but should be the toughest test the Bruins' secondary will face until the Pac-12 season starts.
The Cornhuskers have a lot of options at the running back spot and UCLA should expect to see three talented backs get touches.
The headliner is junior Ameer Abdullah (5'9", 190) who was a pivotal part of the Cornhuskers' success running the ball against UCLA last year (16 carries for 119 yards and 2 TDs). Aside from his success against the Bruins, Abdullah was the leading rusher for Nebraska last season with the injuries to Rex Burkhead throughout the year. He ended up with over 1100 yards and 8 touchdowns and a second team All-Big-12 spot.
Replacing Burkhead seemed to be a tough role, but Nebraska may be more talented at the running back spot in 2013. The depth is top of the line with bruising sophomore Imani Cross (6'1", 225) and the electric freshman Terrell Newby (5'10", 185). Both of these players are already over 100 yards through 2 games without being tackled for a loss. The fullback for Nebraska is senior C.J. Zimmerer (6'0", 230).
Newby is a guy that (in my opinion) should have been wearing blue during Saturday's game, but recruiting is fickle and he's a Cornhusker. Cross rushed for 7 touchdowns in 2012 and this doesn't even factor in the Cornhuskers second most important running threat that we'll get to briefly.
All three of these players are more than capable of breaking a big play and grinding out tough runs on any down. This will again be a important test and way to measure the level of play that UCLA can expect out of their hyped front-seven.
Taylor Martinez has been a four year starter for the Cornhuskers. He's not impressive size wise for a quarterback at 6'1" 210 in his senior year. He is not and has never been a big threat to throw the ball downfield because he doesn't have great arm strength. He's had a number of ups and downs as the quarterback at Nebraska.
Despite all this, Martinez (out of Corona Centennial) is going to end up as one of the most decorated players in NCAA history at the QB spot. He'll almost certainly end up as one of only two QBs to ever throw for 9000 yards and rush for 3000 in a career (only Colin Kaepernick has done it). He's going to hold almost every record for QBs at Nebraska.
Skill wise, Martinez is elusive and more of a threat on the ground than in the air.
I'm 100% sure Ellis McCarthy remembers that first play.
He has started off this season looking improved through the air 32-45 for 325 yards and 6 touchdowns to 1 interception, albeit against Wyoming and Southern Miss. Martinez will almost certainly try to test out the Bruins secondary with his plethora of options spread out wide and out of the backfield.
So there you have it, Nebraska's offense. If the Bruins hold the Cornhuskers to 439 yards like they did last season, I'd expect UCLA to be in a position to win a tough road game. If the Bruins hold Nebraska under 400 yards, they win by two scores.
Until Saturday, Go Bruins!