A week after playing a program with a sub .500 all-time record, UCLA welcomes the Nebraska Cornhuskers to Pasadena. Nebraska, of course, is one of the most successful programs in college football history and are closing in on 850 wins for the program
This trip marks Nebraska's first trip to the Rose Bowl since the January 3, 2002 National Championship game. Many consider that game to mark the end of a dominant era of Cornhusker football. In the five seasons between 1993-1997, Nebraska lost three games. Total. After an off 1998 season in which Nebraska "suffered" through a 9-4 campaign, Nebraska went 12-1 in 1999, 10-2 in 2000, and 11-2 in 2001. However, that 2001 season ended in spectacular fashion. Nebraska was crushed by Colorado 62-36, and then humiliated by Miami in the National Championship game 37-14. Nebraska has been good since then, but they haven't reached the heights of the 90's.
We'll take a look at the coaching staff and offensive starters after the jump.
Bo Pelini is in his 5th year as Nebraska's head coach. He posts a career record at Nebraska of 40-16 which includes a one-game interim stint in which he took over for Frank Solich and coached the Cornhuskers in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. Pelini's resume lists some impressive company. He coached defensive backs with the San Francisco 49ers, where he won a Super Bowl ring in 1995, linebackers with the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, and coordinated defenses at Nebraska, Oklahoma, and LSU before becoming Nebraska's head coach.
Offensively, Tim Beck enters his second season as offensive coordinator and fifth season
at Nebraska. They run a ground heavy spread scheme that averaged roughly 217 rushing yards last season, which was good for 15th in the country. On the other hand, they only managed 162 yards through the air, which was 104th in the country. They did get off to a hot start against Southern Mississippi, passing for 354 yards and rushing for 258.
Nebraska is replacing Carl Pelini with John Papuchis this year, but the bigger concern is replacing the amount of talent Nebraska lost on defense. Papuchis has been on Pelini's since Pelini came to Nebraska, and the 34 year-old defensive coordinator also coached under Pelini while at LSU. Needless to say, Papuchis' taking over as defensive coordinator should not really create much change in the way Nebraska plays defense.
Over the past three years, there may not be a more polarizing player in college football than Jr. Taylor Martinez (6'1 200 lbs.). When he is playing well, he's as explosive as they come. As a freshman in 2010, he started the season off scorching hot, rushing for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns in the first five games as Nebraska started off 5-0. Over the next 9 games, he managed only 228 yards and didn't score a rushing touchdown, and Nebraska limped to a 5-4 finish. In 2011, Martinez wasn't nearly as effective running the ball as he was in early 2010, but his biggest problem was the inability to move the ball through the air. Martinez surpassed 200 yards passing only twice all season, and he finished the year with just a 56.3% completion rate. There was a lot of discussion about Martinez revamping his throwing motion in the offseason, and he did look good against Southern Mississippi, completing 26 of 34 pass attempts for 354 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Martinez is backed up by Jr. Ron Kellogg (6'1 210 lbs.) or Fr. Tommy Armstrong (6'1 215 lbs.). So. Brion Carnes (6'1 200 lbs.), the cousin of Nebraska legend Tommie Frazier, is the 4th quarterback listed.
The obvious star of Nebraska's deep stable of running back is Sr. Rex Burkhead (5'11 220 lbs.). Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury early in the game against Southern Mississippi and it's currently unclear if he'll be able to play next week. Burkhead led the team in rushing last year with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he will be missed if he is unable to go.
Behind Burkhead, So. Ameer Abdullah (5-9 185 lbs.), So. Braylon Heard (5'11 185 lbs.), and Fr. Imani Cross (6'1 225 lbs.) are all capable ball carriers. Abdullah and Heard are homerun threats, and Cross is a well built freshmen. After Burkhead's injury, Abdullah did receive the bulk of the carries with 15, but Cross carried the ball 11 times, much more than Heard's 3 carries. Once Aaron Green transferred, most people assumed Heard's opportunities would increase, and it's somewhat surprising that Cross has apparently leap-frogged him at this point.
Nebraska also uses fullbacks Jr. Mike Marrow (6'2 250 lbs.) and Jr. C.J. Zimmerer (6'0 230 lbs.) extensively. They received 5 carries between the two of them, and are capable runners when Nebraska runs the triple option.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Nebraska has quietly assembled a solid group of wide receivers. So. Kenny Bell (6'1 185 lbs.) is very explosive and will start outside along with Jr. Quincy Enunwa (6'2 215 lbs.). Bell led the team with 32 catches for 461 yards last year as a freshman, and Enunwa was second on the team with 293 yards. Enunwa had 6 catches for 70 yards in week one, but Martinez spread the ball around and found 10 different receivers.
At slot, look out for So. Jamal Turner (6'1 185 lbs.) who's listed as a co-starter with Sr. Tim Marlowe (5'10 175 lbs.). Turner is an elite athlete and was recruited as a dual threat quarterback, so watch out for potential trick plays.
Tight ends Sr. Ben Cotton (6'6 255 lbs.) and Sr. Kyler Reed (6'3 230 lbs.) are very good. Cotton is a traditional in-line tight end, while Reed is practically another wide receiver on the field and led Nebraska with 17 ypc last season.
Nebraska may be known for their gigantic offensive lines, but the team looks much different this year. The best lineman of the group is probably RG Jr. Spencer Long (6'4 305 lbs.). He earned Second Team All-Big 10 last year and started every game. At the other guard spot, Sr. Seung Hoon Choi (6'2 290 lbs.) is a little small, but is said to move well, which is a must for Nebraska's power running game.
At C, Sr. Justin Jackson (6'3 280 lbs.) or Jr. Cole Pensick (6'2 275 lbs.) are trying to replace Mike Caputo. The tackle spots will be manned by Jr. Brent Qvale (6'7 315 lbs.) and either Jr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6 310 lbs.) or Jr. Andrew Rodriguez (6'6 325 lbs.).
That concludes Part I of the Nebraska Cornhuskers preview. Feel free to fire away with any additional comments and be sure to check back in for Part II of the preview which will take a closer look at Nebraska's defense and special teams.