Nebraska football fans have been worried lately about the state of the NU defense, and for good reason. But lost in that discussion has been a disturbing lack of performance from Nebraska’s offense—and a need for playmakers like I-back Ameer Abdullah to see the ball more.
Not convinced? Well, let’s take a look at the two games where Nebraska struggled late in the game. Nebraska put up 37 points against Wyoming, but had to sweat out a three-point victory. Yes, the Cowboys put up cartoonish yardage against the Blackshirts. But they got the chance to do so in part because Nebraska’s offense wasn’t able to put the game away.
The loss to UCLA is even a starker example of Nebraska’s offensive woes contributing to its defensive struggles. Yes, the Blackshirts fell apart in the second half. But take a look at Nebraska’s offensive production after its last score:
Time of Possession
End of Game
Should Nebraska’s defense have performed better in the second half? Sure. But look at that offensive performance. Think about the fact that the defense is very young and very inexperienced. Nebraska’s defense was always going to need help from the supposed strength of the team, the offense, to get through tough situations.
When Nebraska’s offense was clicking against UCLA, the defense was able to keep up. When the offense misfired, the wheels fell off.
The same pattern in reverse could be seen against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits put up embarrassing numbers against the Blackshirts early, matching Nebraska score-for-score and leading 17-14 at the end of the first quarter.
But the key in that game was that the Jackrabbits were matching Nebraska score-for-score, meaning Nebraska’s offense was doing its part to support the fledgling Blackshirts until they found their feet. Think about how different the UCLA game could have been if the offense would have scored—or at least gotten a few first downs—in the midst of that 28-point explosion by the Bruins.
At the start of the third quarter, Nebraska had the ball and a 21-10 lead. From that point on, Nebraska ran 29 offensive plays. Abdullah got six carries, the last one being his fumble, which extinguished any chance of a Nebraska comeback.
Why is Abdullah so important? Because right now he’s Nebraska’s most reliable offensive weapon. Abdullah leads the team in carries and total yardage, and is averaging 6.28 yards per carry. He’s third on the team in receiving, with 11 grabs for 10.45 yards per reception. So he is clearly effective when he gets the ball in his hands.
And the injury concerns surrounding quarterback Taylor Martinez make Abdullah even more important as a weapon. Martinez missed the South Dakota State game with turf toe. Even with a bye week to recover, Martinez is still questionable for Saturday’s game against Illinois (according to Mitch Sherman of ESPN).
If Martinez is unable to go, Nebraska will have either redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong or career backup Ron Kellogg under center against the Illini. Neither is the kind of offensive threat that a healthy Martinez would be, so Abdullah will become central to Nebraska’s offensive attack.
Putting more of a focus on Abdullah would not diminish the need for Nebraska’s other offensive weapons, of course. But it would play more to Nebraska’s strengths (such as a deep backfield and a strong offensive line) and limit Nebraska’s youth and inexperience on defense by increasing NU’s time of possession.
Getting Abdullah more touches doesn’t necessarily make Nebraska’s offense less diverse (or, to use an unfortunate Shawn Watson holdover, “less multiple”). But it does, particularly if Nebraska will be breaking in a new signal-caller, put the ball in the hands of NU’s most effective and reliable offensive weapon.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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