Nebraska Football: 5 Ways 2014 Will Look Different Than 2013 for Huskers
(Turn and face the stranger)
Just gonna have to be a different man”
- David Bowie, “Changes”
Nebraska football fans saw the 2013 regular season end with a thud, with the Huskers losing two of their last three games (both at home), missing out on a conference title game and once again ending the season with four losses. Hope springs eternal, however, and Nebraska fans are hoping to see changes that will result in more success on the field.
Here are five things that you can expect to look different for Nebraska in 2014—some helpful, others not so much.
Tommy Armstrong's Offense
Tommy Armstrong (along with senior Ron Kellogg) did an admirable job of filling in at quarterback when Taylor Martinez was injured last year. But it should not be lost on anyone that the offense last year was (pardon the pun) tailored to Martinez’s strengths. Certainly, tweaks during the season were made to suit Armstrong and Kellogg, but the base offense installed for last year was not built for either quarterback.
This year should be different. Armstrong is going to win the starting job, which means offensive coordinator Tim Beck will have a full offseason to tailor his scheme to accommodate Armstrong's strengths. Combine that with an entire offseason of work, and it is fair to expect significant growth in production from the quarterback position in 2014.
A Full Backfield
Put simply, Nebraska is loaded in the backfield. Ameer Abdullah looks to be one of the top two backs in the Big Ten in his senior season. Imani Cross has bulked up again, preparing for a heavier workload. Terrell Newby showed flashes of his blazing, game-breaking speed last year. And Adam Taylor made all kinds of waves on the scout team in 2013.
With Jamal Turner’s inclusion at quarterback at the start of spring practice, it’s fair to speculate that Nebraska will be looking for ways to get more playmakers on the field at the same time. If that’s the case, don’t be at all surprised to see more than one I-back on the field next year.
More Three-Man Front
Nebraska’s depth on the defensive line looks to be a bit of a question mark in 2014. But the Huskers are stacked with linebackers. It’s easy to put a two-deep of linebackers at each of the three positions and still leave out either a talented veteran or a promising newcomer.
So why not move to a defensive formation that would take advantage of that depth chart? After all, Vincent Valentine appears to be preparing for a stronger role in 2014.
#Husker D-line was pretty nasty today. Gregory, Collins, Valentine, McMullen. All playing downhill.— Brian Christopherson (@HuskerExtraBC) April 2, 2014
At 6'2" and 325 pounds, Valentine is built like a prototypical nose tackle who can anchor a three-man front. It would allow more of Nebraska’s talented linebackers to see the field, as well as free up more opportunities for defensive tackle Maliek Collins to play at end.
A Looser Bo Pelini
A certain smart and particularly handsome analyst observed that this year’s Bo Pelini is much looser, lighter and more at ease with himself and his role. Perhaps surviving the end of 2013, when many thought he would be fired, has given him the ability to relax and enjoy his position much more than he did previously.
If that is the case, the benefits to the team could be enormous. In big moments, Nebraska under Pelini has often appeared to press and allow little problems to become big ones. The result? A death spiral that led to ugly blowout losses.
If Pelini is looser, it stands to reason that his team could be looser too and perhaps better able to roll with the punches, avoiding the blowouts it has suffered in previous years.
A Tougher Schedule
It’s not all sunshine and roses, Huskers fans. Last year, Nebraska had the benefit of a very soft schedule, avoiding Ohio State and Wisconsin altogether and having only two road games that appeared challenging at the start of the season (Michigan and Penn State).
The schedule for 2014 looks a lot different. Nebraska has two separate runs in its schedule that look daunting. In October, Nebraska has back-to-back road games at defending Big Ten champion Michigan State and Northwestern (although with a bye week in between). And to end the regular season, the Huskers have games at Wisconsin, home to Minnesota (which beat Nebraska last year) and at Iowa.
Nebraska in 2014 may be better than it was in 2013. But given the increased difficulty of the schedule, the record may not reflect that increase in quality.
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