This week's SWOT analysis of the game with the University of Idaho Vandals is a mixed bag - much like, well, last week's. Nebraska is two games into the season and we're still not sure where this team is headed. From one play to the next and from one side of the ball to the other the Huskers go from national title contenders to not even representing the North Division in the Big 12 championship.
It's been a weird two-game stretch. It never really seems like this team is challenged, like the games are over early and the fans can look forward to next week at half time. On the other hand, these two games left a bad aftertaste with glaring faults on offense and defense. It's like digging into a bowl full of Skittles expecting peanut M&Ms. Both are good, just not what you expect. And it leaves you wanting.
Maybe Husker Nation should just relax and let this team work out its kinks. After all, Nebraska whipped its first two opponents last year by a combined score of 87-12, perhaps making the team over-confident for losses to juggernauts like Iowa State and Texas Tech at home.
So, the good news is that there is no way this team should feel over-confident. Now, on to the SWOT:
On secondary thought . . . Wow. I mean WOW! I challenge anyone to name a better defensive secondary in the nation in the early part of this season. I would argue that the secondary was so good it killed the Huskers' offensive stats. Two pick sixes by seniors Ricky Thenarse and Dejon Gomes for a total of 87 return yards kept the Husker offense on the sidelines and the defense back out on the field for almost the entire second quarter. And this was against a seasoned senior quarterback in Nathan Enderle who is projected to be a high round draft pick in the NFL.
Hop in the sack. Seven sacks against one of the biggest offensive lines in the country (averaging 334 pounds a player) is nothing to sneeze at. Good to see junior tackle Jared Crick fulfilling the pre-season hype with 2.5 sacks of his own. Jared is a quite, humble corn-fed Nebraska boy from Cozad who didn't ask for all the hype but will prove his value on the field all season. Let's hope he puts off the NFL for a year.
Big play day. Nebraska has shown that the 50 yard line is well within scoring distance - on the ground or in the air. Or on either side of the ball, for that matter. But talking offense only, redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez's 67 yard gallop up the middle and senior running back Roy Helu's 58 yard scamper around the end were electrifying. The Cornhuskers have speed to burn in the open field.
Get a grip. Eight lost balls. That hasn't happened to Nebraska since, well, I guess just last year. But Iowa State recovered all of those miscues. Idaho only got three of them. And what? Senior Niles Paul is involved in a turnover again? Shocker!
Penalty marker down. And down. And down. Excruciating is the word that comes to mind. Ten penalties covering the length of one and a quarter football fields of yardage. And some of these penalties were of the most exasperating kind. Ricky Henry's clip 20 yards behind the play, Ben Cotton's unnecessary roughness away from the ball, receivers Brandon Kinnie and Niles Paul (there's that name again) holding penalties were all egregious errors that killed big plays. The penalty game definitely took a step back from last week.
The Freshman. Sure, another outstanding performance by QB Martinez. His stats are hard to argue with at 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also remains efficient if not great in passing, completing 12 out of 17 attempts for 106 yards. But he probably showed more freshman mistakes this week than last with a silly forced pass for an interception and four fumbles (one lost to Idaho, and one recovered in the end zone for a touchdown). The Vandals' defense was much better than Western Kentucky's. But that's like saying I'm in better physical shape than Abe Vigoda.
That last statement is based on pure conjecture - I've never gone head-to-head with Abe Vigoda in a cage match.
Two-game tune-up. OK. Now the season begins. Nebraska has warmed up with a clearly inferior foe in Western Kentucky and a decent but not solid foe in Idaho (one more reminder, Idaho was 8-5 last year with a bowl victory and a veteran quarterback). The first week the offense shined and the defense was disappointing. This week the defense was outstanding but the offense was, well, better than mediocre if it can stop the self-inflicted wounds. Time to put both sides of the ball together for a tough road game. Speaking of which . . .
Slamming the Locker. Nebraska's competition will continue to improve with a trip to Washington next week. That said, this isn't the Huskies of the early 1990's. But, I guess, this isn't the Huskers of the mid-1990's. Heisman-hopeful QB Jake Locker has not seen (and will not see again this year) the defensive secondary that Nebraska is bringing to Husky Stadium. And the front four for Nebraska will do an ample job of containing Locker's scramble attempts. It's been said that Husky Stadium is one of the loudest venues in college football - but one 60-yard option keeper for a TD by Martinez will take the crowd out fairly early.
Not ready for prime time. Fumble eight times against Texas and the geniuses in NU's marketing department are going to wish they had never made the 'temporary mistake' on that Red Out video over the summer. Heck, fumble half that amount against K State and they can kiss the North Division goodbye.
A nice Saturday drive. I know I talk about Nebraska's big play ability on offense as a strength, but raise your hand if you'd like to see the Big Red take six minutes off the clock on an 80 yard ground churning drive for a touchdown. Or how about just getting their half of the game clock in time of possession? The Huskers will be facing teams with equal big play making ability on offense and with faster, smarter defenses. I don't see this offense, in its current state, controlling a game to grind out a win.
So, two weeks into the 2010 campaign and what can you say about the Cornhusker's performance so far? Nothing much. But I'm certain we'll be able to make some very definitive analyses of the season after next Saturday.