Nebraska Huskers Must Improve Consistency to Challenge for the Big Ten Title

Jason VolentineContributor ISeptember 18, 2011

85,000 Strong.
85,000 Strong.

The Huskers exacted sweet revenge for last year’s Holiday Bowl loss to the Washington Huskies—an important achievement considering it was the two teams’ third meeting in 15 games. 

However, Saturday’s victory revealed several glaring inconsistencies that will have to be reconciled before Nebraska takes on the Big Ten in two weeks.

Let’s start behind center:

Martinez began the game against Washington like Joe Montana playing a community college team, zipping a nifty 50-yard toss to Kenny Bell.  On the very next play, Martinez flicked a three yard touchdown pass to Senior Tyler Legate. 

On the ensuing drive, Martinez missed Bell on first down and Tim Marlowe on third down for a three-and-out. 

Martinez led off his action in the second quarter by running an ill fated option play.  As Martinez was getting drilled at the line of scrimmage during the play, he flipped a desperation pitch over the head of Rex Burkhead for a two-yard loss. 

On the very next down, "T-magic" tossed a pretty ball down the right sideline to freshman Aaron Green for a 25-yard Nebraska Touchdown.

At times, Martinez showed previously uncharacteristic maturity, sliding down before contact and carefully protecting the ball while running (two things he struggled with against Fresno State).  At other times, he threw into double coverage (or right to defenders) while open receivers streaked underneath the coverage.

Martinez showed improvement against Washington.  However, his passing game still failed to hit the 50 percent completion mark and he didn’t manage 100 yards rushing. 

The sophomore signal caller has to get better if he doesn’t want to be eaten alive by the likes of Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Nebraska’s entire offense was filled with question marks against Washington.  Any Big Ten team will be looking to exploit the same Husker perplexities on the “O” side of the ball.

Hope for future consistencies:

Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck dialed up a better o-line scheme than in the Huskers’ last two games.  Nebraska struggled to run the ball against Fresno State and T. Chattanooga, with much of the blame going to the newbies up front. 

Against Washington, Beck constantly cycled through his reserves, keeping a fresh line in the game.  NU benefited by running six different players for a total of 309 yards on the ground—Burkhead leading the way with 120.  The week before, Nebraska mustered only 219 yards rushing against the weaker Bulldog defense. 

Thanks to a more solid performance by the offensive line vs. Washington, Nebraska is now the 24th best rushing team in the nation with 224 yards per game.  Meanwhile, the Huskers will have to continue improving their running game to compete in the Big Ten. 

While Nebraska has clearly benefited in the second half by wearing down defenses with Beck’s new no-huddle offense, the Big Ten’s defensive “juggernauts” will not be as susceptible to such tactics.  Wisconsin boasts the fourth best defense in the nation, allowing only eight points per game this season.  The Huskers' no-huddle, alone, will not dissolve Wisconsin's defensive prowess.

That brings us to defense, where the brothers Pelini are deficient for (probably) the first time in their careers.

In terms of points, Michigan State has the 16th best defense, Penn State and Michigan the 23rd best, Ohio State the 28th and Purdue the 31st

Nebraska’s storied Blackshirts come in at a disappointing 70th

Granted, Nebraska has played stiffer competition than most Big Ten teams—including the always tough Washington—and the brother of standout professional quarterback David Carr (Fresno State’s Derek Carr).

This returns us to Nebraska’s inconsistency:

The Husker front four have had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback this season.  

Fortunately for Nebraska, against Washington, the Husker hefties had Huskies Quarterback Keith Price on the run more often than not.  In fact, Nebraska Defensive Tackle Jarred Crick walloped Price for one of the hardest sacks of the NCAA season so far.  It was an Ndamukong Suh-type-hit that will make most opposing quarterbacks spend more time looking over their shoulders than they spend looking down field.

But while the Blackshirt’s front four were honing in on Price like a heat-seeking missile, the secondary was busy watching Washington receivers blow into the open field for big gains. (Some of that inconsistency could be solved when standout Senior CB Alfonzo Dennard returns from a pulled quadriceps muscle.)

In a positive inconsistency, the Husker defense held Washington rushers to 146 yards—compared to the 190 rushing yards the inferior Bulldogs scorched into the Blackshirts the week before. 

Meanwhile, Nebraska’s so-far spectacular special teams brushed-up against some kryptonite for the first time in 2011.  Last week’s Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, Ameer Abdullah, muffed a routine punt return catch for a turnover before leaving the game with an injury (it will be a huge hit for the Huskers if the freshman speedster is seriously hurt, although he didn’t appear to be).

Nebraska has one of the hardest schedules in the country in 2011. 

The Huskers have a brutal Big Ten line-up and a nearly impossible Legends Division challenge.  The stars are aligned against the Huskers. The Brothers Pelini will have to solve these spotty difficulties before Big Ten play begins in two weeks.  If not, Nebraska’s dreams will be dashed against the jagged edges of a rocky new conference.