In what could be perceived as a rubber match with the Washington Huskies (this was the third meeting in the last two seasons), the Huskers prevailed 51-38 and moved to 3-0 for the second year in a row.
Nebraska has so far played an FCS team, a good mid-major team, and an on the rise BCS team. We have learned a lot from the past three weeks about this Nebraska team. The defense has not played up to Blackshirt standards, while the offense is having a major breakthrough.
After watching three games so far this year, Husker fans can take away five things about this Nebraska team heading into the hardest part of the schedule.
Nebraska has talented Freshmen and Sophomores and they are using them. The top two receivers after three games are Freshman Jamal Turner, 116, Sophomore Kenny Bell, 101. Sophomore Quincy Enunwa is third in receiving with 81 yards and the only one in the top five with a touchdown reception. The only upperclassmen in the top five in receiving yards are tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed. Noticeably absent are Junior Tim Marlowe and Senior Brandon Kinnie. Both were supposed to be big targets for Martinez, but have so far been non-effective in their playing time besides blocking.
In the running game, no one can replace the importance of Burkhead. Freshmen Braylon Heard and Aaron Green showed they can run the ball, and in the case of Green catch the ball as well. Ameer Abdullah has not seen much time at running back, but that's mostly because he is Nebraska's secret weapon at returning punts and kickoffs, with one kickoff for a touchdown already this season.
While the offense is not setting the world on fire like it did early last season, where Nebraska was avg. 500 yards the first three games, they are racking up the yards and most noticeably they are limiting the turnovers. Nebraska has had five turnovers so far, one was a fumble by backup QB Brion Carnes, and two of them were botched special teams plays. So Martinez, who had massive turnover problems last year, has only turned the ball over twice. Burkhead showed in the last game that he can make plays and pickup yards when Nebraska needs it. For an entire drive they just handed the ball off to Burkhead and he was able to barrel through for yards.
The emergence of the freshmen receivers has added a new wrinkle to the Nebraska offense. As seen in the Washington game, when teams load the box, Nebraska can go to the air and get yards. That is a lot different from last year's offense. The offense is on the rise thanks to its new weapons in the passing game.
While the stats and scoreboards don't show it, the defense is improving. The D-line managed to get pressure on the quarterback this game and even manged two sacks. They also forced a fumble and intercepted two of Washington's passes, compare that to last week against Fresno State when they had no turnovers and no sacks. They really stepped up in the second half with the pressure and coverage, not allowing Washington to score in the third. The fourth was a huge collapse, but that can be partially blamed on Bo's playing calling, which he admitted was bad in the post game interview. The defense did play better, but....
It is obvious that without Alfonzo Dennard this defense is not playing well. If Dennard plays, then Nebraska has a lock-down cornerback on one side of the field and can afford to help the other cornerback with coverage from the safeties, while bringing pressure on the opposing quarterback. This will not only help the secondary, but the entire defense. Luckily, Dennard is supposed to come back this week for Nebraska's trip to Wyoming, which should be a good game to get him back into things before the showdown with Wisconsin.
Nebraska has been both terrific and terrible on special teams play. They have a fantastic return man in Ameer Abdullah, and an accurate kicker/punter in Brett Maher, who is 7/7 on field goals this year. On the other hand, they have had terrible punt/kickoff coverage. Two of Nebraska's five turnovers have come from special team fumbles. Tim Marlowe did not look good at the return spot once Abdullah was injured. Without the kick catch interference call, he would have given Washington a big touchdown. Marlowe was replaced by sure-handed Burkhead, but we cant risk Burkhead getting injured during punts when we need him to be the feature back. Nebraska has had great plays on special teams, but they need to limit the mistakes or it will cost them big time.