Nebraska Football: 5 Questions for the Huskers' Contest with Wyoming

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIISeptember 21, 2011

Nebraska Football: 5 Questions for the Huskers' Contest with Wyoming

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    At 3-0, the No. 9 Nebraska Cornhuskers are in great position to storm Madison, WI in two weeks with an unbeaten record. To do that, however, they'll have to get past another undefeated team—the 3-0 Wyoming Cowboys.

    Here are five questions to consider as the Huskers try and improve to 4-0 leading up to their looming Big Ten opener.

    Nebraska hasn't been overly impressive in any of their three wins, and the scrappy Cowboys could prove to be more of a test than many expect.

    The Huskers have shown a lot of improvement on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense has gotten stops when needed, but up to this point, the team is nowhere near where it needs to be if it is to have any chance of defeating the Wisconsin Badgers.

    If Nebraska can answer these five questions with a resounding "Yes," then the primetime matchup in Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 1 could have all the makings of an instant classic.

Will Taylor Martinez Keep Improving?

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    Taylor Martinez got a lot of hype from both coaches and players throughout the spring and fall, and while some of that was probably just coachspeak, it's clear that the sophomore is, as Bo Pelini has said, "light years" ahead of where he was last season.

    Martinez had arguably his most unimpressive statistical day of the season against Washington, but what really stood out when watching him in action were the things that don't show up on the stat sheet.

    The 6'1", 205 pounder showed noticeable improvement in decision making and ability to run the offense against the Huskies. Not only was he able to continue making big plays in the passing game, but he was also able to move the Huskers up and down the field methodically with first down after first down.

    Martinez finally seems to be getting a grasp on the system and has shown much better maturity and poise. He must continue to get better in all phases, though, because he will face some tougher defenses down the stretch. 

    If Nebraska's starting signal caller can continue to be T-Manager in addition to T-Magic, Nebraska's offense should be a consistent force and won't likely have much of a problem in Laramie this weekend.

Will the Offense Duplicate Its Success?

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    Many still seem to believe Nebraska's offense continues to ride on Taylor Martinez's legs, but if the performance against Washington was any indication, Tim Beck's system is so much more than that.

    Martinez's final rushing stats read 17 carries for 83 yards and one touchdown. That's about half as much as he had in each of the first two games, yet the offense as a whole had arguably its best game since dismantling Oklahoma State in 2010.

    T-Mart took a big step towards becoming more of a distributor last Saturday, letting impact players like Rex Burkhead, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, Kyler Reed and Quincy Enunwa make big plays all over the field.

    Of course, none of that would have been possible if the offensive line hadn't immensely improved. The young line seems to have begun to mesh, and a Husky D-line that is much stronger than either Fresno State's or Chattanooga's D-lines was handled by Nebraska's O-line for most of the game in both the run and the pass.

    Tim Beck also seemed to take a big step forward in his role. The rookie offensive coordinator called a phenomenal game, keeping the Husky defense on its heels all afternoon.

    Everyone remembers that the offense has collapsed down the stretch both of the past two years after starting strong, but with a new OC, a bunch of new players and a brand new system, Husker fans are hoping this year will be different.

    If the recent success continues against Wyoming, the hope for a championship season will be that much more legitimate. 

Will Alfonzo Dennard Return to the Lineup?

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    There's no question how important Alfonzo Dennard has been to this football team since his emergence in 2009, but many people didn't realize what kind of impact he truly has until he missed the first three games of the 2011 season.

    While the defense has been inconsistent in all three games, the one consistency is that the secondary has been subpar compared to what Husker fans have been used to the past couple of seasons.

    Ciante Evans has played well for a true sophomore, and Andrew Green has filled in admirably in Dennard's absence, but the defense as a whole, not just the secondary, has missed the All-American candidate. Green has been the one teams have picked on and has been the guy that is usually scored on, but Evans and all of the safeties have had their struggles in coverage as well.

    The return of Dennard and his shut-down-half-of-the-field ability will allow the defense to give Evans a little more help on the other side and put more guys in the box to defend against the run, which will result in an improvement in both pass and run defense. But until Dennard is ready, the secondary will continue to be less-than-excellent.

    Given the strength of Washington's passing offense, the secondary actually didn't do all that bad and shouldn't have a lot of problems with Wyoming, even in the absence of Dennard. But it would still be ideal for the senior to be ready to go next week so he can get a tune-up game before taking on Wisconsin.

Will the Defense Make a Big Jump in Week 4?

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    Although Alfonzo Dennard's absence can explain some of the struggles the defense has been having, the Blackshirts must be prepared to play without him.

    The defensive line has resembled a sieve at times this season, and the linebackers have struggled at filling holes and stopping running backs in their tracks. There's also been a relative lack of pressure and turnovers, something that Bo Pelini defenses are known for.

    It's difficult to put a finger on why the Blackshirts have been having problems, but whatever it is, the Pelinis have to figure it out and get it fixed.

    While there's no reason to doubt the two defensive masterminds, it's easy to get queasy about what Wisconsin's offense could do to the Husker defense if it doesn't tighten up.

    A goose egg on the scoreboard for Wyoming would be a pleasant surprise, but let's start with keeping them below 400 yards and 20 points, as they've failed to do the past two weeks. 

Will the Huskers Avoid Looking Ahead to Madison?

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    Given the obvious talent advantage Nebraska will have over Wyoming, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys coming away with a win, and with the huge game against Wisconsin looming on the horizon, the pit stop in Laramie might be an easy one for players and even coaches to overlook.

    Bo Pelini expressed little concern about his players overlooking Wyoming, but it's hard to forget the vastly underwhelming 17-3 win over FCS opponent South Dakota State last season, a game which, it seemed, even Bo himself overlooked.

    To compare SDSU and the 3-0 Cowboys is obviously inaccurate, but the Huskers struggled against a similarly-talented Fresno State team two weeks ago.

    Furthermore, Wyoming has always played Nebraska tough in the past, and the buzz around Laramie is that this is the biggest game to ever be played in War Memorial Stadium. If that's not incentive for the 'Boys to pull off the upset, I don't know what is.

    Nebraska should be able to come out with a win, but they had better not be dreaming of cheese beforehand.