Nebraska Football: 5 Things They Must Do To Improve Next Season
The Nebraska Cornhuskers went 9-3 this season and failed to qualify for the Big Ten title game.
It was, for the most part, a disappointment. With two bad road losses and a home loss to a vastly inferior team, the Cornhuskers have some work to do for next season.
Things are looking up, though. Plenty of starters return next season for Bo Pelini, who will be entering his fifth season as head coach.
Here are five things Nebraska can work on to improve next season. Go Big Red.
Get T-Magic into Space
It's become pretty obvious that Taylor Martinez is not a passer. He's given us reasons to believe that he can make some throws, but with little or no consistency.
Before his injury in 2010, T-Magic was one of the most dynamic playmakers in the entire country. At the beginning of 2011, it appeared that he was ready to regain that status.
However, after rushing for only 98 yards combined at Wyoming and Wisconsin, Martinez's carries were dramatically reduced. While he still averaged over 14 carries per game, many of those were one- or two-yard scrambles when he dropped back and nobody was open.
Not much worked in Shawn Watson's offense, but he understood one thing: Get your playmakers into space.
And Martinez is a playmaker if there ever was one. With his blazing speed, there is no reason Nebraska shouldn't be able to run an effective offense utilizing the option and zone read.
Rediscover the Big Play
Two years ago, Nebraska boasted one of the most prolific big-play offenses in the country.
The departure of Roy Helu, Jr. was sure to hurt, but nobody expected it to be this bad. In four games against currently ranked opponents this year, Tim Beck's new offense failed to surpass 24 points (averaged 18.75) and did not have more than 350 total yards in any of those games.
One obvious way to create more explosion has already been discussed: Get Martinez into the open. However, this can also be accomplished by using the full skill set of Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah.
Rex Burkhead was worn down at many points this season, and there's nothing wrong with giving him some plays off to utilize the change-of-pace backs, as opposed to exclusively using Green as a receiver and Abdullah as a return man.
Receivers Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell were Nebraska's big-play pass catchers this year. I thought true freshman Jamal Turner showed a ton of promise early on, but for some reason his playing time decreased as the season went on.
In 2010, tight end Kyler Reed caught 22 passes for almost 400 yards and eight touchdowns and emerged as the Cornhuskers' downfield home-run threat. However, he was disappointing this season, catching only one touchdown.
He must step up next year as Bell, Enunwa and hopefully Turner continue to develop.
Contain the Quarterback
You can make a pretty convincing argument that Nebraska lost two games this season purely because of the opposing quarterback's ability to run the ball.
It's one thing when Denard Robinson does it to you; it's a whole different story when Northwestern's backup quarterback does it to you.
Without a doubt, this starts up front. Far too many times this year the quarterback was allowed to step up in the pocket and take off, picking up major chunks of yardage in the process.
From my perspective, it looks like the defensive line simply over-penetrated a few too many times, which should be an easy fix.
I may be overreacting, but I'm certainly not alone in getting that helpless feeling when the opposing quarterback tucks the ball away and takes off. Hopefully Bo figures something out in the offseason to contain the quarterback.
Replace David and Dennard
Lavonte David is a stud.
That's about as simple as I can make it. It will be impossible to just plug someone in and hope for the same results. His instincts are amazing and his pure strength is awesome. Alas, he must graduate after a much-too-short stay in Lincoln.
Will Compton is emerging as the next star linebacker at Nebraska, but it will take more than just him. The entire linebacking corps better improve for the Blackshirts next year.
Then there's Alfonzo Dennard.
A preseason All-American, Dennard was sidelined for a chunk of the early season with a leg injury, and it took him a while to fully recover. But once he did, Fonzie was lights-out, shutting down star receivers B.J. Cunningham and Marvin McNutt late in the season.
Three junior cornerbacks will battle for playing time next year: Andrew Green, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. At least one of them must step up in a big way.
Play Better in Hostile Environments
Nebraska only played in two truly hostile environments this year: Wisconsin and Michigan. (Penn State, normally a tough road draw, was a bit down on its luck at the time of the game.)
Both games ended in disaster. A stagnant offense paired with a porous defense led to the Huskers being outscored by a combined tally of 93-34.
It's been well documented that the Big Ten gave Nebraska the gauntlet in the inaugural season in the conference for the Big Red. Fortunately, the road schedule lightens up next season, but Nebraska still plays at Ohio State in what will be Urban Meyer's first big home game at the helm of the Buckeyes.
Bo better have his guys ready to go.
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