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  • 2012 Husker Wrap-Up

    I'll be honest - after a long season with amazing comeback wins, demoralizing losses, and an ever increasing amount of fan and media criticism, I'm a little burnt out. So forgive me for not wanting to rehash the Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia.

    Instead, I'm going to tweak my usual format to take a look back at the 2012 season as a whole.

    So what did we learn in 2012?

    Nebraska's offense has a lot of weapons. In 2013, Nebraska's offense will return the vast majority of their offensive yards and touchdowns from 2012. How much, you ask?
    • 81% of rushing yards.
    • 85% of rushing touchdowns.
    • 71% of rececptions and receving yards.
    • 67% of receiving touchdowns.
    • 99.6% of passing yards.
    • 100% of passing touchdowns.


    And while the 2013 offense will also return 100% of the interceptions, and almost all of the fumbles lost, I think there is a good chance the offense can be even better this fall.

    There is not a lot of middle ground with Taylor Martinez. Love him. Or hate him. He's the reason we win. Or he's the reason we lose. T-Magic or T-ragic. Martinez is one of the most explosive athletes in college football, capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Martinez is a destructive force, leading the nation in fumbles lost. Again. Martinez's passing mechanics are greatly improved. Martinez still looks like a shot putter being knifed in the back when he throws. There have been other Huskers who have had more detractors than Martinez, but I can't of many who have such a polarizing split of opinions. I'm guessing that won't change in his senior season - especially if Tommy Armstrong has a good showing in the Spring Scrimmage.

    There is middle ground with Bo Pelini, but it is shrinking. And speaking of polarizing figures...In an Omaha World-Herald poll conducted in September, Pelini had a 78% approval rating. But - take a closer look at the numbers: only 29% identified themselves as "strongly favorable", while a similar amount (26%) said they were "neutral" or "strongly unfavorable" on Pelini. Keep in mind - this was before ugly losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin, and a bowl loss to Georgia. After the Big Ten Championship game, the anti-Pelini crowd became a little more vocal and the expectations for 2013 got a little higher.

    So what don't we know?

    What happened on defense? At many points during the season, the defensive performance was embarrassing: big plays, poor tackling, shoddy fundamentals, bad angles, little pass rush, and yards (and points) in big, big chunks. In NU's four losses, the defense gave up an average of 53.5 points and 595 yards of offense - and that is not a typo. The big debate is why: is it defensive talent (or lack thereof) or is it scheme? Is Bo still the same defensive genius he was in 2009, or did players like Ndamakong Suh make him look better? Personally, I think it is a combination of both. As others have noted, it is not likely that any of the eight senior Blackshirts will be drafted in the first three rounds. I also believe that the transition from the wide open spread offenses of the Big XII to the grinding, pro-style offenses of the Big Ten has impacted both scheme (replacing the "Peso" defender with a slower, less athletic linebacker) and talent (thin ranks at linebacker, recruiting a different type of athlete while shifting focus from Texas to Ohio). For the record, I'm optimistic about 2013 when an influx of young talent should begin to blossom into the play makers that Nebraska's defense has been missing.

    What happens if Taylor Martinez gets hurt? In August would anybody have wagered that Taylor Martinez would not miss a snap in 2012 due to injury? Hell no, talk about a longshot wager. And good thing too - no disrespect to Ron Kellogg III, but there is no way Nebraska wins 10 games this year if Martinez gets hurt in October. Bo Pelini cannot afford to make the same wager in 2013. He must - MUST - have a capable, competent backup QB who is ready to play at a moment's notice. This backup must get a decent amount of practice reps each week, but more importantly, they need to get on the field - and not with a 28 point lead and four minutes to play. I'm talking about giving a first half series to the backup QB, so he can lead the team, feel the intensity, and actually be able to do something other than hand-off to the 4th string running back.

    How much longer will the sellout streak last? The sellout streak at Memorial Stadium reached 325 games this year. This fall, the East Stadium expansion will bump Memorial Stadium's capacity to around 92,000. A waitlist for the new seats has started, with a minimum suggested donation of $150 per seat to have a chance at tickets. So you'd think the streak is pretty safe, right? But...for most of the home games (pretty much every one except for the season opener and Wisconsin) there were lots of tickets for sale outside the stadium and throughout downtown Lincoln. The economy still isn't all that great, but everything involved with going to a game (tickets, donations, parking, concessions, and pre/post game activities) are not getting cheaper. With the Big Ten Network, every game is televised in quality high definition, I wonder when season ticket holders will abandon their tickets in favor of watching at home.

    5 Players I Loved (All Season)
    1. Taylor Martinez. You would have to be blind (or extremely biased) to not see his improvement in passing, running, decision making, and mastery of the offense. Martinez is already atop the all-time charts in many categories, and with a strong senior season, he could put up numbers that will last for decades. Of course, his legacy will be defined by whether or not he ends the 2013 season with a ring. If we've learned anything about Martinez in the last three years, it is that you bet against him at your own risk.
    2. Ameer Abdullah. When I think about Abdullah's 2012 season, I can't help but think about Ahman Green's 1995 season. Both were fairly raw talents who were backing up franchise running backs (Rex Burkhead and Lawrence Phillips, respectively). When the #1 guy was unable to play, they each came in and performed better than anybody expected, dazzling fans with their speed, power, and vision. This isn't to say that Abdullah is going to follow Green's career path as one of the greatest backs in school history, but that Ameer did a wonderful job of easing the impact of Burkhead's injury.
    3. Kenny Bell. In 2012, Kenny Bell went from being "that skinny kid with the big Afro" to one of the most complete wide receivers in a long, long time. He can make tough catches on 3rd down, stretch the field, get open, pick up yards after contact, and developed into a fierce blocker and team leader. Expect big things out of Bell in his final two seasons.
    4. Ciante Evans. Arguably the best defender on the team. While he's not yet the complete package (see how Georgia attacked him in the bowl game), he's equally adept in coverage, run support, and is one of the better open-field tacklers on the team.
    5. Cam Meredith. I thought his seaon at Defensive End was somewhere between forgettably adequate and unremarkably average, but Cam makes this list for his efforts at Defensive Tackle when Baker Steinkuhler went down. We all know that Cam would have been an ideal tackle - in 1985 - ,but he is quite undersized today. I have a lot of respect for guys like Meredith who are willing to play out of position - and take a beating in the process - to help the team win.


    Honorable Mention: Rex Burkhead, Jack Hoffman, Eric Martin, Justin Jackson, Andy Janovich, Brett Maher, Will Compton, Ben Cotton

    5 Areas for Improvement
    1. Special Teams. How bad were Nebraska's special teams? The defense gave up buckets of yards and loads of points, and it was not the worst unit on the team. For example: In the first quarter of the Ohio State game, Ameer Abdullah returned a punt 43 yards. The rest of the season (eight full games, 35 quarters of football) Nebraska had a TOTAL of 22 yards on punt returns, with a long return of 19 yards by Tim Marlowe in the Michigan State game. For 2013, the special teams lose their most consistent components in kicker/punter Brett Maher, long snapper P.J. Mangieri, and holder Jase Dean. Many of the inconsistent components return.
    2. Defensive Line. Even before Baker Steinkuhler's injury, this was a weak spot on the team. Yes, the D-Line had their moments, but consistency was a big, big challenge. The lack of able (or capable) bodies really hurt NU. I truly believe that a defense is only as good as the front four, and if you look at NU's four losses, you won't see a lot of good line play.
    3. Pass Rush. On a related topic, for most of the season, NU a consistent pass rush. Aside from Eric Martin and the occassional corner blitz, there was little pressure on opposing QBs. Many of the sacks NU picked up in conference play were because the secondary provided great coverage, not because the tackles and ends got great pressure. The bowl game provided a great example of what a pass rush (or lack thereof) can do to a team. NU was able to flush Georgia's QB out of the pocket a few times, but he had all day to throw bombs downfield. Meanwhile, the Bulldog pass rush in the second half rattled Nebraska's offensive, causing sacks, penalties, and rushed throws from Martinez.
    4. Offensive Line. Once again, the line was The Good (creating decent - but not consistent - running lanes for Burkhead and Abdullah), The Bad (leaky pass protection), and The Ugly (false start penalties galore, and tackles who could not keep up with strong or speedy defensive ends). This is where Cubs fans and Barney Cotton supporters say "Wait 'til next year".
    5. Preventable Mistakes. I'm working on a season ending recap of the Three Keys I've been tracking this season: Penalties, 3rd down conversion, and turnovers, and hope to publish it soon. But here is a little preview: the preventable mistakes (i.e. penalties and turnovers) continued to wreak havoc on this team. Nebraska did improve in being able to overcome their own mistakes, as the 6 game winning streak proved. But it would be nice to have a game against a ranked opponent where NU didn't have to keep digging out of a hole.



    Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog (www.feitcanwrite.wordpress.com). Follow him on Twitter at @Feitcanwrite


    Comments 12 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      "[Give] a first half series to the backup QB, so he can lead the team, feel the intensity, and actually be able to do something other than hand-off to the 4th string running back." I think a lot of coaches would be wise to do this. Backup QBs need to have practice time with the 1st string offense and have a series on game day with the 1st string offense, otherwise one day they're virtual strangers struggling to get something done while thousands of people scream at them.
    1. terry darnall's Avatar
      terry darnall -
      Players making mistakes is all about coaching. We need a full time special teams coach. Els can't coach linebackers and be recruiting coordinator. My guess not much time was put in to special teams. Defensive scheme is half the problem. Two gap doesn't work unless you have great personnel. It is a passive scheme for DL, they just stand there and watch and see what is going to happen. No pressure puts lot of pressure on Defensive backs. The reason we get no turnovers is that the Quarterback is usually comfortable back there, if he is rushed he will make mistakes. Linebackers should be blitzing, its like Pelini doesn't know how to blitz. It's foreign to his thinking. Offensively its Martinez. He does not have the ability to make good decisions consistently. He is an athlete trying to play Quarterback. It's a square peg being put into a circle. He will wind up holding all the records at NU, but will not win Big 10 championship or be in a BCS Bowl. I'm looking forward to 2014 with Armstrong or somebody. I give Kaczinski one more year to see how he develops the young guys on the line. The reason there are so many broken plays by the defense, is because the defense is to complicated. It takes 3 years to understand it, why? Have some basic reads and let the players run! Offensive line is not disciplined, and will not be as long as we have the coaches we have. Bring on Chris Peterson and his coaches. you don't see Boise St. make many mistakes and they have a lot less talent.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Analysis is spot-on (without sounding bitter or disgruntled). Nice job (although Eric Martin should have done better than Honorable Mention on your "players loved" list . He was the lone bright spot in my eyes. When I watch guys like him and Burkhead play with a tremendous amount of heart and intensity I find myself yelling, "Man. I love this guy!".
    1. RedBlack&Blue's Avatar
      RedBlack&Blue -
      Agree on Ameer--he has a shot at being one of our best backs ever. If Bell turns in another great season, we might just lose him to the draft.
    1. raymond wilson's Avatar
      raymond wilson -
      The Huskers scored at least 30 points in each of our losses. You can't say anything on offense is the reason we lost. That said, obviously if Martinez cuts back on turnovers and improves his completion percentage, that will help even more.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Quote Originally Posted by RedBlack&Blue View Post
      Agree on Ameer--he has a shot at being one of our best backs ever. If Bell turns in another great season, we might just lose him to the draft.
      I think one point needs to be made. Some that hate Taylor need to remember one thing. As pointed out, he is more than 50% of the offense. Without Taylor the team has a greatly reduced chance of winning the game. He may not have won every game, but he did not lose any of the games the Huskers lost this year. Even in the blow outs his offense always scored over 30 points against the best teams we played. That should be enough to win any game if your defense is working. Which in those 4 games, it was not. Next year will have some loses if the defense does not pick up its play. The offense can only do so much. Given the schedule I think Nebraska has a chance to run the table. But only a chance, nothing is a given.
    1. 1Audiofile's Avatar
      1Audiofile -
      I think one point needs to be made. Some that hate Taylor need to remember one thing. As pointed out, he is more than 50% of the offense. Without Taylor the team has a greatly reduced chance of winning the game. He may not have won every game, but he did not lose any of the games the Huskers lost this year. Even in the blow outs his offense always scored over 30 points against the best teams we played. That should be enough to win any game if your defense is working. Which in those 4 games, it was not. Next year will have some loses if the defense does not pick up its play. The offense can only do so much. Given the schedule I think Nebraska has a chance to run the table. But only a chance, nothing is a given.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Martinez is not the reason we lost 4 games this year. Last time I checked, Martinez doens't play defense.
    1. BigRedWJ's Avatar
      BigRedWJ -
      I already gave up on buying tickets. 50 in plasma tv, food, drink, and no line restroom and all the instant replays I want!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Quit referring to the Nebraska defense as "Blackshirts"........it's an embarrassment to anyone who truly was a Blackshirt when Nebraska had great defenses!!
    1. Dave Feit's Avatar
      Dave Feit -
      Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
      Analysis is spot-on (without sounding bitter or disgruntled). Nice job (although Eric Martin should have done better than Honorable Mention on your "players loved" list . He was the lone bright spot in my eyes. When I watch guys like him and Burkhead play with a tremendous amount of heart and intensity I find myself yelling, "Man. I love this guy!".
      Thanks! I gave serious consideration to putting E-Mart in the top 5. Two things held me back: While Martin had some great games, and played with an incredible motor, there were games where he was a non-factor, and I really missed him on kickoffs, charging like a bull in the streets of Pamplona.

      But yeah, a strong argument could be made for including him.
    1. Dave Feit's Avatar
      Dave Feit -
      Quote Originally Posted by RedBlack&Blue View Post
      Agree on Ameer--he has a shot at being one of our best backs ever. If Bell turns in another great season, we might just lose him to the draft.
      You think Bell would leave early? I guess it's possible, but I see him as somebody who loves the college experience and is in no hurry to leave. I guess if we're having this discussion a year from now it means Kenny put up some big numbers, which would be a good thing.
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