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  • Huskers need o-line to become an exclamation point

    Heading into the 2013 season, Nebraska's young defensive line is a question mark; most Husker fans can agree on that.

    But after more than a decade, will the offensive line finally become an exclamation point? That is the question.

    It's been a while since Nebraska had a truly dominant offensive line. There were signs of improvement last year, but in Big Ten conference games, finishing third in total offense and fourth in rushing is nothing to shout about. The defense likely will be shaky at times this fall, so the offense needs to be dynamic. There are ball carriers and pass receivers aplenty. It will all come down to offensive line play.

    USATSI_6779016.jpgReese Strickland-US PRESS WIRE
    There should be no question – none whatsoever. A collegiate offensive line that has 78 combined career starts returning this fall should be absolute bedrock, the fabric that a tremendous offensive unit is built upon. Especially when the quarterback has 39 career starts of his own – and so it could be this fall.

    All-conference guard Spencer Long is the real deal, and stands a good chance of becoming NU's first two-time first-team all-conference offensive lineman since Matt Slauson in 2007-08. Long has 27 career starts. Center Cole Pensick (two starts) and junior guard Jake Cotton (no starts) will join Long to form the nucleus, barring injury or a major unexpected development in fall camp. I expect them to be solid. But by rights, the best, most consistent play, should come from the tackles, where seniors Jeremiah Sirles (28 starts) and Brent Qvale (13 starts) line up.

    Sirles was second-team All-Big Ten last fall, but many times he had problems with pass protection, as did Qvale. And the No. 3 tackle, Andrew Rodriguez (eight career starts), was just as inconsistent. All had trouble communicating with the tight end at critical moments, leaving an unblocked defender roaring in toward Taylor Martinez.

    Why did the most experienced part of the Husker o-line have the most problems last year? That has to stop.

    Nebraska fumbled the ball 35 times last year and Martinez was responsible for many of them. He also threw 12 interceptions. Martinez is fabulous when he maintains his focus where it belongs – on running the offense, on his checkdowns, on audibling at the line of scrimmage. But despite three years of experience, he has more than his share of problems when under pressure.

    Martinez takes a lot of heat for his turnovers – and deservedly so. But if the offensive tackles can keep pass rushers from crashing in from the edge, Martinez is much more likely to keep the ball secured.

    Under Bo Pelini, the Huskers are 35-2 when they at least stay even in turnovers. When they lose the turnover battle, the Huskers are 13-18. This fall, the o-line absolutely, positively, must keep Martinez's jersey clean and his mind uncluttered when he drops back to throw.

    The run blocking should be crisp. The pass protection should be dependable. The penalties should be minimal. The excuses should be nonexistent. No question.

    Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com


    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mike's Avatar
      Mike -
      I cant say I was necessarily old enough to truly appreciate "the pipeline" but I always feel that our O-line takes too much heat. Name a year since pelini arrived that we havent had a top 15 rushing offense? We run the ball well, we always have, which is why I think more blame should go to martinez over the last 3 years. He gets criticized for his turnovers some yes, but imagine if he didnt have a run game to lean on for the last 3 years?? Many quarterbacks never get the luxury martinez has gotten his entire career. His freshman and now again in his senior year, he also gets the benefit of great reciever play. A run game feeds the passing game with play action and drawing defenders into the box, and recievers that can get open and make plays make his job about as easy as it gets for a starting quarterback. Sorry to bash martinez but i just have to vent about his play for the last 3 years. To his credit the man has never failed to get better each year so good luck to him this year.

      Now on to our struggles in pass protection. How many of our sacks come because Martinez holds the ball too long trying to make a play? How many sacks come because he gets happy feet and decides to leave the pocket? How many times have we watched Tito Martinez run into the back of his own linemen trying to scramble? I feel like our tackle play was better than most people give it credit for. There was an interview with Sirles(i think with ESPN) earlier in the spring where he said something along the lines of "taylor is a guy that can get you out of trouble with his scrambling ability, but he's also a guy that can be a nightmare to block for, because you never know if hes in the pocket or on the run." So I think the knock on our pass pro last year was undeserved, personally i think you could almost cut our sack total in half with a quarterback thats more comfortable in the pocket. Thats just me personally, but hopefully i just gave people something to think about before they see the number of sacks we give up and decide to call out the offensive line or the tackles in particular.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      I don't understand what the writer is saying. Nebraska was #1 in the conference in total offense and rushing offense.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      You credit the run game, but fail to mention Taylor Martinez is the most dynamic part of the run game. The guy was the entire run game a number of times. OL play has been pedestrian for some time.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Mike -

      I'm not going to say that Taylor Martinez is Tom Brady in the pocket nor will I go as far as denying that he is too frequently his own worst enemy, but go back and watch the Ohio State game. Tell me how any QB should be held accountable for a DE or OLB coming free 80% of the time at a dead run as our OT's are slow out of their stance and on their first back step? Then to compound things they start moving before the snap because they've been torched all game (2nd half). Beyond Ohio St how many times have we had 3-22 in Martinez's 3 years here because A-rod, or Sirles or whomever it might be continually false starts? If you want to make a QB press and force a play and then have a subsequent turnover, put him in an obvious passing situation where the D can pin their ears and burn our slow to react OT's. I don't think Stryker is questioning the rushing stats, but the pass protection stats are something that we can't deny need improvement. I know you're only giving your opinion, as am I, but too often we point the finger at the QB (who ever he is @ the time) and not at the guys that should be keeping him up right. Lastly, I am old enough to remember what the pipeline looked like, and the holes they created that I could drive my chevy through. The last 12 years have been blessed by tough QB's (Zac Taylor vs. Michigan, anyone?) and heady RB's (Cory Ross, much under appreciated Lucky, and Roy Helu and now probably the most prolific of that type of back, Abdullah) that have been able to squirt through considerably smaller holes (I'll minus Helu's 300yd performance against MU...our Oline played great). The frustrating part for most of the people that critique the Oline so much is that there is considerable talent on that line and we'd just like to see them perform to that talent level.
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