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  • Five Concerns About the 2013 Season

    With the start of the 2013 season a week away, many of the off-season questions are starting to be answered. Newcomers are starting to assert themselves, position battles are being won, and focus is being turned to the opponents Nebraska will face.

    But concerns still remain.

    Some can find reasons to worry throughout the roster, but here are five major concerns for the 2013 season. Simply put, these are the things that stand between a championship season, and a losing season.

    1. What happens if Taylor Martinez gets hurt?

    Love him or hate him, you must acknowledge one simple fact: the biggest difference between a 10-2 season and a 6-6 season is a healthy Martinez. The buzz is that Tommy Armstrong will be the #2. He, and fellow recruitnik darling Johnny Stanton, are the future of the program, but if Martinez goes down - especially early in the season - my money is on Ron Kellogg III being first off the bench.

    Could RKIII become Joe Ganz, Jr. - the unheralded career backup who exceeds all expectations? Maybe not, but I think Kellogg could be a serviceable replacement until one of the highly touted underclassmen are ready. Regardless, Taylor Martinez needs to slide, run out of bounds, and avoid big hits until October, or even November.

    2. Can the offense limit the turnovers?

    You know all the ugly numbers - the fumbles, the interceptions, the muffed punts, the sloppy ball handling, the reckless decisions, all of it. In a normal year, excessive turnovers can cost a team games they should win (see also: Iowa State, 2009) or ruin championship dreams (Texas, 1999).

    But this may not be a normal year. The defense likely will not be able to carry the burden of an offense that turns it over three times a game. Limiting turnovers to point where the team could be *gasp* positive in turnover margin could be a huge benefit.

    3. Will the kicking/punting units be as strong as they have been under Pelini?

    The Pelini era teams have had some excellent kicking teams. Alex Henery, Adi Kunalic, Jake Wesch, Brett Maher, T.J. O'Leary, and P.J. Mangieri have made sure that kickoffs, punts, field goals, PATs, and the long snaps behind them have been as automatic as possible.

    But in 2013, Nebraska will have a new long snapper, a new place kicker, a new punter, and even a new holder. With such a high standard, a drop-off is likely. Mistakes will probably happen, but when they happen is the real concern. A missed field goal against South Dakota State shouldn't hurt too badly, but a bad snap in Ann Arbor could cost Nebraska a division title.

    4. Can Nebraska establish any sort of punt return game?

    How bad was the punt return game in 2012? In the first quarter of the Ohio State game, Ameer Abdullah returned a punt 43 yards. The rest of the season (35 quarters - almost 9 full games) 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. That doesn't account for the bobbles, bumbles, and fumbles that put the defense right back on the field.

    Here's the thing: Nebraska has some talented guys - Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, to name a few - who should be able to secure the ball and gain positive yards. While I don't think your starting running back should return kicks - even if there are two talented freshmen behind him - I think there should be somebody who can get the job done.

    5. Can the team handle success; staying focused and grounded?

    Many pundits are predicting Nebraska to start off 8-0. Should that happen, they would go to Michigan full of confidence and likely ranked in the Top 10. A loss to the Wolverines, followed by tough games against Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa, could send the season into a tailspin. On the flip side, it is likely that Nebraska could roll through the non-conference season and start to feel real good about themselves. After hearing the praise from the media, message boards, and fans, they may think they can just show up and win - until an unheralded team like Illinois, Purdue, or Minnesota steals a victory.

    This is a fairly young team, with many guys getting their first taste of playing time. Sometimes, younger players don't know how to handle success, how to ignore their own hype, and take "one game at a team" from a cliché to a mantra. The addition of permanent captains, as well as Pelini seeming to find comfort in his role should help. Unfortunately, Pelini teams have a bad habit of losing games they should win.

     

    * * *


    You may notice that none of the concerns I listed are on the defensive side of the ball. It's not that I'm not concerned about a defense with 8 or 9 new starters, or one coming off of some historically bad performances in 2012. Trust me, I have my worries.

    But I also have a hunch on how the defensive performances will go:

    • There will be a couple of games where the D looks shaky, but is able to make a play or get a key stop.

    • There will be a couple of games where a running back is able to run right up the middle for 6 yards a carry, but the offense finds a way to win.

    • There may be a game or two where nothing goes right and they give up a ton of points.

    • And I fully expect a few games where everything clicks. Guys are flying to the ball, making big plays, and the Blackshirts completely shut down the other team.


    I just have no idea when, where, or in what order those games will occur. And while that absolutely should be a concern, I feel oddly confident that the defense will be better than people expect.


    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.com). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


    Comments 6 Comments
    1. YUENGLING's Avatar
      YUENGLING -
      All good points especially staying focused I believe Northwestern has their attention but it's games like Purdue and Illinois where the Huskers and other teams sometimes seem not to be focused. I believe they are not alone in worrying about the special teams there will be breakdowns but as the season goes along they'll be corrected.
      As an old guy one thing I hope happens and that's taking the ball when they win the coin flip. With this explosive offense I'd want them on the field first.
    1. cthusker's Avatar
      cthusker -
      There may be a game or two where nothing goes right and they give up a ton of points.
      OK... so what' a ton of points in your esteemed opinion ? I sure hope it's not approaching the embarrassment of the WI (CCG) or OSU games!!! That was beyond ridiculous! It was flat out humiliating imo.... Good teams SELDOM give up those kind of points to teams in 5 or 6 seasons... we managed it in one!!!!!!

      Bottom line for me on punt returns is you DO NOT use your starting and BEST RB for punt returns. I'm not even sure he's the right player EVEN if he wasn't our starter. He's fumbled to many times on returns and he scares me every time he touches the ball on returns. As you suggest we have a bunch of WR's that should AT LEAST be able to CATCH the freaken ball. Not it roll another 20 yds losing precious field position. I thought special teams last season were anything but special. They needed a lot of work to be an asset as opposed what they mostly were... a liability imo.

      I'm very optimistic about this season but then again I'm an optimistic person! I agree with people that have been saying it had a differently feeling... lets all hope it's a good one!!!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Couple of comment/questions to your points....
      1. Ganz was a backup but most folks would say should have been the started, K3 is not. God forbid TM goes down, but if he does...throw in JA and lets build for the next 2.??? years.
      4. What ever happened to the "2 man back" punt return formation? In Os years, and still used sparingly around NFL and NCAA, there were/are 2 men back. Front man to fair catch (short punts) or block, back man to return or cover muffs...seemed to work well for us. I understand putting 10 up front when it's 4th and 1...but why not return to this when situation warrants?
    1. rbyers00@yahoo.com's Avatar
      rbyers00@yahoo.com -
      Does Santino Panico have any eligibility left? He was the only Bill Callahan player that could catch a punt. Seems to be a recurring problem with NU.
    1. Dave Feit's Avatar
      Dave Feit -
      Quote Originally Posted by YUENGLING View Post
      All good points especially staying focused I believe Northwestern has their attention but it's games like Purdue and Illinois where the Huskers and other teams sometimes seem not to be focused. I believe they are not alone in worrying about the special teams there will be breakdowns but as the season goes along they'll be corrected.
      As an old guy one thing I hope happens and that's taking the ball when they win the coin flip. With this explosive offense I'd want them on the field first.
      Interesting. I'd love to know how taking the ball versus deferring impacts games - especially when the team scores on the first possession. I completely see where you're coming from with grabbing momentum and allowing the D to be a little looser.
    1. Dave Feit's Avatar
      Dave Feit -
      Quote Originally Posted by cthusker View Post
      OK... so what' a ton of points in your esteemed opinion ? I sure hope it's not approaching the embarrassment of the WI (CCG) or OSU games!!! That was beyond ridiculous! It was flat out humiliating imo....
      I'd say "a ton of points" is anything in the 35 - 49 range. Once you get over 50, you're getting into the embarrassing category. I can see the defense giving up 35+ a few times, but I don't anticipate any in the 50+ category.
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