Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Holiday Bowl: Three keys for Nebraska
By David Ubben
1. Make life easy for Taylor Martinez. Martinez has completed just 58 percent of his passes in 2010 and struggled to complete passes and get comfortable in the pocket, especially against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. If the Huskers can get him some easy completions early on three-step-drop slants to a sure-handed guy such as the underutilized Mike McNeill or on screens to running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr., they can help get Martinez comfortable. The loss to Oklahoma made it clear that Nebraska will struggle if the passing game consists of Martinez dropping back deep and relying on receivers such as Brandon Kinnie to get open and make big plays down the field. If the Huskers can manage an early lead and be afforded the luxury of passing only when they want to -- see the early season Huskers -- this gets a lot simpler.
2. Inflict déjà vu on Jake Locker. Hit him early with a variety of blitzes. Force him into mistakes. I'd be shocked if Locker has another unthinkable 4-for-20 day like he did in September, but the only quarterback who had what could be considered legitimate success against Nebraska's secondary was Oklahoma's Landry Jones. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill all had below-average outings at best, and all three should be among the Big 12's best passers in 2011.
3. Stuff the run, especially early. Washington actually ran the ball pretty effectively against Nebraska, especially early in that game, and if Nebraska's front seven can slow that down and make the Huskies a one-dimensional offense, forcing Locker into a bad day will be quite a bit easier. The game got lopsided quickly in the second half and prevented Washington from sticking to the running game. Washington still managed 175 yards on 39 carries for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and the Huskies will try to recreate what worked against a tough defense that has, at times, been susceptible to the run. If Washington does that, the Huskies could make a game of it. If not, expect another Nebraska blowout.