Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Midseason report: Nebraska
By Brian Bennett
Record: 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten
The good news for the Cornhuskers is a Legends Division crown -- and a possible Big Ten championship -- are still very much in play this season.
The bad news is this team still hasn't turned the corner to become the elite squad Nebraska fans crave.
As promised, the Huskers have an explosive offense under second-year coordinator Tim Beck, leading the Big Ten at 43.7 points per game. They've run the ball for nearly 300 yards a game despite not having a fully healthy Rex Burkhead for more than a few minutes this season. Taylor Martinez has made great strides with his accuracy, completing 66.4 percent of his passes. Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell are blossoming into stars.
Yet the defense, which was advertised as being more fundamentally sound and cohesive in the preseason, has fallen apart on the road in its two losses. UCLA piled up over 650 yards of offense in a 36-30 win at the Rose Bowl, while Ohio State embarrassed Nebraska with a 63-38 blowout two weeks ago. To see a defense coached by Bo Pelini look that overmatched is simply astounding, and Pelini seemed at a loss for answers as to why.
Still, there's no question that Nebraska plays better at home, and two of its toughest remaining games -- Michigan and Penn State -- will come at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. If the Huskers can manage to withstand adversity on the road at Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa, they can win a wide-open Legends race, especially given their point-scoring propensity.
Reaching elite status is out of the question for a team with such a shaky defense and fragile road psyche. Nebraska just has to hope it can salvage something very good out of this season.
Offensive MVP: Martinez. The junior's three interceptions at Ohio State proved costly, but Martinez has played very well most of the season after working hard on his mechanics in the spring and summer. He leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and has made the Nebraska offense a truly balanced attack with his improved passing.
Defensive MVP: LB Will Compton. Called the unquestioned leader of the defense by Pelini, Compton has lived up to that leadership role with strong play throughout the year. He leads the team with 53 tackles, including three sacks. He was instrumental in leading a comeback from 17 points down to beat Wisconsin in the team's Big Ten opener.