So Nebraska went power, bringing in the tight ends and fullback and tried to power their way through the end of the season. And while it wasn't particularly overwhelming, it was good enough to get the Huskers within 1 second of the Fiesta Bowl. So why go back? Here are a few reasons:
- Helu and Burkhead are healthy again. We know that Zac Lee and the passing game can't carry the load like they tried to do in October, but maybe they can be effective enough to keep opposing defenses from stacking the box with nine or ten defenders.
- Brandon Kinnie has developed into a reliable second receiver. As we saw with Menelik Holt and Currenski Gilleylen, you need consistent receivers to run a spread offense. That's something that Nate Swift and Todd Petersen did last season.
- Maybe it's time to look at Cody Green again. Green sometimes looks like an interception waiting to happen in the pocket, but he might be able to provide the offense a bit of a spark if he's not trying to be a playmaker on every play.
Last week, Steve Sipple gave a great reason why the power game might not be Nebraska's strong suit. Nebraska hasn't had an all-conference offensive lineman since Toniu Fonoti in 2001. For a program with Nebraska's reputation, that's an eye-catching statistic. Milt Tenopir, for all his great work in the 20th century, may have left the cupboard bare when he left. Bill Callahan never was able to produce that great offensive lineman either. Will Barney Cotton be able to? The jury is still out on Cotton at this point.
Sipple brings up another statistic: Nebraska did not substitute on the offensive line in three of the last four games of the season. Right now, Cotton is playing the hand he's been dealt on the offensive line. It takes time to recruit and develop offensive linemen, and that's something he hasn't had enough time to do at this point. I do know that in his first stint at Nebraska, Cotton landed Seth Olsen, who went on to become an all-American at Iowa after Cotton was dismissed.
Nebraska did redshirt four offensive linemen, including Brent Qvale, who was making a bid for playing time before suffering an injury in August. Add in promising juco transfer Jemarcus Hardrick, and you might have the makings of a major improvement on the offensive line. And when the offensive line improves and becomes more dominating, it makes the rest of the offense better. Holes get bigger for running backs and quarterbacks have more time to survey the field (see Sam Bradford 2008 versus 2009).
Nebraska did what they had to do to win the North. Now it's time to see what this offense might be capable of, and a good place to start is in San Diego.