Sunday, September 11, 2011

Against Fresno State, The Kids are Alright

Nebraska's 42-29 victory over Fresno State was far from a thing of beauty. For the second week in a row, the offense was a muddled mess and this week, the defense sprung a leak. Aside from a couple of long Taylor Martinez runs, the Huskers spent most of the first half in neutral.  And Martinez had his own troubles with two fumbles and a bad interception in that same time frame. But near the end of the first half, Tim Beck finally opened up the offense and threw deep to try and loosen up the Fresno defense...and Nebraska's young receivers came through.  Kenny Bell caught a deep pass late in the first half, and Jamal Turner added a couple of really nice catches in the second half.

But Nebraska couldn't sustain any drives on the ground for the most part today until late in the game. Defenses stacking the box is the problem, but even so, the Husker offensive line needs to open up more holes. And this week, the defensive line struggled. That's something that surprised...and really, really disappointed me. Last week, Fresno's line was a sieve, but tonight, they overpowered the defense - especially in the second half as Fresno's Robbie Rouse was typically three yards downfield before the Blackshirts could lay a hand on him. That's an ominous sign for next month, as I've seen comparisons between Fresno's offensive line and the lines we'll see in October and November. Fortunately in his postgame comments, Bo Pelini expressed his displeasure with the play. He knows his players must play better, and his reaction indicates that they can play much better.

I really couldn't put my finger on the problem tonight except it was all over the field. The secondary let Fresno receivers get deep twice tonight, though the Bulldogs only took advantage once.  Justin Blatchford is no Eric Hagg, and is a liability as the nickel back. Problem is that Sean Fisher is also struggling...meaning that there isn't a real good solution that's apparent on the field right now.  There's hope that when Alfonzo Dennard returns, Ciante Evans could move into that role.  That might be part of the solution, but that leaves Andrew Green on the field, and while I think he played better tonight, he also seems to be a bit of a liability.  With Daimion Stafford taking over at safety, I wonder if Courtney Osborne isn't a better option here.

Knowing Bo Pelini's history, I'm not terribly worried about the defense. He'll get this figured out. I'm becoming more and more concerned about the offense. It's not like there aren't some young playmakers to turbocharge this offense:  Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell made big plays tonight. Ameer Abdullah wowed everybody with his 100 yard kickoff return. And Martinez had some huge runs today.  So why does this offense continue to struggle? I think it comes down again to the offensive line.  This is a young line, with two sophomores and a true freshman starting...but they have to get better and quickly.

Until then, Martinez is going to have to throw more. In the second half, Martinez was much more productive throwing the ball. I wish I knew what happened to Brandon Kinnie. Kinnie developed into a clutch receiver last year, but this season, he's become a liability. It's almost like Ted Gilmore sabotaged him on his way out to USC. If this continues much longer, look for Kinnie to get the Menelik Holt treatment. Quincy Enunwa, Turner, Bell, and even Tim Marlowe are all outplaying Kinnie at this point.  Martinez's arm motion still looks unorthodox, but he delivered in the second half when Nebraska needed it.

One definite positive to take away from tonight's game is how Rex Burkhead ran late in the fourth quarter when we needed to run time off the clock. Fresno knew what was coming, and really couldn't stop it... and in that situation, could get away with stacking the box much more than they could earlier in the game. Maybe the line turned the corner late.

All told, it was a win, but it's not a win that gives you a lot of confidence that this team is ready to compete in the Big Ten in October and November. We saw a few flashes of potential in the second half, but those flashes must become more consistent over the next couple of weeks.

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