Preseason prediction: 10-2
Updated prediction (9.04.2011): 9-3
After months of build-up, the Huskers started the 2011 campaign against Tennessee-Chattanooga. I made a slight change to my preseason predictions. Why? Because now I have actual data, and performance, from a game. Here are four thoughts about the game.
First Down: Revised Expectations – It’s easy to buy into the camp chatter about the Huskers’ offense dictating the game to the opposing defense. It’s easy to think the offense has to improve after the way it sputtered in the end of 2010 season. When the ball was snapped, the offense was…meh. I had predicted a 10-2 regular season, but I’m going to scale back to 9-3. Granted, it’s only one game so you don’t want to draw too big a conclusion from it. The big reason I scaled back to a 9-3 prediction is the youth and/or inexperience on the offensive line. The line couldn’t establish itself against a weak opponent. What’s it going to be like when playing Wisconsin, Ohio St., Michigan St. or Iowa? It’s why OC Tim Beck said, after the game, he kept running the same plays so it would help the offense get reps and get the play right. Better now than later, but not something you necessarily want to hear. If the offensive line is a sieve, and can’t get any push, it’s going to be a tough season. Also, it may be unrealistic for an offense to learn an entire new playbook, technique and mentality in one year. In two years, when this offense is comprised of upperclassmen, it should be great.
Second Down: Blackshirts – It says something about the defense when it’s just assumed they will be dominant. The unit has come a long ways from 2007 when they were a laughingstock. The defense gave up a touchdown on a busted coverage. Other than that, it was solid. Cameron Meredith was a beast. The front four is the strength of the team. The best part is the defense was playing without arguably their best CB, Alonzo Dennard. If we have learned anything from the past few years, with a defense like this the Huskers will always be in contention.
Third Down: T-Magic At Times – He did have a good day running the ball, and made a correct audible call which led to a touchdown. He is still not an effective passer. If he can’t pass well, the defense can stack eight or nine players in the box and focus in on him or whoever else is in the backfield. Being reliant on the big play is not going to work most of the season. He’s going to take unnecessary hits and injuries could return. Switching Jamal Turner from QB to WR was to get him on the field and utilize his speed and skill. If he can’t get the ball, though, what does it matter?
Fourth Down: Alex Who? – One of the big questions heading into the season was who would be replacing Alex Henery. Brett Maher won the job, and had a great first impression. 4 of 4 with field goals, including a 50 yarder. Considering Henery was arguably the most important Husker, outside of the defense, the past three years, having someone reliable (potentially) like Maher is good. Pair him with the Blackshirts and the Huskers have a chance in every game.
Looking Ahead: While everyone is looking forward to Wisconsin and Ohio St., the two most important games on the schedule will be Michigan St. and Iowa. If Nebraska hopes to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, it needs to beat those two teams to hold the division tie-breakers with them. Nebraska is not going undefeated, it is going to lose some conference games. I know people want to beat Wisconsin and Ohio St., but what good is it to beat them and still not find a way in the Big Ten Championship Game?