SoP Q-and-A: @Cornnation talks Blackshirts, Skipping Rocks, and Nebraska Football

Eric Francis

Several guys from Corn Nation come over here to discuss this week's Northwestern-Nebraska matchup, revenge, and the team's thus far lackluster defense.

We're too lazy to actually go ahead and learn anything about other teams, so we bring in people who know stuff about those teams so we don't have to sound like complete blowhards.

Today: A bunch of guys from Corn Nation!

Nebraska has played three games against good football teams, lost two, and been embarrassed in one. Fair assessment, or stupid cherry-picking?

Andy K.: Mostly fair assessment. Southern Miss and Arkansas St. are pretty awful. Idaho St. is several leagues below that. UCLA is good but I believe I'd add Wisconsin to that list as well. They are 5-2 and seem to be clobbering lesser teams now instead of struggling with them. Ohio St. was definitely an embarrassment on the defensive side, but at least we had two weeks to stew over it. Let's just move on.

Aaron: Nebraska is an average team right now. Any team on their schedule can beat them, but they also can be good enough to win the rest of them too. They have deserved each of their losses. It's usually been a combination of the other team playing well and Nebraska making stupid mistakes. If the team plays well, they may lose, but they should never be embarrassed.

David McGee: It's a fair assessment. They have struggled at times this year vs. what would be considered some of the better teams on their schedule. I think hindsight will favor Nebraska's win over Wisconsin as the season progresses but beyond that, Nebraska hasn't looked great when on a decent sized stage. Nebraska has been consistently good on offense and at times very good. If the Huskers could consistently play fundamentally on defense, they have the potential to be a very good team, but until that happens, Nebraska fans are in for a roller coaster season as we've experienced for several years now.

What's up with Nebraska's defense this year? Is there something up with Nebraska's defense, or did you guys just get Braxton'd?

Andy K.: There's some issues and the theories are flying right now. One that holds a little water is that lesser athletes with more experience are seeing more action because they "understand the schemes" better. They just don't have the ability to make big plays. We also seem to have gone back to the George Darlington (NU DC under Osborne) school of pass defending where we turn our back to the ball and wave our arms wildly. On a related note, out turnover margin sucks.

My favorite theory - and time will have to bear this one out - is that our new DC may have been too green a hire. Quick example? I don't care if the QB is a combination of Tommie Frazier, Barry Sanders, Usain Bolt and Thor, I expect the defensive coordinator to make adjustments that will stop QB Off Tackle Right.

Aaron: The defense has moments of greatness, but they can also look really bad. We've still been trying to figure out why they can look so bad at times this year. It just seems like there isn't much cohesiveness yet. They haven't gelled. Some defenses never do. We really need a Suh-type player that can stand out and take over a game.

David: The most recent blackshirt unit that struck fear in opponents was in 2010. That team featured no less than 7 guys currently in the NFL. That sort of talent isn't seeing the field right now. I also buy into the theory Andy espoused.

The Huskers have yet to score less than 30 points this season. Is the offense significantly different from last year's, or just more effective?

Andy K.: The offense isn't different; the players are just in the second year of its installation. Tim Beck is the OC and replaced Shawn Watson last year. His hire also had people grumbling about lack of experience, but he got a great deal of credit for his part in KU's offense during the Reesing/Mangino stretch that resulted in an Orange Bowl for the Jayhawks. Beck is the real deal. His schemes include a nice balance of wide open and power game and these guys can score on anyone but maybe ‘Bama.

Aaron: What Andy said. Take away the turnovers and that "less than 30 points" probably becomes "less than 40" or 45. It's more effective this year because there are a lot of starters back from last years team. We've had some issues at center and have played a couple different guys there this year, but otherwise, it's been pretty solid.

David: I basically concur with what has been said. It's not overly different. The one difference from this year as opposed to last is that we're seeing the full back incorporated into the offense more consistently. We're also seeing a healthy tight end stretch the field as defenses give up the middle of the field. Nebraska has the ability to take advantage of that better this year which may not have been consistently the case in years past. The continued development of Kenny Bell and Ameer Abdullah have given it a punch that has made it an offense that has remained fairly consistent as long as Martinez doesn't turn the ball over.

If Taylor Martinez threw a ball at a lake, would the ball break the water's surface tension on first contact?

Andy K.: Ah, there's the Taylor Martinez jab. If memory serves, I believe he broke Northwestern's surface tension at a 75.7% clip last year, but I may be estimating a little. It's still natural to poke fun at him, though - God knows there are plenty of Nebraska fans that thought his turnovers and inability to put 64 points on the board in Columbus were solely responsible for that loss.

Taylor, however, went to QB camp and, unlike Saint Tebow, actually showed marked improvement after doing so. The motion still may not be perfect, but he does step into his throws now and has cut back on his habit of bending at a 45 degree angle on deep throws. He is #1 by a wide margin in the B1G in pass efficiency and 3rd in total offense after Miller and Robinson. Mock him at your own risk.

Aaron: Taylor could probably help the military develop some new weapon if he could skip footballs over the surface of Lake Michigan. When the offense can control the tempo of the game, his fundamentals are pretty good. If he gets a lot of pressure or it gets hairy, he kind of reverts back to his instincts. If you see him skipping stones this weekend, you know your defense is probably doing something right.

David: Yes. The question is though would it be in throwing it to a receiver or after getting hit from the blind side and fumbling the ball. Either way, it will be be on a more vertical trajectory.

Last year Northwestern sealed the game, despite not having their starting QB, by running the ball 13 times without throwing and using more than half of the remaining clock on a fourth-quarter drive where they didn't pass once. This year Northwestern is better at running, and Nebraska is worse at stopping the run. Worrisome?

Andy K.: Um, yes. You have a mobile QB, a shotgun formation and QB Off Tackle Right in the playbook. I'm scared shitless. Is this a trick question?

Aaron: There's a lot of pessimism after Ohio State. It just seems like the team is beating their heads against the wall against athletic quarterbacks. They just haven't been able to figure them out lately.

David: Yes, of course it does. Nebraska hasn't had much luck getting a stop when it needs one or stop the running game, especially when the quarterback is also a weapon to be accounted for.

Predictions for the game? I will also accept apologies for last year, when Jon literally predicted a six-touchdown victory on our now-defunct podcast days before Nebraska, you know, lost.

Andy K.: I should probably go with Northwestern since you've basically owned our ass in everything since we "jined up". However, you noted that we are 1-2 against good teams. It appears that Northwestern is 0-0 against good teams or 0-1 if we cut Penn St. a break (I still haven't figured them out). A NW defense that has given up big points to less than stellar offenses is something to consider as is the fact that this year you get us after a bye week, not a knock-down drag-out with Sparty.

However, mobile QB plus defense that may roll into a ball again after the first big gain by said QB does not lead me to make any blowout predictions. Matter of fact, the table is set for an entertaining show. Let's say NU 52 NW 41
(BTW, forget about home field advantage. You'll see what I mean Saturday.)

Aaron: At work, I have NU 45, UNL 35. This really is an important game for both teams and if the Huskers lose, the wheels might start coming off the wagon on their season. They have to prove it to me that they can make the plays necessary to beat a team like Northwestern before I'll pick them to win, though.

David: Paper dictates this will be a high scoring game. I think it will be too, but not an extreme one. I think the game will be close into the 3rd quarter. A turnover or special teams play could turn it in one favor or another. In the little I've seen of Northwestern, their defense seems to be as stout as Nebraska's is. Whichever defense is able to make a play or get that turnover will likely win the game. Coming from the Nebraska side of things, I think they'll get it done. Nebraska 41, Northwestern 34

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