All season, former Husker and NFL linebacker Jay Foreman will be breaking down games for HuskersIllustrated.com on Monday mornings. This week, Foreman tackles the season-opener against Wyoming.
With high expectations and potential for the Nebraska defense in 2013, the first game was a slight letdown, but not a game to throw in the towel. All during the offseason we heard phrases like "more speed" "dynamic" and "athletic." I think sometimes the media can set fans up to want and think things that aren't reality. The reality is that Nebraska is extremely young on defense and doesn't have any established leaders in the front seven. The game is won and lost in the trenches. Until the front seven plays better and more physical, the results will be the same. But the good thing is that when you get embarrassed you get a quick reality check and can bounce back for the upcoming games.
Even though the Blackshirts gave up more than 600 yards of offense, I did see some potential and flashes. At times the defense looked more athletic and faster in its pursuit angles and ability to close on the ball. Wyoming was led by an up-and-coming quarterback that wasn't a true dual threat, but has great pocket awareness and the ability to create space in order to buy his receivers more time to get open. When playing a quarterback like Smith, a pass rush and hits on the quarterback are crucial. I imagine the players and coaches are deep into meetings and trying to repair their mental makeup as well as what they put onto the field. Reality is there is nowhere to go but up from this game
That was the good from the game and this is the bad. I think you can summarize the game by the first defensive play of the year. Senior defensive end Jason Ankrah could have tackled the Wyoming running back in the backfield for a 2-yard loss, but instead missed the tackle and he ran for a 7-yard gain. Like most first games there was sloppy tackling, but this game especially looked not up to Nebraska standards. The defense looked young and not used to playing in front of 92,000 people. When you are a young player and not used to that type of setting, you revert back to old habits and forget about the game plan all together, that was obvious Saturday night. The surprising thing was that Wyoming tried and almost succeeded at beating Nebraska at its own game by going up-tempo. Some players looked out of shape and confused. There is no way that Wyoming has equal or better skill players than Nebraska does on defense, but the lack of pass rush made it seem so. The defense was also soft up the middle on run plays and appeared soft on contact and allowed yards after the initial hit.
Player trending upward
Vincent Valentine. He's a player that can play well without stats. In his time in the game he provided bull rush up the middle and took two blockers in the run game. Once he gets into tip top shape he could be a good player. His first game was a step in the right direction.
Judging from last night, look for Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry to play bigger roles throughout the year. Both played early and often. Bo Pelini usually doesn't play freshmen alone, but he didn't hesitate to put both in together. Any time a coach plans a way to get a player on the field, as is the case with Gerry, he should become a steady and impact player.
– The motion and single back running game off of it was just like UCLA did last year. The point of any motion is to see how the defense reacts, does the defender run with motion (man) or do they shift (zone). What that does is let the opponent know how they can attack the defense and it seemed Nebraska hadn't adjusted since last season. One solution would be to run with motion and play zone, it would help run fits and you would gain a player in the box and also help against crossing routes in which are a mismatch for linebackers against skill guys.
– Randy Gregory showed flashes of being a good player. I think he realized he needs better conditioning and intensity in order to be great at NU. I think once he gets more reps I envision dividends coming from it
– Terrell Newby looked as advertised, fast, quick, elusive. But the best back I saw was Imani Cross. Big Man can move and has improved his quickness. I look for him to be that closer in the 4th quarter unless Ameer Abdullah shows otherwise. Who is Nebraska's closer on offense? Imani Cross? If so does he deserve more carries?
– On defense I thought Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas looked decent, but not outstanding. It was refreshing that they could come in and nothing changed. I did see a few plays were Banderas was more stout at the point of attack than Santos. But where are Zaire Anderson and Michael Rose?
– The offense was the same offense I saw last year. Chunk plays followed by crucial mistakes and lack of concentration. They did well on third down, which is good, but couldn't close the game out the last two possessions when you need a power running game or a go-to receiver. These two things will either make or break NU this season.
Jay Foreman spent eight years in the NFL with four different teams, and starred at Nebraska as a four-year letter winner who played on Nebraska's 1995 and 1997 National Championship teams. For more takes and opinions from Foreman, check out Jay's Blog or follow him on Twitter.