Publisher's Message: It's been an interesting four months for me since taking over here at Big Red Report. I have to say, I wouldn't trade a minute of it. I really understand now why the Nebraska fan base is held in such high regard around the country. I hope that our efforts and the direction we are taking the site has been appreciated by members and non-members alike. This is such an exciting time in the history of the Nebraska athletic department and I'm glad that someday I will be able to say I covered.
Finally I get a chance to see a game in Memorial Stadium. Since taking over in late April, all I have heard about is the atmosphere in Lincoln on game-day. I'm guessing my wife will be happy when tomorrow is over, she won't have to hear me talking about it anymore.
The plan right now is for me to attend every game besides Wyoming. It's going to be a fun season and as I'm around the team, culture, and scene longer, the better the site is going to get. I believe that.
Before we really get into the nuts and bolts of this contest (which on paper seems to be one-sided), I just want to say that if you have suggestions, story ideas, comments, or questions, don't hesitate to ask. I hope to see everyone at Brewsky's on Friday nights during homes games and if you see a guy walking around with a camera during tailgates, it might be me. Say hello.
Opponent Analysis: Without a postseason appearance since 1984 and a 1-11 2008 record, the Mocs turned over the keys to Russ Huesman in 2009. It has brought instant results. Now after showing they can win, it's time to take the next step in the rebuilding process. The defense returns a load of starters, that should grow off last year's experiences. They weren't always the strongest unit, but did what they needed to pull out wins. On offense, the trio of quarterback B.J. Coleman, running back J.J. Jackson, and wide receiver Joel Bradford return, meaning once again the Mocs should put up points. In six games last season, UTC scored 35 points or more. Bradford, now a senior, was a third-team All-American last year after collecting almost 1,300 yards receiving.
Keys to the Game: Could a National Championship be in Nebraska's future this season? The last two years, UTC has played the eventual National Champion – Auburn 2010 (62-24) and Alabama 2009 (45-0). Could a Heisman trophy be in Taylor Martinez's future? The last three years, the Mocs have faced the eventual Heisman Trophy winner – Sam Bradford (2008), Mark Ingram (2009), Cam Newton (2010). This should be the type of game where key backups get reps in the second half – including backup quarterback Brion Carnes. The Mocs' defense gave up a lot of points last year, meaning even if the Nebraska offense struggles early in the season, they should be able to find the end zone. UTC is talented on offense, but doesn't have the weapons to hurt a defense that should be one of the best in America again. It might take Nebraska a quarter to dust off the rust, but this is a typical D-1 vs D-1AA matchup. Don't expect an Appalachian State like upset.
Big Red Report Prediction: Nebraska 48...UTC 10 (Harvey)
Q&A with John Frierson- Mocs beat writer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press (@mocsbeatctfp)
Moc's head coach Russ Huesman's presser
"I can tell we're playing a BCS school. I've been on the phone all morning. I've been on the phone all week. It's pretty neat. Sometimes you think you take away from the time that you need to prepare. I think for us any exposure whether its radio, TV, whatever for our school is huge. I don't know how many radio stations they've got out there, but they must have about fifty because I've been on about fifty already. They take their football serious out there. It's going be a great environment for us to go play. Another sellout crowd for them will be a pretty unique situation for our guys."
On preparing for Nebraska:
"We're preparing for a football season. Hopefully that's more than eleven games. That's what our focus has got to be. Our focus can't be on playing a BCS school or playing Nebraska. It has to be on a football season. What we did in the summer and what we did in fall camp hopefully has prepared us to play eleven, twelve, thirteen or fourteen football games."
On playing BCS schools early in the season:
"In some ways you think playing it right now is the best. You just never know how the season is going to unfold and what's going to happen during the course of this game."
On choosing to play Nebraska:
"Anytime you have a chance to play a school like Nebraska that has such great tradition you have to do it. You have to do it for your players and for your fans. I didn't even think twice about it."
What we learned from camp:
There are so many storylines coming out of the 2011 fall camp – wheather it how the Huskers are going to adjust to the Big Ten conference, a new offensive system under Tim Beck, or multiple All-American's roaming around on defense. It was hard to pick just a few to talk about it...but here we go.
Lavonte David returns for a senior campaign
1.) My first impression from fall camp, this defense should be really special...it's not just the All-Americans, but the whole unit. Dare I say, this could be Bo Pelini's best defensive squad yet at Nebraska? The blackshirts had the whole defensive playbook in just a matter of a week...that gave them 23 days until tomorrow's gameday to really work and hone in on it. I think we are really starting to see the benefits of a coaching staff that has beeen in place for a couple years now...the stadium soundcrew needs to keep "Back in Black" on cue, because there will be a lot of third down stops this season.
2.) One of the biggest questions this spring was the lack of depth at running back...but help was on the way in the fall with a trio of young freshman standouts. The question then transitioned to - which one of these guys could step up and relieve Rex Burkhead from time to time? It sounds like all three of them. Coach Pelini indicated last week, they will all play in certain situations and schemes. Not only does this mean they are electric, but there is a little trust there from the coaching staff.
3.) Last but not least....the offensive line is still a work in progress. A somewhat younger squad, the injury bug hit the Huskers front five hard in the fall. There will be a little time needed before I think the starting unit is really locked in. Things could drastically change from tomorrow to say Washington in two weeks. Right now there is a lot of youth up front. True freshman Tyler Moore and sophomores Jake Cotton, Spencer Long, and Andrew Rodriguez are all expected to make major contributions tomorrow. If they are starting in Madision a month from now, they are going to need to get some major work in during the non-conference schedule.
Ask the staff:
Rex Burkhead is now the No. 1 RB (Picture By: Josh Harvey)
Player that NU can ill afford to lose to injury on both sides of the ball?
Offense: Rex Burkhead, he’s the "old man" of the bunch and while out of the true freshman backs there might be more speed, better hands or overall ability the reason Burkhead can’t be lost to injury this season is because he’s an extension of the coaching staff. There will not be a player on the field at any one time with the offense that will know more about what is going on at every position than Burkhead will. - Munson
Offense: Going into the season, I might have said Rex Burkhead. But the young trio of freshman running backs, along with Austin Jones sound capable if called up. With that in mind, I will say Taylor Martinez. It's a pretty boring pick, but Brion Carnes is not quite as athletic as Martinez and doesn't have the chemistry with the first unit. Do I think T-Magic is still young and maybe a little cocky – yes. But I think at times he has been labeled by the fans and the media wrong. He's playing with a chip on his shoulder, whether people think he should be or not. - Harvey
Defense: Lavonte David, last year he "filled in" and ended up with the single season tackle record. This year, he leads a fairly veteran group that is paper thin for depth across the board. There simply aren’t enough linebackers to go around and while losing a guy like Alfonzo Dennard would be a crushing blow trying to replace David at WILL would be impossible. - Munson
Defense: Jared Crick might be the best player in the country at his position, but I'm going to go with Lavonte David. The position is just really lacking depth and it's going to be counted on to stop power running attacks in the Big Ten. - Harvey
Unsung hero on each side of the ball?
Offense: Ben Cotton, he won’t have the 50+ yard catch for a touchdown and he won’t lead the team in receptions, but when everything is said and done he might be finest blocker that Nebraska has along the line of scrimmage. Cotton, for all intensive purposes, is a third tackle on the field and is capable of leveling the man in front of him each and every time. There isn’t a stat for it at all and because of that Cotton gets my nod as the unsung hero on offense. - Munson
Offense: Mike Caputo, one thing not being talked about with this new offense is the communication between Caputo and Martinez. It's a lot harder to be a center in this offense compared to the previous. The senior lineman is not only getting his play calls from Martinez while being over the ball, but will also at times be over the ball trying to fake defenses. - Harvey
Defense: Austin Cassidy, what does this guy do? Only makes sure that everything and everyone is lined up correct on one of the top defenses in the nation, but many of the national analysts don’t know his name. That is text book for being an unsung hero. If Dennard, David and Jared Crick are the gears of this defense then Cassidy is the belt and puts them all into motion. - Munson
Defense: Baker Steinkuhler, he's going to do the same thing that Crick did for Suh during his senior year, it just won't be talked about as much with all the other impact players on defense. Austin Cassidy could have been a great pick here as well, but for me it's pressure Steinkuhler will let up on Crick. - Harvey
Breakout player on both sides of the ball?
Offense: Tyler Moore, if there weren’t huge things expected of Moore already imagine what they will be when he’s named the starter along the offensive line as a true freshman. Moore is talented and came to Lincoln looking unlike any other offensive line recruits in a very long time. Moore has a chance to be one of the best offensive lineman to ever strap it up in Lincoln. That is saying something. - Munson
Offense: Jamal Turner, the Texas freshman product will be a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. I also expect him to eventually run some wildcat formations – but probably later in the year. It would have been easy to go with Tyler Moore, Jake Cotton, or Spencer Long here as well, but for me Turner could really change the offense. - Harvey
Defense: P.J. Smith, this is his year. Smith looks the part and has gotten progressively better than what he was last year when he lost his starting spot in favor of Courtney Osborne. Smith has a guy like Cassidy to play next to this year and because of that he is set to stay in front of the others like Osborne, Corey Cooper, Harvey Jackson and Bronson Marsh that are breathing down his neck for playing time.
Defense: Ciante Evans, Prince made Dennard better. Expect the same thing. With Evans going to a league that doesn't feature as many passing attacks, he won't give up much. Dennard's numbers will probably be better, but the national media will probably deem the sophomore the next great member of the Bo Pelini secondary. - Harvey
Can Nebraska count on freshman like Ameer Abdullah?(Picture By: Josh Harvey)
Who doesn’t redshirt?
There are five on offense that are gimmies…Tyler Moore, Jamal Turner, Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard. From there, there are four possibilities in my mind. I would say that the next ones are Ryne Reeves, David Sutton, David Santos and Taariq Allen. - Munson
Position battle that extends into the season:
The defensive end spot opposite Cameron Meredith will be a battle that will go throughout the season. The names that will be thrown around over there will be Joe Carter, Josh Williams and Eric Martin. Don’t think that any of them are going to take standing on the sideline easily while the defense is on the field. I expect for them to be some jockeying for position weekly with the possibility of Nebraska going with the hot hand on a weekly basis. - Munson
I think the defensive end spot will be something that could change weekly, but I'm going to say up front on the offensive line. With so many guys banged up early in the camp, I think the younger guys got more reps and proved they could handle it. Will they prove to be better at the position? I could see every spot but Caputo's being contested though the first couple games. - Harvey
Season prediction (W-L and bowl game): I will say 10-3 with Nebraska losing to two of the following teams: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa and losing the Big Ten Championship game to the Leaders Division Winner. That would lead them to probably Outback Bowl as the #3 Big Ten bid. - Munson
Season prediction (W-L and bowl game): Well if you saw the magazine, you saw I had the Huskers going 11-1 in the regular season, losing to Wisconsin on the road. I'm sticking to that and would have them losing again to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. Putting them at 11-2 on the season. Probably not good enough for a BCS at large, unless Wisconsin went undefeated. At that point, it's the Capital One bowl. - Harvey
Quote of the week:
"I think the first game there is a lot of excitement, the guys have a lot of energy going out there. I think the biggest key to the game is playing within the defense, executing our assignments, and playing technique...it's no different than what we have put them through the first three weeks. Now is just on a bigger stage and in front of more people." - Coach Papuchis
Way too early look ahead:
Fresno State Bulldogs
Head Coach Pat Hill (15th year) 108-71
2010 Record: 8-5
Bowl Game: Humanitarian (L, against Northern Illinois 17-40)
Starters Returning: Offense 5, Defense 5
Opponent Analysis: Every year Fresno State is one of the best non-BCS teams in America - with trips to 11 bowl games in the past 12 seasons. But the Bulldogs haven't won a conference title since 1999. With Boise State now out of the WAC, the pressure seems to be on them to represent the conference as it's top team. The Bulldogs have always been a hard nose defense, run it down your throat type of team. But with sophomore Derek Carr (brother of former No. 1 NFL Draft pick David Carr) at the helm, expect Fresno State to start airing out a little more. If the young quarterback can't get into a groove, FSU does have junior running back Robbie Rouse to fall back on. Rouse rushed for almost 1,200 yards last season at 5.5 yards per carry. On defense, the Bulldogs only return five starters – which might not be a horrible thing. Five times last season FSU allowed 34 points or more, including over 50 twice.
Keys to the Game: Fresno State is great non-conference warmup for Nebraska. Are they team that should come into Lincoln and contend – probably not. But, the Bulldogs will do something that the Husker's week one opponent can't, hit back. Look for the "Blackshirts" to try to confuse the Bulldogs Carr early and often. This will be a great test on offense to see what could be in store for Nebraska unit. Will they struggle to move the ball down the field or score often like they did to last year's start of the year.
Big Red Report Prediction: Nebraska 38...Fresno State 17
Sophomore wide receiver Stacy Coley, who did not play against Arkansas State because of a shoulder injury suffered against Florida A&M, returned to practice today. Read on for his status for Saturday's game and to see which players were held out today.