2013 Nebraska Preview – Offense
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense that was so devastating and consistent on the ground should be even better with the return of quarterback Taylor Martinez and a strong group of backs led by the ultra-quick Ameer Abdulah and the strong Imani Cross. Not the typical Husker attack, Martinez has grown into a stronger passer, and he has the receiving corps to take advantage of his skills with Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner forming a terrific trio. Tight end is a slight concern after losing Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, but Jake Long should be good with more attention. The line has a good foundation starting with all-star candidate Spencer Long at guard, but it needs to be a bit more consistent in pass protection.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Taylor Martinez
Passing: Taylor Martinez
228-368, 2,871 yds, 23 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: Taylor Martinez
195 carries, 1,019 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: Kenny Bell
50 catches, 863 yds, 8 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior TE Jake Long
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Imani Cross
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Kenny Bell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Martinez, 2) OG Spencer Long, 3) Bell
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Experience
Weakness of the offense: Turnovers, Experienced Backup QB
All of a sudden, Taylor Martinez turned into Taylor Flacco, improving his much-maligned passing ability by leaps and bounds by changing up his throwing motion and finding a better touch on his deep passes. While he didn't bomb away all season long, he at least gave defenses something more to worry about than his tremendous running skills, starting out the year with 354 yards and five touchdowns against a woeful Southern Miss defense and coming up big against Northwestern and Michigan State in the clutch. On the year, he completed 62% of his passes for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns with 12 picks, but three of them came in the win over Northwestern and another three came in the loss to Ohio State.
Of course, Martinez is known mostly for his speed and his terrific running skills, tearing off 1,019 yards and ten scores with a scintillating 205-yard, two score day against Michigan State and a few highlight reel dashes. Bulked up a bit, getting to 210 pounds on his 6-1 frame, he should be able to take a little more of a pounding, but the more he can be just a passer and avoid taking big shots, the better.
Martinez has been able to stay on the field over the last few years, but the Huskers need to uncover reliable second and third options considering the shots No. 3 takes. 6-1, 220-pound senior Ron Kellogg has mostly been a scout teamer and has been great in practices, but he spent last season as the backup while completing 4-of-9 passes for 22 yards with a score and a pick and can run a little, too. Also in the hunt for time is redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, a 6-1, 220-pounder who was battling for the No. 2 job last year before suffering a knee injury. He fits the mold. On the way is star recruit Johnny Stanton, a 6-2, 220-pound out of California with the ability to do it all. He can be a pure passer if needed, but he's at his best on the move making things happen – he might not be Manziel, but get ready for Johnny Football II.
Watch Out For … the battle for the No. 2 job. Kellogg is the most experienced option of the bunch, and the coaching staff will probably turn to him in a pinch, but Stanton is the star-in-waiting and Armstrong has been great in practices when healthy.
Strength: Running. At the very worst, Nebraska will get rushing production out of anyone who's under center. Martinez has worked himself into a veteran with a magical ability to bring the offense back when its struggling, but any of the top options on the roster can move.
Weakness: Interceptions. Outside of the miracle against Northwestern, the Huskers went 1-3 when Martinez threw multiple picks, losing to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Georgia. While interceptions weren't necessarily the reason the team lost those three, the mistakes certainly didn't help. Throw in his problems with fumbles, and ball security has to be a priority.
Outlook: Martinez is poised and ready for a huge senior year, but he has to cut down on the mistakes and has to be better for the first 50 minutes so he doesn't have to rally as often in the final ten. The backup situation is a concern, but unlike most teams, going to the No. 2 isn't as much of a killer for the Huskers because of the rushing style.
Unit Rating: 8.5
It was the big question mark going into last season – who was going to be the third offensive option other than Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead? When Burkhead got hurt, junior Ameer Abdullah stepped up his game in a big way tearing off 100-yard games against UCLA and Arkansas State early and going on a run of century mark performances in a key stretch during the middle of the year with big days against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State over a four-game stretch. At 5-9 and 190 pounds, he's not all that big, but he holds up well, has elite wheels and is an elite kick returner and top receiver averaging 13.1 yards per punt return while catching 24 passes for 178 yards and two scores. He led the team in rushing with 1,137 yards with eight scores, but he only ran for one touchdown over the final eight games.
Can Abdullah hold up with over 250 touches again? Working into the mix at I-Back will be sophomore Imani Cross, a 6-1, 225-pound blaster who came in as one of the team's top recruits and did a nice job in garbage time – but ran for two touchdowns against Penn State - running for 100 yards against Idaho and finishing year with 324 rushing yards and seven scores. On the way are two superstar prospects, speedster Terrell Newby - the team's top recruit – and Adam Taylor, a 210-pounder who earned Texas Player of the Year honors; he can add a little bit of power.
It'll be a fullback-by-committee approach with seniors C.J. Zimmerer and Mike Marrow along with 6-1, 225-pound junior Andy Janovich. They all rotated in the spot, but the 6-2, 250-pound Marrow was limited over the second half of the season with a knee problem, but he was the best rushing option, while the 6-0, 230-pound Zimmerer grew into the best blocker. They won't catch the ball, and there will be few overall touches, but they can all hit and they can all get the job done.
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. In a perfect world, Abdullah handles all the work, Cross adds some thunder, and Taylor Martinez keeps bringing the lightning, but it's possible the new guys could add more options to the mix to keep everyone healthy. There are some terrific talents coming in.
Strength: Talent. Martinez will be the leading rusher from time to time, but Abdullah, Cross and Newby are excellent backs who can all carry the attack. The Huskers should lead the Big Ten in rushing again, or come in a close second to Wisconsin.
Weakness: Ball security. This was a Martinez problem, but the offense had problems as a whole holding on to the ball, coughing it up 35 times on the season and losing 22 of them. The offense lost it two times or more in seven of the 14 games.
Outlook: All of the concerns going into last year about a lack of proven depth are gone. Abdullah is a tremendous do-it-all playmaker, but Cross is a good option and there's plenty of talent waiting in the wings. The fullback situation is also fantastic with three excellent options to use in a good rotation.
Unit Rating: 8
The passing game will always play second-fiddle to the ground game, but junior Kenny Bell proved to be good enough and dangerous enough to be a featured part of the offense after leading the team with 50 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns averaging 17.3 yards per grab. The second team All-Big Ten performer came up big time and again, turning into a key factor over the second half of the season in some terrific wins over Northwestern and Michigan. At 6-1 and 185 pounds he has decent size with elite wheels – he's turning into a legitimate pro prospect with a sky-high ceiling.
Bell was the best receiver of the bunch, but there's a good supporting cast returning led by 6-2, 225-pound senior Quincy Enunwa, a big, tough target who caught 42 passes for 470 yards and a score. While he's not a game-breaker, he's an excellent blocker who has carved out a nice role as a steady and reliable target on the inside. He'll be joined in the starting lineup by 6-1, 185-pound junior Jamal Turner, the team's third-leading receiver catching 32 passes for 417 yards and three scores. One of the team's best all-around athletes, he's a potentially devastating third target who could do more as a deep threat.
Sophomore Taariq Allen is a 6-3, 195-pound quick speedster who caught two passes for 11 yards and a score before going down with a knee injury, while 6-1, 195-pound junior Tyler Wulenwaber is also a nice option but also has to return from a knee injury.
Tight end is a concern after losing Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, who combined for 42 catches and served as key outlet targets. Senior Jake Long
got a little bit of time catching six passes for 55
yards and a score, and now. The 6-4, 240-pounder
should be the new main man among a slew of
relatively untested tight ends.
Watch Out For … Turner. Bell and Enunwa are great, but it was Turner who turned it on over the second half of last year showing glimpses of what he could do. With his elite wheels, he could become more of a gamebreaker.
Strength: Experienced receiver. While it'll be nice if a few new targets could emerge in the rotation, the trio of Bell, Enunwa and Turner should be among the most effective Husker history. Nebraska has the weapons.
Weakness: Tight end. Long can rise up and produce, and there are some decent options waiting to be tried out, but tight end was a huge plus last season; Reed and Cotton will be missed.
Outlook: With the emergence of Taylor Martinez as more of a passer, the Nebraska receivers became more dangerous. There's a great blend of talent, speed and experience with Bell a certain all-star and Turner a potential breakout performer. The tight end situation will work itself out.
Unit Rating: 7
The veteran line has to be better in pass protection, but it was fantastic for the running game and should be a positive once again led by All-America candidate Spencer Long, a 6-4, 315-pound senior walk-on who has grown into a power. He started every game on the right side over the last two seasons, and while he's a rock where he is, he could easily be moved over to the left side. Smart, tough and consistent, he's the anchor and leader up front.
6-7, 315-pound senior Brent Qvale started 13 games at left tackle, only missing the Northwestern game, making a great transition after starting out his career at guard. While he's not quick, he has a good frame and is tough to get around. Also back at tackle is senior Jeremiah Sirles, a 6-6, 310-pound veteran at right tackle who earned CFN Freshman All-America honors a few years ago and proved he could handle himself on the left side. However, he's better suited to the right side. Also in the tackle mix will be senior Andrew Rodriguez,
a 6-6, 330-pound veteran who can star at either tackle spot or even move inside to guard utilizing his massive size and experience where needed.
Senior Cole Pensick is back at center after getting the call in the Big Ten championship and bowl game. Mostly a guard throughout last year on the left side behind Qvale, the 6-2, 275-pounder stepped in and showed he could handle the work, but he might still end up at guard if 6-0, 295-pound junior Mark Pelini becomes a standout after spending last year as a backup.
Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. The line should be fine with just about everything set except for one of the starting guard spots, or center if Pensick moves over, but developing more depth would be nice. 6-8, 305-pound Matt Finnin and 6-4, 300-pound Chongo Kondolo should be ready right out of the box. Finnin is the better of the two.
Strength: Run blocking. The fifth part of the puzzle will work itself out, but as long as everyone stays healthy, the Huskers should be able to blast away for a great group of backs and Taylor Martinez.
Weakness: Consistent pass protection. Having a mobile quarterback like Martinez jacks up the sack total a little bit, and T-Magic tends to hold on to the ball a bit too much, but the line didn't exactly get the job done against the more aggressive defenses, allowing 35 sacks and 84 tackles for loss.
Outlook: A little bit of a concern going into last season, the coaching staff was able to piece together a decent group that got the job done against the run and finished up with a strong year. It's going to take a little more work to get all the parts to fit in the interior, but as long as there isn't a rash of injuries, this should be an improved front five that comes up with a strong year.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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