2007 Nebraska Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 24, 2007

Preview 2007 Nebraska Offense Preview

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Nebraska Preview | 2007 Nebraska Defense Preview
- 2007 Nebraska Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Nebraska Preview

What you need to know:
From the issues with star receiver Maurice Purify after being a knucklehead off the field, to losing leading rusher Brandon Jackson to the NFL, promising runner Kenny Wilson to a broken leg while moving a TV, and starting guard Matt Huff to a blown out Achilles (though he might be back), it's been a rough off-season for the offense. Even with all the problems, the offense will roll if, and it's a screaming if, the once-promising tackle prospects come through and the starting 11 stays healthy. Top back Marlon Lucky can't be counted on for a full season, while backup Cody Glenn is already hobbling with a foot problem. There's no one of note behind them. The line had to do some shuffling after a variety of injuries, meaning the ground game could struggle at times. Fortunately, former Arizona State mad bomber Sam Keller is at the helm with a speedy, veteran receiving corps to work with. Don't be shocked if the attack becomes one-dimensional at some point this year. That might not be a bad thing.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Joe Ganz
7-13, 122 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Marlon Lucky
141 carries, 728 yds, 6 TD
Terrence Nunn
42 catches, 597 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Sam Keller
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RB Marlon Lucky
Unsung star on the rise: Senior C Brett Byford
Best pro prospect: Junior OG Matt Slauson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keller, 2) Slauson, 3) WR Maurice Purify
Strength of the offense: Veteran receivers, Sam Keller
Weakness of the offense:
Healthy running backs, tackle


Projected Starter
Senior Sam Keller was on the verge of becoming a Heisman-caliber quarterback at Arizona State with tremendous talent, 6-4, 230-pound size, a big-time arm, and an even bigger-time attitude. After a bizarre sequence of events when he was named the ASU starter, after missing the second half of 2005 with an injured thumb, was relegated to second string behind Rudy Carpenter the morning after being named the number one, threw a hissy fit, and left for Lincoln. While it would be nice if he had the full command of the Husker offense, he was around enough last year to know what he's doing. Talent-wise, it could be argued that he's the most talented passer to ever be under center for the Big Red. It's not a stretch to call him the X factor in the Big 12 title race, and since he's faced USC before (and will play the Trojans on September 15th), he could play a huge role in decided the national title.

Projected Top Reserves: Don't just hand over the offense to Keller just yet. Junior Joe Ganz was terrific in spring ball showing great accuracy and a great command of the offense. While he doesn't have Keller's talent, the 6-1, 200-pounder is more mobile and has enough of an arm to keep things moving. The team can win with him under center.

6-4, 220-pound Patrick Witt might be the star of the future. The true freshman got to school early and had a nice spring, considering his lack of experience. He's a pure pro-style passer with a big arm and good presence. While he'll be the number three, at best, and will likely redshirt, he showed enough promise to possibly become the 2008 starter.

Watch Out For ... a possible mega-quarterback controversy. What happens if Ganz plays better than Keller in fall practices? Keller had a good spring, but Ganz was every bit as productive. Considering Keller's attitude, for good and bad, can the coaching staff actually name Ganz the starter? This could be interesting.
Strength: Talent. All Zac Taylor did was throw for 3,197 yards and 26 touchdowns with a mere eight interceptions while leading the Huskers to the Big 12 title game and earning Offensive Player of the Year honors. Keller is better. A lot better. While that doesn't necessarily mean much if the production doesn't follow, the offense could be explosive if the talent and system each come together.
Weakness: Keller's history. As good as he might be, he has yet to show he can play a full season with only seven starts in 2005. Talent-wise, he might be ten times better than Taylor, but he was also ten times better than Carpenter. 
Outlook: Keller will explode. The running game won't be nearly as strong as last year, and it could be downright disastrous if the top backs can't stay healthy. That might be just fine with Keller, who's more than equipped to throw, throw, and throw some more. Don't be fooled by the alleged open competition for the starting job; Ganz isn't getting it unless Keller falls flat on his face.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters
6-0, 210-pound junior Marlon Lucky was one of the nation's top running back recruits a few years ago, and while he's been decent, finishing second on the team with 728 yards and six touchdowns with a 5.2-yard-per-carry average, and fourth with 32 catches for 383 yards, he hasn't had to be the main man thanks to a variety of bumps and bruises including a back problem, and this spring, a slight knee injury. With only one game last year with more than 20 carries, the Cotton Bowl loss to Auburn, he needs to show early on that he can be a workhorse, even though the offense doesn't always need one. He has a next level combination of size, speed and hands, and if he puts it all together, could be an all-conference back who becomes a national breakout star if he can stay healthy. 

The Huskers don't always use a fullback, but when it does, it'll be 6-2, 230-pound senior Andy Sand. Almost purely a blocker in the offense, it'll be a pure surprise whenever one gets a carry or a catch. Sand, a former tight end, has been great in the classroom, but has yet to do anything on the field.

Projected Top Reserves: Nebraska had good luck with a 1-2 rotation of backs between Lucky and Brandon Jackson, the team's leading rusher. Jackson bolted early for the NFL, and now it'll be up to 6-0, 230-pound junior Cody Glenn, who wasn't right in spring ball after suffering a foot injury late last year. A powerful back who's great around the goal line, he scored eight times and was third on the team with 370 yards. He's not a receiver.

With a variety of issues depleting the backups, true freshman Marcus Mendoza, who came to school early, could see time early on. A pure speed back who can hit the home run from anywhere on the field, he should be dangerous when he gets the ball on the move. Eventually. Ready of not, he might be needed right away.

Watch Out For ... everyone to cross their fingers and hope Lucky can last the year. If he doesn't, there will be big, big problems.
Strength: The thunder and lightning tandem of Glenn and Lucky could be devastating. Assuming everyone stays healthy, the Huskers will have a dangerous rotation of backs that can do a little of everything. Lucky has all the skills to be special.
Weakness: Health and luck. From Brandon Jackson's early loss to the big league, to Kenny Wilson's broken leg while moving a TV (or so the story goes), to Glenn's injured foot that isn't ready yet, to Lucky's on-going health concerns, the running back situation could be a huge problem at some point.
Outlook: This could've been one of the nation's best running back attacks if Jackson, Wilson, Lucky and Glenn were all available. Now it's Lucky and Glenn and pray for several true freshmen to be ready to see time right away. A few no-name backs will emerge as the season goes on to see significant time.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
The receiving corps and passing game avoided a potentially crippling blow thanks to a rough off-season from 6-4, 220-pound senior Maurice Purify. After finishing second on the team with 34 tackles for 630 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns, Purify should be in for a national-breakout season, despite getting heavier, and far less effective, after the end of the year. Arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, coming off some other legal troubles stemming from a bar fight in early May, now he's suspended for the season opener, but avoided getting dumped for the entire year.

Assuming Purify isn't back, it'll likely be up to 6-2, 200-pound junior Nate Swift to be the main man on the outside. He saw his role reduced, catching 22 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns, after blowing up for a stretch in 2005 and finishing with 45 catches and seven touchdowns. He led the team in receiving two years ago, and is more than capable of stepping back in and being productive. However, he's not Purify.

On the inside will be the team's leading receiver, 6-0, 190-pound senior Terrance Nunn, who caught 42 passes for 597 yards and three scores with a steady, consistent year. Extremely quick with great hands and the speed to get deep, he has the skills to be a star, but he's made his mark being one of the Big 12's most dependable targets over the last two years.

Nebraska uses a tight-end-by-committee approach, with 6-3, 245-pound senior J.B. Phillips the starter. While he caught 13 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and has nice hands, he's made his biggest mark as a blocker. That could quickly change as he becomes more of a tight end and less of an H-Back/fullback.

Projected Top Reserves: With Purify's problems, several other veterans will get far more work. 6-1, 190-pound senior Frantz Hardy led the team in yards per catch averaging 22.6 on 14 grabs with three touchdowns, highlighted by a three-catch, 159-poyard, two touchdown performance against Kansas. With the blazing speed to be a star deep threat, he needs to be more of a factor on an every game basis, which he should after hitting the weights this off-season.

Behind Nunn will be 6-4, 210-pound junior Todd Peterson, who's coming off a 19-catch, 307-yard, two touchdown season. One of the team's biggest targets, he has enough deep speed to come up with some deep plays here and there, but he hasn't been more than a complimentary, big-play receiver (if that's possible).

On the verge of emerging as a top target is 6-5, 210-pound sophomore Will Henry, a matchup nightmare with 4.5 speed to go along with his size. He didn't catch a pass last year, and he's still not polished by any stretch, but he has all the skills to become special.

Along with Phillips at tight end will be 6-3, 230-pound junior Hunter Teafatiller, and 6-5, 265-pound senior Josh Mueller. Teafatiller was a surprisingly dangerous target averaging 15.6 yards per catch with four touchdowns on just five grabs, including a 14-yard scoring catch for the team's only touchdown in the Big 12 title game. Mueller has seen starting time throughout his career, and even turned into a short-yardage receiver with two touchdown catches.

Watch Out For ... more of the same with several receivers getting work. Nunn is a good, steady number one receiver to rely on, but all the top targets will get their share of work. The passing game will spread it around.
Strength: Experience. If you include Purify in the mix, and take out the running backs, the top five wide receivers are back, and they've all spent plenty of time in the system. They all know what to do. However ...
Weakness: You can't include Purify in the mix for a full year. Purify caught seven of the team's 32 touchdown passes, and while that might not seem like a big deal, none of the other wide receivers caught more than three. No one else on the roster, with the possible exception of Henry, who's not quite ready for prime time, has the talent of Purify. He was the one guy who threw a mega-scare into opposing defenses, but can he keep his nose clean and stay out of the doghouse?
Outlook: The overall result will be good with all the returning experience and all the speed. Getting Purify back to work with is tremendous, and there's a ton of talent around him. That includes the tight ends, who can all catch and can all grow into becoming a bigger part of the offense.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
Will the tackle prospects finally produce up to expectations? Senior Carl Nicks had a decent season as a reserve on the right side, and ended up starting late in the year against Colorado and in the Big 12 title game. The 6-5, 330-pound former JUCO transfer, by way of New Mexico State, has the size to go along with decent athleticism, and he stepped up this spring and showed he should be more consistent and more dominant with the full-time job all to himself.

6-7, 305-pound junior Lydon Murtha wasn't able to use all his bulk and finally become the all-star blocker many expected to be from the start of his career, which was derailed by a leg injury. Able to play either tackle spot, he was good throughout spring ball and should be a plus as a starter once he starts to show some consistency.

The interior should be more settled, at least among the starters, led by 6-5, 335-pound junior Matt Slauson at right guard. A starter for most of last year at right tackle, he'll move inside after earning All-Big 12 honors. A great run blocker, he was decent in pass protection, but nothing special and will be far more productive inside where he can use his bulk to bang away. He'll be the anchor everyone else works around, unless 6-3, 300-pound senior Brett Byford becomes the main man in the middle. The honorable mention All-Big 12 center came up with a shocker of a year, taking over early on and turning into a steady starter. He might not be dominant, but he doesn't make mistakes.

6-3, 300-pound junior Andy Christensen is back at left guard after taking over the job full time over the last five games. He missed spring ball after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he should be back at 100% this fall. His emergence as a consistent blocker is a must with the concerns at tackle.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-4, 300-pound Mike Huff was supposed to start at right guard, allowing Slauson to start at tackle, but he ruptured his Achilles tendon in winter drills. He's supposed to be back at some point this year after starting all but one game. While he was decent, he was nothing special. Slauson's an upgrade at the position.

The overall talent has been improved over the last few years, but it'll take a big year from two newcomers to the mix to make the line stronger. 6-5, 310-pound redshirt freshman Keith Williams will quickly find time at one of the guard spots, and will likely start out the year behind Christensen on the left side. A big-time recruit, he could've played defensive tackle for many other top schools.

Also adding more skill to the line will be 6-5, 310-pound redshirt freshman D.J. Jones at right tackle behind Murtha. Like Williams, Jones was a superior recruit who has shown signs of very soon becoming a major player with next-level strength and potential.

Watch Out For ... the starting tackles to change at some point. Even though Nicks and Murtha were great in spring, they're hardly sure-things to hold on to their jobs. Nicks has a far better chance to grow into a regular, after showing signs of becoming dominant late last year, but D.J. Jones will end up pushing the underwhelming Murtha very, very hard, if Slausen doesn't end up moving back outside.
Strength: The interior. Byford went from an unknown to a possible all-star with next-level potential, Christensen is serviceable, if unspectacular, and Slausen is a sure-thing All-Big 12 performer at right guard (assuming he stays there).
Weakness: Proven reserves. After last year, the line appeared to have a ton of options. Then Huff blew out his Achilles and left tackle Chris Patrick bolted early for the NFL. A knee injury to spot-starter Jake Hickman didn't help matters. Now it's sink or swim with Nicks and Murtha at tackle, and hope things work out well.
Outlook: The line will probably be overrated by many going into the year, and be underappreciated at the end. The program suffered a minor setback when one-time top prospects, like Murtha, failed to come close to playing up to their original projections, and now the hope is for young stars like Jones and Williams to live up to expectations. On the plus side, Murtha and Nicks should be better on the outside. If everyone stays healthy, this will be a good line, but not one of the team's strengths. It'll be a killer next year.
Rating: 7



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2007 Nebraska Preview - Defense
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2007 Nebraska Preview - Depth Chart
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