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2008 Nebraska Preview - Offense
Nebraska RB Marlon Lucky
Nebraska RB Marlon Lucky
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Offense

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2008 Nebraska Offense
- 2008 Nebraska Defense | 2008 Nebraska Depth Chart
-
2007 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2006 CFN Nebraska Preview 

What you need to know:
Lost in the shuffle of last year's nightmare of a season was that the offense really did work. Yeah, it died for a stretch mid-season, but once it started humming, it was a yardage machine. Now, all the key parts are back everywhere but wide receiver, which will be the team's Achilles heel with Maurice Purify gone. Nate Swift and Todd Peterson are serviceable, but hardly anything special. Steadying the quarterback situation is Joe Ganz, a good, accurate passer who'll make the receivers better. Fortunately, the coaching staff wants to run the ball more, and with Marlon Lucky, one of the nation's most versatile backs, and a good, veteran line that should blossom into something special, the ground game will be better.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Joe Ganz
89-152, 1,435 yds, 16 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Marlon Lucky
206 carries, 1,019 yds, 9 TD
Receiving:
Marlon Lucky
75 catches, 705 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Marlon Lucky
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Nate Swift
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Mike McNeill
Best pro prospect: Senior OG Matt Slauson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lucky. 2) Slauson, 3) OT Lydon Murtha
Strength of the offense: Veteran line, Lucky
Weakness of the offense:
Receivers, backup quarterback

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter
:
Senior Joe Ganz was fantastic in spring ball last year, at times looking far better than Sam Keller, but Keller took the starting job into the season. Once things started going down the drain and Ganz took over, the offense took off as he threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas, 510 yards and seven touchdowns against Kansas State, and 484 yards and four touchdowns against Colorado to close out as the nation's hottest passer. Adding to the statistical show were three rushing scores. While he threw for 1,435 yards and 16 touchdowns for the year, he also threw seven picks. While he's only 6-1 and 210 pounds, he's a bomber, but now he won't have to carry the offense. He'll be asked to be more of a game manager to complement the running game instead of having to throw 50 times a game.

Projected Top Reserves: There will be an ongoing battle for the number two job between senior Beau Davis and sophomore Zac Lee. The 6-2, 210-pound Lee was a star scout teamer last year with a strong, accurate arm with just enough quickness to run for a first down now and then. He was considered by many to be the top JUCO quarterback coming out of San Francisco CC two years ago.

The 6-4, 180-pound Davis has been a career backup, mostly an emergency, No. 3 sort of quarterback, but he knows what he's doing, is a good practice player, and could see a little bit of meaningful time if something happens to Ganz. He's not Davis, but he's still in the hunt for the No. 2 job.

6-4, 225-pound Patrick Witt might be the star of the future. The true freshman got to school early and had a nice spring last year, and with a big-time arm, good size, and maturity in the offense, he has the potential to step into the starting job next year. Now he has to work his way into a better backup role.

Watch Out For ... Ganz to be fantastic. For all of Nebraska's problems last year, throwing the ball wasn't one of them. The passing game was always efficient and put up 324 yards per game. Ganz won't have to do that. He'll be asked to complete around 65% of his throws, keep the interceptions to a minimum, and keep the chains moving. He can do that.
Strength: Accuracy. While everyone will be crossing their fingers and holding their breath every time Ganz takes a shot, the Husker quarterbacks can throw well. Give Bill Callahan credit for getting strong-armed, accurate passers.
Weakness: The backups. Davis, Lee and Witt all have promise and potential, but there's a huge drop-off going into the season between the one and the two. It'll be vital to get the reserves some meaningful work early on.
Outlook: After finishing seventh in the nation in passing, mostly to keep up with all the points and yards put up by opposing offenses, the game has changed. No longer will the quarterbacks be asked to carry the team; now they're supposed to be a part of it. Being efficient and effective, while letting the running game do its thing, will be the task, and Ganz should be strong. He won't get any all-star credit in a big year for Big 12 quarterbacks, but he'll have a great season.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters
:
6-0, 215-pound senior Marlon Lucky was one of the nation's top running back recruits a few years ago, and last year he came through with the type of season that showed why running for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns while catching a team-leading 75 passes for 705 yards and three touchdowns. He even threw a touchdown pass against Iowa State. He has the size, the speed, and the workhorse ability, shown off last year with his 281 touches. That was an issue early in his career, suffering various nicks and bumps. Now he's going to be asked to do even more. The coaching staff wants to run the ball, and with the best all-around back in the Big 12, Lucky needs to stay healthy and come up with a monster year.

When a fullback is needed, it'll be up to 6-0, 250-pound senior Thomas Lawson to fill in. A true blocker for the running game, he became great around the goal line catching three passes for three short touchdowns. He could handle some short carries if needed.

Projected Top Reserves: The Huskers aren't always going to use a true fullback, but 6-1, 245-pound sophomore Quentin Castille certainly has the size to be one. A good all-around I-Back who finished second on the team with 343 yards and touchdowns, and caught three passes for 33 yards, he has good power and excellent speed for a big back. Used mostly in short yardage situations, he'll see more work to keep Lucky fresh.

Adding more flash and speed to the equation is Marcus Mendoza, a redshirt freshman who was close to seeing time last year as a pure home-run hitter. With track star speed, the 5-10, 185-pouder will get the ball in space as much as possible if he can prove he can hang on to the ball. While still a bit raw, he could be good with more work.

Throwing his hat into the ring this spring was 6-0, 215-pound sophomore Roy Helu, one of the big surprises of the off-season. While he'll have to battle to get through the logjam of good backs, after finishing third on the team with 209 yards, and catching five passes for 40 yards as a true freshman, he has the ability to be a spark of lightning when used in the rotation.

6-1, 240-pound sophomore Justin Makovicka has his legendary name to live up to. The brother of former Husker stars Jeff and Joel doesn't have anywhere near the same talent, but he has the potential to be a good blocker now that there will be more of a power running game. He didn't ever fit in under the old regime.

Watch Out For ... Castille, Mendoza and Helu. Lucky is the franchise back the offense will revolve around, but he'll get even more help this season. The backups are good enough to carry the running game from time to time.
Strengths: Speed and quickness. Lucky has good wheels and can break off some big runs from time to time, while Mendoza and Helu can move. All can be used as receivers out of the backfield, and all will keep defenses on their heels.
Weakness
:
Holding on to the ball. Nebraska lost a not-that-bad 11 fumbles last year, but that could be more of a problem this year. Mendoza and Castille don't have the surest hands around, and ball security will be an issue.
Outlook: The situation is excellent as long as Lucky stays healthy. There's good depth, excellent speed and athleticism, and some great upside, but Lucky is the marquee star who needs to carry the offense through the rough patches. It won't be back to the good old days of the Big Red Machine rushing dominance, but the ground game will average far more than last year's 144 yards per game.
Rating: 8

Receivers

Projected Starters
:
The top returning wide receiver from last year's veteran corps is 6-2, 200-pound senior Nate Swift, who finished third on the team with 36 catches for 520 yards and three touchdowns. A streaky target two years ago, he has become more consistent. Now he has to be more of a scorer with two of his touchdowns coming in a big outing against Texas. He's not a superstar No. 1 receiver, but he'll need to play like it at times.

Now is the time for Todd Peterson to shine. He has always been a decent complementary option, but now he has to use his experience to do more. He caught 18 passes for 359 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 19.9 yards per catch, but he often didn't show up until the rout was on. At 6-4 and 215 pounds he has great size to go along with his good hands and All-Big 12 smarts, but he'll have to fight to get a starting gig on the inside.

Taking over the starting tight end spot from J.B. Phillips and Sean Hill is 6-4, 240-pound sophomore Mike McNeill, a promising receiver who caught a pass for 25 yards in a limited role thanks to a toe problem. He was always more of a big wideout, and then he hit the weights hard, bulked up, and now should be a major factor in the passing game.

Projected Top Reserves: Ready to step in and play a bigger role is junior Menelik Holt, a 6-4, 220-pound veteran who caught just four passes, but averaged 24.2 yards per grab. He has good deep speed and has the size to pose a matchup nightmare, but he has to prove early on that he can be more than a special teamer, and he has to shed the bust tag after coming to Lincoln as a top recruit.

6-0, 210-pound redshirt freshman Curenski Gilleylen has more than just an impossible name to spell, he has great speed to go along with his good size, and he's coming off an excellent spring. With the size to work inside and the wheels to hit the home run on the outside, he'll be used in a variety of spots if he can be more consistent as a pass catcher.

Trying to step into one of the open spots is Niles Paul, a 6-1, 210-pound sophomore who caught a pass as a true freshman and saw plenty of action on special teams. The nephew of Ahman Green, he has phenomenal deep speed to go along with his size, and now he'll have to become a field stretcher who can consistently come up with the big play if he can hang on to the ball. His hands are suspect.

Along with McNeill at tight end will be 6-3, 235-pound senior Hunter Teafatiller, and 6-6, 250-pound junior Tyson Hetzer. Teafatiller was a surprisingly dangerous target two years ago averaging 15.6 yards per catch with four touchdowns on just five grabs, and he's a strong blocker, but he was lost in the shuffle last year catching four passes for 34 yards. Hetzer was supposed to come in from the JUCO ranks and played right away last year, but he suffered a knee injury and was out and questionable for early this year. A good blocker, he's also a formidable target who should be good for at least 15 catches.

Watch Out For ... one of the new prospects to break out. With the promise of a passing offense under Callahan, the receiver prospects came to Lincoln. Now it'll be up to Gilleylen, Paul, or Holt to break out and fill in the gap left by Maurice Purify.
Strength: A mix of talents. Swift is good and Peterson is solid, but they're not superstars. Even so, they're good veterans who'll balance things out until the young, talented stars start to shine through. The cupboard isn't bare.
Weakness: Sure-thing stars. Swift has always been a good No. 2 and Peterson is more like a decent No. 3 man. Who's going to step up and become the guy who keeps defensive coordinators awake at night?
Outlook: It'll be a different type of year for the receivers. Now they'll have to block more, and this group should be able to do it. They'll have to be reliable to keep the chains moving, but they won't have all the pressure on them to blow up and carry the attack. Swift and Peterson are good, Holt, Gilleylen and Paul should be better, and the tight ends have the potential to be really good. McNeill could be the team's biggest breakout performer.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
:
The line had one of its best seasons in years, and now it gets several starters back led by 6-7, 315-pound senior Lydon Murtha, an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer. He was finally starting to come into his own and become the top-shelf all-around blocker he was expected to be a few years ago, but he had foot problems late in the year. With his size, experience and athleticism, he has the potential to be special at left tackle if he can be consistent.

Returning to the line is Matt Slauson, a second-team All-Big 12 star who's one of the line's most versatile blockers. At 6-5 and 325 pounds, he's a natural guard, but he has seen time at tackle, working on the left side for a big before playing on the right in the season finale. A great run blocker, he should be even more effective now that the offense will power the ball more.

The one big issue up front is replacing center Brett Byford, the only starter to last the whole season, but the Huskers have honorable mention All-Big 12 guard Jacob Hickman moving over and ready to step in. The 6-4, 290-pounder was a bit questionable going into last year with a knee injury, but he ended up turning into a steady starter at left guard.

Stepping in to Hickman's vacated left guard spot will be 6-4, 300-pound senior Mike Huff, a bruising blocker who started half of last year at right guard after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in the 2007 off-season. He hasn't been special so far, but he's a serviceable veteran who should be fine next to Murtha.

With Murtha likely moving from the right to the left side, it'll be up to one of the team's best young talents, 6-5, 325-pound sophomore Jaivorio Burkes, to step in and shine. After being on track to redshirt after sitting on the sidelines over the first eight games, he stepped in and started late in the year when Murtha went down. Now he should be an all-star for the next three seasons with tremendous upside as long as he stays in shape. He'll be better if he can get to around 315.

Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Murtha at left tackle, and needing to be ready in case Murtha's foot injury acts up again, is 6-6, 285-pound sophomore Mike Smith, a surprising performer who moved over from the defensive side and saw a little big of work. He's a great athlete who needs time to become a more consistent blocker.

6-5, 310-pound sophomore Keith Williams was a big-time recruit who's built more like a tackle than a guard, but but he ended up playing on the inside and now will back up Huff at left guard. He has the talent to eventually be special.

The big question for sophomore D.J. Jones is where he'll play. A top recruit two years ago, he'll start out at right guard behind Slauson and be the heir apparent, but he's talented enough to move around just about anywhere on the line.

Watch Out For ... the Nebraska line to be closer to being the Nebraska line again. After years of underachieving, this group is now full of all-stars who can do a bit of everything well.
Strength: Veterans. With all the shuffling done on the line last year, there's experience and depth for just about every spot, and mostly, there's good versatility with players like Slauson, Hickman and Jones able to slide around where needed. 
Weakness: Proven power rushing attack. The line was built to be strong in pass protection, which it was considering the shuffling, but it hasn't had too many chances to simply line up and power through someone. Is this group good enough to handle the top-shelf defensive lines? It was great against the average ones, and now it has to prove it can dominate.
Outlook: The line did a great job last year considering there was almost never the same starting lineup two games in a row. If everyone stays healthy and there's some consistency, this should be one of the Big 12 North's better front walls. It might not be as good as the Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Texas lines, but it'll be strong with good starters, some more talented backups, and a coaching staff that'll want to pound the ball more.
Rating: 8