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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Top Five Things to Watch For Versus UTC

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By Erin Sorensen
Come Saturday, the moment so many have been waiting for will finally arrive – the kickoff of the 2011 Nebraska football season. The last few months have been filled with speculation. Whatever their questions may be, Nebraska fans will finally get some answers this Saturday. Let’s examine five key things to keep an eye on against the Mocs.
1.) The Offensive Line
For Nebraska, the season begins and ends with the offensive line. 2010 was a rollercoaster ride for the offensive linemen. In the first few games against the likes of Washington and Kansas State, Nebraska’s offensive line dominated. At times, flashes of the fabled "Pipeline" from the 1990s showed.
Then Texas came to Lincoln and things changed in a hurry. A defensive switch by the Longhorns from the 4-3 alignment to the 3-4 left the Husker linemen scrambling. Every Nebraska opponent followed the blueprint that Texas had created. Playing defense from the 3-4 set could stop Nebraska cold.
In 2011, Nebraska looks to overcome the struggles of the past. Bo Pelini brought on former Huskers John Garrison and Brendan Stai to aid Barney Cotton in an assistant coach and intern capacity, respectively. This combination of coaches will look to transform their linemen into not only a powerful unit, but one that can rely on depth and adjust to defensive changes.
Nebraska will need to prove that the offensive line can remain dominant or Big Ten coaches will happily mirror the actions of the Big Red’s 2010 opposition.
2.) Taylor Martinez
Frequent speculation this offseason has been whether or not the “T-Magic” that shredded defenses through the first half of the 2010 will return. Never afraid to make snap decisions, Martinez led Nebraska through the first half of last year putting up impressive numbers.
Unfortunately, injuries would stall Martinez’s stellar season, as Cody Green came in to assist. Martinez spent the latter half of the season trying to fight through injury, but what resulted was an inconsistent quarterback taking the field with a worrisome hobble in his step. 2010 quickly went from talk of Heisman candidacy to rampant rumors about his status with the team following the loss at Texas A&M.
As of now, Martinez is believed to be healthy and back to where he was prior to last year’s opener against Western Kentucky. Head coach Bo Pelini believes that he has also matured and grown as a leader.
Teammates are standing firmly behind the sophomore quarterback stating that he is now part of a faster offense that will be exciting to watch. The question still remains: Is Martinez really as good as advertised? He said it himself, “You’ll find out on September 3rd.”
3.) Fumbles and Penalties
Last year, the ability to hold onto the football was a challenge for the Huskers. Penalties plagued the team making it extremely difficult to convert drives into points. Nebraska’s offensive efforts often ended with nothing to show for them.
Shocking stats dotted the 2010 stat sheets. The Cornhuskers had a staggering 46 fumbles in 14 games only recovering 16. Fumbling aside, penalty numbers were just as eye-popping.
Last season, Nebraska was ranked No. 119 in penalties, averaging nearly 91 yards per game in yardage lost due to mental errors. Big 12 referees miffed at Nebraska’s departure can’t be blamed entirely for that number. Nebraska was ranked No. 104 in the nation during the 2008 season, Bo Pelini’s first as head coach.
In 2011, it’s key for Nebraska to reverse the trend of mental mistakes if they want to achieve the goals they’ve made public. On Saturday, the Cornhuskers will show exactly what kind of game it intends to play. Will it be one plagued by dropped balls and pointless penalties or can ball security and clean, crisp play be the norm?
4.) Kicking Specialists
Since 2007, Nebraska hasn’t needed to worry about its kickers. It was all but guaranteed that Adi Kunalic would launch kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. It was a shock if Alex Henery didn’t convert every field goal, even from a distance of 60 yards.
In 2011, the security blanket that was the duo of Henery and Kunalic are gone. The Cornhuskers are faced with a new set of specialists including one that Pelini believes has truly earned the job in Brett Maher
Nebraska will be looking at P.J. Mangieri and Maher to take over for Kunalic and Henery. While those are some huge shoes to fill, the team is confident that both players can handle the pressure. On Saturday, Nebraska fans will find out if the new guys can even remotely replicate the success of their predecessors.
5.) Memorial Stadium
Nebraska students are out to “Take Back Game Day” on Saturday, but will this actually happen? In 2010, Memorial Stadium often sat quiet, choosing to sit over stand and clap over cheer.
Those that would ask others standing and cheering to sit down and be quiet have been mocked repeatedly. On Saturday, Husker fans have the perfect opportunity to get some practice in themselves for when Big Ten opposition comes to town.
While it will be hard to not be excited for Saturday’s season opener, can Nebraska’s fabled cathedral keep the excitement going for four quarters all year long? Hopefully Cornhusker fans will be doing their best to make the college football world aware that Nebraska is Big Ten title material complete with passionate fans.
For Nebraska, this year is one of historic change. What sort of legacy will the Cornhuskers add to annals of Big Red lore? Come 2:30 PM on September 3, it’ll be time to find out.

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