Nebraska football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Cornhuskers, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Nebraska Offense
It might not have been the Big Red Machine ground game like Husker fans love so much, and it might not have been a switch to a high-octane passing game to blend into the modern era, but the offense wasn’t all that bad averaging 447 yards per game.
Nine starters are back on offense led by QB Tommy Armstrong, a good do-it-all playmaker with the talent and experience to rise up and roll in his final year. As long as he leads a more efficient passing game, he’ll be doing his job.
The receiving corps is in place with Jordan Westerkamp and the top eight pass catchers from last year – including RB Terrell Newby – back to help the passing attack go. Everything worked well at times throughout the season, and now there should be more of a downfield threat.
The O line needs a little bit of work with three starters gone – and that’s the first job to figure out and strengthen this fall. It should be fine with a little bit of time, and it’ll need to be great to help out an okay group of running backs without a true star. Thanks to Armstrong, the rushing production should be solid, but it would be nice if Newby or one of the other running back options turned into a superstar.
Biggest Key To The Nebraska Offense
Hit the 200-yard mark on the ground. Armstrong can and will move the ball through the air, and this can be a balanced offense, but when the rushing game works, Nebraska wins. Nebraska ran for over 200 yards four times – including a 326-yard day against UCLA – and went 4-0. Over the last three seasons, Nebraska is 15-0 when running for 200 yards or more, and 9-15 when it doesn’t.
What You Need To Know About The Nebraska Defense
Run defense great, pass defense bad.
Yeah, the Huskers allowed just 110 rushing yards per game, but that’s partly because everyone had so much fun bombing away, cranking up 291 passing yards per outing. That should balance out a little bit.
The secondary has the best talents with Nate Gerry back at safety and Joshua Kalu at one corner job, but they’re going to need help from a pass rush that was okay, but came up with just 24 sacks and disappeared for key stretches.
The spotlight will be up front after losing tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine from the interior, and the early departure of Greg McMullen and Kevin Williams adds a double-whammy on the line. That means the linebacking corps will have to shine right out of the box.
The secondary had to make too many plays last year – Gerry and Kalu led the team in tackles – and now it’ll be up to Josh Banderas to lead a veteran group that’ll have to rock against the run.
Biggest Key To The Nebraska Defense
Again, figure out the defensive front. Replacing Collins and Valentine early from the interior was expected, but it still stings. It seemed like things would be okay with the return of McMullen – who tied for the team-lead in tackles for loss – but he left football to work on other things. Yeah, the run defense was great, but the Huskers didn’t play too many teams that could run. That’ll change in the third game this year going against Oregon, and with road games in the second half of the season against an improved Wisconsin ground game, Ohio State, and Iowa.
Nebraska Will Be Far Better If …
The program finally has a plus turnover margin. Nebraska hasn’t been on the positive side of turnovers for a season since 2009. In the six years since then, the Huskers are a -39 and a -37 over the last four seasons. As much as fans might be able to point to several instances when things could’ve gone differently, and that maybe there wasn’t any luck, the team made its own bed going a -15 in all seven losses and a +2 in the six wins. The Huskers were in the negative in all the defeats.
Best Nebraska Offensive Player
WR Jordan Westerkamp, Sr. – You don’t think receivers when you think of Nebraska positives, but it’s likely going to be the team’s biggest strength early on, or at least the deepest. The healthy return of De’Mornay Pierson-El helps, and the return of a reliable deep threat in Brandon Reilly helps, but it’s Westerkamp who leads the way after a 65-catch season. Quick, shifty, and dangerous as the No. 1 target, he’s the one who’ll be Tommy Armstrong’s main man once again.
Best Nebraska Defensive Player
S Nate Gerry, Sr. – For good and bad, Gerry led the team in tackles coming up with 79 stops for a beleaguered secondary that got torched time and again by the decent passing games on the slate. A great hitter ever since he got into a big role, he’s got the pop, the speed, and the experience to be one of the Big Ten’s best defenders.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DE Freedom Akinmoladun, Soph. – The Huskers need stars on the defensive line, and they desperately have to find a star pass rusher who can be a disruptive force. The 6-4, 255-pound Akinmoladun is an all-star in the classroom and had a nice first season making 21 tackles with 4.5 sacks. He’s built for the job, and he’s going to be turned loose on the outside, but if he doesn’t emerge as a regular in the backfield, the defense will have to manufacture big plays from other spots.
The Nebraska Season Will Be A Success If …
The Huskers get back to nine wins. Say what you will about Bo Pelini and his era, but his teams managed to win nine games or more on a regular basis. That he was launched after a 9-4 season, and with Mike Riley going 6-7 in his first year, anything less than a return to a big win total will be a disaster. It’s not where fans want the program to be, but nine wins would be a nice step.
Sept. 17 vs. Oregon – The Oct. 29th game against Wisconsin and the regular-season ender against Iowa will likely determine the Big Ten West, but Nebraska needs an attitude and it needs something positive from the start. Beating UCLA in the bowl game set the tone, and beating Fresno State and Wyoming to start the season shouldn’t be a problem, but taking care of Oregon – likely the Pac-12’s best team this season – should launch a massive run with Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue to follow. Beat the Ducks, a 7-0 start is possible.
2015 Nebraska Fun Stats
– Time of Possession: Nebraska 32:24 – Opponents 27:36
– Touchdown % in the Red-Zone: Nebraska 70% – Opponents 57%
– Fourth Quarter Scoring: Nebraska 141 – Opponents 115