The Nebraska Cornhuskers have a big matchup this weekend when they take on the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Much has already been written about the great performance by quarterback Taylor Martinez, but the Bruins are a completely different team than the Huskers last opponent, Southern Mississippi.
This weekend, the Cornhuskers will need a much sharper performance, and will probably have to do so without star running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead has a low grade MCL sprain, but unless the Cornhuskers need him, he should not be on the field, which could be a blessing in disguise for the team.
Regardless, the Cornhuskers have three offensive keys if they want to win their upcoming game.
Martinez on the Road
Taylor Martinez has been a bit iffy on the road, especially with his passing game. However, he absolutely torched Oklahoma State down in Stillwater two years ago, but since then has been anything but impressive. After a confidence boosting game last weekend, the T-Magic is going to need another great passing game.
Even then, I would also like to see Taylor run. While Taylor has claimed his ankle is at 100%, unlike last year, fans did not get to see that ankle and how it holds up when he took off running. I would like to see Martinez keep the ball on a zone read play and outrun a defender to the corner. If Martinez proves he’s healthy, that opens up a lot more room inside for the running backs.
Martinez will have to play both smart and agressive for the Huskers this weekend. Can he handle it?
Ameer Abdullah and Running Backs
Abudllah had a great season for the Cornhuskers last year, but he also had quite a few fumble issues, especially at critical times. Kudos to him last week for keeping the ball in his hands, but this week is going to be different on the road. UCLA is going to get a steady diet of the power running game, and Abdullah is going to be key. Can he keep his hands on the ball?
Secondly, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross are both going to get touches. While Heard played sparingly last year, Cross is getting his first action in a big time road game. How does he respond?
Nebraska struggled last week when running between the tackles, especially with Heard. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck should utilize Martinez and Abdullah and force the Bruins to run sideline to sideline. When they need to run the ball between the tackles, Heard and Cross are much better.
Nebraska showed last week that it can handle throwing the ball around. Martinez made a lot of good, intermediate throws. But how well will he do throwing the ball 40+ yards down the field. I expect UCLA to stack the box and once again force Martinez to pass. Nebraska is going to need to find some room somewhere, and with their speedsters, the downfield passing game should be open.
If Martinez can hit those receivers in stride, look for the running lanes to open just a bit more.