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Know Your Enemy: Nebraska

I asked Jon from Corn Nation to weigh in on some questions I asked him.   He got a little help from his co-bloggers.  Check it out:


1.         What can Arizona expect from Zac Lee. He only has 13 TD's and 10 INT’s on the year. Has this guy been leading your team to 9 wins all year? 

Jon Johnston: Lead.…… no. Lee hasn’t played well this season, but has been really the only choice we have at quarterback. Lee hasn’t been accurate when under pressure, and hasn’t shown the tough running skills needed to run option and zone read plays. Lee hasn’t lead, however, he has managed his way to a nine-win season so far. 

True freshman Cody Green is pretty raw, but you should see him in the bowl game. He’s stronger than Lee in the running game but he doesn’t know the offense real well. 


Husker Mike:  Well, Lee was benched for the Baylor game to give true freshman Cody Green a look.  But this season, it's been the defense that's been leading the team, not the offense.  Zac Lee has made some plays, including a great 4th quarter against Missouri, but hasn't been outstanding.  It's not all his fault; his offensive line hasn't been great, and his receivers have been awful during the first two months of the season, aside from Niles Paul.  Lee is supposed to have the physical tools:  good speed and a strong arm, but just hasn't been able to put it together consistently.  He looks awkward at best running, and his throws aren't always on target.




2.          Is Roy Helu, Jr. healthy again? After the Missouri game, he struggled and regained some of his form late.  What will we see out of him in the Holiday Bowl. 

Husker Mike: Helu seems to be an injury waiting to happen, but he's as healthy as he's been since September.  If he's ready to go, he's got a great combination of speed and instincts that make him tough to tackle unless you get to him in the backfield.

Jon Johnston: The guy you didn’t ask about is true freshman Rex Burkhead. Burkhead has shown he’s ready for college ball, as he’s provided an offensive spark in games where we’ve had none. He’s not well-known because he was injured and out for several games this season, fans haven’t heard of him and there’s that true freshman thing. He’s a straight-ahead bowling ball type of runner, a very tough runner without a huge amount of flash. 


3.          What kind of offense does Nebraska run. Do you have a balanced offense? Who are the offensive playmakers Arizona should be watching out for. 

Jon Johnston: The term used by Nebraska’s coaches is "multiple". That means we to run heavy sets (two tight ends, fullback) along with spread formations with three receivers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way this year. Lee’s problems with pressure, along with an inconsistent group of receivers have lead to limitations in the offense. Add offensive line inexperience to that mix. 

In terms of offensive playmakers, Niles Paul has shown he can make the big plays. If Zac Lee or Cody Green can get the ball to him, he can stretch the field and open up the running game. He’s also a threat in punt and kick returning. 

What you’re going to see out of Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl is anyone’s guess. There’s been some talk about going back to the zone read/spread type formations, but I’d doubt it. Except the same conservative set that put us on a win streak. 

Husker Mike: Nebraska started the season running a spread offense, but switched to a more basic I formation (fullback and 2 tight ends) after the offense went inept in October.  Nebraska needs to run the ball to set up the pass, though after a few weeks of remedial offensive work in bowl practices, they may open things up a bit.  

Roy Helu is Nebraska's primary offensive weapon.  Niles Paul is a big play receiver who has become a deep threat.  Junior college transfer Brandon Kinnie started to become more involved in the offense in November after Menelik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen were benched.  Don't be surprised if Kinnie plays a big role in San Diego.  And don't forget about tight end Mike McNeill; he's had to focus on blocking in recent weeks, but he's a big play receiver.

4.            What kind of defense does Nebraska run.  How do you block Suh? (Please tell us).  Who are your playmakers, other than Suh, that Arizona will need to watch out for? 

Nebraska runs Bo Pelini’s defense. Ha! The base is supposed to be a 4-3, but we haven’t used three linebackers most of the season. I wouldn’t expect much different in the bowl game. Against Texas we played as many as seven defensive backs, so it’s pretty varied. The key is that our front four is good enough to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback without a lot of blitzing. 

You don’t block Ndamukong Suh. Pac-10 fans might have a tendency to dismiss how good he is because Nebraska plays in the Big 12 North, or rationalize that the Big 12’s offenses aren’t that good this year, but that would be a mistake. The guy can bust double and triple teams, and run from sideline to sideline. He’s a freak. 

Jared Crick plays next to Suh, and has had a great season. Part of that is because of Suh, but Crick is only a sophomore and is a star in the making. That’s part of the problem in doubling or tripling Suh - Crick is good enough to blow up the middle of the line. 

(Double team Suh and you have to deal with this guy, Jared Crick)

Husker Mike:  Nebraska likes to run a 4-2-5 or even a 4-1-6 defense.  Playmakers are all over the field.  Double team Ndamukong Suh, and you might let sophomore Jared Crick loose.  Phillip Dillard came back from a benching with a vengeance to become a second team All-Big XII linebacker.  The secondary is full of playmakers.  Prince Amukamara (from Phoenix) is a shutdown corner, and fellow Arizona native Eric Hagg is Nebraska's nickel back.  Alfonzo Dennard is solid at the other corner.  

Safety Larry Asante is a hard hitter who has a penchant for getting called for personal fouls. Safety Matt O'Hanlon is underrated and underappreciated; he's a smart player who's almost always in the right position.  (The last minute bomb against Virginia Tech is the one exception.)  In dime coverage, Dejon Gomes comes in.  He's undersized, but he forces turnovers; his forced fumble against Texas set up Nebraska's go-ahead field goal in the 4th quarter.

5.              How do you plan on stopping Arizona's offense?  What happened to Nebraska against Texas Tech? Did you know we have Sonny Dykes as our offensive coordinator? Does that make you scared? 

Same way we’ve stopped other offenses - using the front four to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, which will free the back seven to make plays. 

Texas Tech - I have to believe that this team thought that fourth quarter comeback against Missouri had bought them something because they didn’t show up ready to play against Tech. Niles Paul had a lateral pass thrown to him that he dropped and the whole offense stood and watched a Tech player pick it up and run it back for a touchdown. 

Sonny Dykes doesn’t worry me, nor does your offense. The Husker defense held Tech to 259 total yards, nearly 100 under their next lowest output on the season, and the lowest total ever for a Tech team under Mike Leach. It wasn’t our defense giving up points and yardage that cost us the Tech game. 

One important item that hasn’t been mentioned here is special teams play.  Alex Henery doubles as a punter and field goal kicker. He’s been exceptional at both. When our conservative offense can’t make first downs, he’s punted well enough (a 76-yard punt against Virginia Tech) to flip the field position. That’s a big key in Nebraska’s success. 

This will be a close game. Nebraska doesn’t have the offense to generate points, and Arizona’s offense isn’t going to generate points against Nebraska’s defense. How good is your field goal kicker??? (Ha!)