Promising might be the best way to sum up Nebraska’s opening win over Chattanooga.
Yes, the Huskers emerged with a 40-7 victory over the Chattanooga Mocs, a score that has the connotation of dominance. But Nebraska fell short of many expectations, and had to work its way through first-game mistakes seen Saturday across the college football landscape.
Starting on the defensive side, things appear to be right on track. NU allowed just five first downs and 74 total yards of offense in the first half. The defensive line was extremely dominant, holding the Mocs to 15 yards on 19 carries.
At times, the Nebraska defensive line appeared to look like men among boys, picking up the smaller Chattanooga offensive line and simply shoving them aside. Defensive ends Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah tossed around the opposition like ragdolls, combining for three sacks in the first half.
Once again, Nebraska’s defense revved on all cylinders and will be the cornerstone of any success the Huskers have in 2011. The unit’s only hiccup came in the third quarter, when Chattanooga scored on a 13–yard pass after cornerback Andrew Green slipped on the play.
The offense, however, did not bring the same level of consistency.
Showcasing somewhat of a new wrinkle, Nebraska’s form of option consisted mainly of lead option and not the read-option scheme seen in year’s past. Not since the days of Frank Solich was a short-side option play ran as well as quarterback Taylor Martinez’s 43-yard scamper to the end zone in the second quarter.
But for the most part, the Huskers didn’t look clean and crisp offensively. During the squad’s first possession of the second half, NU took over at its own 42-yard line, forced two pass interference calls and was deep in the red zone. But the unit faltered and came away with a field goal by Brett Maher.
Nebraska used the option throughout the game, perhaps drawing attention away from its sluggish head-to-head blocking. Most runs resulted in short gains, not the 7 and 8-yard chunks many fans expected. Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead each broke long runs, but both came out of the option.
The option itself left much to be desired. Martinez was not in sync with his running backs, leading to one fumble and a few other plays where NU teammates just ran into each other in the backfield. He outran his lead blocker a majority of the time, which won’t bode well for the signal-caller come Big Ten season.
“I thought early in the game Taylor was really anxious. He was putting a lot of pressure on himself. As the game went on, he let the game come to him,” NU head coach Bo Pelini said. “That’s when he becomes a better football player.”
Nebraska showed its ability to still run the read-option with style, as Martinez broke a 47-yard run midway through the third quarter.
Still, the squad is far off from where it thought it was heading into the season opener.
“We aren’t where I thought we were going in,” Pelini said. “I just told the team, that means we have a long way to go.”
Nate Carey is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Contact him at ncarey@columbus
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