LINCOLN NE - SEPTEMBER 25: Coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornuskers eyes his defensive coaching slaff during second half action of their game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at Memorial Stadium on September 25 2010 in Lincoln Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated South Dakota State 17-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Bo Pelini's Nebraska teams have been known for their defensive prowess, regularly ranking among the nation's best defenses despite playing in the offense-happy Big 12 and frequently featuring defensive stars like Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amukamara. In 2011, though, Nebraska ranked only 36th nationally in total defense--not bad by any means, but not exactly Pelini-esque numbers. What happened?
The Huskers dropped to 66th nationally against the run. At first glance, you might expect that to be because the Huskers struggled against the power rushing offenses that one frequently sees in the Big 10. While in the Big 12, the Huskers ran a 4-2-5 in order to shut down the spread offenses and great passing attacks the Big 12 is known for. When they moved to the Big 10, they decided to institute a 4-3 to adapt to the kinds of offenses they'd face in their new home. The expectation was that they'd play well with this scheme due to their depth at linebacker, but there were, of course, worries that there might be growing pains.
However, it hasn't really been the power offenses that have been Nebraska's biggest foe. Granted, Montee Ball and Wisconsin rung Nebraska's bell to the tune of a 48-17 loss, but that outcome was fairly typical of most Wisconsin games. Nebraska's defense performed well against other power teams such as Michigan St., Penn St., and Iowa, so it's not like they can't hang with power offenses. Where the Huskers really struggled was against teams like Michigan and Northwestern that combine mobile quarterbacks with dangerous passing games. Denard Robinson and the Wolverines absolutely ripped the Huskers, and the less talented and Dan Persa-less Wildcats also had a pretty nice afternoon against Pelini's team.
This bodes well, I think, for the Gamecocks. You could very well see Connor Shaw, Kenny Miles, and Brandon Wilds continue to produce out of a base read-option attack, with an increasingly diversified passing attack worked in. The offense we displayed in the Clemson game is every bit capable of reproducing a Michigan-style showing against the Huskers. Will that offense show up? That's the question. The big "if" is the offensive line. Nebraska has a tough defensive front, so our line will have to continue to play like it did against Florida and Clemson for us to have a chance. If it does, our skills position guys will do the rest.