This post continues our series previewing the Capital One Bowl. Today, we're talking about Nebraska's offense.
The current iteration of Nebraska is not known for its offensive prowess. Bo Pelini is a defense-minded coach, and his Nebraska teams have generally featured amazing defenses, while his offenses have featured conservative approaches designed to make sure the defense wasn't placed in a bad position more so than to put big numbers up on the scoreboard. Nebraska has generally liked to run, run, run, with the passing game only making intermittent appearances each game. That has remained true this year, despite a change in offensive coordinators after Pelini replaced the former offensive coordinator with former positions assistant Tim Beck. You can expect Nebraska to give us some different option looks as its base set. Accordingly, the Huskers have one of the nation's best rushing attacks, but it lacks a passing game and, overall, is a fairly average, good-but-not-great unit that ranks 59th in total offense and 43rd in scoring offense.
The key player to watch is QB Taylor Martinez. The sophomore QB has had an up-and-down young career. He was one of the nation's most prolific QBs early in the 2010 season, gaining lots of yards on the ground and throwing the ball efficiently. However, an ankle injury slowed him down towards the end of the year, and he's had trouble returning to that form. However, he proved again this year that when he's at his best, he can be very good. For instance, against Ohio St., he racked up a 160+ passer rating while also running for over 100 yards. The guy is nasty when he's on his game, but that doesn't happen every game, and at times his throwing can be very erratic. The other key piece is RB Rex Burkhead. A stocky, tough runner, Burkhead has rushed for over 1200 yards on the year and has often been counted upon to carry the team in tough situations.
How will the Gamecocks match up against this team? Of our 2011 SEC opponents, I'd say that Nebraska most resembles Miss. St. in terms of offensive approach. Both teams feature mobile QBs, good power runners, and option-minded offenses. Of course, Nebraska does its thing better than Miss. St. did this year, which is part of the reason the Huskers are 9-3 and the Bulldogs are 6-6. However, the Gamecocks matched up well against Miss. St., giving up some good runs to Vic Ballard but, generally, slowing down the Bulldogs fairly well. Since that game, our defensive play has generally improved, particularly in the linebacking corps. We'll come into the bowl game healthy, moreover. That should all equal a fairly positive defensive performance from the Gamecocks.