Reading over preseason Husker football takes as I often do this time of year always eventually gives me a chuckle. What might be causing some Nebraska fans to laugh out loud is a suggestion made by Athlon’s yearly preview.
The idea was floated that Florida Atlantic could get major national attention if they knock off the Big Red in week one. The Owls would if they could, and they can.
Yes, upsets happen, but the idea goes beyond that. Let’s look at what Athlon has to say about them:
“If the offensive line can find cohesion, FAU has the weapons to put up a lot of points in 2014.
The defense lacks depth but boasts an outstanding secondary and a defensive tackle rotation that should limit big gains by opponents via the ground game.
FAU should make a bowl for the first time in six years and could gain some national notoriety with an upset in Week 1 at Nebraska”
Alright, I’ll play ball. From the middle to the right, that offensive line is experienced, at least. Center Braden Lyons, guard Milkingson Marsaille and tackle Vinny Devino are all upperclassmen. The left side will need a few power ups to contain the Huskers’ pass rush. Tackle Dillion DeBoer and guard Issac Edwards are both sophomores.
Taking on Randy Gregory and company won’t be easy, so the Owls may counter by shifting experienced linemen around. Athlon mentions FAU’s defense, and this would be key to keeping this game from becoming a yawner. The secondary features senior cornerback D’Joun Smith who picked off seven balls last season including a pick-six and forced a fumble.
Senior strong safety Damian Parms was second on the team’s tackle chart in 2013 with 77 (38 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, one interception and two forced fumbles. Free safety Christian Milstead ranked No. 8 with 36 tackles (22 solo) and 2.5 tackles for loss. Long story short: the FAU secondary is a Swiss army knife of defensive damage.
Why do they matter? Nebraska’s going to have a great offense, but regardless of who’s under center, it’s going to be their first real game being The Man. This is the point where Husker fans say, “We have Ameer Abdullah!” and that’s a valid point.
Athlon talks about that defensive line rotation, so let’s touch on that. The starters are all juniors sans defensive end Trey Hendrickson. FAU’s Vincent Valentine will be Brandin Bryant. He tallied 48 tackles (22 solo), led the team in tackles for loss with 9.5 and racked up five sacks last year. His Maliek Collins, if you will, is Trevon Coley.
Coley contributed 37 tackles (19 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks to the cause. Two interior linemen from Boca Raton aren’t going to stop Abdullah. That’s where Denzel Whitfield and a bushel of young bucks come into play. Bryant and Coley won’t be able to play every down.
However, as long as they get help from their underlings, they won’t stop Abdullah, but they may slow him down.
The main issue Bo Pelini needs to address is focus.
A severe lack of it nearly cost Nebraska its opener against Wyoming last year. Quarterback Brad Smith looked really good with 383 yards through the air and 92 on the ground to his name.
Taking it a step further, the Cowboys put up the fourth-most yards against Nebraska of any opponent in the history of time. No one had ever achieved the 35 first down mark that Wyoming did.
To make sure that this game is not a repeat of last year (if not worse), the Huskers need to take FAU seriously. It’s game one, both teams will make mistakes. This secondary can (and will) pick on a newbie quarterback.
The defensive line can (and will) do everything it can to strip the football (Abdullah’s mortal, believe it or not). Then there’s the mental errors that have plagued Pelini’s teams.
Will Nebraska football start its season 0-1 and lose all momentum and credibility before even getting past the first 60 minutes of football? I severely doubt it. As long as Nebraska looks at the Owls and sees Florida instead of Florida Atlantic, the opening game streak should stay in tact.
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