September 19, 2008

Huskers give average grade through 3 games

Yes, Nebraska is 3-0 heading into its bye week this weekend, but the Huskers admit they are still far from perfect.

Though they've achieved their ultimate goal to this point of winning their first three games, the players and coaches have been less than satisfied with the overall performance in each of their victories.

With the off week, the Huskers went back to fundamentals and basic techniques in order to regroup and refocus. The timing couldn't be better either, as next weekend begins the most brutal three-game stretch of the season with Virginia Tech and Missouri coming to town and a trip to Texas Tech wedged in between.

Head coach Bo Pelini was fairly honest in his evaluation of the Huskers' play thus far.

"We're average," he said. "We've got a long way to go."

There have definitely been moments when Nebraska has looked like a legitimate Big 12 contender. Take the first half of its season opener against Western Michigan. The Huskers put up 34 points and more than 300 yards of offense against the Broncos.

In second half, though, NU hit a wall of sorts, as it ended up being outscored 14-13 after halftime.

Then there was the San Jose State game, a contest that was supposed to be a blowout that ended up a two-point game in the fourth quarter. The Huskers eventually ended up breaking away for a 35-12 victory, but it an 85-yard kickoff return by sophomore Niles Paul in the final quarter to finally get the gears in motion.

Last week against New Mexico State, the Huskers arguably put on their best overall performance in a 38-7 win, but considering it was the first game of the year for the Aggies - a team already overmatched on paper - enthusiasm over the win was limited.

Even the players themselves say their play through the first three weeks has been lacking despite their perfect record.

"I'd say (our grade for the) first game, B+. Second game, C. Third game, A-," senior guard Matt Slauson said. "You can never be content. You can be happy with the way your team performed, and I was. I was pleased. Our guys came out and they've fought and fought and kept on fighting. We never let up.

"But there was still points left on the field, we didn't finish drives, and that's one thing we're going to have to work on as a team. Just keep getting it up field and getting in the end zone."

While the defense has only allowed 14 points per game so far this year with four turnovers and nine sacks, it hasn't been done in the most convincing of fashions. Especially against Western Michigan and San Jose State, the Husker were often backed deep into their own territory by opposing offenses before finally making key defensive stands.

On the season, opponents have reached the red zone 14 times on Nebraska's defense, just one fewer than the Huskers' 15. However, the difference is that NU has been able to make sure that's as teams get. Of those 14 opponent red zone possessions, teams have scored just five touchdowns and three field goals for a scoring percentage of 57 percent and touchdown percentage of only 36 percent.

Whether it's been failed field goals or goal-line interceptions, NU has been able to keep points off the board. How well that would against Big 12 offenses is another story, but the Huskers are working to make sure their performance in that respect improves immensely by that point.

"We've been playing pretty good, but I know we can be playing 10 times better than that," senior cornerback Armando Murillo. "In the secondary, just everywhere, the whole defense. We did good these last three games, but it can be way better than that. We know it. That's what we're trying to get it to."

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