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What to Watch For – Nebraska vs Akron

Five things Husker fans should be paying attention to this weekend

There’s no definitive way for a Husker fan to project how this team will fare under new head coach Scott Frost this fall.  With an impressive roster makeover, new scheme, and a dash of throwback flavor Nebraska fans should expect the unexpected and savor a season opener that where they still have to work out the kinks.

Here are five things fans both casual, and overly analytical should watch for on Saturday:

The Defense’s New Aggression

Under former head coach Bo Pelini the defense used a system called “pattern matching” in order to try and bait offenses into low percentage plays and routes. Last year, Diaco’s defense was built to stop opponents attacks once they started to get into the red zone, but broke down so often that offenses didn’t need to be in the red zone in order to score points, a lot of points.

Erik Chinander has installed a fast aggressive defense that encourages defenders to go out and make a play at full speed.  That will undoubtedly lead to some early breakdowns and missed assignments so pay attention when the defense comes after someone what the players are doing. Are they jumping a route? Going up for a ball? Punching at the football to cause a fumble, or just bringing the heat as soon as the ball is snapped.  Key in on a player or two to see what they’re doing, then key in on them again after halftime to see if they are doing anything differently than before.

The Center Position

Nebraska hasn’t had a solid offensive lineman at the center position in a number of years.  Cole Conrad looks to try and shore it up in his senior season but many wonder if his offseason development is going to be enough.  Watch whoever is at the center position to see how they are holding up against the defensive lineman.

Take note of how the defense is attacking them as well. Are they rushing a single lineman? Are they constantly blitzing up the middle with an extra player? Is the center getting pushed back on obvious passing plays? How well are they getting to the second level on running plays? Are the guards helping them out? If so how often?

Things sounded encouraging towards the end of fall camp but the real test will come as the season kicks off this weekend. Expect Akron to test Nebraska’s center early and often on Saturday.

The Cornerbacks

Nebraska fans will like the new aggressiveness of Erik Chinanders scheme but how the cornerbacks play within it is what’s going to define its success and failures. Nebraska returns two upperclassmen in Lamar Jackson and DiCaprio Bootle but neither one of them have been a lockdown corner, or close to it, in their Nebraska careers.

Keep an eye on Lamar Jackson as the staff will likely leave him in 1-on-1 coverage when bringing pressure. Can Jackson, and the other CB’s survive without help from the safeties? Are they able to make open field tackles to prevent a big play?

Watch the Huskers cornerbacks when/if Akron goes with a 4-5 WR set as well. Jackson and Bootle are the starters, has freshman Cam Taylor progressed enough to see the field when extra defensive backs are needed? We believe that Jackson will stay on the lead receiver while Bootle will slide over the slot receiver and Taylor will take the outside receiver on the opposite side of the field as Jackson. Will it hold up?

The Offensive Personnel Packages

Nebraska’s offense under Frost is going to be something that most Husker fans aren’t familiar with. On every play, expect some type of shift or motion prior to the snap.  This will have running backs at wide receiver, wide receivers at running back, and tight ends as wide receivers, etc.

This is done to keep the defense off balance and when the coaches finally get a look from the defense that they favor, they will ratchet up the tempo and go full speed.

Keep an eye on who exactly is where on back to back plays when the offense goes without a huddle. TE’s and RB’s will be frequently lining up as receivers and then only get used as a decoy. When the offense goes no-huddle on the very next play that “receiver” is now a tight end who is lined up with the offensive line giving the Huskers a blocking advantage against the defense.  Watch out for guys like WR Andre Hunt, RB Miles Jones, WR Tyjon Lindsey, and just about any other running back in situations like this.

The Stat Sheet

At the end of the day, Nebraska will rely on multiple people to help exploit the Akron defense. Look for Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman to have nice days statistically but also watch the stat column to see how the ball is being distributed around. As good as those two are with the ball in their hands, they’re equally as good as decoys on the field.  As decoy’s, they will open up a lot of possibilities for other players to get the ball and show off what they can do.

Expect to see a pretty well-balanced stat sheet at the end of the day for Nebraska. Keep an out for names such as Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard, Devine Ozigbo, Maurice Washington, Jack Stoll, Kurt Rafdal, and numerous others to show up every week on the stat sheet.

Bonus – The Multiplicity of the Offense

Nebraska’s new offense is highly complicated and makes adjustments on the field as the defense lines up. Watch to see what skill position players are doing on each play. They may be stepping back to catch a screen ball, but the defensive line and linebackers gave Adrian Martinez a look favorable to an RPO play instead. On that very next play all the skill players could do the exact same thing, make the exact same motions, and instead of audibling into an RPO running play, the ball gets whisked out to the wide receiver who was feigning a screen pass on the play before.

If you want an in-depth breakdown of the offense’s new dangers, check out this old article from the old Landof10 website.

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