Brian Christopherson is the beat writer for Nebraska football for the Lincoln Journal-Star, and he agreed to swap five questions and answers with me about Saturday’s Wyoming-Nebraska game.
Here are my questions and Brian’s answers. Brian’s questions and my answers will come later. Would love to hear your thoughts and opinions:
1. Are Nebraska coaches and players concerned about the defense after giving up good chunks of yards and points the last two weeks?
Anytime you give up 67 points in a span of two weeks, I think there has to be some level of concern. That said, (head coach) Bo Pelini is a real confident guy when it comes to coaching defense. He has said several times this week that all the mistakes he’s seen early in the season are fixable. And his track record does show that his defenses almost always get stronger as the year goes along. But no doubt he has a challenge on his hand right now. Teams have had some success running right at Nebraska — see Fresno State’s 190 rushing yards — and youth at the corner spots has been exposed. Nebraska is obviously greatly missing departed players Prince Amukamara, Eric Hagg and DeJon Gomes. It also hasn’t helped that the team’s best corner, Alfonzo Dennard, has been on the sideline with a pulled muscle injury. Dennard adds a lot to the defense, and not just because of his coverage ability. He brings a swagger to Nebraska’s secondary that hasn’t been there so far. I think it’s fair to say people around here are surprised by how much Nebraska’s defense has struggled so far this year. Before the season, coaches said this defense had the potential to be the deepest of any Nebraska has had since the Pelini era began in 2008. But to this point it’s been a group that has seemed off-balance and lacking that assuredness that has defined Nebraska defenses the past two years. So I think there is concern mixed with the hope of Husker fans that this defense will iron out some wrinkles and steadily improve much as it did the second half of Pelini’s first season in 2008.
2. What kind of improvement and progress has quarterback Taylor Martinez made from last year as a freshman to this season as a sophomore?
I think Taylor Martinez has improved, and it’s been most noticeable in the past game-and-a-half. He still struggles with the intermediate passing game, but his ability to take off for a 50-yard run two or three times a game will still give defensive coaches headaches. He also did a much better job against Washington securing the football, something he didn’t do the first couple of games. The sophomore is still figuring out the option game — which he did not run often in high school. You can tell he’s not a natural at it, but he has gotten better in each game this year at running it. The big question about the offseason about Martinez was whether he could be a leader, and take control of the huddle more than he did as a freshman. It’s hard to say anything definitive off of just three games, but Martinez has seemed to better himself in that area. He was praised by coaches for the way he commanded the offense against Washington. The quarterback seems to be settling into his role well, but then it’s the next couple months of this season where he’ll really be put to the test.
3. Do you get a sense the team is overlooking Wyoming a little bit with the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin next week?
I think the fan base is looking ahead to Wisconsin. I don’t get the sense that players and coaches are. This team hasn’t been dominant enough at this point to be overlooking anybody — and it seems like it realizes this. Certainly the Wisconsin game has been talked about a lot around here. And it would be natural that players hear some of that chatter. But I’d expect the defense would have plenty of motivation after two weeks of giving up a lot of points. And the offense, while playing very good last week, is still a work in progress under first-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck. So I don’t think this is a team that arrives to Laramie with puffed out chests.
4. What kind of impression are you getting from players, coaches and fans about Nebraska coming to Wyoming to play a football game?
I think everyone in Nebraska is excited about this game in Laramie. It’s certainly an unusual road trip for the Huskers to make. But it seems like most fans I run into think it’s pretty cool — especially those Husker fans in western Nebraska that were able to snag tickets. The fact that Nebraska’s playing in a 30,000 seat stadium — which is the smallest stadium the team will have played in since a trip to Hawaii in 1971 — makes it a hot ticket, and I think adds to Nebraska’s fans interest in seeing their team play in such a setting. Of course, there’s also the historical connection the two programs have. The fact that Bob Devaney arrived toNebraska after coaching Wyoming is not lost on many Husker fans. So I think people are excited these two teams are getting together for the first time in 17 years. And those around here remember how tough a game that was for Nebraska, with the that national champion Husker team fortunate to win a 10-point game over Wyoming (in 1994).
5. Predictions for the game, including the final score.
I think Wyoming will move the ball a little on Nebraska, but the Huskers have some explosive playmakers on offense who I think might break this one open for Nebraska. And while I know Wyoming fans are passionate, Nebraskans seem excited to travel to this game and I wonder how much red will be in the stadium to eliminate a home-field advantage. Factoring all that, I’m going with a score similar to what the spreads are showing. I’ll sayNebraska 41,Wyoming16.