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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Louisiana Tech Analysis

So the first game is in the books and was in many ways just about what I expected. I anticipated a heavy emphasis on the run and with 48 rushing attempts we saw that. I also expected us to wear down a Louisiana Tech team that lacked depth and this was also accomplished. To continue this analysis I will breakdown the components more closely.


Running Game: There was no doubt that Callahan planned on establishing the run early. The crowd’s main interest was which player would get the bulk of the carries. The coaches stuck by their committee approach and the four I-Backs finished with 258 yards on 44 carries. These stats are impressive, but it was equally important for each of the backs to find their role and to get their chances. Marlon Lucky was exciting early and looks much improved. Cody Glenn ran hard and showed he has the ability to get to the outside as well as pound the middle. Kenny Wilson showed a great burst on his TD run that was called back, but also had problems holding onto the ball. When given his chance Brandon Jackson scored on one of the most impressive runs I’ve seen in a very long time.

Passing Game: The passing game got off to a slow start. Part of this was by design as the running game was stressed early. However, it was also inhibited by Zac Taylor’s 0-5 start. Taylor found his rhythm later in the first half and finished a very efficient 22 of 33 for 287 yards. Overall the receivers played well despite drops by Hardy and Nunn. Nate Swift continues to find open space and we saw a glimpse of what Maurice Purify might be capable of in his 28-yard reception in the first quarter. The biggest surprise in the passing game was the tight ends. After being invisible in 2005, the TEs got off to an amazing start. Matt Herian reminded fans of what we’d been missing in his return from injury. He finished with 3 catches for 61 yards and a TD. Three other tight ends also caught scoring tosses in this coming out party. Having capable TEs to open up space in the middle of the field will be a welcome addition to our offensive attack. Another positive was that Joe Ganz looked the part of a capable backup in his limited action.

Offensive Line: The performance of the OL seemed to improve as the game went on. This might be a testament to the depth that we are starting to develop. I still think the O-line needs to improve. Zac Taylor was still pressured and took a number of shots from La Tech defenders after letting go of the ball. While they found their stride in opening holes for the running game later on, I questioned the push of the OL early in the first quarter. On of the more exciting developments was the play of Carl Nicks. Nicks got a bunch of snaps at guard in the second half and showed why he was so highly regarded in the JUCO ranks. I give this group a lot of credit for the success of the running game Saturday, but this game should only be a foundation for their continued progress over the course of the season.


Defensive Line: The front four had its moments, but should not be satisfied with its overall efforts on Saturday. They were able to get pressure on Zac Champion and finished with 2 sacks and numerous hurries especially from the defensive ends. We also saw that Jay Moore should benefit from the attention given to Adam Carriker and Moore looks capable making big plays. The defensive tackles didn’t seem to have much of a presence. I’d have to look at the game again to see how well they took on blockers, but I know the Tech running game had huge lanes up the gut at times.

Linebackers: The linebacker play was also solid, but not spectacular, given the accolades thrust upon this group. Many will argue that Nebraska played vanilla on defense and this hindered the linebackers’ abilities to make big plays. Without knowing the gameplan I don’t feel comfortable assuming this was obviously the case. It was great to see Bo Ruud pick up the interception in his first start, but he also had difficulties shedding blockers and missed one obvious tackle in open space. Steve Octavian had a huge hit on special teams, but didn’t seem to get as many snaps as most fans would have liked. While this is the position that enjoys the most depth on the defensive side of the ball, the injury to Dillard is still unfortunate. We’ll have to wait a few days to see what the diagnosis is, but it didn’t look good on the sidelines.

Secondary: My worst Husker nightmare almost came true in the first half. I’ve been paranoid about our depth in the secondary since the Spring, and seeing Grixby with his shoulder pads off on the sidelines, followed quickly by an injury to Fluellen had me reaching for the Xanax. Courtney Grixby was being counted on to lockdown his side of the field. Unfortunately he did not look like our most seasoned DB and was turned, muscled and flat-out beaten by the Tech receivers. On the other side, Andre Jones was not tested a great deal and it is unclear whether this was by design or by chance. The safety position also still worries me. I think we can get by with mediocre safety play if and only if the front seven are dominant and the corners can keep guys in front of them. That being said, I still expect us to give up points on a weekly basis due to breakdowns in the secondary.

Special Teams: Not a lot to say about this aspect. Dan Titchener looked really good in his first start at punter. He finished with a 42.3 yard average on 3 punts. We did not look particularly strong in the return game. We have to field punts cleanly and avoid giving up long returns that shift the battle for field position.

While this analysis may seem harsh in places considering the margin of victory, overall I was very impressed. I feel confident in this team’s ability to put points on the board. We avoided costly penalties and mistakes and picked up where we left of last season. The team should enjoy this win and next week should offer another opportunity to develop all-important depth. The real measuring stick awaits us in L.A. in two weeks.