Dec 12, 2012

Unit Breakdown: Nebraska Offense

Two things define Nebraska Cornhuskers football more than anything else: a strong defense and a strong running game. It is the backbone of Midwestern football, and something Nebraska does better than most, both in the BigTen and around the country. Both were key to the Huskers 10-3 finish this season, and could be the reasons the Capital One Bowl trophy spends 2013 in Lincoln.

As the game approaches, we’re taking a look back at the Huskers season on both sides of the ball for Nebraska. Today we look at the offense, led by QB Taylor Martinez.

The Stats

  • 35.1 points per game
  • 254.46 rushing yards per game
  • 207.7 passing yards per game
  • 462.2 total yards per game

For a league known for power running games and low scoring, the Cornhuskers have racked up some impressive totals this season. Just twice all season did the Huskers score under 28 points in a game, and one of those games was in the regular season finale, a 13-7 win over Iowa, in which the Huskers place in the Big Ten Championship Game had already been clinched. Scoring points is something the Huskers are more than familiar with.

The Running Game

Bo Pelini’s crew has one of the best running games in the country. Averaging 254.46 yards a game, the Huskers rank 8th among FBS schools. Their counterparts in the Capital One Bowl, Georgia – also known for their strong runnning game, sit at 42nd with 184.15 yards per game.

Leading the Huskers is RB Ameer Abdullah. The sophomore standout has come into his own this season, totaling 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns on 219 carries. Abdullah was initially expected to split time with senior Rex Burkhead, but injuries to Burkhead forced Abdullah into the primary role early. His emergence is a big reason why Nebraska has fit well in the Big Ten’s typical hard-nosed style early on.

Also playing a major role in the running game is QB Taylor Martinez. The junior signal-caller has balanced his passing duties with a strong rushing performance, amassing 973 yards and 10 touchdowns on 175 carries this season. Those stats are more impressive considering he has gained more yards and scored more touchdowns than in 2011 despite having fewer carries.

The Passing Game

With such a dominant running game, the Huskers don’t have to pass often, but when they do they are effective. Statistically, they rank just 91st the FBS in yards per game, but that is more a product of being a run-focused team.

Although his rushing numbers are large, Martinez is equally strong in the passing game. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 2,667 passing yards this season. While those numbers aren’t gaudy, when you consider that the three QBs ahead of Martinez in passing yards all have negative rushing totals for the season, his yardage looks a lot better. He is also the highest rated passer in the Big Ten with a 142.32 rating. With those numbers, it should be no surprise that he was named the All-Big Ten First-Team quarterback.

Martinez’s favorite target is WR Kenny Bell. The sophomore pulled in 46 passes for 803 yards and eight touchdowns, good enough for fourth in the Big Ten. Bell’s yardage total is more impressive considering he has just 215 fewer yards than top Big Ten receiver Allen Robinson of Penn State despite 31 fewer catches. Like Martinez’s passing yards, Bell would have much higher totals if Nebraska threw the ball more.

In the end, the Nebraska offense is something the Georgia defense will have to respect. The running game will get the focus of Mark Richt’s attention, as he has already indicated, but the Huskers can sling it when they need to. With a dual-threat quarterback in Martinez, the Dawgs will certainly have their hands full on January 1.

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