Sipple: NU offense good, but not quite 50-per-game good

2013-08-04T23:45:00Z 2013-08-08T11:06:04Z Sipple: NU offense good, but not quite 50-per-game goodBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

This just in: Nebraska should have a pretty salty offense this season.

But 50 points a game?

Jamal Turner said Friday he thinks it's possible. The Huskers' offseason 7-on-7 sessions only bolstered his confidence.

"We're a faster tempo now," the junior wide receiver said. "We're not wasting a lot of time telling the younger guys, 'Hey, run it like this.' We've also opened up the playbook more.

"A lot of our passes were in the playbook, but we never ran them — even in 7-on-7 — because we had so many details on other passing plays that we had to make sure guys knew.

"We know those plays now."

Nebraska, which opens preseason camp Monday, averaged 34.8 points per game last season. Eight starters return on offense. The veteran line looks lean. It's a hungry group. Talent abounds at the skill positions. The coordinator, Tim Beck, is a rising star who soon will be a head coach. The schedule is manageable.

But, I repeat: 50 points a game?

Nebraska hasn't averaged 40 since 2000, when it produced 41.5 in Frank Solich's third season in charge. The Huskers last averaged 50 in 1995, when it steamrolled to the national championship by averaging 52.4.

Louisiana Tech last season led the nation at 51.5, followed by Oregon (49.5) and Oklahoma State (45.7).

If Nebraska slashes its turnover count significantly — its 35 giveaways last season ranked second-to-last nationally — the Huskers will average 40-plus per game in 2013. Perhaps 45. But 50?

I'm not prepared to go that far.

Some other predictions entering the August grind:

* Nebraska will cut in half the number of fumbles it lost in 2012 (22), despite its rather high-risk system.

"It's kind of risk-reward," sixth-year head coach Bo Pelini said. "It's a little easier to be in the I-formation all the time and just hand the football off."

Nebraska senior quarterback Taylor Martinez is asked to handle the ball in several ways: the zone-read, option pitches, an assortment of fake hand-offs and pump-fakes, pocket passes, roll-outs, et al.

"Does that make (a high turnover total) OK? Absolutely not," Pelini said. "Hopefully, with our experience, Taylor having another year, guys familiar in the offense … we'll be more efficient, without having to limit what we do.

"If turnovers do become an issue, you do need to limit what you do. You can't turn the ball over and accomplish what you want to accomplish."

* Nebraska will finish the regular season 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten, good enough to reach the league championship game.

NU aches to win its first conference title since 1999. That's right, 1999. The drought is mind-boggling considering the energy and resources poured into the program. The Huskers have reached a league championship game in three of the past four seasons. Once again, they will fall short.

The reason: Ohio State's offense. The Buckeyes' 37.2 points per game last season led the Big Ten. Urban Meyer's crew will be better this season. It returns four starters on the line. You've probably heard of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, who last October combined to rush for 326 yards (7.4 per carry) against Nebraska.

Bottom line: Ohio State has the horses to pound away against Nebraska's suspect front seven and control the ball. It's easy to see the potential for another ugly night in Indianapolis. Which would make for another long December in Huskerland. I don't even want to think about it.

* Say this for Pelini's program: It typically takes us on a wild ride. This season will be more of the same. On the surface, a 10-2 regular season appears relatively tranquil. Forget that notion. In this case, 10-2 at times will feel about as serene as a night on the town with Lindsay Lohan and Johnny Manziel.

Last season, Nebraska finished 10-2 in the regular season after playing six games decided by six points or fewer. Look for the same this year: Six ticker-testers, minimum, during the regular season. Once again, a drained Husker squad will head to Indy.

* Northwestern, for the second time in three seasons, will escape Lincoln with a victory. NU-NU will feel like it's in the early stages of an unexpected rivalry. Husker fans' admiration for Pat Fitzgerald will become even more annoying. Or is it just me who senses a little too much regard for golden-boy Fitzgerald in our neck of the woods?

* Nebraska's defense, at season's end, will be ranked in the 40s nationally in terms of average yards allowed, after finishing 35th last season.

That doesn't necessarily spell doom if the Huskers are able to avoid the jarring collapses of 2012.

"We want to be a very consistent defense," said senior cornerback/safety Andrew Green. "I think that's the biggest expectation — try to keep it more stable throughout the year."

* Redshirt freshman Alonzo Moore quickly will emerge as a big-play threat and finish the season with at least 18 receptions.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Moore, of Winnfield, La., plays the "X" receiver spot, same as junior standout Kenny Bell. Moore is good enough to push Bell in preseason drills, Turner said.

"You know raw talent when you see it," Turner said. "I'm trying to pull Alonzo along, teach him the plays."

* After producing a top-10 offense nationally, Beck will get a chance to lead his own program (Kansas? Maryland? Illinois?).

Bring on Scott Frost as the replacement.

Like I said, never a dull moment.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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