Steven M. Sipple: Huskers' overly thin D-line under microscope in bowl

2012-12-27T23:30:00Z 2012-12-29T20:27:27Z Steven M. Sipple: Huskers' overly thin D-line under microscope in bowl JournalStar.com

ORLANDO, Fla. — Brace yourself, Nebraska football fans, for this isn't what you want to hear.

Georgia's offensive line is loaded with "big, big, big ol' guys — big mauler guys," Husker first-year defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said Thursday. "They're not going to try to trick you; they just kind of line up and play."

Kaczenski appreciates that style.

"It kind of tells you where you're at and what kind of job you did coaching your guys," he said.

Of course, 23rd-ranked Nebraska (10-3) would like it much better if its interior defensive line weren't counting on a player with a bum knee, a 255-pound converted defensive end and a sophomore starter who probably is better suited as a backup at this point in his career.

Where have you gone, Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick?

I don't buy talk that Nebraska has little-to-no chance to defeat No. 6 Georgia (11-2) on Tuesday in the Capital One Bowl. But the Bulldogs' offensive line, which boasts four starters who weigh at least 300 pounds, could make life awfully difficult for the Huskers' thinned-out defensive line.

It's arguably the main reason Nebraska will fight an uphill battle.

"We're going to have to do some things to help those guys out, obviously," Kaczenski said. "We're thin. But everybody's thin this time of the year."

Unless Nebraska is holding back a surprise personnel move, the Huskers once again will combat a formidable offensive front with 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior Cameron Meredith; junior Thad Randle, who has a chronically sore knee; and sophomore Chase Rome, who wore a cast on his right hand Thursday but says he'll play Tuesday.

Senior defensive end Joseph Carter can be used in "emergency situations," Kaczenski said.

Nebraska's 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship Game qualified as an emergency. The Huskers' meltdown on defense spanned all three levels. But the D-line's struggles were as glaring as any. Consequently, you can't help but wonder how that unit will hold up against Georgia — which averages 184.2 rushing yards and 274.2 passing yards.

The Bulldogs favor a power running game that reminds him of Penn State's, Husker defensive end Jason Ankrah said.

"They really don't look to finesse many people," Ankrah said. "(The running backs) see the hole, and they're going for it. Those are two awesome backs (freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall). It's going to be one hell of a challenge."

Oh, by the way, Georgia junior quarterback Aaron Murray ranks second nationally in passing efficiency.

Meanwhile, senior Baker Steinkuhler — by far Nebraska's best interior defensive lineman — rehabilitates a knee injury that ended his career in the regular-season finale at Iowa.

His injury only magnified Nebraska's recruiting misses among defensive linemen, most notably in the 2010 and 2011 classes. The Huskers have received little-to-no production from six of the eight D-linemen in those classes, including essentially zero production from four in the 2010 group.

True freshman defensive tackle Aaron Curry appeared in two of this season's first four games but hasn't played since.

"He got banged up earlier in the year and once we got into the Big Ten season, things just happen so fast, it really affected him — not necessarily the physical aspect, but just throwing so many things mentally at him," Kaczenski said. "But he's going to be a great player for us. That's why we had him practicing with the varsity all year."

Kevin Williams, a redshirt freshman, is "still trying to clear a mental hurdle" because of a severe knee injury that sidelined him last season. Like Curry, Williams played sparingly in the nonconference season and saw no action in the Big Ten.

However, "We feel really good about our future with those guys and the freshmen," Kaczenski said of a group that includes redshirts Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen as well as Avery Moss. "If we can close out recruiting with a few guys, I think we're heading in the right direction."

He said Nebraska would like to land at least two ready-to-play defensive tackles in the 2013 recruiting class.

"We have to get more bodies," he said. "We really do. Because (the Big Ten), it just beats up on you. … You get into November, and it's tough."

Tuesday's game figures to be a daunting challenge for Kaczenski's crew. He expresses confidence.

"We've won games with those guys," he said. "We're disappointed in the way we finished the year (against Wisconsin). But we did some good things up until that game. Those are some of the things we've tried to focus on."

Nebraska now focuses only on Georgia.

"I've been watching them on defense, too," Kaczenski said. "I'd like a few of those cats."

Hard to blame him.

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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