Nebraska vs. Fresno State, 9.13.14

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) at Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014.

Ameer Abdullah's approach was admirable.

He essentially called out Nebraska's offensive line earlier this week using a direct-but-polite manner, which is partly why nobody fussed.

Not even the linemen.

Abdullah, the standout running back and team co-captain, was correct in his assessment: The Huskers have controlled the line of scrimmage "fairly well," he said. Even so, "We have to get better. We lose our fundamentals sometimes."

He said the linemen occasionally forget their fundamentals during the heat and hubbub of a game. Which probably helps explain his lack of success running between the tackles in the past two games.

As arguably the team's foremost leader (among players), Abdullah has more than enough credibility and respect to make a public evaluation of the line.

His message resonated with the linemen.

In fact, "It ate at me," said Nebraska junior tackle Givens Price. "Then again, he's our captain and he's very much right. He's the guy who carries the team. We have to continue to help him and make his job easier."

Consistency was the buzzword for Price and his fellow linemen as Nebraska (3-0) prepared to play Miami (2-1). This isn't a vintage Miami team, mind you. It's nothing like the 1994 bunch, for example.

But the Hurricanes have allowed only 3.7 yards per play and 2.0 per rush, albeit against rather light competition (a loss to Louisville and wins against Florida A&M and Arkansas State).

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Abdullah has led a Nebraska offense that has averaged 8.0 yards per play and 7.4 per rush. He's rushed 57 times for 396 yards, or 6.9 per carry.

Granted, the competition has been suspect.

And, a key statistic: Take away Abdullah's 57-yard touchdown run last week at Fresno State, and he's averaging only 3.0 yards per carry in the past two games.

That may not cut it against Miami.

If the Hurricanes can put the clamps on the Huskers' best offensive player, that obviously would place ample pressure on sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong and the rest of the offense.

Armstrong has only one interception in 81 attempts, but he's made some questionable throws.

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Nebraska offensive guard Mike Moudy understands the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage and creating bigger holes for Abdullah.

It comes down to taking care of details, Moudy said.

Price tossed out the buzzword.

"It's a matter of staying consistent in everything you do, whether it's pass blocking, run blocking, technique, mental focus, preparation, or even toughness," he said. "Falling off blocks is unacceptable. Not finishing blocks is unacceptable. Coming off the ball is something we have to get better at."

Any harsh critique of Nebraska's offensive line comes in the context of the Huskers' lofty national rankings in total offense (fifth at 594.3 yards per game) and rushing offense (eighth, 324.3). 

Nebraska last week rolled up 562 yards against Fresno State, including 280 on the ground.

If the line fell short of perfection, Husker coach Bo Pelini seemed willing to cut players slack, considering the Bulldogs played an, ahem, unconventional style of defense at times.

There were alignments Nebraska might never see again.

"It's kind of hard to evaluate in some respects," Pelini said. "Fresno ended up in some looks, some of them obviously by mistake. Like one of those things where you go, 'I don't know what I'd tell that (defender) if I ever saw that again,' because I've never seen some of it in all my years of football."

Miami's more conventional defense should give Nebraska's line a much better indication of where it stands heading into Big Ten play. It's a telltale game for NU, period.

"Miami's more of a gap-read team," Moudy said. "The linemen kind of lock in on you and kind of read the movement of the line. They don't have much penetration."

Price said Miami "has a lot bigger guys than what we've faced so far, a lot more skilled and faster."

For inspiration, Nebraska's linemen could check out video of the Huskers' 1994 starting crew: Rob Zatechka, Joel Wilks, Aaron Graham, Brenden Stai and Zach Wiegert. They were machinelike in their consistency, and they'll be at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

"We crave that consistency," Moudy said. "That's what you're looking for in college football. You're trying to find a baseline of good play."

A certain running back would prefer greatness.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​


Husker columnist

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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