Taylor Martinez runs for a touchdown against UCLA in 2012. (Photo credit: HailVarsity.com)
Leading up to this weekend’s anticipated match-up between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and UCLA Bruins, the number 653 will be thrown around quite a bit. By now, everyone, not just Huskers fans, knows what that number stands for. In last season’s 36-30 shootout in Pasadena, the Bruins ran all over the Huskers, amassing a total of 344 yards rushing and adding another 309 through the air, including a stellar 217-yard performance by Jonathan Franklin.
Again, the defensive woes Nebraska had last season are very well documented, so I won’t delve too much into their tendency to give up way too many yards.
Of course, that’s what most people are talking about, given that Nebraska replaced seven regular starters on defense this off season and have played a total of nine freshmen in the first two weeks of this season.
And while the match-up of a young, inexperienced defense against a talented UCLA offense led by sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley will surely be something to pay attention to, I think many are overlooking just how stacked Nebraska’s offense is. Nobody would say UCLA has an elite defense, and they too had to replace several starters on that side of the ball, but nobody is mentioning what a hard match-up it’ll be for them to slow down Taylor Martinez and the high-powered Husker offense.
Many people outside of Huskers fans feel as though the game will end with UCLA on top again this season, which I think is unfounded due to the amount of evidence that suggests the Bruins weren’t much better on the defense side of the ball last year.
In fact, last season, both UCLA and Nebraska gave up an average of 27.6 points per game. Everyone points to the Wisconsin and Ohio State games as examples of Nebraska’s defensive deficiencies, but I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about UCLA getting blown out by California (43-17) and Baylor (49-26) last season, allowing 481 and 494 yards respectively. There is no doubt, in terms of quality, that Cal and Baylor are anywhere close to the likes of Ohio State and Wisconsin. And even is the Bruins didn’t give up as many yards as the Huskers did in some games, it’s still evidence that their defense is just as vulnerable. Nebraska allowed less than ten points three games last season, including Michigan, whereas UCLA only did that once, against Houston.
And I think many of those people are forgetting to realize is that last season, UCLA was unranked and playing at home against an overrated Huskers team that was heavily favored. The Bruins came in as underdogs with a young quarterback and something to prove.
This season, the Huskers are the underdogs, coming into the game as the No. 23 team in the country with seemingly much more to prove amid all the talk about their problems on defense. Additionally, Martinez is an ever-improving four-year starter who has an excellent supporting cast behind him with Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross, Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and others. And, the Bruins must travel to Lincoln, where the Huskers have won 10 straight games dating back to 2011.
Nonetheless, the game should prove to be another barn-burner, and I think both offenses will light up the scoreboard. However, I expect Nebraska’s defense to be much improved, knowing what they face with someone like Hundley under center, especially after what he did to them last year (4 TDs, 305 yards passing).
If it weren’t for another marquee matchup in College Station this weekend, this game would probably be the biggest game of the week. Both Hundley and Martinez should have big games, but I think the edge will go to Martinez, because he has many more offensive weapons at his disposal that Hundley.
This season, the Huskers have had two games under their belt, one of which was too close for comfort and the other being a sign of what could be. Both games will benefit them in preparing for UCLA because they have already been tested, albeit by Wyoming, and have been able to really flourish as an offense against Southern Miss. UCLA on the other hand has only played one game thus far against Nevada, and while they won big 58-20, 41 of those points came in the second half after going into halftime up 17-14. The second game may not seem like much, but I think it really allowed Nebraska to make adjustments before facing UCLA. The Bruins are coming off a bye week, which will undoubtedly have them well-rested, but I am not sure how much that will actually help them in dealing with the speed of Martinez and the Huskers.
In the end, I think Nebraska will silence some of the doubters – not just of the Huskers defense, but also of the overall quality of B1G teams in general – by pulling the upset (if you want to call it that) over UCLA. I won’t give a score prediction because I know it won’t be correct, but I do believe it will be a close game, with neither team winning by more than two touchdowns.