Three keys for Nebraska in 2015
The first year of the Mike Riley era will bring all sorts of new excitement to Lincoln. It probably won’t be the type of in-your-face excitement Bo Pelini brought, but it’ll be excitement nonetheless. Here’s what the Huskers have to do to make sure their new coach’s first year is a successful one.
Patch up hole left by Ameer Abdullah
With the exception of Melvin Gordon, there might not have been a more valuable player in the Big Ten last year than Abdullah. Now the Huskers will have to function in a post-Abdullah world, where depleted offensive lines won’t fly. Terrell Newby emerged ahead of Imani Cross in spring camp for the starting job, but both figure to have a regular role in the offense. A thunder-and-lighting combination could be a possibility. Cross fits in more as a short yardage back while Newby has shown flashes of being a passing threat out of the backfield. Return specialist/receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El could also become an end-around option, which would give Danny Langsdorf’s rushing attack speed that few could match. There are several viable options, but don’t be surprised if the typically run-heavy Huskers air it out more in 2015.
Make up for inexperience at linebacker
The most underrated aspect of a defense is having a couple guys that are locks to make open field tackles. The Blackshirts don’t have that yet. Josh Banderas will enter his third year as a starter while Michael Rose-Ivey will be back after missing 2014 with a knee injury. They have 17 career starts between them with varying success. Unfortunately for Nebraska, that’s where the experience ends. Marcus Newby rushed the passer in third-down situations last year in Randy Gregory’s absence, but is still developing at the position. Freshmen Tyrin Ferguson, Adrienne Talan and Mohamed Barry could play immediately like Banderas did. An inexperienced unit will be surrounded by talented playmakers on the defensive line and secondary. Still, a defense is only as reliable as its linebackers.
Utilize Pierson-El effectively
There are two schools of thought when talking about the electric sophomore. One is that he should be on the field for the majority of the offensive snaps because he’s a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. Alongside Jordan Westerkamp, they could be a highlight reel waiting to happen. The last impression of Pierson-El as a receiver was his 8-catch, 102-yard performance against USC in the Holiday Bowl. But the other belief is that for Pierson-El to do what he does — return kickoffs that end with six points — he needs to be preserved. The Huskers can’t afford to have a playmaker like Pierson-El banged up. He is one of the few big-play threats at Riley’s disposal. Even if he only touches the ball eight times in a game, he can still make his mark. Either way, Nebraska has a weapon that — as long as he’s healthy — will be at the top of opposing scouting reports.