Nebraska Ohio State still has a certain novel feel to it. Sure, the Cornhuskers are a game deep into their second season in the Buckeyes' athletic conference, but there's something frankly still pretty cool about two of college football's most storied programs getting the opportunity to go head to head more often than not. To give us the low down on what to expect, we welcome the staff of Corn Nation, led by manager Jon Johnston to 5 minutes in the Holy Land. You can follow them on Twitter at @CornNation.
All jokes about his shotput-esque throwing motion aside, Taylor Martinez has been a revelation this year. What do you attribute his growth under center to?
Billgrip: I don't think we can say it's one particular thing so much as a combination of things. I'd say it's all the hard work he put in during the offseason, combined with being in year two of the same offense for the first time since middle school. Also, he's a 3rd year starter, which means the guy just has a lot of solid experience under his belt.
Mister Mike: For starters, I don't think there's any question that his summer was well spent with [noted LA QB guru Steve] Calhoun. He's obviously progressed into a more complete QB. I also believe that this being his first year with the same OC has paid some dividends as well. He still doesn't always see the guys open down field and still "skips rocks off the turf," but so far this year, he's been making better decisions overall and is even hitting receivers in stride. He hasn't completely fallen into the thumb-sucking fetal position when the pressure ramps up, like the 2010-2011 seasons. That being said, consistency is key here and if keeps doing what he's been doing, this year will be his most successful one.
Husker Mike: Martinez started his evolution against Ohio State last season. One local newspaper writer wrote a column the day before the game about how Martinez needed to be benched if he didn't improve. In the 13 games since, Martinez has only thrown 4 picks. Last season, it was better decision making, and this season, he's added better fundamentals. Bottom line is that he's finally becoming a athletic quarterback than a athlete playing quarterback.
Brian: Count me in with Dirk Chatelain of the OWH (whom H. Mike is speaking of) when talking about how Martinez was a fantastic shot putter of the football. He has come of age here this year, as his QB camp money spent with Cali QB guru Steve Calhoun this past summer. The question I had earlier this year was semi-answered last week, as Taylor did a fine job of taking the team down the field and leading them to a come from behind victory (last year was something similar, but IMHO it doesn't happen if Braxton Miller doesn't get hurt). Now, however, my question is can GA Joe Ganz (who is the closest thing to a QB coach Nebraska has outside of OC Tim Beck) keep what Calhoun has done going. I would like to see Taylor's bad game before I make a true judgement of how good he is. If his bad game is something like UCLA, I could quite honestly live with that.
Bo Pelini joked after last week's game that "contrary to what [the media] thinks, he hasn't forgotten how to coach defense." The defense accordingly seems to be moving more towards the standards of the beginning of his tenure in Lincoln. Is the defense really back or do we still need a few more strong performances to make a call like that?
Billgrip: What this year's defense seems to be lacking most is star power. Ironically, last year's defense had a star at every level, but put together very few solid performances, largely due to injuries. This year's defense seems to have good players, but not great players, all over the field. I've never doubted that Pelini can draw up a scheme to shut down any offense in the country, but I don't know if he's got the talent to execute those schemes. So to me it's still up in the air...this year's defense can definitely be good...but to be great we need some stars to emerge, and that hasn't really happened yet.
Mister Mike: I don't think there's any question that we need more performances like what we saw in the Wisconsin game to switch back from the Slackshirts to the Blackshirts. If you like I could type out a 3 page dissertation as to why that is, but suffice it to say the two big reasons are 1.) He needs to recruit the type of athletes to fit his scheme, especially on the DL where he likes to run a 2-gap. 2.) He needs to NOT be so damn stubborn with his schemes (IMO) and switch up and out of his favored 4-3 Cover 2 coverage/contain alignments. Instead of react/respond, attack and dictate. You have seen him do so in the Ark St. game, against Idaho State Junior High School, and last week against Wisconsin. If Pelini can successfully recruit to his system AND not take it as a blow to his ego to switch out of his preferred 4-3, you will see the Blackshirts return in whole.
Brian: The thing that comes to mind about this is simple: that Bo loves to let the local media know who he is and what he's done. However, this has come to bite him in the backside the last couple of years. Bo went across to anyone and everyone early last year (and this year) telling the fanbase and such that "It's all about championships" and such. However, in the year-end presser before Iowa, his chord struck a different tune when he said "it's not all about championships". By making that "forgotten how to coach defense" statement, he's left himself in a very vulnerable position if Nebraska loses and gets gashed on the ground by Brax (a run first QB, which has murdered Nebraska's defenses since Suh left).
Talk about some of the young guns making an impact on the 2012 Cornhuskers. Are there any true or redshirt freshmen Ohio State fans should be on the look out for?
Billgrip: I'll start with Imani Cross. The 6 foot 1, 225 pound true freshman looks more like a powerful NFL running back than an 18 year old kid. While he's technically the 4th string RB, the fact that he's not a redshirt says a lot. He got on the field quite a bit in the non-conference games, and currently has 228 yards and 2 TDs. I don't know if he'll make much of an impact in the game on Saturday with Rex being healthy, but you'll definitely be seeing more of this kid in the years to come.
Mister Mike: I agree with Mr. Grip there about Imani Cross. He's built like a brick shithouse and I believe he just genuinely enjoys destroying people in front of him. I like that in my running backs. I also think a name you'll hear on Saturday will be Andy Janovich, a walk-on FB in the mold of Tom Rathman, the Makovicka Brothers, and Cory Schlesinger. He ate Borland's lunch a couple times last Saturday during the Wiscy game, so watch out for him.
Defensively (along the DL in particular) watch out for Avery Moss, Kevin Williams, and Vincent Valentine. When we switch to our pseudo 3-4 defense, Valentine will probably line up as the NT sometimes since he's just huge.
Brian: Another couple of guys to keep an eye out for are Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard, the 2/3rd string RB's behind Rex Burkhead. Ameer did a fine job with running the ball when Rex was out due to that knee, and Braylon is the best pure runner of the whole bunch. On Defense, check Nebraska's LB crew to see people like redshirt frosh David Santos and sophomore Josh Mitchell to jump in and contribute.
Nebraska is making its first trip to Ohio Stadium since 1956. Accordingly, basically all Cornhuskers fans reading this will be taking it in for the first time. Any thoughts on what a win there would mean or is there anything beyond the ordinary road game to this one?
Billgrip: After getting smacked around at Camp Randall and in the Big House last year, a win at the Horseshoe would really be the Huskers' first road win against a legitimate team at a legitimate venue, and I'm not counting Penn State last year with all the distractions surrounding that game. A win would likely give us a firm grasp on the division heading into the bye week. However, a loss to a top 15 opponent on the road isn't anything to be ashamed of, and all of the season's goals would still be intact regardless.
Mister Mike: It's not an ordinary road game, even though I hope Pelini and Co treat it as such. Obviously a win in the Horseshoe would be HUGE and would put the Huskers firmly in the driver's seat in the Legends division. If we win this game, you WILL hear some of us run our mouths about the Rose Bowl (still forgetting that we have to play AT MSU and play UM). This will be the first Pelini vs. Meyer battle in the B1G, so that should make ESPN/ABC/Disney very happy ratings wise.
Brian: I guess I look at it being a true definition of where this team is at the middle part of the season. Nebraska has a bye week next week before taking on a Northwestern team in Evanston that gave them more than a fit last year. However, at the same time, I put Nebraska at 4-2 and 1-1 in the B1G at their break, and would still take that right now knowing the back half of the schedule is rough at best.
Jon Johnston: Two things about this. First, there's the URBAN MEYER factor. There's a lot of people outside the conference who have all but given the Big Ten to Meyer. A win for Nebraska would send a message (this from a guy that hates the "send a message" concept) that we're in this conference to consistently compete with the best. Second, I'm a native Nebraskan and UNL alum that's been living in Minnesota for over 20 years, I've learned to hate Ohio State as much as anyone in the Big Ten while at the same developing an inferiority complex. Third, a win in Columbus would be sweet and make all the good players in the state of Ohio want to come play for the Huskers instead of the Buckeyes.
And finally, what would define a satisfactory season for the Cornhuskers? Would a Legends division title suffice or is it conference championship or disappointment for the Big Red faithful?
Billgrip: Before this season, when everyone said that Michigan and Michigan State were top 10 powerhouses and I believed them, I would have been happy if we finished second in the Big 10 West (we have officially abandoned the division names at CN). Next year our schedule sets up much nicer for a B1G championship run. However, now that we're well into the season and the Michigan teams haven't been great, my expectations have changed. As of right now, the Big 10 west looks very winnable if the Huskers play to their potential. If we make it to the Big 10 championship, it would be very disappointing if we don't win it considering our opponent will likely be an average Wisconsin team or Purdue.
Mister Mike: My expectations for this team as a whole (not just this year's squad, but Nebraska football) are always high. Nebraska as a program should always be in the B1G championship discussion every year. We should be in the BCS bowl discussion every year. That's our tradition. Does it mean we'll always win? Of course not. The B1G this year is extremely mediocre and there really shouldn't be a reason WHY we can't win it this year and next year for that matter. Going into this season, I expected an 8-4 squad with an invite to the Taco Bell Chicken Fajita Bowl. Now...anything short of a CCG appearance and a win will be a disappointment. Every year we've found a way to piss down our leg in the later part of the season so I'm hoping that this year we'll finally buck that trend.
Brian: There is a B1G championship to win, and the transgressions of what has happened in the conference have given Nebraska a fantastic chance to win not only this division, but also the title in Indianapolis and send off Tom Osborne with the school's first conference title since 1999 and BCS bowl since 2001. Bo's teams have suffered from the same things the last few years: not taking every game seriously and eventually taking a 3-4 loss team to a mid-level bowl where we seem to get dominated and.. well, U G L Y comes to mind.
Jon: Saturday night will go a long ways to determining the answer to this question. At this point, I'll be somewhat disappointed if Nebraska doesn't win the West and therefore the conference. Will I consider that unsuccessful? That's probably determined by what happens in the bowl game.
Oh, who the hell am I kidding. Given the state of the conference this season, I'll definitely be disappointed if we don't win the conference. It's been too long since Nebraska won a conference championship.