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January 16, 2012

Year in review: Offensive line

Nebraska finished the 2011 season with a 9-4 record ranked No. 24 in both the AP and Coaches polls. As we start to look ahead to 2012, HuskerOnline.com will begin our year in review position recaps. Today we analyze the offensive line.

The high point: A consistent ground game
Maybe the best thing for Nebraska this year was no matter when they had to run the ball or who that had to run the ball on, they found ways to make it happen. Against elite run defenses like Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State the Huskers got consistent blocking up front and that was a major question going into this season. Teams knew Nebraska wanted to run the ball with Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez, but even with loaded boxes they made it happen. Obviously in the Wisconsin game they went away from the run and that's when the game fell apart. In the Northwestern game Burkhead was hurt and didn't give NU a consistent effort. Even in the bowl game the Huskers ran the ball consistently on South Carolina until other factors blew that game open.
The low point: Mental blow-ups in key situations
Nebraska's line still has those moments in big games where they get multiple false start penalties on the same drive or a key holding call that kills a drive. These are the moments that continue to plague the line and this offense. If Nebraska wants to win big games on the road against top 10 teams, you can't afford to have what I call "blow-up" drives. This offense operates very well in second-and-medium and third-and-short situations. It's when they face obvious passing downs due to bad penalties when things tend to fall apart.
Most memorable moment: The third quarter of the Michigan State game
You can argue the third quarter of the Michigan State game was one of the most complete quarters Nebraska played all season. With the game at 10-3 going into the locker room, NU's offensive line stuffed it down the throat of the Spartans defense, holding the ball for 11:23 to put together 12 and 14 play scoring drives of 80 and 89 yards. Before the third quarter, nobody moved the ball on Michigan State like that all season. The third quarter of this game showed you just how good this team could be on offense when everything is clicking. NU ran the ball 19 times alone on the Spartans in the quarter and was a perfect 5-of-5 on third downs.
What the future holds: Lots of young talent
Nebraska will lose three key bodies in Mike Caputo, Jermarcus Hardrick and Marcel Jones going forward in 2012, but there are several young faces poised to break through in the future. Tyler Moore and Jeremiah Sirles both return at tackle, while Zach Sterup has shown great potential for the future. At guard and center, Nebraska will have Spencer Long, Seung Hoon Choi and Andrew Rodriguez returning, while Cole Pensick and Ryne Reeves appear poised to break through. If five-star Andrus Peat picks the Huskers, he too could factor in at tackle immediately. Center remains a mystery and my guess is Pensick, Reeves and Long will battle it out and whoever is the best option will win the job in August. My early money today is on Long being the guy, but that's just a hunch.

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