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Dr. Saturday

Debriefing: Blackshirts back at the front of Nebraska’s Big Ten invasion

The least you should know about the 2011 Cornhuskers. Part of Big Ten Week.

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Blackshirts being Blackshirts. While the Blackshirt title was stripped from the Nebraska defense for awhile, there's no doubt the group has earned it back. A year ago, the Huskers ranked 11th nationally in total defense, ninth in scoring defense and fifth in passing defense. The only defensive category in which Nebraska struggled was rushing defense, where they gave up 153 yards per game. Six of last year's starters are back and Carl Pelini said this could be the best defense he's had during his tenure. The Huskers are three-deep at defensive tackle and two-deep at defensive end and has enough talent at linebacker to keep Big Ten running games quiet. Linebacker Lavonte David, who set the single-season school record last year with 152 tackles.

You call that a passing game? There were few passing offenses more disappointing than Nebraska's last year. While the Huskers did get back to their rushing roots, the passing offense failed to take advantage of quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Cody Green and as the season wore on, they weren't fooling anyone with their offensive gameplan. The Huskers completed fewer than 10 passes in six different games. Against Texas A&M and later Washington in the bowl game, the Huskers couldn't get their passing and running games going and scored six and seven points, respectively.

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With running back Roy Helu Jr. gone and Martinez, the team's second-leading rusher, coming back from an ankle injury, the offense needs more balance, and that comes from sharpening the passing game. The Huskers do return receiver Brandon Kinne, who had 494 yards and five touchdowns, and tight end Kyler Reed, who had 395 yards and a eight scores.

Keep this off YouTube. Head coach Bo Pelini is a fireplug on the sideline and became a villain of sorts after video of his tirade against Martinez went viral on YouTube. Don't expect a kinder, gentler Pelini anytime soon, but with Nebraska joining a new conference, he will be under scrutiny. One thing that set him off last year, and could be a hot-button topic again, in 2011 was penalties: Nebraska was penalized 109 times for 933 yards, both school records. The 'Huskers were flagged at least six times in every game except the Big 12 Championship loss to Oklahoma.{YSP:MORE}

Keep it moving. Nebraska inserted a no-huddle system in the spring to get the offense moving more quickly, which could promote more production. We'll see. As noted earlier, the passing game was stagnant last year, but the running game — for the most part — was pretty consistent. Rex Burkhead is the top returning running back, and while he wasn't the feature back a year ago, he did manage to rush for 951 yards and seven touchdowns.

He'll need help, though: The Nebraska running game was a three-pronged attack with Helu Jr., Martinez (or Green, when Martinez was injured), and Burkhead, good for just shy of 250 yards per game, best in the Big 12. Where the third prong of that attack will come from minus Helu is anyone's guess, but first crack will likely go to the headliner of the incoming recruiting class, Aaron Green.

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