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Huskers need an I-back to take pressure off Crouch
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online
Bowden's Weekly Chat Show

This is a very important game for Nebraska. Nebraska has a good preseason ranking and needs to win this game convincingly because first impressions are hard to change. It's also important that the Huskers leave the game feeling good about themselves.

Nebraska was the nation's No. 1 rushing team and scored 38 points per game last year, however, there are two areas where Nebraska must improve.

Dahrran Diedrick
Dahrran Diedrick rushed for 212 yards and three TDs last season.
First, the Huskers must show they have the ability to hit the big-play pass when necessary. Unlike any team in the country, except maybe Air Force, the better the Huskers are, the less they throw the football. Their options are power run and option, not pass and run. They need to show, if TCU chooses to overplay the run, that they can hit Tracey Wistrom or some of the other young wideouts and that they can be effective in the passing game.

Eric Crouch has been injured two years in a row and has had a couple of surgeries. He must show that he is healthy and can be effective in the passing game. Against TCU, it may not be necessary, but at some point, they must show they can hit the big play.

More importantly, with Dahrran Diedrick out for the TCU game, Thunder Collins needs to show he can be a big-time I-back. Frank Solich believes Diedrick has a chance to be a great back, but he is suspended for the Pigskin Classic. It's important that Nebraska has a back who can take it the distance, a guy who can take the ball 80 yards for a touchdown.

Fixing Nebraska's D:
More important to Nebraska this season is to find a dominant defense. You always want to look at the Huskers offense, but the problem last year was that there was no dominant defense. That is attributable to two things -- injuries, especially up front, and an inability to change up the defensive coverages.

Because they were banged up front, they couldn't get the pressure they wanted. That gave teams more time to throw and to do things they wanted. They have to stay healthy.

The biggest thing Nebraska must develop this season is defensive schemes that will win against teams like Oklahoma later in the year, and that is to mix zone coverages with man-to-man. Defenses have been able to dominate by playing tight man coverage with their corners and putting their safeties so close to the line of scrimmage that there are more defenders than blockers, so teams that can't throw well can't run either. They can't block everybody.

As Nebraska faces teams who believe in pass first, run second, man coverage is useless because they are going to use four wideouts and your safeties are going to be stuck on islands with no one behind them. That's where Nebraska gets killed by teams like Oklahoma. They are out there trying to stuff the run on first down to force a second-and-10 when they've got you. That's not happening. Teams like Oklahoma are passing on first down.

It won't show up much against TCU, but they need to develop their ability to mix and disguise zone coverage with man coverage, so the quarterback isn't sure what they are in and doesn't have easy reads.
--Terry Bowden

The Cornhuskers are a great running team, primarily because Eric Crouch is the leading rusher. But they don't want him to be the leading rusher because he is taking a lot of hits. If a back is going to get five good yards, that's OK, but that's not the answer. It's easy to coach a one-play, 80-yard drive; it's very difficult to coach a 12-play, 80-yard drive in the running game because a 15-yard penalty can destroy the series.

When you depend on a back to get you five good yards, that's great to an extent, but to be dominant, you have to have a back who can break through and go 80 because that is the type of back who is not going to put you in a hole by penalties and it would take the pressure off of relying on Crouch to be the main runner. If Crouch leads the team in rushing this year, Nebraska is going to have the same problems it had last season when he got banged up and was inconsistent in the passing game.

Solich said himself that the reason that Crouch wasn't hitting all his passes last year was because he was so sore. He was sore because he was running the ball so much. It's very important -- maybe more than Nebraska would like to admit -- that Diedrick or one of the other backs can take it the distance to allow them to not rely so much on the running ability of Crouch.

Emmitt Smith never ran better than 4.6, but he could take it the distance. Whatever it is, some backs can do it, some can't. The Huskers need a back who can take it the distance with whatever talents, whether it be elusiveness to make a defender miss in the open field or Michael Bennett sheer speed to hit the corner and outrun everybody. Either way, they have to have somebody who can do that.

Terry Bowden was the head coach at Salem College, Samford University and Auburn University. He is ABC's college football studio analyst and contributes regularly for ABC Sports Online.  HELP |  ADVERTISER INFO |  CONTACT US |  TOOLS |  SITE MAP
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