We're back with another report card, as we're doubling down on these in order to finish before the New Year's Day bowls. Nebraska, come and get your grades for the 2012 regular season:
The Huskers led the Big Ten in total offense and ranked second in the league in scoring at 35.1 points per game. It all started, not surprisingly, with an outstanding rushing assault that averaged more than 254 yards per game, good for eighth-best in the nation. What made that even more impressive was that Rex Burkhead missed most of the season with a knee injury, yet the offense hardly missed a beat as Ameer Abdullah topped 1,000 yards. Give the offensive line a lot of credit, especially All-American guard Spencer Long. But it wasn't all about the running game this year for Nebraska, as quarterback Taylor Martinez took his performance to a higher level. While he didn't reach his lofty preseason goal of a 70 percent completion rate, he did connect on a respectable 62.2 percent of his throws while going for 2,667 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He led the Big Ten in total offense while nearly running for 1,000 yards. A deep and multi-talented group of receivers and tight ends, paced by blossoming star Kenny Bell, made the Huskers dangerous all over the field, and coordinator Tim Beck wore opposing defenses out with his high-paced play calling. The only reason the offense doesn't earn an A-plus was a frustrating lack of ball security; Nebraska lost 32 turnovers this year, more than all but five teams in the country. That the Huskers nearly always found a way to overcome such sloppiness was a testament to their explosiveness.
If you go simply by the numbers, Nebraska's defense had a strong year. The Huskers led the nation in pass defense and were the No. 22 overall defense in the country. Ah, but we did watch the games. And there's simply no way to excuse some of the massive defensive breakdowns that led to three losses this season: giving up over 650 yards to UCLA, surrendering 63 points to Ohio State and of course the 70-point fiasco in the Big Ten title game. There were some success stories, like the excellent play in the secondary by guys like Daimion Stafford and Ciante Evans, Will Compton's leadership at linebacker and Baker Steinkuhler plugging up the middle of the line. But a Bo Pelini-coached defense should never be routed as many times as these Huskers were, and a No. 95 national ranking against the run shows some weaknesses up front. When Nebraska's defense was good, it was pretty good. When it was bad, it was about as bad as it's ever been in program history.
Special teams: B
Kicker/punter Brett Maher was the star of the show on special teams again, but he proved less consistent than he was in his excellent 2011 campaign. He still could make clutch, long kicks and boom punts, but he struggled a bit early with his field goal accuracy and had a few too many shanks in the punt game. Abdullah led the Big Ten in punt return average. Nebraska was a mediocre on kickoffs.
The embarrassment of the Big Ten title game loss lingers, but this team still won 10 games and captured the Legends Division this season. The Huskers lost only one league game during the season, though it was another bad blowout in Columbus. They beat Wisconsin (in the regular season) and Michigan after losing to both teams last year and staged some thrilling comebacks to win at Northwestern and at Michigan State. Only fans who have been spoiled by decades of success could complain about a 10-3 season. Yet it's impossible to ignore the feeling that this team was capable of so much more this year, especially with the Rose Bowl bid right there for the taking against a 7-5 team in Indianapolis. Given the expectations and the firepower of the offense, this season can't rate as much higher than a "B" level.
Previous report cards: