Inside Hilltopper Sports will be visiting with WKU's upcoming opponent's beat writer each week to give our reader's more insight on the game. This week, IHS caught up with HuskersIllustrated.com publisher Sean Callahan for his thoughts on the Corn Huskers.
What are some things to look for on offense and defense from Nebraska?
Offensively, Nebraska wants to be a power team. It's kind of a west coast-based offense, but more spread elements to it now. They've evolved it to be some spread with some west coast, so they're very multiple. Defensively, they're a 4-3 but they match personnel and they call their base scheme 'the Peso,' with two linebackers and then the third guy is actually a hybrid player that plays a safety/corner, so he's a nickel-type guy. He can play linebacker, nickel corner and everything. It's really a multiple defense as well and they match the personnel man for man. If you're out with four receivers, they're gonna have four corners, for three receivers, they're gonna have three corners. If you have two receivers, they're gonna take that 'peso' corner and move him to a linebacker spot.
I know Nebraska hasn't settled on a quarterback, but from what you know and have seen, has anyone made any separation from the other two?
It's really hard to say because they're so close, but listening and hearing people talk, you get the impression that Taylor Martinez might be the guy that gets the nod on Saturday. He's the guy who's really emerged and come on with a strong camp. But Cody Green is a young player too and he's had a good camp as well. I think both guys are really gonna get a chance to prove themselves in this game. being the season-opener against a team whom they're heavily favored against, I think it's an opportunity to work these guys in.
What are some of the differences between the three quarterbacks?
Martinez is definitely the best runner. He's one of the five fastest guys on the team. His throwing is where the question is. Green is kind of the guy in the middle. He runs pretty decent, throws pretty decent, but he's not really great at any of it, he's just pretty good at all of it. Then, Zac Lee is by far the best passer. He's got the strongest arm, throws the ball pretty well. But running-wise, it's not his strong suit.
For all the talk about QBs, there hasn't been much talk on the guys protecting them, the offensive line. What have you seen from them?
The offensive line has gotten deeper, that's the biggest difference. They feel like they've got more depth than they've had in a while. There's some experience. Their center is new, but he's played a lot over time. Left tackle is a new position as well. They have two guys, a redshirt freshmen and a junior college transfer and those guys are gonna be battling it out for the starting job. I think the redshirt freshman, Jeremiah Sirles, will get the start. Sirles is a high-rated three-star guy and Jermarcus Hardrick was the number one JUCO tackle in the country. Those are pretty highly thought of guys and they're finally getting their opportunity to be the starter.
Ndamakong Suh was a big guy to lose, but has there been any drop-off up front?
I think they feel like they can make up for that with their depth and numbers. I know replacing Suh won't be easy, but just because they have more depth up front, they're eight to ten deep on their front four, where you're gonna see eight, nine or ten guys play pretty consistently on Saturday. They feel like that is gonna help them, especially early on in the year, when the weather's hotter and warmer and your guys get more fatigued. They can replace that with fresher bodies. Before, they would never sub on their line in the first couple of years under Bo Pelini. Suh would play 90 snaps a game.All their D-line was doing that and they're not gonna have to do that anymore. They can kinda split those reps up, where guys aren't playing 80 or 90 snaps every game.
Would you consider the D-line the strength of the defense, or is it somewhere else?
The corner position is the strength, probably. Right now in their secondary, Prince Amukamara is ranked as the number on corner on NFL draft boards and he's projected to go in the top five overall. They might have the best corner in football, then DeJon Gomes and Eric Hagg, they'll all play Sundays. All of them are pro guys. They're all big-time playmakers that did a lot last year. Nobody could pass on that defense last year and a big reason why was those guys in the secondary.
I saw Nebraska doesn't know what to expect from WKU. How are they preparing?
They don't really know because it's a new staff. They've got an idea, but they don't know for sure. Offensively, they think WKu's gonna come out in a west coast like Stanford ran, but the problem is I don't know if WKU has all the personnel like Stanford. There's gonna be some tinkering to fit the personnel. You just never know. Defensively, they're very familiar with Clint Bowen, so they have an idea what he did at Kansas, how he's a 4-3 base guy. One of the coaches on the staff, Tim Beck, worked with Bowen at Kansas. They know Bowen, but you never know. They have an idea of their personnel and what coaches have done in their past, but you never know what they'll do with the personnel at their new school.
With all the hype with Nebraska this season and the pre-season ranking, how important is it to make an early statement or get off to good start with this game?
It's really important because with these four non-conference games, they're gonna be favored in all four. The one at Washington especially is huge. They need to start off undefeated in their non-conference, kinda get things off with a game. When they have that showdown with Texas in Lincoln, in October, that's a huge game from them. These non-conference games will ultimately set the tone. I think they need to prove that their offense is gonna be better than a year ago and they need to prove they can play without Suh and still be a dominant defense.
With such a big spread for the season-opener in favor of Nebraska, are the Huskers overlooking this game at all?
I think they're just chomping at the bit. Since it's the first game, it's a night game and that many people, the expectations of the season, they're just chomping at the bit to hit someone besides themselves. If you had this game later on in the year, it'd be one thing, but I don't care who you are, I don't think you overlook the season opener. You're just so excited to be playing a game and I think Nebraska feels that way right now. They had to wait so long since last year, have been ranked higher than they've ever been, they're playing at home at night. To me, there's no way they come out and overlook this game, even though WKU has lost 20 games in a row.
InsideHillltopperSports.com would like to think HuskersIllustrated.com publisher Sean Callahan for taking time to help us dissect our season-opening opponent a little better. After the game, catch InsideHilltopperSports.com's extensive post-game, with a full game wrap and audio from coach Willie Taggart