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Nebraska Q&A with Brian Towle of Corn Nation

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Heading into Saturday's showdown with one of our historical rivals, the Nebraska Corn Huskers, I asked Brian Towle of Corn Nation a bunch of questions. He gave me answers. You should read both.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow is the day. Canes. Huskers. Memorial Stadium. 8pm kickoff.

In preparation and anticipation of this day, and to get a glimpse behind enemy lines, we reached out to Corn Nation, our sister SBNation site covering Nebraska.

Who did we get to join us this week? Brian Towle, one of the contributing writers at Corn nation, took the call and is giving us his insight into Nebraska.And, since turnabout is fair play, Brian asked me some questions too. You can read what I had to say right here.

Thanks to Brian for joining us this week. You can follow him on Twitter @BTBowling, and the Corn Nation blog at @CornNation for updates and thoughts from the other sideline during the game.

And, away we go.....

State Of The U (SOTU): Your offense is built around star RB Ameer Abdullah, the latest in a long line of top tier I-Backs in Nebraska history. That game winning TD against McNeese State was amazing! What makes him so dynamic?

Brian Towle (BT): Ameer is one of the few backs who can get yards both inside and outside the tackles. He arrived from Alabama after the SEC thought he would be too small to play RB, and has really stepped up each year he’s been in Lincoln. When Rex Burkhead went down after the first quarter of the first game in 2012, Ameer stepped in out of a pretty good stable of Running Backs and asserted himself. He established himself so much, it made 2 other pretty good backs transfer to other programs (Aaron Green to TCU, Braylon Heard to Kentucky). He’s a guy who (in my eyes) is underrated in both the National and the Big Ten picture, seeing that Melvin Gordon seems to get a lot more love than Ameer. But, if he performs like he did last year and takes over the Nebraska all time Rushing record (over a guy who wasn’t shabby himself in Mike Rozier), he should at the very least get to New York for the Heisman competition.

SOTU: QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a very good player, but not an especially accurate passer, having completed only 53% of his passes through 3 games this season. What positive attributes does he bring to the field, and which things could potentially lead to his, and the Huskers', downfall?

BT: Tommy has had his share of completion percentage for sure, and that’s one of his biggest downfalls for sure. However, he’s a guy who has won a lot where ever he’s gone. He only has 2 losses in the last 3+ years of Football he’s started. He lost only one game in 2 seasons at San Antonio Cibolo Steele, and that was the last game he played in the Texas HS 5A title game in ‘11. He has a missile for an arm, and can run the zone read/option well enough to keep a defense honest.
SOTU: Nebraska has a long history of big, physical, talented offensive lines. Who are the key guys up front for the Huskers this year?

BT: Look to the left side of the line for where Nebraska has to go to get yards. Alex Lewis, who is a Husker legacy, comes to Nebraska after a stint at Colorado. He’s a good kid with a mean streak, but he also had an issue where he assaulted a Air Force cadet and had to stay away from the program this summer while he actually served some time in Boulder. He’s come back with a clear head, and his play has been pretty good. At Left Guard is Jake Cotton, who has stepped up well in that spot. If there’s a weakness, it’s run blocking right now. Last year, Nebraska was a massive run blocking team that couldn’t pass protect it seemed like to save their lives. This year, it’s the pass blocking that has gotten way better while the run blocking is suspect at times.

SOTU: Outside of Armstrong and Abdullah, which skill players on offense should the Miami defense be concerned about?

BT: Pass catching wise, Nebraska has gotten a steal out of Illinois with the emergence of Jordan Westerkamp. Outside of the Hail Mary snag vs. Northwestern last season and the behind the back gem vs. FAU this year, Westy has proved to be a solid guy either out wide or, in his preferred spot, in the slot. Kenny Bell is the man with the Fro that has gotten off to a better start this season after stepping back a bit last season. He has seemed to start to catch everything towards him, but his blocking downfield could be his better suit. Tight End wise, it’s kind of a silly game we play wondering who is going to make the one catch the TE’s seem to get in the Tim Beck offense. Cethan Carter is a NOLA kid that we’re told is "thisfreakinclose" to breaking out big time. When we see it, we’ll be surprised.

Running Back wise, Imani Cross is the big bruiser to Abdullah’s slash and speed. Cross is a big Junior who loves to run between the tackles and bruise it up a bit. Terrell Newby is a guy who Beck has tried to get in the offense with Jet Sweeps and such, but he’s needing to prove he can hold onto the ball to get more touches.

SOTU: On defense, the conversation has to start with 6'6" 240lb DE Randy Gregory. He's just working his way back into shape after an injury. Talk a little about him, his game, and what he means to the defense.

BT: Gregory was a great find by the staff that came into his own the second half of the Fresno game. He only played the first series against FAU and sat out the entire McNeese State debacle. If he plays at a level that he was at last season, there’s no doubt that NFL teams will covet him. The only knock on Gregory (and a problem I wish I had) is that he can’t gain weight to help him in the run game. If he does have a weakness, he has had issues against the run for sure.

SOTU: In his post-practice interview on Tuesday, Gregory said that he, and the blackshirt Defense, want to "Rattle (Kaaya) a bit early. Hit him and make him uncomfortable." Which players will be the main ones aiding Gregory in trying to make the Freshman QB's life uncomfortable?

BT: Greg McMullen, who should play across the other side of Gregory, will be a guy to watch as well. The Nebraska Defensive Tackle situation, once a literal joke a couple seasons ago, has beefed up literally with the addition of Vincent Valentine, who is a 320 pound middle plugger. Marcus Newby (no relation to Terrell) is a guy who they love to plug in on 3rd down passing situations for a faster man off the corner.

If there is a weakness of the D, it’s the Linebacking crew. Starters should be David Santos, Josh Banderas and Zaire Anderson are talented, but at the same time can be had for a long run off the edge, or caught in the wash on misdirection. For those looking for examples, take the Minnesota and Iowa losses as prime examples.

Secondary wise, Nebraska’s best cover corner is probably Josh Mitchell, who has more experience than height. Byerson Cockrell is a JUCO transfer that seems to be catching on. Nathan Gerry, who played LB as a true Frosh last year, is back at safety. You will see him roll down in run plays to give the LB’s help with Duke Johnson. However, he is fast enough to get back to help in pass coverage.

SOTU: Nebraska struggled vs McNeese State in game 2 of the season, winning 31-24 on the strength of the aforementioned amazing Abdullah Touchdown catch and run with under a minute left. The team rebounded nicely in defeating Fresno State convincingly 55-19 last week. Which performance is more representative of this team as a whole?

BT: Well... neither? I mean, this team is probably not as good as the Fresno or FAU games, yet not as good as the McNeese game. Nebraska seems to play a whole hell of a lot better when they have something to prove, and last week definitely fell under that category. However, it’s fair to say that Bo Pelini’s teams seem to play tight and such when the game is pretty big against a team close to or above them in both talent and scheme. Will this mean that Nebraska comes out and HHHHNNNGGGG against Miami? I doubt it, but it’ll be interesting to see what the Offense can do against a team that is in the top 1/3 of FBS in Defense, much less in double digits.
SOTU: Team speed is not something that Nebraska usually has a ton of. Miami, on the other hand, has speed for days on both sides of the ball. Will this difference in athleticism be a factor in the game, or do you have faith the coaches will scheme to minimize it's impact?


BT: That’s a great question on Offense. Tim Beck has a nickname around Lincoln and such, and that’s "Rogue". On one hand, he’s been known to run the same play 7-8-9 times. On the other hand, he’ll be needing a 4 minute, run the ball and move earth drive and call 3-4 straight passes in a row. The whole "he’s learning to call plays" excuse is long gone, and he doesn’t have a Taylor Martinez to just say "F it, lets run him". He has multiple options, and the fanbase SQUEALS for a 50/50 run/pass call, even though that’s what hasn’t been successful for the Huskers on O through the last couple of years.

Defensively, Bo Pelini has made a living off of Pro Style QB’s that can’t run. Consequently, he’s also been slashed, burned, and left for dead by mobile QB’s and Offenses that use misdirection that leave his LB’s looking at one spot while the ball flies another. The past motto is bend but don’t break for a Pelini D, and I would bet that he’s betting that Kaaya will be just green enough that he can trick him into some things that are not there.

SOTU: In the not too distant past, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Head Coach Bo Pelini would be fired. From average performance on the field, to open contention for the alumni and fan base, it was just not a good situation. What has changed in the past year and a half to bring us to the point where we currently stand?

BT: To put it as blankly as possible, Bo Pelini needs to win the regular season as much as he has won the off-season the last couple of years, especially last season. If Pelini was a quiet, hard working Midwestern guy who won 9-10 games a year, there would be zero wondering about whether he’s on the hot seat. However, with the things that have happened over the last 18 or so months with the Deadspin tape, underperforming in critical games, losing 4 games a year every year, and the Iowa meltdown, it’s a interesting situation. I can’t think that he’s on the hot seat, because not only is the buyout large (not Kirk Ferentz large but close enough), but he has made this program better than when he found it after the firing of Bill Callahan.

One thing, however, that folks in the media don’t mention is that to be quite honest, this fanbase has never been more split about their HC than they are now. You have a faction that has forgiven Bo for his tirades, his actions and such from when he was hired (think TAMU several years ago). But, lately in the last couple of years, you also have a growing (in both size and volume) faction that is tired of his antics and want a Conference title and a non-4 loss season. Both love Husker football, but the split on the HC is something fascinating to watch.

The Big Ten is there for Nebraska to take. The West has a iffy Wisconsin, a Northwestern that is a tirefire, and an Iowa team that is underachieving on Offense. Getting to Indy is (probably) the floor for this team, and winning the B1G is there for the taking. Not making Indy, however, and something’s gone very amiss and there could be more drama in Lincoln. Drama that a cat in the spring game or tweeting to @FauxPelini won’t help.

SOTU: Lastly, and, for our purposes, most importantly: what's your prediction for Saturday's game?

BT: Well, they will be celebrating the ‘94 Championship Team during halftime and folks are calling for a Blackout in the stands. I think Nebraska should be something like they were vs. FAU and such, but not as bad as McNeese. The squeaker over the Cowboys got their attention, and I think a focused team should be able to keep Miami off the scoreboard well enough to win this game. The Canes will score and Johnson will get his yards, but at the same time, Ameer has (in my eyes) a better cast around him and should be able to get Nebraska to 4-0.

I’m saying 31-17 Huskers.