In getting ready for Saturday's showdown at the Rose Bowl, we talked with NU beat writer Michael Bruntz.
Taylor Martinez's progress bodes well for NU
William Whelan: What is the feeling around this Nebraska team following their impressive first win?
Michael Bruntz: I think Nebraska is a pretty confident team, but not overly so. This is a senior-heavy team, with more than 25 fifth-year seniors and I think they're doing a nice job of staying even-keel this week. I think nearly everybody was surprised with the way the offense looked against Southern Miss, but that was what players had been saying throughout fall camp. The focus was on Taylor Martinez's big day, but the offense as a whole looked like it was clicking in rhythm. I suppose that's to be expected in the second season under Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck.
William Whelan: Has Taylor Martinez really turned a corner?
Michael Bruntz: Everybody wants to talk about the throwing motion, but I saw two areas where Martinez looked considerably better on Saturday. For one, his footwork was much improved. No more throwing off his back foot, and he was stepping towards his receivers. It sounds small, but it makes a big difference. He was also considerably more confident with the offense. He got Nebraska into the right plays at the line of scrimmage, and methodically ran through his progressions. Plus, he only ran the ball six times, so he didn't have to totally carry the offense himself.
William Whelan: Heading into Saturday, what is the biggest area of concern for the Cornhuskers? Where might UCLA have success?
Michael Bruntz: Nebraska's run defense is a bit of a concern, particularly against spread or zone read teams like UCLA is likely to be. Nebraska's defensive tackles got pushed around at times against Southern Miss and the defense as a whole will need to play sound, assignment football on Saturday. The key for Nebraska will be getting off the field I third down. It was the defense's biggest weakness in 2011 and a huge emphasis in the spring and fall.
William Whelan: Is it fair to say this is a measuring stick game for the Bruins, ranked opponent at home?
Michael Bruntz: I'd say it's a good measuring-stick game for UCLA. They were certainly impressive against Rice, but doing it again against Nebraska on national television would certainly be a nice statement for Jim Mora and his staff.
After an impressive first start, Hundley will face a taller task Saturday
William Whelan: Lastly, how do you see this one turning out and what's your score prediction?
Michael Bruntz: I think both of these offenses are capable of lighting up the scoreboard and to me, this game comes down to the defenses and who can make a big play when it matters. I like the young talent UCLA has, but I think Nebraska has too many veteran players who won't be rattled going on the road. Nebraska also played against offenses like UCLA's every week in the Big 12, and Bo Pelini is usually good for a wrinkle or two scheme-wise. I think Nebraska pulls it out, but I think it's going to be close: something like 31-27.
William Whelan: I agree with just about everything you said there. I think the ultimate key will be how Brett Hundley responds to the pressure that he'll face on third-and-long. If he can get some confidence going early and get in a rhythm, I like UCLA's chances to pull the upset. I've also got to trust that the Bruins' staff will have their boys ready to go on national television and last week's defensive mishaps gave them plenty of film room material. Jim Mora makes a statement early in his first year and UCLA pulls out a 24-20 win.