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Aug. 12, 2001

The Desert Husker • Bill Marks

Fatherhood, Fish Sticks and Football

Part One - The Offense
Last weekend, while my wife was out of town at some cushy resort having round-the-clock massages and being immersed in mud, I took the opportunity to do some bonding with my young son.

I was a little concerned, because his normal bright, happy grin was nowhere to be found. Confused, I set out to find the root of his somber mood -- I knew he hadn't sunk any money into the NASDAQ, and at the age of one-and-a-half he was too young to date. So I sat him down in his high-chair, baked up a few fish sticks, and decided it was time for a man-to-man chat.

Fortunately, it didn't take long to find the problem. As he took a bite of fish stick and then quickly spat it out, I could tell what was bothering him - he was obviously concerned about this year's version of Nebraska football. Would the offense be able to throw the ball well enough to keep defenses from lining nine defenders in the box? Would the defensive line be able to get enough of a push up the middle to provide adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks? Would the special teams be as lackluster as they were last year? He was clearly working through some serious issues.

At this point, I did what my family has always done when conflict arises. I painstakingly broke down and evaluated the Cornhuskers from top to bottom. Bringing out a flip chart, a few diagrams and a clean diaper, I set out to erase the worry from my little boy's face. Here are my position by position conclusions from that discussion:

Even though Correll Buckhalter and Dan Alexander have gone on to the NFL, taking more than 4,000 career rushing yards and a whole lot of experience with them, this position should be a strong one.

If it isn't, it won't be for a lack of quantity. The Husker backfield is going to be more crowded than an Oklahoma restaurant on "Chitlins Night." Dahrran Diedrick has earned the chance to start, and I fully expect him to flourish in that role. But if I'm wrong and he's not up to the job, Coach Solich will have plenty of speed (Thunder Collins, Josh Davis and Marques Simmons), power (Robin Miller) and shiftiness (DeAntae Grixby and Cory Ross) in reserve.

Dad's pigskin position prognosis - You've got to like the talent and depth at this position. The only question is if Solich will show more faith in the I-backs than he has in recent seasons.

Here's another position where the talent is plentiful, but the experience isn't. Although he's returning from back surgery, Judd Davies appears to be healthy and ready to lay some crushing blocks on unfortunate linebackers. Even while his back was bothering him last year, Davies displayed the potential to eventually be among the best ever at this position.

Of course, Davies was on the field so much last year because the Huskers often use more than one fullback. This year, look for redshirt freshman Steve Kriewald to step up and get some quality playing time. Another hard-nosed wrecking ball from rural Nebraska, Kriewald has the coaches raving with his combination of strength and quickness. Behind him, Paul Kastl knows the offense and will provide additional depth.

Dad's pigskin position prognosis - Fullback is a pretty complex position in the Husker offense, and there isn't much experience here. Still, Davies and Kriewald are a pair of juggernauts who will open some holes for Diedrick and company, and occasionally pop a few long runs themselves. Worry not my son, this position is solid.

Prior to last year, depth at the quarterback position was a serious concern. Behind Eric Crouch, the position was emptier than an Oklahoma dentist office. Fortunately, Crouch stayed healthy for the most part, and his understudy Jamaal Lord had an opportunity to get some snaps in the back-up role.

This year, QB depth is much less of a concern. Crouch returns for his senior year and a possible Heisman campaign, with a more experienced and confident Lord backing him up. And, the position is further strengthened with the addition of fleet freshmen signal callers Mike McGlaughlin and Mike Stuntz (expect one to redshirt in 2001).

Dad's pigskin position prognosis - Crouch is a proven commodity who knows all there is to know about running the option offense. In the past, Solich has relied a little too heavily on E.C. to win the big games, and as a result he's been beaten up by the end of the season. Look for the offense to revolve more around the running backs in 2001, which will make the option and the play action pass more effective, and solidify Crouch's position as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

To whom will Crouch and Lord throw the ball? Good question. With Matt Davison and Bobby Newcombe gone, and John Gibson coming off knee surgery, this position looks fairly thin.

That said, I expect some talent to emerge. Split end Wilson Thomas has all the physical tools to be a strong receiving threat. True, he's only caught one pass in his career, but with Davison around, there weren't that many opportunities. Also, youngsters Ben Zajicek and Ben Cornelson should be able to stretch defenses with their speed, and experienced wingback Troy Hassebroek is a powerful blocker.

Dad's pigskin position prognosis - While this position is certainly not a strength at this point, it may not be as bad as many of the pundits say. When the NCAA granted Gibson a sixth year of eligibility, it was a huge boost to this group's experience and talent level. But until he proves his knee is fully healed, he and the rest of the receivers are a question mark.

Tight Ends
Depth, experience and talent are overflowing at the tight end spot. All-everything TE Tracey Wistrom returns, along with Aaron Golliday and Jon Bowling. Like the I-back position, there are far more talented players at this position than will actually be able to find playing time.

The Crouch to Wistrom connection has been huge the last three years. With his precision route running and sneaky speed, Wistrom has left opposing defensive coordinators looking more confused than an Oklahoma fan holding a stick of deodorant. And don't discount Bowling and Golliday. Bowling is a slightly smaller version of Wistrom, and Golliday is a stud blocker who also occasionally sneaks up on defenses with a big catch. This trio will do a nice job of keeping defenses honest while grooming the next great Husker tight end, redshirt frosh Chris Septak.

Dad's pigskin position prognosis - It's all here, which is a good thing because tight ends are huge in Solich's offense.

Offensive Line
Another question mark position. While Crouch and a bevy of backs return, they will need a typically strong Husker O-line to be successful. Mammoth left guard Toniu Fonoti is back and will be a strong candidate for post-season awards, and Dave Volk, a returning starter at tackle will join him on the left side. After that, things get kind of iffy.

The versatile Jon Rutherford will do a nice job wherever the coaches decide to put him, but injuries have decimated the field of incumbents. Right tackle Chris Loos and promising right guard Jon Dawson are both trying to fight back from injuries. That leaves very little experience, but the cupboard isn't bare. Guys like Dan Waldrop, Mike Erickson and former defensive lineman Junior Tagoai provide size and potential.

Dad's pigskin position prognosis - Who knows? There appears to be some good, young talent here, but experience is an important ingredient in good offensive line play. Hopefully, by the time Notre Dame comes to Lincoln, this group will have jelled.

Well, I had put the final strokes on the offensive picture, by my son still looked forlorn. The defense still remained, and like our now-frigid fish sticks, last year's D wasn't always an appetizing sight. Will it be improved? Check back next week.

Bill Marks, a.k.a. the Desert Husker, is a professional business writer and consultant living in Chandler, Ariz. He is a long-time Husker fan and can be contacted at [email protected].

Previous columns: 08/03/2001 | 07/25/2001 | 07/18/2001