Mike Kramer spent the Sunday after Idaho State’s victory over Black Hills State watching game film.
It was apparent to him that very day that the Bengals had some work to do with their fundamentals.
“Footwork, pad level and finish are the most important elements we look for regardless of what the play is or what the defense is,” he said of the hours spent in front of a screen.
The head coach now in his second season with ISU gave his team a percentage that grades how often the 11 players on the field executed all three aspects during every single play against the Yellow Jackets. The final tally put ISU at 47 percent.
“We have to be...near 75-80 percent to win games,” Kramer said.
With a huge contest at Nebraska looming, the Bengals went to work on their bye week to correct the problems and increase their percentage.
“The bye week was great,” said senior cornerback Donovan Henley. “Everybody was really focused. What I really liked about (it) was how hard we worked. They call it a bye week, but I mean we practiced five days and we really went through a good amount of preparation where we practiced hard. Every one was focused and it felt like a normal week, just without a game on Saturday. So, it was a great bye week.”
So how much did the Bengals improve?
“Forty-two percent, if you want to know,” Kramer said on Tuesday. “With those three aspects on every play at every position we’re 42 percent better on Tuesday’s practice, this Tuesday, than we were last Tuesday. And I’m pretty happy with that.”
Idaho State will take on the Cornhuskers today and Kramer hopes to see his team maintain its progress and show improvement in its percentage.
“We want to make sure we play at pace, up to speed and we want to make sure we play fundamentally sound and correct,” he said. “I feel like we’re getting a better understanding of what’s expected of us all over the field.”
ISU (1-1) knows what to expect when it enters Memorial Stadium this afternoon and takes on a storied Big Ten program like Nebraska, currently ranked the 25th best team in the FBS by the Associated Press. The players are looking forward to getting back on the field and letting their training and hard work take over.
“It’s a big game. You have to step it up,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Pele. “It’s football (when) the pads come on. You don’t want to go out there, just like any game, and get embarrassed. When you’re going against a prestigious program like Nebraska it’s time to strap on the helmet, step it up and play against the big boys.”
The Cornhuskers (2-1) are led by do-it-all junior quarterback Taylor Martinez. He has completed 70.9 percent of his passes this season for 713 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He has also racked up 176 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Martinez’s play of the season thus far was an electrifying 92-yard run for a score against UCLA on Sept. 8. His offensive line created a gaping hole in the middle that he exploded through and beat a pair of defensive backs all the way to the endzone.
“He’s pretty fast,” Kramer said of Martinez. “We can’t turn them loose. We can’t turn any football team and give them long plays.”
But Martinez isn’t the ‘Husker’s only playmaker. They have a stable of strong, speedy running backs that can break for huge gains on every touch of the ball.
“A lot of teams will overplay the run,” Kramer said. “Both their running backs have shown the ability to get up and get around the corner. So their offensive front gets great push at the point of attack and the whole defense seems to over pursue the play.”
Nebraska’s best and most experienced back, senior Rex Burkhead, is expected to return after suffering an injury in Nebraska’s season opener against Southern Mississippi. There has been no official word from the Cornhuskers, but Kramer plans on seeing him suited up and carrying the ball.
“We’re preparing for everybody to play,” Kramer said. “So it wouldn’t make a difference to us whether Rex would play or not. We’re going to play our defense the way we have to play it regardless of who’s playing at tailback.”
“We’re expecting them to execute just like they do day in and day out,” Pele said. “Everyone knows how powerful their offense is with Taylor Martinez and Burkhead. I mean, it’s not a secret. We just have to come out as a defense and execute.”
Offensively, ISU’s success will once again depend on the play of the offensive line. With two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior expected to start, the Bengals have their work cut out for them.
“The offensive line still remains dreadfully young,” Kramer said. “Those guys continue to have to be the group that evolves and gives us more of a confidence factor going into any game.”
If the offensive front is able to protect senior quarterback Kevin Yost, he should have a good game. Nebraska gives up an average of 174 yards through the air per contest and has allowed five passing touchdowns through three games.
“They really don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Yost said. “We just have to come out and play very smart and very fast and try to take advantage if we catch them in a substitution or something like that. I mean, they’re really good all over the field.”
“We feel like if we can give Kevin enough time to throw, he’s really getting good at getting into a rhythm and finding an open receiver,” Kramer said. “And every receiver at any level is open for a fraction of a second. It’s whether Kevin can deliver the ball to that receiver in that fraction of a second that enables the play to have success.”
Kickoff between the Bengals and the Cornhuskers today is at 1:30 p.m. Fans can watch the game on the Big Ten Network (DirecTV channel 611).