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January 16, 2013

Year in Review: Linebacker

Nebraska finished the 2012 season with a 10-4 record despite closing out the season with back-to-back losses. As we start to look ahead to 2013, HuskerOnline.com will begin our year in review position recaps. Today we analyze the linebackers.

The Huskers entered the season with a trio of fifth-year seniors, a highly-regarded JUCO recruit and a wealth of talented freshmen that ultimately redshirted because of the depth at the position. The performance of this group was uneven - they played spectacularly in some games, but were exposed in several others. With Sean Fisher announcing he doesn't plan to apply for a sixth year of eligibility, the position now belongs to Zaire Anderson and a group of athletic youngsters eager to leave their mark on the program.

The high point: Shutting down Wisconsin (the first time around)
When the NU coaches chose to redshirt Fisher, Will Compton and Alonzo Whaley back in 2008, this was the kind of performance they imagined they'd be getting on a near-weekly basis. The trio played the best collective game of their careers, combining for 26 tackles (six for loss), two sacks, two pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles. All-American Montee Ball was held to 2.8 yards per carry and Whaley forced the game-ending fumble with less than a minute remaining.
The low point: Miller runs wild in Columbus
The linebacking corps struggled in several games, most notably against UCLA, Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. But few moments were more frustrating than seeing Braxton Miller routinely weave through the Blackshirts play after play. Miller was a non-factor in the first quarter as OSU's only points came from a Taylor Martinez interception. But Miller woke up and NU was powerless to stop him. The sophomore quarterback rushed for 186 yards (11.6 per carry) as the Buckeyes racked up 63 points. It wasn't all Miller either - back Carlos Hyde rumbled for 140 yards and four scores as well. The linebackers weren't solely to blame for the performance, but their efforts played a big role in the blowout loss.
Most memorable moment: Compton's pick six in the bowl game
Already a big underdog, the Huskers quickly fell behind 9-0 against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Things looked grim until Martinez found Jamal Turner for a score. Less than a minute later, Compton picked off Aaron Murray, his first career interception, and took it back 24 yards to give Nebraska the lead. For a player who's had a number of interception opportunities slip through his fingers, it was encouraging to see Compton come through in one of the season's biggest moments.
What the future holds: Time for the young guns to shine
Anderson will return after undergoing ACL surgery this year and a few veterans such as Trevor Roach and Max Pirman could see some spot duty. But the position is expected to be dominated by youth, starting with David Santos, who had 24 tackles this year, including 10 in the Michigan game. He's quick and athletic and seemed to make far fewer mistakes as the year went on. The redshirt freshman trio of Michael Rose, Thomas Brown and Jared Afalava will all get their shots and the coaching staff is excited about their prospects, Brown's in particular. On top of all that, the current recruiting class has three highly-regarded prospects in Josh Banderas, Marcus Newby and Courtney Love. Aside from running back, it's hard to find a position on the team with as much young talent and potential as this one.

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