UW Football Scrimmage

The opposing Wyoming lines scrimmage during practice on Friday, April 5, 2013 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie. The Cowboys' offense and defense squared off for a short scrimmage during the second half of their fifth spring practice. (Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune)

Chris Tormey doesn't see many easy solutions, only different ways of getting beat.

On Monday afternoon, Wyoming's second-year defensive coordinator outlined the difficulties in trying to slow down the Nebraska running game. Key in on one facet, he said, and you'll become vulnerable somewhere else.

The phrase "pick your poison" immediately came to mind.

"There are a lot of quarterback designed runs, so you always have to have an extra player responsible for [Nebraska quarterback Taylor] Martinez," Tormey said. "But what that does is it leaves you thin inside for the power run game. They just spread you out so many ways."

Not only can the Huskers present a variety of looks, but each option features a proven contributor. Martinez, heading into his fourth year leading the Nebraska attack, is explosive in open space and ran for a career-best 1,019 yards last season.

Junior running back Ameer Abdullah also returns, a year after he powered his way to 1,137 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry. He's plenty familiar with the big boys clearing his way, as Nebraska brings back four of five starters from an offensive line that helped the Huskers finish eighth in the country in rush yards per game (253.4) in 2012.

“I’ve been saying it since Big Ten Media day, I think this is going to be one of Nebraska’s best offensive lines we’ve ever had," Martinez said on Monday. "They are going to be the strong point of our offense. There are so many good players up there and strong guys who have played in big games, and I’m excited to see how they do.”

Significantly overwhelmed? Good. You should be.

Now, consider that the Wyoming defensive line enters this season having lost its premier interior contributors, Mike Purcell and Kurt Taufa'asau. And even with those two, the Cowboys allowed a putrid 232.3 rush yards per game in 2012, one of the worst marks in the country.

Clearly, Saturday's game can go one of two ways. Either it'll be Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed, and the Wyoming defensive line will use effort and technique to surprise the heavy favorite, or it'll be Appolo vs. Just About Every Guy He Beat Down Before Rocky.

The key, Tormey said, is starting with the little things a defensive lineman needs to do to have success.

"We’ve got to start at square one, with recognizing formations and getting lined up correctly in our proper gaps," Tormey said. "Our goal is to get lined up, take care of our responsibilities, play hard, make our share of plays and make them beat us.”

Senior defensive captain Patrick Mertens said that while this year's line may lack the size and experience of Nebraska's offensive bulldozers, it can make up for its flaws with technique and execution. If they play the way they've been taught, Mertens added, size won't matter.

“It’s all about pad level and technique. If you have those two things, it doesn’t really matter how big the guy is across from you," Mertens said. "That’s what you try to work on.”

With the preseason behind them, the time for preparation is over. When the first ball is snapped Saturday night, Mertens, redshirt freshman Uso Olive, senior Justin Bernthaler and sophomore Eddie Yarbrough are going to be pushed.

Against one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the country, it will be up to the Cowboys' front line to push back.

"You have to strike and get off blocks. It’s going to be a challenge, no question about it," Tormey said. "But I think our guys are excited about it.”

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Reach reporter Mike Vorel at Mike.Vorel@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeVorel.


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