Nebraska's defense is third in the nation against the run with All-America candidate Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick stuffing the middle. The Wildcats should find themselves unable to sustain long drives without striking some offensive balance. Quarterback Grant Gregory is not a dual-threat type guy, but he is elusive and can scramble well enough to buy time when passing. At least that's been the case against other teams. Gregory will find himself in a different situation running from the speed that is the Husker defensive line.
- Strength vs Strength
Kansas State's primary offensive strength in their running game. They lead the nation in time of possession and they're accustomed to slugging it out, sustaining drives and maintaining ball possession. 25 of their 42 scoring drives this season have gone for over 50 yards, and 12 of those consisted of ten or more plays.
Running back Daniel Thomas is of the big bruiser variety, at 6'2", 227 pounds. He's complemented by Keithen Valentine who has more speed and moves than Thomas, but at 5'8" and 193 pounds, doesn't have his size. Bill Snyder will pound Thomas at the Husker defense repeatedly, hoping that something will break. Thomas has had five 100-yard games this season, his high of 185 yards coming against in-state rival Kansas when he averaged 7.71 yards per carry. Thomas is a receiving threat as well, with 21 receptions for 206 yards.
Kansas State will find their offensive strength negated by the Blackshirt defense. They'll play conservative, preferring to keep the score low, stay in the game and hope that the Huskers make mistakes that give them a short field. Even then, the Wildcats will have to rely on their....
- Play Maker
The Wildcats primary playmaker is 5' 7", 150 pound Brandon Banks. Banks is very similar to Darren Sproles who's in his fifth year in the NFL, and at 5' 6" is the shortest player in the league. Banks has Sproles primary super power - amazing speed. Banks leads the NCAA with four touchdowns in kick returning. Adi Kunalic should negate at least some of Banks' returns with touchbacks, although his kicks might be affected by the wind normally prevalent at this time of year.
Kansas State will be dependent upon a big play from Banks to win this game. He is the only true game-breaking weapon the Wildcats have. He is the Wildcats leading receiver with 51 receptions for 657 yards and one touchdown, and they will run reverses with him to get him to the edge of the field. If Husker special teams can cover returnable kicks and keep Banks in front of them, the Wildcats will find themselves in serious trouble. Especially if they don't get a.....
- Fast Start
The recipe for disaster for KSU includes having to play from being behind by two scores because that situation doesn't play to their basic strengths (see sustained drives, above). Most teams will defer the kickoff to the second half, but don't expect that to be the case with Bill Snyder if there is a strong wind Saturday night. He'll want to go into the wind and see if Banks can return one of Kunalic's kicks early in the game.
Bill Snyder made an excellent hire in Assistant Head Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning. Koenning came from Clemson after they chose Dabo Swinney as head coach. Koenning's Clemson defenses finished in the top 25 in several defensive categories in each of his four years with the Tigers. Koenning will have his defense stacking against the run, hoping to minimize Nebraska's first down plays, thus forcing them into throwing on third down. That will increase the chances for the Wildcats to pick up a turnover or two. However, Koenning's efforts should go to naught as the Huskers finally have....
- An Offense Found
The Wildcats' 2008 defense was hideous, comparable to the 2007 Husker defense in Bill Callahan's final year as head coach. They've made a great leap forward this season under Koenning, but are still having problems with pass defense. The Wildcats three top tacklers are in the secondary with free safety Emmanuel Lamur leading the way with 61 tackles. Lamur is an all-around talent, blocking two kicks this season, including one against Iowa State with :32 left to give the Wildcats a one-point win. Cornerback Joshua Moore is the second leading tackler with 57 total tackles.
If KSU has a defensive star in the making, it's in safety Tysyn Hartman, who's third in total tackles, has four interceptions, a forced fumble, and six pass breakups. Hartman is the Wildcats second punt returner behind Banks with a 13.1 yard average.
The Kansas game saw a Husker offense finally come together with big plays from Zac Lee, Roy Helu and Niles Paul. Expect the same type of game plan this week, with the Huskers seeking to establish a strong running game early then loosen up the defense with play-action passes to Niles Paul, Mike McNeill or one of the other Husker tight ends. The key will be consistency, some of the same things I talked about earlier this season - minimizing negative plays, protecting the ball and sustaining drives by picking up short third down situations. The offensive line should be able to break Helu into the second level, at which case it'll be a great night for the Husker offense.
If the Huskers can minimize turnovers, pick up third downs, and get a lead, they should keep it because of it'll be.....
- An Emotional Night With Both Teams Playing For High Stakes
The Big 12 North title is on the line for both teams. A bowl trip is on the line for Kansas State as they played two FCS opponents earlier in the season and can count only one towards bowl eligibility. All of the aforementioned will be trumped by the fact that it's Senior Night at Nebraska and you know that the Huskers will be pumped high with emotion.
The emotion of this game will keep the Huskers from falling into the same trap that nearly cost Oklahoma a game against the Wildcats. The Sooners got off to a 28-6 lead in the first half, then relaxed as KSU scored 17 unanswered points. The Sooners looked to put Kansas State away, taking a 35-23 lead in the fourth quarter, but KSU answered when Banks returned a touchdown to cut the Sooner lead to 35-30. The Sooners won, 42-30, but the Wildcats didn't quit and make Oklahoma earn their victory.
Expect none of that Saturday night. There will be no let up in the Blackshirts. Expect Crick and Suh to dominate the Wildcat offensive line. Expect the Huskers to take a healthy lead and hold it. Expect Nebraska to win the Big 12 North.