Not much more can be written and added to the compelling and complexing ongoing storyline of Nebraska's 2012 season. The maddening mistakes, the endless errors, the fearless and furious comebacks, the cool, calm leadership of Taylor Martinez, the guts and grit of the interior lines, the improving, senior-led Blackshirts, and the glimmering light of looming championship aspirations. I'm sure there are an ample amount of twists and turns to the 2012 season to fill a book. But let's not start smelling the roses just yet.
Obstacles still remain, and stories yet to be written. I've been troubled by all the outside talk and discussion regarding Nebraska's potential Rose Bowl opponent. Let's just hold up for a second.
Don't kid yourself. Jerry Kill's Minnesota Gophers are going to come in here and smack Nebraska in the mouth from the initial whistle. They are a reflection of their no-nonsense coach. Hell, they remind me a lot of that team from Ames under a certain coach who is so proud to be their coach. They maybe don't stack up talent wise, but they have grit and no quit. A fumble here, and interception there, and anything can happen.
In addition, another game looms the day after Thanksgiving that will make or break a season.....probably for two teams. And if Nebraska does make it to Indianapolis, ask any coach how difficult it is to beat a team twice in the same year.
Finally, before we get onto the keys, I have two issues to address:
- Bad Calls: Yeah, we've been on the advantageous side of a few calls, most notably the fumble versus Penn State and the pass interference versus Michigan State. But if anyone not wearing green had watched the Michigan State game in its entirety, there's no way in hell you can tell me Nebraska wasn't jobbed on at least two calls, the late hit on Daimion Stafford and two iffy pass interference calls, the former directly resulting in four extra points (a pending field goal opportunity as opposed to the touchdown). As far as Penn State goes, the officials called it right on the field, at least from what it looked like in live action. Was there enough evidence to overturn it? Probably, but with over seven minutes remaining, do you honestly think they would have escaped with a win? One last eff-you on that call: 1982 (hell, that one cost Nebraska a National Championship)
- Injury Excuses: I'm mainly talking to Meeeeeechigan fans. I'm tired of hearing the "what ifs" regarding Denard Robinson. The guy is a difference maker and a stud, but he was getting smacked around pretty good the first quarter and a half, and the Blackshirts had him reigned in for the most part. And the trump card: Rex Burkhead. Rex Burkhead is a sensational player. He's a difference maker himself, and Nebraska has navigated the vast majority of the B1G season without his services. He's a leader and one of the top five players in the conference. Enough with the injury excuses.
Now, on with the keys to beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers:
- Senior Sendoff: We've all heard about (and witnessed) the notorious yearly Nebraska letdowns against an overmatched (on paper) conference opponent the past few years. Cornheads everywhere keep waiting with trepidation on when this anomaly will occur in 2012. As they have done most of the season, the seniors need to lead this team on Saturday. So much is at stake. It's their last home game, senior day, a chance to go undefeated at home for the first season since 2001, a chance to hit the all-significant nine wins (by the way, Vegas had Nebraska at o/u 8.5 wins prior to the season......not that I would know anything about that or have been sweating it out this season or anything), and a chance to remain firmly in control of their own B1G Championship destiny. The seniors need to take nothing for granted and lead the team.
- Grind and Groove: Minnesota has a very solid defense, ranking in the top 10 in pass defense and top 30 in scoring defense. Tim Beck and the Nebraska offense need to find what's working and keep attacking it, much like the toss sweep play last week against Penn State. The Gophers have very good cornerbacks, led by Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter, and they have a dangerous pass rush. If the running game is churning out yards, stick with it and grind it out. If they load the box and start stuffing the run, get the ball to anyone of the play-making wide receivers and tight ends.
- Win 1st Down: This is applicable to both sides of the ball. First, if the Blackshirts can limit the Gophers' first down production, it will be a very long day for true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and their offense. Keep them in second and long and third and long situations, and watch the Blackshirts take control. They have one of the worst offenses in the conference and the nation; stuff them on first down. The Nebraska offense, as they've done most of the year, needs to win first downs in order to utilize the entire playbook and keep Minnesota off balance
- Solid Special Teams: Nebraska should have the advantage in special teams play, with the possible exception of kickoff returns. But the Cornhuskers have been anything but consistent in this phase of the game in 2012. Really what they need to do Saturday is avoid the big mistake, i.e. the fumbled punt or kickoff return, the missed field goals, blocked punts, etc. Nebraska won't need spectacular plays from the special teams unit to emerge victorious, but they will need to avoid the disastrous plays.
- Takeaway the Turnovers: Have I over used this key this year? Yeah, but how can't this be important considering Nebraska's struggles in this department the past few years? The surest way to keep an overmatched opponent in any game is to turn the ball over. It also appears the Blackshirts are becoming more adept at creating takeaways the past few games. This team can be truly outstanding if the Blackshirts continue to come up with big fumbles and interceptions while the offense limits their turnovers. Nebraska can probably win this home game with a minus two turnover ratio, but they can make it a lot easier on themselves by being on the plus side of it.