The odds are stacked against Nebraska so much to the point that it's doubtful you'll find a single paid pundit pick the Huskers in this game. If they do, their colleagues might think they're mad.
It's a given that Nebraska will have to play mistake-free football. They can't give up the big play (Virginia Tech), they must minimize turnovers (Iowa State) and they can't afford to have drives killed by silly false starts or holding penalties (too many games this season). There's little margin for error.
To win, Nebraska will require a perfect game in all areas. It can happen, and here's how.
It's imperative that the Huskers to keep Texas off the scoreboard in the first quarter. The Blackshirts could give up a touchdown at, but if Nebraska goes down by two scores, the task will become nearly impossible.
Expect Nebraska's first series to be an experiment to see how Texas is going to line up. It'd be nice if we got a drive going right away, but don't get too worried about initial results. Expect that Texas will want to get on the board right away, although look for short passes from them in the hopes that the Blackshirts will miss tackles. We haven't seen much of that this season, and as long as we're tackling well, we should handle the one-on-one match ups with their receivers. It's time that Texas found out just how well Alfonzo Dennard and Prince Amukamara can cover and Larry "Assasin" Asante can hit.
Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick must get going early. Texas will double-team Suh, single Crick and hope to run their zone read plays with that combination. If Suh and Crick can occupy space in the middle with an upfield surge (not an all out rush), while Barry Turner and Pierre Allen contain the edges, the Huskers can negate the zone read. If Crick can play well enough to demand a double-team, getting to the edge will be that much more difficult. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis will take time to adjust his offensive scheme, and with each series failure, the Huskers confidence will grow.
- One On One Excellence
Any offense looks for the match up to get their best player in a one-on-one situation. Defense counters by doubling that player, and by default that leaves an offensive player to be accounted for. Texas has too many weapons on offense for Nebraska to double any one player. Take McCoy out of the zone read, and Tre Newton or Fozzy Whittaker will burn you. Double-team Jordan Shipley and you take your chances with James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams.
Move that concept to a defensive zones and the thought remains the same. The game will be a chess match of Texas trying to maneuver their receivers into a one-on-one situation in the hopes that the Blackshirts miss a play. That is the biggest key to this game - defenders consistently making plays in one-on-one situations. A single missed tackle or assignment in a low-scoring game means you lose.
- Bore America To Death
Americans hate games that end 10-3, or 16-13. There just isn't enough scoring. You could chalk it up to the need for constant excitement, but whatever it is, Husker fans have to hope most of American is bored by watching this game. If it turns into a track meet, it's going to be a one-sided affair in favor of the Longhorns.
Don't expect many gimmicks in this game. The Huskers are not going to go to a no-huddle. They're not going to try to spread out the Texas defense and run the zone read as a core part of their offense. Fans will see the same approach the Huskers have used throughout their winning streak - a conservative offense that tries to pick up first downs on the ground and takes occasional shots down the field.
The long shots are the key to offensive success. Niles Paul has been the recipient of most of the long balls, while tight end Mike McNeill has largely gone unnoticed this season. McNeill has the speed and game awareness to pull in the big play - and his lack of production may leave him ignored by the Texas defense when it counts the most.
- No Fear
Quarterback Zac Lee has had problems when running zone read and option plays. He hasn't held the ball long enough to make the unblocked defender commit, a key to making those kinds of plays work properly. Lee must play this game fearlessly. If he's not a threat to run the ball when it's called for, he's given the defense a huge edge. Example - if Lee runs an option pass, the defense won't respect his feet enough to not cover his receivers.
Having no fear doesn't mean that Shawn Watson whips open his whole bag of tricks to see what might fool the Texas defense. It means he must commit to the running game, even if it isn't working early. The downfield shots will only work if the Huskers can establish something on the ground with Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.
Before this season started, Husker fans heard plenty of rumors about Ricky Henry's "fiery nature" and Jacob Hickman's longevity. Put Tyler Legate at fullback behind them, and smash that ball right into the center of the Longhorn defense.
The Huskers don't need an offensive explosion, but an implosion will kill any hope this team has of winning.
- Special Teams Convergence
Alex Henery had a 76 yard punt against Virginia Tech. He leads the Big 12 in punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Niles Paul has had some big special teams plays, including his punt return against Colorado. Adi Kunalic can negate any chance of a kick return with his touchbacks. Ndamukong Suh and his counterparts have the ability to block kicks. Add to these the fact that Nebraska's special teams haven't given up a touchdown yet this season.
Bring great special teams plays all together in one game and we've got a shot.
- Leave It All On The Field "Bo's Way"
The Texas A&M game didn't tell us as much about the ‘Horns defense as we think. Turn the table and ask yourself if the Colorado game was an example of how well the Blackshirts have played, then look again at the Longhorns' performance. Chalk both teams poor performance up to a short week and lack of incentive. Add to that that we're coming down to the end of the season - both teams had to be a little exhausted.
The teams have had over a week off, which has given time them time to heal and rest. That's good news, especially for the Blackshirt defense that's had to carry a heavy load this season. They've seen more plays than any other top 25 defense in the nation, and they'll see it again in this game.
Husker fans have seen Ndamukong Suh take over a game. He'll have to do it again, early and keep making plays throughout the entire game. His brothers-in-arms will have do the same. The effort must be solid on every play. Double the effort for the offense, particularly on the line.
Bo Pelini has taken a group of players who were left for dead two years ago and gotten them to a shot at the Big 12 title and a BCS Bowl. It wasn't just the genius of understanding defense that got them this far. It happened because Pelini demands consistency of effort, settling for nothing less. It's "Bo's Way".
It's time to see how his team responds when not many believe they can be champions.