Finally, the season begins tomorrow. Seems like a forever ago when we were watching Clemson get more and more frustrated as the Blackshirt defense shut down them in the second half of the Gator Bowl.
Husker players have to be anxious to pound on someone else and the Florida Atlantic Owls are a perfect opponent to start the season. They're from Florida, the hotbed of talent, and any time you can crush a Florida team it's a good thing. Forget that they burned a giant "N" to get ready for the season, and one of their players has stated that they'll win - this is normal pre-game "get yourself fired up" stuff that we make too much about.
Note that none of the keys to tomorrow's game are centered around Zac Lee. Over the season, Lee may become the playmaker Husker fans are looking for, but the only important thing for him in his first game is to run the offense and let the rest of his team carry most of the load.
It's become a mantra in the offseason - new quarterback, unproven receivers, establish the running game. The opponent is coming in with a weak defensive line, so it's a perfect opportunity to start the season establishing consistency in the running game. That starts by being physically dominant on offense with the offensive line. The unit must grow together before they go on the road to face one of the best defensive lines in the nation at Blacksburg, so they need to get started early.
Tell-tale sign - if Nebraska doesn't have at least one back over 100 yards and another close, then there'd better be a wide distribution of carries.
Florida Atlantic can't run the ball at us, and they can't rely on a five-step drop passing game. It'd be a safe bet you're going to see a fair number of misdirection plays, screens and draws - anything to keep Nebraska's defense off-balance and guessing.
The Huskers have two redshirt freshmen starting at linebacker. Coming out in front of 80,000+ for the first time, they'll be nervous, but want to show they're capable of making plays. What they'll need to do is stay disciplined, play their assignments and let the rest take care of itself.
Discipline means being where you're supposed to be all of the time. Last season the secondary suffered frequent break downs in assignments. Anyone else get the feeling that won't be tolerated from the beginning this year?
Start the Stats Counter Early
For the past two seasons, Husker fans have feasted on offensive statistics - the yardage that Joe Ganz racked up in his relatively short time as a starter; Nate Swift breaking the all-time reception record; Nebraska being consistently in the top rank for offensive production. Those statistics were generated when the defense struggled and the offense was forced to carry the team. That should no longer be the case.
The Owls offensive line should be eaten alive by the Huskers, perhaps swallowed whole. Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen, and Barry Turner should end up with a number of sacks and/or hurries. Both of those will lead to the key defensive statistic - turnovers.
If Nebraska is going to win the Big 12 North, turnover margin will be a key factor in their success. Taking away the ball early in the season will allow it to become second nature later in the season, against conference foes when we need it.