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Carriker Chronicles: Nebraska vs UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl

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Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

THE CARRIKER CHRONICLES

I predict a Nebraska bowl game victory. 5 keys to the Huskers success!

1- Incoming freshman Patrick O'Brien is going to challenge Tommy Armstrong for the starting quarterback job, beginning with spring practice. But first, I want to see Tommy Armstrong, a junior captain who has started for nearly three seasons, play smarter than a freshman. I want to see him make better decisions and lead his team, in a way only an experienced player can.

Armstrong's skill set and what he can do is different than UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen's skills, much like Armstrong's abilities are different than O'Brien's. But if we're going to upset UCLA and win this bowl like I believe we can, we need our quarterback to show why a veteran player should have an advantage over a much younger player. With O'Brien, I have very tempered expectations because he will be just a true freshman and is still unproven. In this bowl game, however, we already know Rosen is a good player. But we need Armstrong to be the smarter player who leads his team to victory, as opposed to making questionable decisions that negatively affect his team's ability to win the game, similar to the end of the Illinois and Iowa games.

I'm still a fan of Armstrong; I believe he can lead this team and I think he's motivated. We know he has heart and toughness, now I'd like to see him show Husker Nation that he is the man to lead this team next year, beginning with this bowl game and then moving forward.

2- We're playing a finesse coast team that has speed and a lot of NFL talent but can be worn down by the fourth quarter. We need to run the football to start the game, keep running the ball throughout the game, and then close it out with a good old-fashioned, smash-mouth victory in the fourth quarter. Does this formula for victory sound familiar to anyone else?

The coaches tend to start out games running the ball a lot. Then as the game goes along and the plays get more difficult to call, they fall back into what they're used to doing and start throwing the ball a lot more. That is not necessarily this team's strength, which I believe is running the football.

If we end up throwing the ball 45 times, we'll be in trouble. I believe we need to run the ball around 60 percent of the time. Imani Cross isn't going to break a lot of 50-yard runs, but he will get you almost five yards a pop on a consistent basis. That's almost half a first down every time he totes the rock. We have one of the highest yards-per-carry average of any team in the entire nation. Add in Tommy Armstrong's ability to run, and I believe we should see more tongues touching the stadium turf in San Fransisco than we saw in Miami in 1994 (Hi Warren Sapp).

3- The Blackshirts have played pretty good recently. Since the Purdue game, which I believe was their turning point, they have represented the skull and crossbones with pride. In order to win this game they're going to have to step it up even more.

The key to this game for our defense will be getting after UCLA's young freshman quarterback and forcing turnovers. If we can bruise and bloody their young signal caller, that will rattle the young man. The Blackshirts haven't been consistently successful this year at forcing the opposition into costly mistakes/turnovers, but every bonus possession we can get in this game, will severely increase our chances of a victory.

The Blackshirts have played better as of late, but they're going to have to step it up in this bowl game, something I know they have the talent and ability to do.

4- We are no longer the most penalized team in the nation. But penalties and turnovers have been two of our biggest Achilles heels this season. We have a tendency to shoot ourselves in the foot; otherwise, I believe our win/loss record could be very different.

Whether you agree with the "targeting" call on Nate Gerry (and I still don't) or not, the fact is it had a huge impact on the outcome of the Iowa game. A key personal foul penalty at the end of the Miami game severely halted our chances of completing an incredible comeback.

Illinois, Iowa and Miami are three games off the top of my head that could have turned out differently if we had been a little more disciplined. I hear people say "we just don't have the players." I disagree. Right now, we just don't have the discipline. That's something that can be improved upon, and hopefully will be better going forward. If we play disciplined football against UCLA, I not only believe we can win, I believe we will win.

5- Motivation. Bowl games are all about motivation. There isn't a team we played this year that blew us out (even the final Purdue score was closer than the game seemed). Nebraska also doesn't seem to blow teams out very much this year either. The Huskers tend to play to the level of their competition. I believe this will be a close game; in fact, the spread is about 5.5 points. For an 8-4 team playing a 5-7 team, that's a close spread.

In the fourth quarter when the game is close, I believe the deciding factor will be motivation. We should be extremely grateful to be in a bowl game and motivated to show the so-called experts who called us, and I quote, "An embarrassment to be in a bowl game," that Nebraska football still has a lot of pride.

Meanwhile, I'm sure UCLA is excited to be playing Nebraska, but not to be staying so close to home and playing a 5-7 team. Whether you believe the experts are right or not, it should be extremely motivating for the Huskers, but not very motivating for the Bruins.

I read where Tommy Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp were watching all the games that would decide their bowl game fate on TV, the day after the Iowa game. That shows me the team feels they have a lot to prove. I might be a crazy, a homer (I'm usually pretty unbiased) or whatever you'd like to label me. But I picked Nebraska to win in my family Bowl Mania pool, and I don't lose, especially not to family, so you know I must be pretty darn serious. But no matter what happens, I will always sport my Husker pride!

6- Last but definitely not least, I'd like to congratulate the Nebraska volleyball team on winning the national championship on Saturday night! I watched them this season, and their run throughout the NCAA tournament was incredibly impressive. The best part is, most of them will be back again next year. Congratulations, Lady Huskers on a phenomenal season.
Merry Christmas and Go Big Red Husker Nation!