Huskers take on Jayhawks

Last week wasn't pretty for Nebraska, but it was a win. Nebraska flirted with disaster though by putting the ball on the turf five times and losing two of them. This weekend's game needs to be a better one to get the win and to also get back to playing a more disciplined, cleaner game of football. Better play on the field starts on Saturday when Nebraska plays Kansas in Lincoln.

If anyone wondered how valuable Eric Hagg was to the defense has their evidence now. An athletic play by Hagg last weekend on the interception of the fake PAT against Iowa State is so far the play of the year for the Huskers. That wasn't even Hagg's guy, but he was able to make a play on that pass.

Not only did Nebraska pull in the lead, but the Huskers now enjoy a game lead with the tie-breaker. While Nebraska's path back to Dallas seems to be in place there are still some important games that need to be played before the Huskers invade Jerry Jones Land again this December and it starts with Kansas.

Kansas is coming off of a big win against Colorado that ultimately led to the firing of Dan Hawkins. Kansas, down 35-10 at half, came back to beat Colorado 52-45 last weekend. This is the same Kansas team that could only muster up three points against North Dakota State the first game of the season.

And it's been said that the Nebraska season has been Jekyll and Hyde to some extent? After losing to North Dakota State to start the season the Jayhawks came back to host a nationally rated Georgia Tech team the next weekend and beat them in Lawrence, 28-25.

It's been a season of ups and downs for Kansas, but there could possibly be no peak greater for the Jayhawks if they were to come into Lincoln on Saturday and beat Nebraska. The Huskers will have to clean up their game and not beat themselves like they almost did last weekend in Ames. Here is what I am looking for on Saturday.

Three storylines:

1. Who will be the quarterback? - This could be interesting because there are at least four quarterbacks now that through either the coach's words and rumor are getting some serious reps in practice and there are at least two that seem to be banged up. The injuries are to Taylor Martinez who may or may not be able to go and to Zac Lee who is sounds like could play, but that seems an awful lot like Martinez last week in Ames. Then there is Cody Green who could have got banged up a bit in Ames last week because all of the sudden Ron Kellogg is supposedly getting reps. Should be interesting. What might be more interesting is if there isn't an answer among the four or there is another injury how far is LaTravis Washington or true freshman Brion Carnes from seeing the field?

2. Turner Gill returns to Lincoln - I don't know about you, but there seemed to be an awful lot of downplaying by both sides on this particular story line. Personally, the first time I saw greatness in the option game in my lifetime was with Turner Gill under center. Gill is a name and face that I will always equate to Nebraska. When you see him in anything other than red it just doesn't look right at least through my eyes. Still, I really respect the success that he has had away from Nebraska, particularly at Buffalo, and I am thankful that Nebraska will only play against him once before going to the Big 10.

3. Tighten it up - Nebraska could have lost the game last weekend in Ames and then again could have also played a much cleaner more disciplined game as well. The Huskers fumbled the ball five times and lost two of them. One of them was on a kickoff return by Niles Paul when he fielded the ball around four yards deep in the end zone, decided to bring it out only to fumble on the 13 yard line. There was a serious lack of discipline last weekend and you hope that one of the things that was drilled into the players this week was about doing what you are expected to do and stay inside the game plan. The Huskers don't need their best game to beat Kansas, but it can't afford its worse either.

Key matchups/players:

1. Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead - This weekend will again be about getting the running game going because of the questions at the quarterback position. It's likely that Nebraska is going to start one of Martinez or Green, in my opinion, but it's also likely that neither one of them are 100% if I am reading the tea leaves correctly. That means that pressure needs to be taken off of that position by being effective in the running game. The Huskers have a solid 1-2 punch with Helu and Burkhead, who both seem to be very healthy, and you could probably see a steady diet of wildcat again with Burkhead. The Huskers still have the #6 running game in the nation, a lot of that has been built with Martinez in the backfield, but Helu is #17 in the nation in rushing and Burkhead is #85 (Martinez is still #22).

2. James Sims vs. Nebraska's rush defense- Sims is a name that I have been familiar with for some time in the Dallas area. An Irving MacArthur graduate, Sims was actually the district sophomore of the year. Sims is #70 nationally in rushing with 558 yards on 121 carries for a 4.61 yard average and has scored seven touchdowns. Now, the Huskers have faced some better backs this year already, but Sims is hitting his stride a bit. Last weekend against Colorado he had 20 rushes for 123 yards, averaging just over six yards per carry, and scored four touchdowns. Kansas also should some tremendous resiliency in coming back against Colorado. KU was down 35-10 at half and came back to win 52-45. If you had to credit a person for the win, or the second half effort, Sims would get a look. He scored all of his touchdowns in the second half.

3. Nebraska's OL/Kansas DL - This is where Nebraska needs to win today and the numbers are definitely in their favor. Kansas comes to Lincoln rated #108 out of 120 against the rush. The Jayhawks are allowing nearly 203 yards per game and over five yards per carry average. The Huskers with the #6 rushing attack average a shade over 288 yards per game and are gaining over 6 yards per rush by average. The Huskers have made pretty bad rush defenses, like Washington and Kansas State, look even worse. Kansas brings one of the worst rushing defenses to Lincoln and that should allow the Huskers to really run over them, eat up the clock and score some points.

The way that I see this game isn't a lot different than I saw Iowa State. There were some questions about who was going to be playing at quarterback for Nebraska, but the plan should have been the same. The plan should be run the football with a steady diet of Helu and Burkhead and then look to use the pass to loosen up the defense as they begin to fill the box with more and more bodies.

Nebraska did a decent job against a tuned up Iowa State team in Ames last week by rushing for 250 yards, but it was the errors that killed Nebraska. And I said it last week, I have mentioned it here today, but it needs to be mentioned again; the Huskers can not become their own worst enemy this weekend. The name of the game is ball control and not turning it over. That means a limited number of passing attempts, the Huskers only threw it 12 times last weekend, and not fumbling the ball.

And when it comes to the passing game, it just needs to be a threat. Any team that puts Nebraska on will see the running game, but if they overlook players like Kyler Reed, Brandon Kinnie, Niles Paul, Ben Cotton and Mike McNeil then they are going to be sorry. The Huskers have the ability through some creative play calling of getting these guys open. If Nebraska can just be effective in the passing game with the steady diet of the run game then this game could get ugly, regardless of who is at quarterback for Nebraska. I will take the Huskers, at home this weekend, to beat Kansas to the tune of 37-17.


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