Nebraska has been in a funk so to speak. While they have the ability to score points in bunches with their backs against the wall they have forgotten that it was their sloppy play that put their backs to the wall. The Huskers need to break out of that funk with a clean game on Saturday which leads me into my keys to a Nebraska victory:
1. Start fast - Nebraska needs to learn how to start playing football earlier on in the football game. Nebraska has only had the lead one time this season going into half during conference play. That lead was one point against Michigan at home (Nebraska was tied with Michigan State). The Huskers start slow and finish fast. As Nebraska is finishing the game it's clear that there is a lot still left in the tank. Nebraska needs to be more aware of a need to sell out a little bit more in the first half, when it comes to the play-calling, limit the mistakes and put up some points. The Huskers, if they plan on doing more than just playing for a conference title (cough, cough…winning a conference title) will not be able to fall behind Wisconsin in the conference title game. Start playing that way now.
2. Stay healthy - I have been preaching it now for three weeks. Nebraska has been in some very tough games the past month and a half or so. The Big Ten is full of big, physical teams that will line up and beat up on you. There is a need by Nebraska to preserve the health that they have, particularly at the running back position. Ameer Abdullah had 31 rushing attempts against Penn State. I kept thinking about the Michigan State game last year and how rundown Rex Burkhead seemed to be in the weeks that followed that game. There isn't a need to empty the tank like that. I realize that Rex isn't there. Heck, Braylon Heard might not even be there. But there is Imani Cross and you can throw the football. There are also a few fullbacks that can run the football a little bit. And I think that Nebraska has a mobile quarterback too.
3. Make Minnesota one-dimensional - If I were preparing to play Minnesota I would want to take away something that Minnesota does, kinda like Nebraska against Florida in the Fiesta Bowl years ago, and I think that Nebraska wants to make Minnesota throw the football. The offense plays into this somewhat. Nebraska must put Minnesota in a situation to put up points. When that happens you want a team that likes to run the football, 50 rushing attempts last game to just 15 passing attempts, to have to throw the football. In 15 passing attempts Minnesota allowed two sacks. The offensive line is also banged up, Minnesota is down to a third string center, and Nebraska has the sack leader in the conference in Eric Martin. Stopping the run isn't something that Nebraska has been particularly good at all year, but expect a bigger effort based on Minnesota's offensive tendencies.
This season hasn't been pretty for Nebraska. Come from behind victories. Turnovers. Penalties. Poor tackling. Undisciplined play as a whole. It's not how Nebraska might have drawn up getting to the conference championship game, but the table is set and they might as well run it.
A phrase I heard one time in the Army fits so perfectly with Nebraska's football season and how this has set up for them. That phrase? "If the shoe fits, steal it."
Nebraska has more than an opportunity to play for their first Big Ten championship. They have a chance to send Tom Osborne out a winner. They have a chance to go undefeated at home for the first time in 11 years.
I was at the Washington game in Lincoln in 1991. A stunned crowd left Memorial Stadium that night after Nebraska fell to the Huskies, 21-36. Nebraska didn't lose again at home until 1998 against Texas, 16-20. Sadly I was at that game too.
For some reassurance to the Nebraska faithful or the superstitious Nebraska fans, I am not in Lincoln this weekend. And if I was it wouldn't change the fact that I like Nebraska to beat Minnesota and be one game away from playing for a Big Ten title, 41-20.