The last game of the regular season and that means the showdown with the Colorado Buffaloes. The last two years have not been kind to the Huskers, two years ago being a complete disaster, NU giving up a record 62 points. At this point of the season, this goes beyond payback, this goes beyond redemption. This time, it's about identity and the fact that Nebraska hasn't had one this year. You'll find out what Nebraska is really all about today.
It would seem that everything that could be wrong about this game is when it comes to the Frank Solich coached Huskers. About the only thing it doesn't have to jinx NU completely is the fact that Colorado is not a ranked team.
Colorado hasn't had a great year, going just 5-6 on the year, but they picked the right time to peak and are now only one win away from making it to a bowl game.
That's plenty to play for, for them, but what Nebraska has to play for could be infinitely different and even more important in the end.
You see, Colorado has had NU's number the last two years. They had more than that two years ago. CU could be unranked and winless and somehow, some way they would manage to give NU a game or such is what the numbers tell you about even those Nebraska victories before CU went on their two-game run.
And to get this monkey off their back or in this case, Buffalo, Nebraska has to do something they don't do well under coach, Frank Solich, win on the road. Against ranked or unranked teams, the Huskers have gotten steadily worse on the road as Solich's tenure has endured. To Solich's defense this year though, what has hampered them on the road has been the bane of their existence all year.
Offense, or lack thereof.
A woefully inadequate passing game coupled with an offensive line that because of the level of competition, health and reality has shown itself to be a heavy measure under any great NU lines of old. They are by any Nebraska standard, average....at best.
The health issue has only made it worse as starting right guard, Jake Andersen is relegated to back-up, nursing a toe injury amongst others. Yes, he has the heart of a lion, but his body is beat up, almost symbolic of the entire line, many having played through one thing or another most of the year.
That line will be facing a stout defense in Colorado that Gary Barnett during the pre-season called his best ever. Obviously, that little analysis didn't bear much fruit as CU was stymied, beaten and even humiliated in the early going.
Of course, CU is peaking now, taking the mighty Sooners closer than anyone to a loss, save the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Plus, they beat Missouri. The ‘Buffs seem to be peaking as usual and right about now, Nebraska is doing anything but.
Coming off a pasting at the hands of the Kansas State Wildcats at home, there's probably not a lot of confidence as they head to Boulder. It's on the road, the Buffs are playing well on both sides of the ball and Nebraska's offense hasn't gotten any better.
As to NU's defense, they have been solid right up until they lose it out of fatigue and of course, giving up the occasional big play due to their aggressive nature.
It will come down to NU's offensive line though. If they win the battle, NU wins the war, but CU has a little something for them.
CU uses a four-man front, big from end to end, but what Colorado also uses to at times basically make their alignment a 6-man front are the two linebackers, Sean Tufts and Walter Boye-Doe. They can get away with this because Tufts is 245 lbs. and Boye-Doe is over 230, making CU's defensive front possibly the biggest and most physical NU has played against this year.
In the secondary, the Buffs employ 3 safeties (Weak, Free, Strong) and two cornerbacks, none of the starting group even hitting two-hundred pounds. Some are sure-tacklers, but this is a game that will be decided by NU's offense at the point of impact and beyond. What yards on the ground Nebraska can get after contact will determine their overall success for this game and how much or little they have to rely on the pass.
On offense, Colorado has Joel Klatt, just a sophomore but at times this season, has shown why he's got that starting spot in the first place. In their last game against Iowa State, Klatt was 21-27 and in the game before that against Mizzou, 19-25, so you can see just some of why he's the man at the helm for CU. In those two games, Klatt threw for 4 touchdowns to only 1 interception.
There is one aspect to Klatt that does give NU a distinct advantage on defense however. NU is not the greatest at getting sacks, but CU isn't good at stopping people from getting them. On the year, the Buff line has given up 37 sacks. Just to give you some perspective, the NU line that has become fairly maligned for the pressure it's allowed on Jammal Lord, the Nebraska line has given up just 17 sacks on the year.
Yes, I know, Lord is a great running QB and Klatt isn't, but that's the reason why NU has an edge at least in this category. Drop-back passers this year have had little to no success against the NU blitz and you can expect plenty of that during today's early contest.
There is an X-factor to this game and it favors Colorado. That X-factor is of course, Jeremy Bloom. Marvelous speed, scintillating moves, Bloom comprises all the positive facets of a true playmaker, no matter where he lines up on the field. And Bloom will be lining up as the starting kick returner, starting punt returner and you will see him in some passing situations at the "Z" position for the wideouts. Making the X-factor a non-factor will be key for Jeff Jamrog's special teams today.
To be honest, there's a lot of reasons why NU should win this game today. While I still doubt that the Nebraska offense can sustain much of anything in the way of drives or a consistent passing-attack, the opportunities are there for the defense to do what they do best, create turnovers. Turnovers that could give NU a short enough field that the offense can capitalize and put some points on the board.
Contain Brian Calhoun, don't let Klatt sit back in the pocket and of course, blitz, blitz, blitz.
Believe it or not, that could come down to the winning formula for Nebraska and if the offense can put just a few drives together, Nebraska should be sitting pretty good.
Yes, there's a however and it would seem that when you talk about Nebraska and winning in the same sentence, there's a bevy of "IFS" involved. ‘IFS', that NU hasn't been able to get over in the biggest games of the year. Well, this is the biggest game of the year for them, the last game of the regular-season. They could notch the 9th win, a total that up until last year, the Huskers could get in their sleep.
If Jammal Lord doesn't make this big mental mistakes. If the offensive line can just sustain a few drives here and there. If the turnovers are minimal for them and maximum for the Buffs, well, if, if and more ifs.
Too many in fact.
CU is a good team right now, despite what their record shows. That means NU is facing a good team and it's on the road. We'll call that the Solich-factor and his recent inability to win just those types of games, but to his defense, his team hasn't helped much in diminishing the away-from-home-stigma.
An average offensive line + a passing attack prone to self-destruction and a defense that can't last if they are on the field all day. That adds up to another loss for NU.
It's sad to say, it really is. This is a very winnable game for the Huskers. What it will take is consistency though, not something the Nebraska team is notorious for on offense, at least in the stats that are most positive in ensuring a victory.
Another heartbreaker, another loss for NU and only the second time in the history of this series with the Buffaloes that NU has lost three straight, that last being in the mid 50s.
Colorado pulls away late and beats Nebraska, 34-17.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619