Coming into this game, Kansas State has lost three straight games and four its last five to teams that many thought did not belonged on the same field as the Cats. Nebraska on the other hand lost to Texas Tech by a basketball score and desperately needs to win to set up next week's Big 12 North showdown against Missouri. K-State will have to win four of its last five games to become bowl-eligible in this disappointing season where many picked the Cats to contend for Big 12 Championship honors again.
Let's go to the scorecard….since 2000, K-State is 3-1 against Nebraska, including last year's 38-9 blowout at Nebraska, the game that likely ensured the firing of Head Coach Frank Solich and parted the Sea of Red.
But this year- this game is not about records alone with BCS aspirations hanging in the balance for either team. There is no Fiesta Bowl bid for the Cats in the wings and under new head Coach Callahan, the Huskers are looking merely to get back on track and contend. This year, the Kansas State v Nebraska game holds a bigger trophy however and that is Pride. One of these teams will walk off the field Saturday a winner and many will point to this game as another rivalry game that will have future implications. Does not matter that this is a down year for both programs. Does not matter that there is no BCS booty at stake.
It is about bragging rights, recruiting, heart and pride. Pride- a funny word that to some does not mean much to some but that is what lay on the table for both programs on Saturday. Do not allow yourself to be fooled into thinking this game is just another game in the North- lost luster or not. Coach Snyder does not want to lose to a rookie coach and I am sure Callahan does not want his predecessors' trend continued.
For the Cats- this game is redemption for the losses to Fresno State and Kansas and a chance to right the ship, become bowl eligible and win a conference game. For Nebraska- it is a chance to set the table for Mizzou, put Texas Tech in their rear view mirror and break a streak.
But let's boil this down to the very most basic terms, this is a Blue Collar Brawl between two programs known for hard work, bring your lunch-pail attitude and when the smoke clears- the team that wanted it the most will walk away the winner.
For the Cats on offense- they must find a way to get Darren Sproles back on track-period. Sometimes addition by subtraction is the best means to and end. This season has seen Darren do everything but carry the water cooler out on the field and although as talented as any running back in the country, Darren cannot carry the Cats on his shoulders alone. The running game is an integral part of the Cats offense and it is mandatory that the passing game come alive early on to alleviate some of the 8 man fronts Darren has faced. Nebraska's strength is stopping the run and this week they will get their chance to shine.
Darren Sproles has 5,832 career all-purpose yards and needs 162 to become the Big 12's all-time leader. Should Darren be able to amass 162 yards, I think it goes without saying that the Cats would win. That is not going to happen though and the passing game MUST make some big plays and move the ball- which it showed it could do against Oklahoma last week. Can KSU pass enough to keep Nebraska's defense honest and allow Darren and the running game back on track? That is the key.
Meier has been nothing but gritty and grew up in the Texas ATM game where he showed he has the sand to stand toe to toe with any defense in the country and deliver the ball under heavy duress. Meier is the leader in the huddle and this Saturday whether he will even play is in question. Should Dylan not be able to go, Coach Snyder will go to fellow sophomore Allen Webb to direct the offense and if worse comes to worse- pull the coveted Red shirt of Nebraska's own son, Allan Evridge. This is not the optimal outlook for a K-State victory and Webb has been shaky this year and Evridge has all of 0 collegiate snaps on his resume. Should Webb be the man on Saturday- one would have to think the Cats chances for a victory took a hit.
For Nebraska QB Joe Dailey was 13-of-20 for a school-record 342 yards and five TDs last week but has also shown he is able to go Canadian cold as well. Sometimes in complete sync with the playbook and at other times he has struggled to hit open receivers in Callahan's wide open fling it down the field offense. The Cats are best on defense shutting down passing offenses and this week they will be pressed. The Cats will have to run nickel and dime and get a rush out of the front four. Heavy duty for a front four that has not been able to provide consistent push all year. If the front four cannot get to Dailey- it could spell a long day.
Nebraska will look to take advantage of match-ups and the Cats will have to substitute and counter with fresh legs in the secondary. Nebraska is most dangerous when it is able to establish its passing game early, spread the field and use the play action pass to set up their run. K-State will see numerous shifting and different formations from the Huskers and the Lynch Mob will have to pick its spots and blitz on occasion.
Sometimes when teams are evenly matched- games will turn on special teams play. This should not prove to be a factor in this game as both teams have struggled on special teams this year.
The Huskers desperately need this win for validation of Callahan's regime and starting footing. Having been routed against Tech, Nebraska fans would not easily overlook a loss to the Cats. There is a rivalry long-standing and a win for Nebraska would mean a good deal of momentum and progress for a team that many see adjusting to a new staff, style and identity within the Big 12 North right now. Nebraska long ruled the roost and their fans want a return.
For the Cats- it is about winning. It is very much all about extended the current streak of wins over the Husker program, bragging rights and footing as a power in the Big 12. Coach Snyder does not want a loss period but even more biting would be a loss on home field to a new regime. Coach Snyder needs to right the ship and this game would be a huge step in the right direction against a heated rival in the Huskers.
The million dollar question is not just whether the Cats can stymie the high powered passing game of the Huskers or whether the Corn can stop Darren in his tracks- both strengths of each team. The million dollar question is who wants this game more, who wants the win bad enough and who is willing to leave it all on the field. This game is gut check time and only one team walks away with the W.