Only once this season has Nebraska managed to put wins together back to back. The challenge in duplicating that feat and on the road might not seem daunting at first, their opponent one of the worst in regards to offensive output.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, their offense hasn't exactly wowed the crowds, averaging less than 20 points a game against fellow Northern division foes.
The story here will be defense and for Nebraska, that's been a sore spot over the last few weeks with only a couple of exceptions. The good news though, is that one of those exceptions was their most recent game against the Missouri Tigers. Allowing only 3 points, the lowest point-total allowed by the "blackshirts" this year, people saw what they perceived to be a revitalized group of defenders.
"That's the way we know we can play every week." Linebacker, Chad Sievers said. "You go out there like crazed dogs, fly around the field and just make plays. The most frustrating part has been not being able to do that on a consistent basis."
Sievers hearkens back to the Kansas State game, somewhat reluctantly as he recalls a pasting at the hands of an offense that they knew they would see. Sievers then laments over the most embarrassing loss in school history as NU gave up 70 to the Red Raiders. For a Senior that came to Nebraska from New Mexico State with hopes of conference and possibly national titles, this wasn't quite the season he had envisioned.
"When you lose, it stinks." He said. "When you lose like that, it's embarrassing. We have to live with the fact that it was us that let that happen. The only way you can even try to make that look even a little better is to finish the season off well."
"That's what we started to do against Missouri, but that doesn't mean anything unless you do it next week, the week after that and just finish the year of strong."
The challenge that Iowa State represents for the Huskers is one that on paper doesn't look all that foreboding. Iowa State ranks last in the conference in points scored, last in the conference in yards produced and in every other statistic, they are ranked no better than 84th throughout the entire country. This is an offense, by the way, that is the creation of former Husker assistant coach, Barney Cotton.
No, it's not the offense that Nebraska should have to worry about so much, but the defense, now that's a slightly different matter. No, it's not this ranked last in one thing, first in another, but comparable to its offense, the defense is downright Bears-like, hearkening back to the 1985 team that others found scoring upon akin to trying to blow spit-wads through a cement door.
The offense couldn't scratch the top 70 in the country in any category, but the defense doesn't rank that low in any area on the other side of the ball, except when it comes to the rather obscure statistic of pass efficiency defense. Their defense basically won the game against Kansas, was a big reason for the victory over Baylor and if Iowa State is to have chance in this game, they will once again have to answer the call.
Now to Nebraska's offense, who like Iowa State has been less than stellar. I stated just above that the worst defensive category for Iowa State's defense was in pass efficiency defense. Well, against Nebraska, that probably isn't going to matter. The Huskers rank amongst the worst in the country (86th) in passing, while conversely, they are THE best in the country at throwing the ball to the wrong guy.
So, yeah, this game from the standpoint of offensive brilliance is going to be anything but.
That's good though and believe me when I say it, because with all the hype around this new Nebraska, it will be the old Nebraska that will win this game in the end. Forget passing because you can't. Forget trick plays because Nebraska usually ends up tricking themselves in the end. Nope, it's all about giving it to the running back and making the Iowa State defense stop him if they can.
That brings up another issue in that Nebraska's starting running back, the one that just ran for a career-high last week as he tallied almost 200 yards on the ground, well, he's not exactly in the best state of health.
Since the Baylor game, Cory Ross has been nursing and I do mean nursing a turf-toe, one that has been painful for him to say the least. Actually, for the uninitiated, let's give you kind of an idea of what NU's starting I-back has to go through building up to a game.
First, he's walking around for most of the week in a boot meant to take weight off of that toe entirely. After classes, he might practice some, but is very limited in his reps until at the mid-point or later in the week. Then, he's still in the boot when he's not practicing, but there he is out there practicing as he prepares for the game.
Oh, and then the game comes, someone puts a needle into his toe and there ya go, he's ready for the game. Folks, I'm not kidding you, this kid is going through hell and back and he's Nebraska's best hope at moving the ball on the ground.
"I'm just hopeful that he can come out the way he has the last two weeks." Head coach, Bill Callahan said of his starting RB. "He's come out, he's played hard and he's played with great effort and production."
I know some of you know who Willis Reed is. Well, the NBA title isn't on the line, but when you look at what Cory Ross is doing and the circumstances he's doing it under, this young man is an inspiration to us all.
Back to the game, believe it or not, this should be an interesting match up. You have two teams that are almost mirrors for each other in respect to what is working and what isn't. The only real difference is on special teams, where Iowa State has been very prolific while Nebraska has been Jekyl and Hyde.
The similarities and struggles with so many of the same areas, however, that makes for what could be an entertaining if not aesthetically pleasing game.
I almost find it ironic actually. At Iowa State, you have an offensive coordinator who's usual M.O. is about running first and dominating at the point of attack. For Nebraska, even with all the attempts at being fancy, what has worked the best for them is good old smash it down your throat.
Hell, this isn't the new Nebraska. This isn't some match up of teams unfamiliar with what the other does. This is a classic get down and dirty affair and whoever is the dirtiest by the end of the game is the one that wanted it the most.
I almost feel bad saying this about a game with Iowa State. I mean, seriously. That's how much Iowa State has improved and how much Nebraska hasn't.
It's not a classic affair, but as Chad Sievers stated, it doesn't have to be NU vs. OU for the national title to be special, because for him, especially for the team right now, there's a lot more than titles on the line. "It's about being able to look yourself in the mirror and be proud of what you did out there." He said. "I can say that at least for myself, I haven't been like that every game of the year. Against Kansas, maybe a little against Baylor, but we were all there for Missouri. And, we need to all be there now."
"We should want to be the unit that has to win the game. As a defense, we should want a chance to just let our offense do whatever it can do and we say that it's up to us to bring this team out with a win. If we do our jobs and bring the kind of energy and fire we did against Missouri, there's no reason why we can't."
"Hell, we're the blackshirts. If we play like blackshirts, there's no way we should lose."