Not a classic, but ISU vs NU could be good

It's doubtful this game will be considered historical when it comes to games within the confines of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. First, it's the Huskers vs. the Cyclones, a traditionally one-sided affair. This isn't the old Nebraska, though, and for the first time ever, Iowa State comes into Memorial ranked while the Huskers aren't. That's just where the drama starts.

You'd be hard pressed to get anyone to make t-shirts for Iowa State vs. Nebraska – 2005.

Yes, both teams are undefeated, but that's about where the national luster ends. What's important about this game is the fact that this is not just the beginning of conference play, this contest between two divisional rivals, but this game is as they say, where the rubber meets the road.

One team will probably find their identity today.

For Iowa State, they have the victory over Iowa this year, the Hawkeyes ranked 8th in the country when ISU head coach Dan McCarney handed their in-state rivals yet another loss, the sixth in the last eight years.

That victory looked like the real deal when it happened, despite the closer than expected game in the season opener against Northern Illinois. Even the Army game was more or less dismissed, because one might assume that the players were perhaps looking one game beyond the Cadets.

Iowa, however, has looked less than stellar, sporting a .500 record through four games, with the two wins coming over Ball State and Northern Iowa.

So, how good are they?

It's really hard to say, but based on the year so far, their defense is likely to win more games for them than their offense, especially if ISU's starting tailback (Steve Hicks) isn't ready to go today.

Sophomore Bret Meyer has proven sporadic, but he's deadly outside of the pocket and that's where he likes to stay. The offense seems to be geared around a running game and Meyer's ability to make something happening either with his arm or feet, but usually outside of the pocket.

Meyer won't be lacking in weapons this year, both Todd Blythe and Jon Davis back and already performing very well this year when Meyer can get them the ball. You might remember that both of these wideouts went for over a hundred on Nebraska last season and Iowa State topped the 300 yard mark against the Husker secondary, the only game Iowa State would top that number all year.

On defense, you have a few big names, probably the biggest key to this game being sophomore Jason Berryman. He's got NFL written all over him as he's got good size (6 foot, 5 inches, 250 lbs) and he's extremely quick off of the ball.

He'll have help on the interior in Nebraska native Nick Leaders along with Brent Curvey, both interior guys hovering around the 300 pound mark.

In the secondary it's a good group, highlighted by Steve Paris, who in his senior year has already made a statement, the free safety perhaps saving Iowa State a rather undignified loss to Army by intercepting two early game miscues by the Cadet offense.

He along with a good linebacking core led by senior Tim Dobbins should be a fairly stiff bunch to put yards on either through the air or the ground.

Well, "should" being the key word.

The game against Army had many scratching their heads and some saying that Iowa State just got exposed for every weakness they had on either side of the ball.

Army, a team that won only two games last year and none the year before that, outdid the Cyclones in rushing yards, passing yards, third down conversion percentage, total first downs…………….well, you get the point.

It was Army's quickness that gave Iowa State such fits early in the game, but that was their undoing in the end, ISU able to wear Army down when they needed to and ultimately seal the game.

So, basically you are looking at a shaky offense, but with weapons and a decent defense, but with holes.

As for Nebraska, it's a little of the same, but with a bit of a twist.

On offense, their weapons aren't in the passing game. That's actually part of the problem, the vaunted West Coast offense looking more like the west coast than an offense. The passing game that was considered so vital before this season began, has remained vital, but also completely absent.

It's fallen on the shoulders of running back Cory Ross, but after last year he's used to that and at least this year he's healthy.

Knock on wood

Outside of that, though, there hasn't been anyone to really step up and announce
themselves as a weapon, outside of junior college transfer and speed demon, wide receiver Frantz Hardy, who tallied over 150 yards receiving in the first game of the year, then promptly dropped four balls in the next.

On defense and in the special teams, that's where Nebraska has been saved and I do mean that literally.

In Nebraska's last game against Pitt, with one second on the clock, it was walk-on linebacker Adam Ickes that broke through the left side to come up with what could have been the game saving field goal block. That was the second field goal block during the game.

All the defense has done is tally 11 sacks in game one against Maine and take two interceptions and a forced fumble back for touchdowns against Wake Forest.

So, here we stand, two teams that have won with defense, grit and a little luck, facing each other to see who comes out still unbeaten and with a head start to winning the Big XII north.

What to expect from Nebraska's offense:

Head coach Bill Callahan scripts his first 15 plays. In that grouping, I fully expect there to be an early effort at hitting some short quick timing routes to see just what they can get.

If that doesn't pan out very early in the game, though, don't expect Nebraska's head coach to make the same mistake he made last year, because I would think if the passing game sputters, Cory Ross is going to see the ball a lot.

He won't be the only one as this seems like the time for true freshman Cody Glenn to show up and for people to see what he can do. Basically, this kid's a mauler at running back and if you are trying to tackle him one on one from the front, good luck. The 6 foot, 230 pound back is a horse between the tackles and if he can get going early, his style and Ross's style could make a deadly combination.

What to expect from Nebraska's defense:

Bret Meyer offers something that Nebraska hasn't seen, at least to the extent they will see in Meyer. His mobility and speed make him a legit threat to get outside of the tackles and make plays with his arms or his legs.

That means Nebraska will try and contain him and force him to stay in the pocket and make him beat the Huskers in the air.

The scary thing, Meyer's done that once already, but the man on man coverage that was a complete disaster last year has been replaced with a lot more zone. That will, if anything, prevent a lot of routes being able to materialize down the field.

The secondary of Nebraska has been tested barely and at times, has shown its vast inexperience. There's plenty of size in Zack Bowman and Tierre Green, both standing over 6 foot, but between Bowman's hamstring and the fact that Green is still learning having come over from the running back position, this group is almost a complete unknown.

If Kevin Cosgrove's defense has been consistent in much of its philosophy over the first three weeks, there will be plenty of pressure from the outside with some specifically timed blitzes up the middle. Thus far, the defensive line of the Huskers has done a solid job of occupying linemen, so that the linebackers and safeties have lanes to blitz up field.

What to expect from Iowa State's offense:

If you were to base their philosophy on last year, the idea would be simple: If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Unfortunately, the connection between Meyer and his receivers was good last year, but it was really only against Nebraska did this look like one of the most potent passing attacks in the country.

Both Blythe and Davis are excellent receivers and will be able to get open. I would expect, though, that if Hicks is healthy, Iowa State will try to establish a ground game initially.

The idea of making a team one dimensional is an old one, but I am sure offensive coordinator Barney Cotton is expecting Nebraska to do just that. While the Huskers have been exposed at times against quicker backs, overall, their effort against the rush is solid.

The Cyclones don't have a choice, however, so they will hit the trenches early and often, if just to try and loosen up the linebackers, so that they can get Meyer to pop a few either in the short or mid range portions of the field.

What to expect from Iowa State's defense:

If it's not broke, don't fox it, doesn't apply to Nebraska's offense and defenses have played the Huskers essentially the same way:

Stack the box, bring the house

I don't see any reason why Iowa State would try to be cute here, because until Zac Taylor proves he can be consistent, there's no reason to be.

From the outset, plan on the Cyclones finding Ross and going wherever he goes. You'll see eight and nine in the box, probably a good helping of blitzes and probably a lot of disguising coverages to throw an inexperienced quarterback off.

While Nebraska doesn't have a great line, it's a decent line, at least at pass blocking and some of the sacks Taylor has taken have been more to do with his lack of mobility than pressure. I don't expect the interior line of Iowa State to have a ton of success, so it's going to come down to Berryman to see just what kind of havoc he can wreak in the backfield.

He's the go to guy on the line, no doubt about it, so I wouldn't be surprised if they have blitzes set up in the middle, if just to get him free on the outside.

What will be the difference: This is where you throw in special teams as the obligatory factor in the game as it's certainly been beneficial to the Huskers. They have the best punt return-man in the country in Terrence Nunn and one of the best punters in the conference in Sam Koch.

Plus, they have the aforementioned ability to block kicks.

That's great and all, but I don't think it will come down to that. I also don't think it will come down to one big play that swings momentum for one team and breaks the back of the other. I also don't think that either team will gain any sort of real momentum in either passing or throwing.

It's going to come down to grit.

A sustained drive is a luxury for Nebraska these days. It's going to be a necessity today. The same can be said for Iowa State as well.

And believe it or not, I think it's going to be that simple.

In a game, where two teams are fairly evenly matched, usually the winner is whoever wants it more.

I think that with the home field, the scrutiny of an entire fan base almost crushing in its weight, you can add that to the already heavy desire the Huskers have to win this game in any fashion they can.

The difference could be just one sustained drive at a key point in the game. Or, it could be whoever turns the ball over the fewest times and hurts themselves the least with penalties.

Either way, this game won't go down as one of the classics, but as match ups go, it's not a bad one at all. If you want basketball on grass, you've came to the wrong place. But, if you want hard nosed football, I think this could be a good one.

It will have to, because as of right now, I don't think either team has any other choice.

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