5 of the biggest questions to answer for NU

There are going to be a variety of questions that Nebraska will need to answer before they take the field in the Alamo Bowl on December 28th. Some are questions that have persisted as the season has gone along. Against an opponent like Michigan, a team who lost four games by a total of 17 points, the answers to those questions will have to be decisive and emphatic. We take a look at those questions and give you a look at just what Nebraska has to do to win.

1 - What does Nebraska have to do to run the football?

It says something that as a team, this Nebraska squad ranks as the most futile in the history of the program when it comes to amassing rushing yards in a game. The one-time bread and butter of the program has now become a luxury, because it's certainly nothing the team can rely on, nor is it anything that defenses will respect.

With any ground game, especially when it's consistently futile, you have to look at the offensive line of the big red.

It would seem that long gone are the days of the famous "Pipeline", replaced instead with a line that not only doesn't have an identity, but still suffers from a bout of transitional fever.

This line absolutely doesn't dominate anyone at the point of attack. Not only that, they can't create creases consistently, are broke down in the middle of the line repeatedly and the worst part is, even a great passing game won't help them run all that much better.

Even when Nebraska was passing at its best (431 yards passing against Iowa State & 392 yards passing against Colorado), the running could still not manage even three yards per carry. Against Iowa State, they couldn't manage even two.

The answer is simple, but harsh: Nebraska can't run, haven't run and they won't develop a running game against a team like Michigan. For one last game (hopefully), this Husker team will just have to try and win, knowing that on the ground, they will not be able to do much at all.

2 - Will there be momentum from Boulder, going into the Alamo?

There was no way that head coach Bill Callahan could have had the regular season end any better than the way it did. Against Colorado, in Boulder and by almost four touchdowns. You can't dream up something that good when it comes to making everyone feel good about the past, present and even future.

You also can't underestimate what a win like that can do for a team that needed it, following humiliating losses to Missouri and Kansas.

Against Colorado, a division foe, and the team that owned the division over the last few years – this was a major confidence builder, because in most areas, Nebraska showed that it had gotten better, could execute under fire and knew how to take the fight to the opponent rather than play on their heels as they had in the weeks leading up to the season finale'.

There's a chain reaction with both wins and losses and more importantly, just how those came about.

It's an offshoot of Newton's law stating that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I don't think Newton was delving into the mental stability of the student-athlete when he came up with that dandy, but in many ways it applies

If you have a bad game, most of practice that next week is about how to fix things and how to reevaluate what went wrong

If you have a good game, there's still plenty to fix, but your week of practice has a good emphasis on repetition behind everything that went right.

The players have a better attitude, because it's confidence in knowing that what you are doing will actually translate to what has to be done. You know that what works inside Cook Pavilion will work at Folsom Field as well.

There is no doubt a lot of momentum for this team right now and the timing couldn't have been better. If anything, you shouldn't have to question if this team is up for this game or even mentally ready.

They will be and the resounding victory at Colorado had a lot to do with that

3 - Does Zac Taylor have to throw for over 300 yards for Nebraska to win?

Not necessarily, but it wouldn't hurt. As we have already outlined, Nebraska won't be able to run the ball. Michigan knows this. Heck, everyone who has faced Nebraska knew this going into the game. They will do what all good defenses do at first:

Stop the run

That will take all of about five minutes

Consequently, Taylor has to throw and throw well, but it doesn't necessarily have to be his most prolific game ever or even a game that takes the team over that magical 300 yard mark.

What Taylor needs to do or in this case, NOT do is simply not make any mistakes

Up to a little past the midway point of the season Taylor was as prone to slow starts as the offense itself. His mistakes would come early, but if the team was close, Taylor always seemed to close the game out on a fairly high note.

If Taylor can stay consistent and not make any of those crucial mistakes early on in the game, he'll give Nebraska a chance to win.

This game will be a lot more about completion percentage and no interceptions than it will be about yards. Going back to the adage about Nebraska quarterbacks in the good old days, he just has to be efficient and not necessarily excellent.

If Taylor is that and he isn't dealt a consistently long field to work with, Nebraska could have a lot of success.

4 - Will the defense have to win this game as it has many others?

Michigan has a physical and talented defense. You can anticipate that their strategy early on will be to blitz and after they are done doing that, blitz some more. The offense, while successful at times, isn't the unit you can rely on consistently to grab victory from the jaws of defeat.

That is the defense's job

Especially early on in the season, this unit was asked to win games and during the course of the year, big plays in regard to sacks, forced fumbles or interceptions all had their part in keeping Nebraska above. .500 for the season.

It's not clear that the offense, regardless of what it did in Boulder, will be able to sustain drives or get big plays on Michigan's defense. Because of that, the "blackshirts" will have to be consistent, if not spectacular.

Over the course of the year, the team has blitzed well for the most part, have been good most of the time in getting pressure on the QB and they have been very effective in stopping the run, when the offense of the opponent doesn't have a mobile QB.

There was a definite hiccup against Kansas, but Nebraska's consistency in stopping the rushing game is going to help them here, especially considering the fact that Michigan QB Chad Henne isn't the kind of QB that will hurt you on the ground.

One thing this group does have to do, though, is get off to a fast start. There was a serious lull in the season, where Nebraska was letting the opponent drive on them consistently in the first few series of games. They can't allow that this time around. Michigan is already talented and they will probably have some momentum coming into the game. You don't want to give them any more.

Forcing turnovers is another key and interceptions have been sparse in the secondary, better at linebacker, but it's all going to start at the line. How that front line goes, will be how that defense goes, but there's no doubt that this group will have to keep Nebraska in the game, if not win the game outright.

The offense could get some things going, but I don't think you can count on them to be a sustained force throughout the game. The defense has to make up the difference.

5 - What is the biggest factor in Nebraska winning or losing this game?

Believe it or not, special teams. Nebraska has done an excellent job all year and statistically in both the return department and punting as well as kicking, they are amongst the nation's best. Starting punter Sam Koch is like having another defender on the field, because he almost always gives the other guy a pretty long field to work with.

Inside a dome, Jordan Congdon should also be very consistent, even more than he has already been.

In the return game, this is where Nebraska's offense gets the biggest boost as I think they can create much shorter fields for themselves, especially on punt returns. They have done well all year and the two-headed monster of Cortney Grixby and one of the nation's most prolific punt returners in Terrence Nunn, is going to give the Wolverines' cover teams fits.

It's crucial, because there is no substitute for a short field and it gives Nebraska's offense a lot more room to work with in regard to what they want to do from a schematic standpoint.

The last area that is crucial in special teams is an area that has already won Nebraska at least one game and possibly two. Virginia Tech is known for their ability to block kicks, but Nebraska has actually outdone the Hokies this year in that area. And believe it or not, most of the blocks come right up the middle and that's with not much penetration at the line.

Zach Potter and Barry Turner are the two most lethal blockers Nebraska has and you simply can't count either out on any field goal Michigan attempts. If they can get a block or even more, that not only keeps potential points off of the board, but there's few things that can swing the momentum as much as that.

When it comes to field position, capitalizing on turnovers and making plays, this unit is as valuable as any other. They have proven their worth over the entire season and I think they will do so again. I won't say that this game will come down to special teams' heroics, but based on what they have done for an entire season, I wouldn't count it out either.

So, there you have it, breaking it down in five easy questions, the answers being key for Nebraska to come out of the Alamo Bowl with a win. It's an epic game of name vs name more than it is team vs team.

Names don't play the game, though, teams do, and it's going to come down to who hurts themselves the least and gives themselves the easiest opportunities to succeed. I think there will be some sustained drives in this game, but it won't win the game. That means it comes down to big plays on offense, defense and special teams.

Whoever can win two out of those three categories will probably walk away with the win.

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