Keys to the Game - Nebraska vs. USC

John Harris breaks down the keys to Nebraska vs. USC.

a. Nebraska DE Adam Carriker vs. USC OT Sam Baker and Kyle Williams – The one thorn in the USC side this weekend has to be Husker defensive end Carriker. The 6-6, 295-pound manchild hasn't unleashed the beast thus far this year, but he hasn't had to do so. This weekend, it's time to do so. Outside of Carriker just being a great player who must be blocked it's what USC has added to the playbook this year for QB John David Booty that puts Baker and Williams on the spot against Carriker. Against Arkansas, Booty threw the ball rolling out/booting out more than former Trophy Matt Leinart did in his three years as a starter. Obviously, that puts a moving target, Booty, heading right at Carriker, the Husker All-American. The good news for Baker and/or Williams is that they'll probably get some help from a fullback or a pulling guard because it's imperative that Carriker not get any penetration to force Booty off his path. However, when Booty drops straight back to throw with standard protection, Carriker may actually be more dangerous. The Trojans don't want to take TE Fred Davis out of the passing game which puts either Trojan tackle on Carriker one-on-one and the Husker is so strong off the ball that it could create problems for those two tackles. They might get some back help, but that leaves defensive end Jay Moore alone on the other side. Booty can help his cause by getting rid of the ball quickly, but ultimately, how well Baker and Williams handle Carriker is a major key to how effective and fluid the USC offense will be.

b. USC LB Rey Maualuga vs. Nebraska interior OL – The Nebraska running game is nowhere near as dominant in the Nebraska offensive game plan as it used to be, but that doesn't mean it's less important. Although the Huskers have run for 256.5 yards per game this year, that was against Louisiana Tech and Nicholls State. The worry for the Huskers, under head coach Bill Callahan, is that they've not been productive on the ground in big games. Even with a guy like Cory Ross at I Back last year, the Huskers struggled mightily to pick up chunks of yardage on the ground in a big game. It's vital that the Huskers find their inner 1970s Husker and run the football well against the USC front, well enough to stay two-dimensional. But, for that to happen, mike linebacker Rey Maualuga must be contained. The sophomore is a beast and closes on the football in an angry mood. As such, the interior threesome for Nebraska – guards Mike Huff and Greg Austin and center Brett Byford, who remains in the starting lineup with starter Kurt Mann still fighting a viral infection, have the responsibility of getting a hat on the fiery Trojan backer. Consequently, this threesome can't get tied up against the USC defensive tackles such that Maualuga runs scott free to the ball carrier all night long.

c. USC WR Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith vs. Nebraska CB Andre Jones – Joe Namath, Jones is not, but the young man is calling his shot for Husker nation, claiming that "when the Huskers win…". Not if, but when. Interesting, but here's one adage for the Husker corner to keep in mind, if the Pit Bull is sleeping, you let him sleep. Wake him up and you'll pay. Not to mention the fact that he's a backup being asked to step into the starting lineup, and backup corners haven't fared well this fall. Jones is filling in for starter Zack Bowman, who is injured, and he'll have a red bullseye to go with that white jersey on Saturday night, just like Cal's Syd Quan Thompson who was fodder for Tennessee. Regardless of Jones proclaiming a certain victory, the last thing that Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove can do against Jarrett and Smith is to leave Jones in man coverage on either one. If he chooses to play some man under zone out of his nickel package, perhaps that's acceptable. But, Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring put his corners in man coverage on Jarrett and Smith and 50 points later, maybe that wasn't the best decision. The decision for Cosgrove is two-fold – he can't have the guarantee maker out in man coverage, so how does he get pressure? Or, if he does play more nickel and dime to help Jones out in the secondary, can the Huskers front five or six then shut down the USC running game? Either way, USC QB John David Booty will go after Jones in a big way with his two star receivers.

d. USC pass rush vs. Nebraska QB Zac Taylor – On the to-do list for USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt, the number one item at the top of the list is to hit Taylor. Not dirty hits, but get to him and get in his face. Force bad throws or throws off his rhythm. The Nebraska QB is a tough kid, but he's a rhythm guy. Once he gets in one, the opponent is in trouble – pop in the DVD of last year's Colorado game, you'll see. But, CU got no rush to speak of on Taylor and if the Trojans want to keep Nebraska off the field, they've got to attack Taylor from jump. The best place to bring pressure is up through the A and B gaps to keep Taylor from completing the ball in the middle of the field. Make him throw to the wide side of the field and take the chance that his arm isn't strong enough to complete those throws. Or better yet, the USC corners could make a break on the ball for a pick six. It's not completely imperative that USC generate turnovers out of the pressure they put on Taylor, but if the pressure gives him happy feet or forces him to throw out of rhythm, it'll do the trick.

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