In the CrossHairs

Two games down, only sixty-four more to go for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. A long season to be sure, but longer still if the Huskers don't use this up-coming game against Utah State more as a statement to themselves than the rest of the country that the Huskers are going to be one of the best in the nation.

Utah State is outmatched. Big surprise there. On paper, this game isn't even a game. Obviously, games don't always work out the way they do on paper, but for the Huskers, they had better. After the Troy State victory last week, you would have thought they had lost considering the overwhelming "fan" response in literal disgust that NU didn't pound the experienced Trojans by 50. Imagine what the Husker "faithful" would think if such a performance were duplicated against a team that isn't boasting a lot of experience and isn't sporting a fast and talent-laden defense. Fans want blood this week and they want a lot of it. This is the first game that Nebraska should be able to give them just that.

There are three names to keep in mind coming into this game. Kevin Curtis, Steve Mullins and Jose Fuentes.

Kevin Curtis led the entire country last year in receptions per game. He was an All-american (3rd team) wide receiver, was third in the country in receiving yards per game (139.2) and ranked in the top 20 overall for all purpose yards per game. Last season, Curtis also placed himself 15th on the all-time list of most yards receiving in a year (1,531), 19th in total receptions (100) and he tied for 20th all time in receptions per game at 9.1 a contest. He holds a ton of Utah State records and in the five games against teams that went to bowl games (Utah, LSU, Oregon, BYU and Fresno State), Curtis averaged 10.2 receptions a game along with 135.2 yards.

Steve Mullins is the best returning punter in the country this year. Mullins averaged 44.8 yards a punt last season, was an honorable mention All-american and a Ray Guy award semifinalist. His longest punt of last year was 67 yards and he pinned the opposition behind the 20 on 13 different occasions. Mullins also had at least one 50+ yard punt in every game last season.

Jose Fuentes is the key to Utah State's offense. Though the team didn't win many games, yards weren't a problem as Fuentes sits at the top or close to in every one of Utah State's career record charts. Last season, Fuentes threw for 3100 yards, completed 260 passes out of 437 attempts and threw 24 touchdown strikes. Fuentes sits on almost all of the career lists at Utah State, 3rd or better. He's 3rd in career passing yards (6074), 1st in pass completions (476), 3rd in pass attempts (853), 2nd in completion percentage (.561) and second in touchdown passes (40). With almost an entire year to go, you could expect most of those records to be his by season's end.

With all this potential offense, you have to be asking what kind of defense the Aggies had to end up with such a disappointing record. Well, it wasn't good. In fact, it was horrible. 105th , Utah State was ranked at the end of the year and they didn't get off to a great start last week against Utah, allowing 447 total yards of offense. Utah went at the Aggies with a balanced attack, throwing the ball 30 times and running it 25. On the ground, Utah put up close to 300 yards.

Going into a week against perennially, the best rushing team on God's green earth, the Aggies are in trouble.

Utah State doesn't run and when they do, nothing good usually happens. Against Utah last week, the Aggies rushed the ball 16 times for negative 9 yards. In stark contrast, USU threw the ball 42 times. Also in contrast is their defense. USU couldn't stop the run last year and not last week. In fact, USU couldn't stop much of anything. The only category that USU ranks even in the top 40 is pass defense, allowing 165 yards per game. Given the team they will be playing this week, that won't be much of a factor, but it will definitely give the receivers of NU something to lick their chops over.

For Husker fans, it's obviously about what the defense can do to bring the passing attack of the Aggies to it's knees and that usually brings about the question of how much pressure can NU get on Fuentes. Thus far, Nebraska's pressure has been consistently good against some good O lines and Troy State's O line, that was actually bigger than NU's unit of bigguns, averaging 302 a man.

Nebraska will have bragging rights back as USU averages almost a full ten pounds per man less than the Trojans did. Also, unlike the Trojans who seemed to have experience everywhere you looked, USU brings back significantly less. Leading the pack in terms of starting experience on the line is OT, Jim Newton with 23 consecutive starts for the Aggies. Following him is Luis Trujillo who has started 8 total games in his career at LG. After that, it's players who's first starts came last week against Utah from Center on right, so expect Chris Kelsay to be a name often heard during this contest.

You take a look at the key points for Utah State and where they might be effective, those points seemed to be countered quite effectively by what Nebraska is bringing to the table on defense. Throughout the first two games, NU has not had the huge numbers in terms of sacks, but if you have watched the games, you know that the pressure up the middle and in turn, from around the corners (especially by Chris Kelsay) has been consistent. NU's secondary has also been solid, complimented by the stellar performances of DeJuan Groce. Groce will no doubt be shadowing WR, Kevin Curtis most of the night, but in the zone, Curtis will likely see multiple looks from a variety of players.

You never want to underestimate an opponent. You never want to just assume that some team is a walk in the park. With that being said, if NU doesn't beat Utah State and considerably, NU fans can get a little antsy for a reason. Utah State is outmatched completely, side to side and most importantly, at the line of scrimmage. If Dahrran Diedrick was looking for a game to really cut loose, this one is it. Utah State can't run and can't stop the run and in most books, that means a Nebraska route.

Don't expect this game to re-write those books as NU should not only win, but dominate. Unless USU can get off to a very quick start with their passing attack, this one could get ugly very soon.

Utah State is the final tune-up for the trip to Happy Valley and it is probably the perfect opponent. A team that NU can establish dominance early, a team that will let the offensive line gel even more and because of the over matched status of this game, NU should come out of this contest with more than a little confidence going to Penn State the week after.

The biggest problem here is figuring out just who will have the biggest impact for NU as there are likely to be a number of players earning game honors, but for the sake of having to pick them out, We will go with Chris Kelsay on defense and on offense, Dahrran Diedrick. Kelsay should come out with a bunch of pressures and probably a couple of sacks or more and Diedrick should be able to run until coach Solich has decided it's time to give someone else a chance at some yards.

This one is a route folks. Pure and simple

Nebraska 52, USU 7


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