Nebraska finds itself in rather unique territory. Well, at least for them. Coming off a rather bad loss and traveling on the road to face a team they normally considered a whipping boy, but this whipping boy now has some bite. The Cyclones led by Heisman-hopeful, Seneca Wallace has their fan base teeming with excitement and confidence. They have earned that confidence, their only loss coming oh-so-narrowly (try about half an inch) from possibly beating the Florida State Seminoles. Nebraska is not just trying to preserve streaks here, but break a couple as well, but again, this is unfamiliar territory, because the Cyclones are actually favored in this one, possibly the first time in this series that has ever happened.
When you break down Iowa State, you have to start with the reason they are 3-1. Seneca Wallace. A player coach Craig Bohl calls, "like tackling the wind" , is someone that has gotten accolades from the best of the best. Bobby Bowden said that Wallace was the best player outside of Michael Vick he has faced. High praise indeed. What Nebraska will have to do is what they did last year. Contain him, keep them from being successful in third and long situations and make Iowa State throw the ball.
Iowa State has a running attack, but it's been anemic to this point, at least in terms of how many times they are trying to stuff it down the opponents' throat. Only Nebraska has rushed it more, but Iowa State hasn't climbed above 6th in the conference on the ground. They have certainly tried to run, but it hasn't panned out. For NU, this is where they usually start as it is.
Stop the run, make the QB beat you. The problem here is, Iowa State's QB is Seneca Wallace. Wallace has not been able to help ISU's rushing attack flourish, but you can ask FSU and Iowa just how offensively dangerous this team is. They are 2nd in passing offense, 1st in total offense, 1st in total 1st downs, 1st in third down conversions and 2nd in total pass efficiency in the Big XII. Seneca's 286.6 yards a game on offense along with his ridiculous 65% completion makes him about as deadly as they come. This offense is for real, so it will be up to NU's defense to do what it did last year to a QB that is markedly better and more seasoned.
NU's breakdowns against Penn State were so many, that we won't get into people out of position, players not tackling or Penn State's offensive game plan being one of near perfection. It's a moot point and in this case, in this game, it certainly doesn't apply.
Iowa State's offense is the key. Should NU not have learned it's lesson from playing the capable but hardly comparable, Zack Mills, Nebraska will find themselves with a streak of losing, rather than winning. One key will be on stopping the wideouts for Iowa State. That means, Jack Whitver and Lane Danielson. Each has statistically been very good this year, but you could argue that their success is a by product of Wallace's ability to get them the ball either standing in the pocket or on the run. They are good receivers, but NU has faced better this year. The Husker defense, at least scheme-wise shouldn't see anything new here. Iowa State will try to spread the defense and make the blackshirts have to focus on Wallace so much, that it will hopefully free up the running game and possibly the TE to do some damage and as most people have seen, when NU is in man coverage, the short patters, the curls and passes in the flats are very successful. It won't be what Wallace actually does, but what everyone knows he is capable of doing that could get NU on it's heels right away.
Iowa State has shown a determination to run the ball. Though their success has been very limited, Iowa State will no doubt try to get their starting RB, Hiawat Rutland his carries. Rutland is second only to Chris Brown from Colorado in total attempts. What NU will do here is what they always do. Stop the run and make the other team's passing attack beat them. You can set it in stone that though there might be one player specifically to "hawk" Seneca Wallace, NU's first priority is to shut Iowa State's running game down.
It might be just me, but considering how bad NU got burned in man coverage against Penn State, you probably won't see much of it this weekend. Either that or coach Bohl has come up with something new so that they don't get killed on the short passes. I expect zone and a lot of it, along with either Demorrio Williams or T.J. Hollowell to be used as the "spy", on Wallace throughout the whole game.
For Nebraska, on offense, this is simple. Iowa State will stack the box, 8 and 9 players at a time. Big surprise there. Everyone does it and will continue to do it until Jammal Lord proves that he can make a team have to move back to play both against the run in and in coverage. One thing about Iowa State though is that a Nebraska team can run on them. In fact, they should have very good success against the Cyclone's defensive front, especially in the latter parts of the game. Well, that is, if NU hasn't been burned on defense to the extent where NU's QB won't be turned into "Air Lord". Against the run, Iowa State has allowed almost 140 yards a game. That might not seem like much, but they haven't faced a team that runs it like Nebraska. Well, not this year anyway. In last year's game, NU lit up Iowa State for 359 yards on the ground.
Against Penn State, NU's lone scoring drive mixed in a first down pass followed by two other pass attempts intermixed with their usual running attack. In all of the other drives prior to that, NU never passed on first down and only passed once each series. Anyone getting this? As everyone knows, if Jammal isn't successful, you can sign, seal and deliver a win to the Cyclones. Yeah, NU will be able to run on Iowa State, but only after Lord gives the running game at least some breathing room. With the Cyclone's offense, there's no way NU can afford to play grind it until they are tired football, because they could be down by forty before that ever happens.
You can sum up this game easily. It's motivation vs. momentum. I will give you one guess as to which team has which. There are streaks to maintain and streaks to break. If NU ever needed a reason to be hungry, this is the game that should give them more than their appetite can devour. Since November, NU has given up more points than it ever has in one game, lost by as many as it has in over a decade and is on the verge of losing a streak that is an AP record and spans over 20 years. There's enough players that are currently on this team that already have allowed things to happen that you know damn well they aren't real proud of, so (right now), this game means as much as any they will play all year. It's more than statistics. It's more than numbers of wins. It's about pride and NU has to prove just how much they have this weekend.
I think that NU will prevail in this game, but it will only be after a very hotly contested FULL sixty minute game. Seneca is going to get his yards, but in a game that should be close, I think NU is able to outscore Iowa State down in Ames.
The HC prediction:
Iowa State 31
Players of the game:
Offense: Jammal Lord
Defense: DeJuan Groce