The opponent that Nebraska faces tomorrow isn't your "run of the mill", out of conference opponent. Nevada ended up bowl eligible last year and gave Miami (FL) everything that they wanted, losing only by a point, in the MPC Computers Bowl.
Without further adieu, here are my keys to success:
1. QB Play – The Sam Keller era in Lincoln actually started a year or so ago, but this weekend will be the first time in Memorial Stadium as the starter for the Cornhuskers against someone other than the "Whites" in the spring game. It's easy to see that Sam has some confidence about his abilities and that is good. However, Saturday will be a test.
The reason Saturday will be a test is because Nevada does so many different things as a defense. This usually means that they don't do one or two things particularly well, or aren't physically imposing, and have to try and confuse with the different looks they are giving Nebraska's offense.
So, what does that mean? If Nevada does the same thing against Nebraska that they did against Miami then it will be interesting to see how Sam reads it, takes what the defense is giving him and picks it apart. If he does that, that will tell me that he is patient, knows the offense well and is willing to do what it takes to be a consistent quarterback in Lincoln.
2. Filling Big Shoes – There are some names across the defensive line that just through fall camp have people interested in seeing how they are going to perform this fall. Of course those names are across the defensive line and consist of Barry Turner, Ndamukong Suh, Zach Potter, Ty Steinkuhler, Pierre Allen, Shukree Barfield and Kevin Dixon.
The Cornhuskers lost all four, starting defensive lineman from last year and are looking for some players to step up across the front. On the defensive side of the football, the defensive line appears to be the Achilles heel, but that doesn't mean that they aren't talents.
All reports seem to indicate that the Husker Nation might be pleasantly surprised by this new set of defensive lineman. That goes past just the four starters, but the Huskers look to be about two-deep at each of the defensive line positions.
3. New faces – The release of the first depth chart for the 2007 season was the other day. Sure, there were the surprises, but looking deeper at the depth chart it was exciting to see the number of sophomores, red shirt freshmen and true freshmen.
While there aren't any guarantees as to how much or if any will play, there were 21 different players that are listed as sophomores or below. Is that good or is that bad? Personally, I think that it bodes well for Nebraska.
Bill Callahan's recruiting is starting to inject itself into the depth chart and it's leading to new or different faces into key and prominent roles on this year's team. You have to be excited to see this many new names and the need to actually buy a program to make sure you know who #49, #19 and #10 are this year. Very exciting.
4. Depth at the RB position – This may not have been a very big question mark coming into the season, but after looking at the health issues that Nebraska has had so far, it's very important for Nebraska to try and get healthy at the running back position or at least maintain what health it has.
Cody Glenn has missed the most time with leg injuries, but Marlon Lucky has missed time too with concussion related issues. Behind them? A converted safety and two, true freshmen. It's going to be important for Nebraska to assess the abilities of the players further down the chain tomorrow.
Look, Nevada is going to be a game that Nebraska is going to have a chance to rest some players. You need to do it because there is a road trip to Wake Forest next week and in two weeks, USC comes-a-calling. Being healthy at the running back position for that game will be critical.
5 obvious players to keep an eye on tomorrow:
1. Sam Keller – Will he take what he is given?
2. Steve Octavien – First game to a full, healthy season?
3. Ndamukong Suh – He now gets a chance to pick on another team.
4. Larry Asante – Bringing the house may mean blitzes by Asante.
5. Quentin Castille – True FR will get a lot of reps tomorrow.
5 not-so-obvious players to keep an eye on tomorrow:
1. Barry Turner – Can he be a down-to-down DE for Nebraska?
2. Lydon Murtha – Has he stepped up his game?
3. Zach Potter – See Lydon Murtha.
4. Adi Kunalic – Kicks into the endzone from the 30? C'mon…
5. Thomas Grove and Blake Lawrence – Two, true freshman who will see time on special teams and probably in nickel too at LB.
With all this being said, tomorrow might get ugly. Nebraska needs to remember that despite Nevada not being a Kent State or a Montana State, whoops…bad choices, cream-puff that this is still a tune up game. You need to assess the things that plague you now and see how the lower ranks handle the game in front of 80,000+ friendly fans. I am going to say 45-14, but Nebraska could definitely score more and Nevada might score less. Either way, a 31 point margin of victory with plenty of time to the lower units will be a very, very good weekend.