Keys to Success: Wake Forest

After a decisive 52-10 victory over Nevada, Nebraska will travel to Wake Forest for their first road game of the season. The Huskers need to come out with their "A" game against last year's ACC Champions to establish confidence for tests that will take them to Austin, Columbia, Lawrence and Boulder. The early road games of every season carry significance throughout the rest of the season.

It feels good that college football is back in full-swing, doesn't it? The Huskers are gearing up for game #2, a game at Wake Forest that had the makings of being a very tough game for Nebraska. Playing on the road is as much a mental as well as a physical test for players. Once you know that you can play and win on the road then it applies to future games.

First, a little summary from last week and that was I kind of pegged where Nebraska would be at. I had a projection of 45-14 and at 52-10; I would say that is pretty good. Reasons to feel good about last week:

- Sam Keller wasn't sacked and only hurried one time. He made, for the most part, very good decisions with only a handful of bad decisions. He showed tremendous patience.

- The running back situation looks to be very good now with the hard work of Marlon Lucky and the emergence of Quentin Castille. Nebraska still needs Cody Glenn to get healthy and one of Roy Helu and Major Culbert to become a solid contributor.

- The offensive line was amazing. Big holes to run through and plenty of time for the quarterback to make a pass. I was really thrilled to see where they were at as a unit.

- The re-emergence of the tight end with grabs by Michael McNeil and Dreu Young were good to see. That is a weapon Nebraska hasn't had since Matt Herian was first injured.

- The defense looked very, very good. I liked the odd-man fronts on the defensive line and putting more of the "athletes" in the secondary.

- Steve Octavien is on his way to having an incredible season. All of the linebackers played well, but Octavien played outstanding.

- Good to see Zac Bowman back on the field. He still is working his way back in and isn't 100%, but good to have him back on the field.

- Lots of reps for the lower units. This not only helps spell the starters, but you will need depth as the season goes. - Last, but not least, Adi Kunalic sure can kick, can't he? Averaged almost 69 yards per kickoff and had a 46 yard field goal. What a weapon.

Things that might need a little work before USC/conference time:

- It is the first game, and I expect things will get better, but receivers have to help out their quarterback and make the easy grabs.

- I think that there was some adjusting to a fast, game clock operator that Nebraska didn't do on Saturday that I expect Nebraska will work on this week in practice.

- I thought that kick returns were very good, but punt returns were pretty bad. I am not sure what the issue here is.

- A few bad decisions by Sam in the first half that seemed to just be some rust he was kicking off the machine, because he was rolling in the second half.

Nebraska will, once again, for an out of conference team that made it to a bowl game. Not just any bowl game mind you, Wake Forest was conference champions and made it to a BCS bowl game. While it appears the season opener, starting quarterback and defensive end seem unlikely to play for Wake Forest; this team still has a lot of talent at all positions.

The Huskers are looking to start out 2-0 and get a road victory that will carry significance throughout the rest of the season. The Huskers will need to do a couple of key things when it comes to leaving Winston-Salem, N.C. with a victory.

1. Eliminate Turnovers - This is the biggest key for Nebraska. You can't go on the road and hurt yourself. You have to be efficient with the ball and not put too much emphasis on getting stops or leave your defense out on the field for a considerable amount of time.

Nebraska has to once again take what the defense is giving them. Sam Keller did a very good job at doing this last week by taking the shorter to intermediate routes and then choosing to go downfield only a handful of times. Sam is going to see defenses that start out one way and end as another, he is going to have to make good decisions and accurate throws. This plays a part in another one of my keys to victory.

2. Win the Battle for Time of Possession - Time of possession is critical and comes with eliminating turnovers and taking what the defense gives you. Now, if the defense is going to allow you to throw it deep, then you do it, but I have a feeling that like Nevada, Wake Forest is going to play a lot of defense that keeps plays in front of the safeties.

Against Nevada, Nebraska had right at 40 minutes of possession time. With that type of advantage, you have only given your opponent one third of the game to have the ball on offense. It's no wonder that Nebraska's offense ticked so well and had such gaudy rushing stats.

3. Establish the Run - Nebraska didn't put the ball on the rug at all against Nevada, knock on wood, and if they can continue to do it will lead to big things in the running game. The Huskers had 70 rushing attempts for 413 yards last week, averaging almost six yards per carry, and Marlon Lucky racked up 235 yards on 30 carries (over seven yards a pop).

Now, I certainly don't think that Nebraska will have this same type of success against Wake Forest as they did against Nevada, but they really don't need to either. Nebraska just needs to start to lean on their opponents, continue to rotate personnel at running back and along the line to then break the spirit of the defense they are up against. If they do this, Nebraska will be hard to stop.

4. Don't Give Up The Big Play! - Look, there isn't a way to go out there and just not give up big plays, but there are ways to try to ensure that it doesn't happen. The defense is on the road and momentum is a factor in game like the one this Saturday. The Blackshirts need to stick to their keys all weekend long.

Wake Forest is a team that gets you looking one way and hits you another. It's for this reason that Nebraska's defense needs to play solid, stay at home defense on Saturday to help them not give up big plays. There is also a reason to try and get pressure on a backup quarterback to force him into bad decisions that should allow Nebraska's defense to make some plays.

5 obvious players to keep an eye on Saturday:

1. Sam Keller – He was a good manager of the game last week and his prior experiences on the road should pay dividends this weekend. Wake Forest will throw a bunch of different looks at him on Saturday.
2. Marlon Lucky and Quentin Castille – They teamed up to rush for over 300 yards last weekend and had zero fumbles between the two of them.
3. Maurice Purify – Nebraska is looking for some consistency out of their receivers after some passes that were dropped that should have been caught.
4. Steve Octavien – There is some blood in the water if Skinner gives it a go for Wake Forest or a new fish if Hodges is under center.
5. Courtney Grixby – The Nebraska secondary should be busy regardless of the pressure up-front by Nebraska's D-Line after Wake throws for 366 yards against Boston College.

5 not-so-obvious players to keep an eye on Saturday:

1. Terrence Nunn – Nunn probably missed on his first touchdown of the year last weekend. As a senior, he needs to lead by example.
2. Mike McNeil and Dreu Young – The tight end position will continue to develop as long as these two continue to get open.
3. Lower unit offensive lineman – Coach Dennis Wagner was able to get some of the lower unit guys as many as 25 snaps last weekend across the line.
4. Larry Asante – Physically, he is as good as it gets. As a safety though, he needs to be able to catch the ball for interceptions.
5. Punt returners – You might start to see more Andre Jones back here, but Nebraska wasn't very good last weekend in this area with five returns for 28 yards.

Nebraska looks to have some advantages this weekend despite being on the road in the house of the former ACC champs. If Nebraska can not turn the ball over and run the football successfully to win the battle for time of possession then they will come out of this weekend victorious. The Huskers must also make sure that Wake Forest doesn't make big plays to quickly influence the score.

There is also the angle that Nebraska might actually find a team that is going to try and mess with Sam Keller and give him a lot of looks. Judging by the Boston College game, there are some similarities to Oklahoma last year, but not necessarily the same personnel. Sam will need to be patient and take what he is given. While Nebraska was in front of 80,000+ Husker fans last weekend, this weekend it still might be close to 10,000 of a little over 30,000 seat stadium. The line says about -8 right now for Nebraska and I think that Nebraska will win by at least two scores. I am going to say 31-14 final score with Nebraska leaving with victory number two and getting ready for USC.


Big Red Report Top Stories