Keys to Success: USC

The Huskers went on the road and escaped Winston-Salem with a win, 20-17. While each game is played week by week, and you can't overlook anyone, there is little doubt of the awareness to Nebraska about USC coming to Lincoln. It's a game that many have had circled on their calendar. Nebraska is an underdog at home and will need to be perfect and make USC make mistakes to win on Saturday.

After a long trip out to Wake Forest, I am back in Dallas to take another stab at USC and some keys to success. Before we break down to keys to Nebraska having success against USC, let's talk about the Wake Forest game, the good and the bad, and then talk about what Nebraska has to do to win on Saturday night.

- My biggest key to success last week against Wake Forest was turnovers. Nebraska was -1 in this area, but was able to come away with a win on the road. Nebraska needs to improve in this area.
- Nebraska had a real lack of success on third downs, 3-for-15, and had a lot of missed opportunities with mistakes by players and stalled what could have been key drives.
- Going back to third downs, the receivers of Nebraska dropped some catchable passes to keep drives alive. You need players to make plays, especially on the road.
- Sam Keller needs to take what is given to him as opposed to trying to make plays. You lose momentum. You lose a down on incompletions. You also put yourself in bad situations in terms of down and distance.
- While the offensive line played a nearly flawless game against Nevada, there were some breakdowns against Wake Forest. Nebraska will need to iron out those wrinkles.
- A lot like the offensive line, the defensive ends didn't have as big of game against Wake Forest as they did against Nevada. They will need to emerge as playmakers on the defense.
- The corner play was good, and they came up big when they needed to, but the safety play needs to improve. Too many times players got behind safety coverage against Wake Forest.

The Huskers are 2-0 and are ranked #14 in both the AP and the coaches' poll. USC is #1 and had a bye to "prepare" for Nebraska in Lincoln. The Huskers are going to do things to as perfect as possible and make USC make mistakes to win the game this weekend. Here are the keys to success for Nebraska for a victory:

1. Pressure on the Quarterback - Nebraska has only two sacks through two games so far this season. It was known that Nebraska's defense was going to have some questions on the defensive line, but the ends and the interior lineman are going to have to get some pressure on Booty. Pressure will lead to him not being able to make the best throws or the most accurate throws and could lead to mistakes. Nebraska simply will not be able to cover the USC receivers for 3+ seconds either.

2. Win the Battle of Turnovers - Nebraska failed in this area last week, but still won. USC is not Wake Forest though, one the road or not. Nebraska must come away with at least a +1 turnover margin to win the game this weekend in my opinion. The turnovers will come as Nebraska forces USC in bad situations and trying to make plays to get out of it.

3. Cool Hand Sam - Sam Keller was anything but comfortable for most of the game against Wake Forest. He did make some great decisions and made some even better throws, however, those good passes and decisions are overshadowed by the bad. Sam has faced this team before and should have confidence in the players around him to make plays. He just needs to take what he gets on any play.

4. Big Players Play Big in Big Games - Last weekend was a little disappointing to see Maurice Purify come back and drop a couple of passes. That was compounded by still more dropped passes by the other receivers in key situations. There were also missed tackles that led to big gains for Wake Forest. Nebraska must simply have everyone play their best this weekend to win.

5. Sea of Red - Yes, the crowd gets the nod at number five. Simply put, the crowd at Memorial Stadium is a weapon and must be used to throw USC off in key situations. You know that if you give Lincoln and the Husker fans "Game Day" and a chance to stew until primetime that things will be pretty lively in the stadium that night.

Five obvious players to keep an eye on Saturday

1. Sam Keller – He must lead this team and I am sure that he wants a chance to finally beat USC.
2. Marlon Lucky – He is going to be critical to the success to control the clock and put the Nebraska offense in good down and distance.
3. Nebraska receivers – Let's hope that the drops are out of their system, simply put, Nebraska can't afford drops on Saturday. 4. Zach Potter, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner – The Nebraska defensive ends need to get pressure on John David Booty. 5. Steve Octavien – Two games down and Steve is, hands down, the best player on the defense.

Five not-so-obvious players to keep an eye on Saturday

1. Quentin Castille – You could lump him in with Lucky and say NU running backs, but Castille could be a fireplug for Nebraska on Saturday.
2. Nebraska tight ends – The Nebraska tight ends had a big role in the game against Nevada and basically disappeared against Wake Forest.
3. Carl Nicks – Nicks really struggled in the game against Wake Forest. He is going to have to make sure that he can keep pressure off of Sam.
4. Ty Steinkuhler and Kevin Dixon – Ty will be back, he and Kevin will need to help Ndamukong Suh with getting an inside presence going.
5. Bo Ruud – The ability of the USC running backs provide a huge challenge to the Nebraska defense and Ruud will need to have a huge game.

Despite what some people might think, Nebraska actually matches up better with USC than with Wake Forest. The Wake Forest offense is unlike anything that Nebraska will see again all year. The USC offense, however, is there and in your face and is very similar to the best teams in the Big 12 that Nebraska will continue to face all season long. That being said, USC still has a pretty significant advantage in comparison to Nebraska in terms of athleticism. Nebraska has narrowed that gap through recruiting, but USC is still hauling in the nation's best at each position despite having the nation's best one, two or three years ago that are already there.

Looking at all of the factors for this game, Nebraska is still just not able to get over that hill to beat USC, yet. They are closer though. The confidence is coming for Nebraska. It will be helped all night long by having 85,000+ there screaming their heads off. I will say that USC wins the game, 28-20. This game is close though. Closer than what it was a year ago out in the coliseum and I can see Nebraska taking more chances in spots to try and make some plays this year, unlike what they were criticized for not doing last year in Los Angeles.

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