The biggest danger for Nebraska in this game is that KSU starting QB, Ell Roberson has apparently learned how to throw. Not a good thing when you consider what Craig Bohl's defense has done against the pass, against teams that were capable of doing that all day long if needed.
Before Roberson finally got a grasp on putting the ball into the air with efficiency, the belief on KSU was simple. Stop the run and you stop them.
Though Roberson isn't going to be getting any comparisons to a Grossman, Manning or Leftwich in his passing ability, in a game like this, he doesn't have to be good, just good enough.
So, that leaves NU having to scramble at guessing between "man" and "zone" , trying to guess what Snyder is going to do. That doesn't usually favor NU, but Bohl has proven lucky at times if not good.
Darren Sproles will also be a player to watch out for as he's the consummate "century" back, piling up one 100 yard+ performance after another. He's small, but all those things that come from that in terms of quickness, elusiveness and a very nice burst make him a dangerous combination to try and contain. Nebraska will have two running threats in both Sproles and Roberson, it will be just a matter of who they want to stop most.
Bet on Sproles.
The defensive philosophy for NU will be simple. Stop the run, contain Roberson and make him beat you with his arm. NU has utilized that philosophy most of the year, but the problem is, they have run into some quarterbacks that were more than willing to do just that and NU gave up (at times), some staggering yards through the air.
Can Roberson pass like Simms? No. Can Roberson pass like Mills? Again, no. Roberson is a very good runner, but at this point of his career in the passing game, he's just a bit above average. That could be enough if Fabian Washington proves as inviting a target as he has all year, but Roberson will have to be far above average to be able to win this on his own if KSU's running game can't get going.
On offense, NU has a simple philosophy as well, run the ball. Kansas State has a remarkable pass defense, but their run defense can be had. They have shown at least some vulnerability in that area, so you can guarantee NU to take advantage, at least to the extent they can.
Jammal Lord as he has been, will be the key to keeping the linebackers honest. No, Lord can't pass to get them out of the box more than likely, but Lord has enough elusiveness that either the linebackers will have to stay back or the safeties will have to come up, just in case Lord breaks free.
Honestly, you can expect the same thing from Kansas State as you could from any team that has played NU thus far. Stack the box and make Lord beat you. In all actuality, that has worked three times, NU's fourth loss coming from a variety of errors on both sides of the ball. But, it's about the soundest philosophy you can use when facing a Nebraska team that has started to get their legs under them in the rushing game.
NU will be able to run the ball. Don't kid yourself on that. The key here is, by the time it starts to work, will they be too far behind on the board for it to matter?
Kansas State has very good team speed and again, is extremely good in the secondary. A capable linebacker core, an opportunistic interior, they have one of the highest ranked defenses in the nation for a season.
But, again, they can be had.
Jammal Lord doesn't have to be the MVP for NU to win , but likewise, KSU's Ell Roberson doesn't either. This promises to be a "smashmouth" affair, but based on the early going, you can bet on a trick play or two.
If neither game can get the rushing game going early, advantage Kansas State. Roberson isn't great, but in the passing dept., he's farther along than Lord and NU doesn't have KSU's secondary.
If both teams can run the ball well initially, advantage Nebraska. Nobody takes advantage of a power game that is working like NU. Always the opportunistic passing game, never excellent, NU seems to have a knack for hitting passes, but usually only when the running game is working.
And what about the mistakes?
NU has patented shooting themselves in the foot this season either with ill-timed penalties or turnovers at similarly bad times. Point of fact, Nebraska has done more to take themselves out of games than any of their opponents, at least initially. And when it comes to turnover margin, NU almost always finds itself comparing quite unfavorably to the opponent.
This time is no different.
In my estimation, you can best sum up what will dictate who wins, like so. Whoever scores first will have a serious advantage. Though KSU is capable of big plays, at least this year, they are not anymore of a comeback team than NU. In fact, NU's biggest comeback in about a decade is why I think they have a shot at all at winning this game.
But, it's a shot that will have to be dead on the dot.
Let's not kid ourselves. If Craig Bohl doesn't have this one figured out, NU will get burnt over and over. His lack of ability to adjust from half to half has made NU easy targets going into the third quarter. Whatever this defense does, they need to do it with great execution, almost no penalties and rely that Bohl guesses right more than wrong.
On offense, just hold onto the darn ball. NU has the horses to grind it out on KSU, but will quickly fade if they can't keep a hold of the rock.
Looking at the last two games NU has played, they have both been with fire, both where they have had to comeback and when their backs were against the wall, they responded. Their backs will be against the wall the instant this game starts, so I predict that NU will respond once again.
It will come down to the third quarter and whoever wins that, but I think , at least this time, it will be Nebraska.
This one is going to be tight though. Real tight. But, of course, if NU turns the ball over, KSU will have this game won by half.
Players of the game:
Offense: Matt Herian
Defense: T.J. Hollowell