Keys to the game: Nebraska vs New Mexico St.

In a game where Nebraska is favored by more than three touchdowns, you wouldn't think that Nebraska would have to do anything special to come out with a win. But as we saw for about three quarters against San Jose State, sometimes it's what you shouldn't do that could make the difference. We look at some of the key points for the Huskers if they are to come out big winners against the Aggies.

It probably doesn't have to be said, but based on what happened last week the point is glaring:

Stop with the mental mistakes

Nebraska has had the luxury of facing teams that were such the Huskers could make some mistakes and still not worry too much about the game being in question. Now, New Mexico State isn't a world-beater which is guaranteed to take advantage of every little hiccup by the big red. But again, going back to the San Jose State game, you can put yourself in a rather precarious spot if you aren't mindful of what you are doing.

Three straight procedure penalties? 12 penalties for a total of 103 yards?

When there are so many other things you have to worry about during the course of the game, this issue, especially at home, should be the last thing which presents itself as a problem.

The mental mistakes also includes Ganz, who, just like the rest of the offense last week, really didn't seem to get into a rhythm until late. It seemed after that sack, the first sack of the season, Ganz took a while to get into any sort of groove. Where he is lucky is that he has veteran wideouts like Nathan Swift who are almost always where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there. That makes it a little easier for a QB to get back into some semblance of a rhythm.

Offensive Line Coach Barney Cotton needs
more consistency out of his group this week

This aspect also includes turnovers, and you have to feel for him by this point, but instead of sophomore running back Quentin Castille having a possible touchdown from a beautiful option pitch from Ganz, who audibled into that play, Castille lost the ball, San Jose State recovering.

Taking bad angles could easily be seen as another mental miscue as the ability to wrap up is often dictated by how much of the player you were able to grasp at the point of impact. Back to the SJSU game, that was a glaring issue, players taking some horrendous angles which resulted in getting just so much of the ball-carrier or sometimes missing them entirely.

Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson said of this game that Nebraska was its own worst enemy. Offensive Line Coach Barney Cotton said that you don't often see a team make that many mistakes and still win.

It's not to say that NMSU can take advantage of those mistakes,  but why even give them a chance to try. Nebraska needs to clean things up.

Utilize the short passing game

With the unorthodox defense Nebraska is going to face this week, one question involves where to go with the ball, what will work and what might not be the best idea. After talking to coaches who actually run this type of defense, what seems like an ideal situation for the running game, Nebraska facing defensive linemen no heavier than 276 lbs. and some as light as 236, the passing game could be the bread n' butter.

We saw last week how effective those short passes out in the flats worked against San Jose State, but they could be even more effective against the Aggies. A consequence of everything the Aggie "D" is likely to do at the line to try and confuse or get to Joe Ganz, should leave a lot of open holes around the mid-field range.

One coach remarked that he didn't think this defense would be consistently effective at the Division 1-A level, because experienced quarterbacks would be able to read the coverages at the line. If Ganz can do that, the audible could be used more today than we have seen in the first two games, and you could see senior wide receiver Nathan Swift have another good game, but senior running back Marlon Lucky could have a field day.

Remember back to former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor's first season with Nebraska, against Iowa State Taylor threw a whopping 55 passes. Many of those were to running back Cory Ross, who utilized that middle part of the field extremely well as he totaled a single-game record for running backs with 131 yards on the game.

If that doesn't scream Marlon Lucky, I don't know what does. You can say whatever you like about his ability to run between the tackles, but Lucky is extremely good at catching the ball come out of the backfield. This type of scenario is not only right up his alley, it seems a perfect fit for him to have a huge day in the passing game.

Also, if that does indeed materialize where Ganz is literally able to pick his spots in the middle of the field, the NMSU defense will have to loosen up, hang  back, and you can finish them off with the running game.

 
Marlon Lucky could have a big day in the
passing game today.
For Ganz, someone you expect to make all the reads at the line, could have another 300-plus game against NMSU, and it will be the old-fashioned way for the "West Coast" offense – one 10 to 15 yard pass play at a time.

 Stay Home

This could easily fall under the label of mental mistakes, but it's such an important key to this particular game that it warrants a little expansion:

The offensive line needs to stay home

With all the stunting going on at the line and the defensive line often going through gaps which are at times up to two slots away from where they initially lined up, it would be easy as an offensive lineman to start chasing the man and forget about their responsibility in a zone blocking scheme.

That's what the NMSU defense wants.

It's a system which thrives on confusing linemen, getting them to chase players while other players from the second level come in to either fill gaps or blitz to the QB. The offensive line need to be mindful of where they are playing and let the players come to them.

Now, most of that idea is based around Nebraska passing the ball more than throwing it today. But you could apply the same caution to the bigguns if they were doing nothing but drive blocking the entire day.

Outside of the option attack, where it really his hat-on-hate football, if you are just pushing the ball straight ahead or using a fairly straight forward perimeter run game, it's about blocking where you are expected to either open holes or seal off defenders.

The Aggie defense is going to try and confuse the offensive linemen and get them to chase guys so other guys can make plays. If the Husker offensive line can just be aware of "where" and not worry about the "who", they will be one huge step closer to solving this strange looking "D."

Control the clock

Through two games Nebraska has had one drive of 10 plays or more.

Considering the fact that they have won both those games and scored a decent amount of points, you'd have to consider that a job well done.

But there is something to be said for controlling the clock, hence controlling the game.

When you have extended drives the effect is two-fold; your defense getting ample rest and the defense of the opponent getting wore down. If this wasn't that important and these types of drives were irrelevant as long as you scored points, Texas Tech might very well be five-time defending national champs.

But because they have had historically suspect defenses, and have only exacerbated the problem with their own offense being on the field for very short periods of time, a game that could have potentially been anything other than a shootout becomes one, because the defense simply doesn't have the gas to stop anyone in the latter parts of the game.

From the Spring through the Fall, we have been touting this offensive line not only as very good, but very deep as well. There's no reason that this group shouldn't be able to put long drives together, especially against some of the teams they have faced.

Part of that comes from establishing the running game, something Nebraska hasn't really done up to this point. But one of the hallmarks of the west coast offense is its ability to control tempo, utilize short timing routes and move the ball down the field.

I'm all for quick strikes and the ability to score on defenses at will, but I don't think it would hurt if Nebraska could "pound the rock" as they say, or use that short passing game to move the ball incrementally down the field.

The old saying or even axiom if you will, is if you can control the line, you can control the game. As the Huskers head into the bye-week it wouldn't hurt the team to go into the off-week building off a contest where they were able to force the tempo, control the clock and dictate to them rather than having to play a bit on their heels, because they never could really establish the line of scrimmage.

If Nebraska were to have another host of hiccups the likes of which we saw last week, there's still a reasonable belief that they could come out on top. But the Huskers have yet to have anything close to a complete game, where both sides of the ball played well.

Virginia Tech isn't as good as some thought it might be, so this match up certainly isn't one for the ages and players have to be perfect in order for them to scratch out a win. But Nebraska really does need to put it all together, because it's going to be better for the psyche of the team feeling good about what they have done, rather than worrying about all the things they have to fix.

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