This year isn't 2008 or 2005. If Nebraska brings something to the table this year that neither one of those other teams had it's a physical style of team that can make plays either on the offensive side of the ball or the defensive. Here are the things that I will be watching on Saturday afternoon when Nebraska takes on Texas Tech:
1. Get the ball! - The Huskers have a real good chance Saturday of setting their offense up from Texas Tech turnovers. The Red Raiders are a -4 in turnover margin while Nebraska is a +5. Under Steven Sheffield, the predicted starter for Texas Tech, they only turned the ball over once.
2. Been there, done that! - Nebraska has had to face adversity on the road at Virginia Tech and again at Missouri last week. Nebraska won one, could have won both, but return home to face Tech who will field a starter on Saturday in Sheffield who has never played on the road. Just take a look at the difference in Zac Lee's stats at home and away to get an idea about how much it affected him.
3. Follow up big win - While many people were wanting Nebraska to get that big win against a top 25 opponent, on the road and on national television; what many people aren't talking about is how will Nebraska follow up that win? Nebraska can't come out flat against Texas Tech or risk playing catch up early.
4. Who gets the carries? - With Rex Burkhead going down with an injury for an uncertain amount of time it's going to be interesting to see who carries the ball. I think that you are going to see more of a committee here with Mendoza coming in for more opportunities to catch the ball, Austin Jones and possibly Dontrayevous Robinson to carry the ball. If you had to ask me what my opinion was on Robinson playing, I would say he would. I would also say it's a good choice. 5. Time to win one - Nebraska hasn't beat Texas Tech since 2001. They've been close though. Last year taking Texas Tech into overtime was just about as good as a win in the eyes of the media and the public at large, but it's never as good if you are a player or a coach. There is also the LeKevin Smith interception/fumble that allowed Tech to come back and win 31-34 four years ago. Two times, so close, it's about time this went in Nebraska's favor.
6. Victim of the media - Since beating Missouri, Nebraska and particularly Ndamukong Suh have been everywhere. Now, this does come from being an afterthought and not mentioned at all by much of the media, so one must consider that. It can become a distraction though. It can cause a team to lose their focus.
7. Building off of great 4th quarter - Nebraska has a great chance to carry the momentum that they had in the highest scoring quarter in Nebraska football history forward and get off on the right foot tomorrow. The Nebraska offense, and the defense that really set up a couple of the scores, were hitting on all cylinders in the Missouri game. Nebraska needs to get out fast, set the tempo and really establish their physical style with Texas Tech on Saturday.
8. Which is a better quarterback to face? - Steven Sheffield or Tayler Potts? That is the question. Personally, I would have preferred Nebraska face Potts after having seen him play against Texas early in the season. Potts isn't a mobile quarterback. More than that, he isn't a very good decision maker. An inside pass rush, from Suh and Jared Crick, might be able to rattle both Tech quarterbacks, but it would have been particularly useful against Potts. Plan on seeing Sheffield on Saturday after a seven touchdown performance against Kansas State and Sheffield doesn't care about having the confines of a pocket to play out of. He will move around and throw on the run.
9. Clock management - Nebraska held the ball for over 40 minutes last year against Texas Tech. With Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, it was necessary for Nebraska to try and keep Tech's offense off the field as much as possible. While there is no Crabtree to throw it to, Sheffield makes up for that in how many different receivers will get the ball. Last weekend Sheffield completed passes to 10 different receivers.
10. Avoiding the big play - People want to know, why no Blackshirts up until now? To me, it's all about playing from start to finish without having a breakdown. You can go back to points in each of the games this past season, particularly the big games against Virginia Tech and Missouri, where a breakdown occurred on the defensive side of the ball. The Blackshirts are just about a physical style of defense. It's not just about being good either – and they are most definitely good this year – but it's about being great and more than that, consistent. That means playing from start to finish.
While Tech enters the game on Saturday unranked, that doesn't mean "not good". This Tech team has played some tough opponents, Texas and Houston, and put up points against each and fighting until the very end. The Huskers might bring to the table a defense that the Red Raiders haven't seen anything like this season. The wide splits of Tech to try and slow down the edge rushers might actually help Nebraska get more inside pressure and cause the Tech quarterback to have to move. I see this being a back and forth game until the fourth quarter when Nebraska goes in front and stays in front. In the end, the Blackshirts are the difference, I am taking Nebraska, 34-24.