This weekend is Senior Day as well as a chance for those seniors to go out and clinch the North title and a shot at playing for the Big 12 crown. Kansas State comes to town and so does a familiar face, Bill Snyder. I was at the game six years ago that ended in a Bo Pelini/Bill Snyder "discussion".
The Huskers have a lot to play for today, but there have been these types of game before when everything you thought was in Nebraska's favor wasn't. These are the things that I think will be keys to game today for a Nebraska win.
1. Score early – Nebraska has gotten out early on a few of their last opponents and they will need to do it Saturday as well. Nebraska needs to force the issue of trying to "keep up" with Nebraska's offense as they are putting up points on the board; which brings me to #2…
2. Make KSU do something they don't want to do - Kansas State wants to pound the ball. They are third in the conference, 31st nationally, running the ball and 12th in the conference, 105th nationally, at throwing the ball. Simply put, Kansas State wants to put the ball in the hands of Daniel Thomas and pound the rock. Nebraska needs to get Kansas State to throw the football.
3. Disciplined D - While KSU wants to come out and run Thomas down the throats of their opponents, their offense does have the Wildcat wrinkle as well as Brandon Banks who Nebraska must account for each time on the football field. Nebraska is going to need to play physical, disciplined football on the defensive side of the ball to win.
4. Force some turnovers - Turning the ball over is simply something that Kansas State doesn't do a lot of. KSU is #2 in the conference and #19 nationally in turnover margin. This of course is due in large part because KSU doesn't throw it around a lot. There won't be a lot of opportunities, but when they present themselves Nebraska will need to take advantage.
5. Get Lee into a groove - It surprised even myself, who was looking for Zac Lee to let loose a little bit, last week when Nebraska opened with the pass to Niles Paul to set up Nebraska's score. Lee is going to need to do it again this week to present the real threat of him throwing the football to try and gain some advantage in Nebraska's effort to run the ball.
6. No breakdowns on ST - This might be a weekend where smart special teams is as important as playing a smart game defensively. Banks is deadly on returns. He is the Big 12 all-purpose yardage leader. Banks scored on a kickoff return against Nebraska last year and has four more this year. Kansas State is averaging almost 27 yards on a punt return good enough for 6th nationally.
7. Establish the run – Yes, I said get Lee into the groove first and then establish the run second. I think that Nebraska can run the ball against Kansas State, they allow over 100 yards per game rushing, but I think Kansas State will step up their rush defense and challenge Lee and Nebraska to throw. The KSU safety play is very good while both of their cornerbacks are solid.
8. Magic number is "150" - I don't see Kansas State having a lot of success throwing the football on Saturday so I am putting the mark of 150 there for Nebraska to keep Kansas State to less than 150 yards of rushing. It's still a lot, but I think it's 16% less than what they average and I don't think that KSU will get anywhere near what they average in passing (170 yards). This also has a lot to do with time of possession.
9. Pressure when KSU does want to pass - I heard the words of Carl Pelini this past week and his effort to contain Todd Reesing and the lack of pressure. I understand that when you have a mobile quarterback, but Kansas State has just allowed too many sacks to not want to get after Grant Gregory when he is going to pass. Kansas State has allowed 64 sacks and Nebraska is averaging 2.8 per game. This will be a big key to the game and could really throw off rhythm and frustrate KSU.
10. Swagger - Last, and certainly not least, I am going to be looking for some swagger from Nebraska. Yes, if they lose the game on Saturday it won't equal and trip to Dallas two weeks after for a chance to play for the Big 12 Title. But, Nebraska has to get back to just knowing that they are that good, especially at home. I haven't seen that level of confidence in Lincoln for some time.
A good forecast in Lincoln this weekend means that Nebraska doesn't have to get out of their game plan this weekend and just needs to go out and execute. Weather is always that X-factor when it comes to games like this. It has a way of evening out any playing field.
Nebraska shouldn't be down today. Everyone can assume their tired, a little beat up. But on game days a lot of that goes away and you just want to hit someone that isn't on your team. I expect that to be a huge fuel for Nebraska and especially the Blackshirts today.
Huskers will get their chance to represent the North after today. I am taking Nebraska, 34-13.