1. Oklahoma lost their middle linebacker when Ryan Reynolds went down in the Texas game, and it now looks like Nebraska has lost their man in the middle as well in Phillip Dillard. How big of a setback will that be for the blackshirts and who will likely get the nod?
The loss for Nebraska with Dillard wasn't so unlike what Oklahoma lost when Reynolds went down. I'm not comparing ability so much, though, I think Dillard is a strong player, is very good against the run and he moves well from sideline to sideline. But he was the unquestioned leader back there, a fiery guy who led by doing and by saying, when he thought something needed to be said.
The most likely candidate to replace him for now is converted running back Cody Glenn. Glenn leads the team in tackles, which is a great story in and of itself, and it's his athleticism which is the key. He's very fast, and for someone who hasn't played much defense during their career he has good instincts to the ball. They can't replace Dillard, but athletically, Glenn should make for a nice substitute.
2. The Nebraska Cornhuskers utilize a West Coast offensive attack, which makes many people assume that they are more of a passing offense, but they seem to run the ball plenty. Would you categorize it as a pass first scheme? Why or why not?
Over the last three weeks Nebraska has simplified everything, going back to a more basic offense, run first and try to build the passing game off of that. That running game isn't exclusive to hand offs in the backfield, though, as Nebraska has gotten a lot of mileage out of the screen passes, both to the wide receivers and running backs. Those are basically runs, considering how close they take place to the line. The Huskers have the capability of letting it fly, but for senior quarterback Joe Ganz, his comfort comes from the play action, because it allows the passing game to be more effective, but with his mobility, it makes him that much more dangerous in the backfield, because he can do a lot of different things. But it all starts with the running game. If Nebraska can't run, they have problems.
3. Bo Pelini has been one of the strongest defensive minds in college football, and as the co-defensive coordinator at OU in 2004 he helped the Sooners to the National Title game. The 2007 season was a dismal year for the NU defense. How long will it be before the nation sees the old NU 'D'?
The stats don't really show the improvement the defense has made, though, they have been considerably better in most every area this year. One has to remember that the Husker defense wasn't bad last year, they were absolutely horrendous. You could say that it started with a defensive line, that just a year ago was untested almost across the board. Their turnaround has been amazing, because I think they have been the strength of the entire team. With so much inexperience at linebacker, though, and in the secondary, along with having almost no depth, it's been a process at times for the Husker defense.
Some may not realize that for the first time that I can remember in all my years of following Husker football, the "Blackshirts" weren't handed out to the defense at the beginning of the year. Bo Pelini said that when they earned them they would get them. It's hard to say when that might be, and this defense will only get better. But they are still a ways from being anything close to what people started to expect during the hay day, and in 2003 when Bo was the D.C here, and watched his team lead the country in turnovers forced, interceptions and pass efficiency defense.
That kind of performance is probably a while away yet.
4. Joe Ganz seemes to get lost in the wash when breaking down top Big 12 QB's, but he is having a pretty good season. How good is he really and why should he be mentioned more or get more respect by the national and local medias?
I think Ganz is a solid QB, but I am not ready to put him in the same sentence with players like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Chase Daniel. I think he has many of the same qualities, and he's been very efficient for the Huskers. It's kind of interesting that every player who has practiced with Joe over the last four years will tell you that when Nebraska is in the two minute offense Ganz doesn't lose. It's not to say they win the game, but this kid lives for those late-half or late-game moments, because that's where he feels he is at his best.
It's too bad they can't bottle that up for an entire game, but he's dangerous with his feet, is underrated as a passer, and I think his decision making has gotten considerably better now that he doesn't feel he has to win every game on every single throw. I don't know where that puts him in regard to the rest of the conference, because I fully expect the Heisman Trophy winner this year to be a QB from the Big 12. It's no insult to say Joe isn't quite at that level, but he's good - more than good enough that if people take him lightly, he's going to give some teams issues.
5. What is the state of this rivalry game? Is it still a rivalry in your opinion?
When Oklahoma and Nebraska stopped playing every year, that was essentially the end of the rivalry. It isn't just about two good teams going against each other, the game usually having national implications. You have to play every year in order for the game to REALLY mean something, and THEN, the game has to be for something in the end.
I like how they wax nostalgic over what this game used to be, and it was one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football. But if both weren't great teams during those times and there wasn't national hardware in the balance at times, the game would have had the same meaning as Kansas vs Kansas State.
It's because of the Barry Switzers and Tom Osbornes of the world which made it significant. It was due to the Billy Sims, Greg Pruitts, Rich Glovers and Keith Jacksons that this game meant what it did. They were both great, and I think they were, because each used the other to become a better team. Were it not for Oklahoma, I don't think Nebraska would have ever amounted to much, because they never had that annual barometer for where they had to be. I think the same can be said for Oklahoma, though, their roots of success go back to the Wilkenson-era, before Nebraska ever got to be a perennial national power.
If there comes a time when these two teams play where both are ranked in the top 10, we can sit and talk about how great this rivalry used to be. But that's what it is: nostalgia, and those of us who watched it, went to games on Fridays after Thanksgiving, froze our butts off in snow, sleet and rain - it will probably always mean something to a degree.
But it's just another game, anymore, and Nebraska will have to hold up their end of the bargain and get back to where Oklahoma is now.
Then when they play, it will still be another game, but it will be for something that matters. Bragging rights against a team you don't play every year really isn't all that special. It is what it is, as coaches like to say.