Nebraska Preview: Maized and Confused

Nebraska and Texas are two of the top programs in the history of college football, but this weekend's contest has lost some of the luster, primarily due to the Huskers falling off the map. But which team will Texas see on Saturday? A flagging team, devoid of discipline or unity...or a scrapping, desperate squad fighting for its, and its coach's, life.

On Saturday at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, Texas fans will see a talented but under-performing, turnover-prone, undisciplined football team take the field.

And I don't mean the Longhorns.

The Nebraska program has fallen to pieces this season as controversy swirls about the future of head coach Bill Callahan. The controversy is not surprising given the rapid decline of the level of play up in Lincoln and Callahan's record isn't going to help him win over any supporters.

He's 14-15 in the Big 12 isn't going to cut it at Nebraska, nor is 1-8 against teams that finished in the Top 25, nor is 0-6 against the Top 10, nor is 10-18 against D-I schools that simply have a winning record.

On the plus side, he is 2-0 against Baylor. So there's that.

The sea of red that makes Memorial Stadium the third largest city in Nebraska on Saturdays is comprised of fans that are famous for being the most respectful in college football. But they've only been producing a wave of boos as the program flounders.

Newly appointed AD Tom Osborne has the Huskers' ears (ears...corn, get it? Ok, ok, moving on) when it comes to the future of the program, but the legendary coach has been silent on Callahan's status, but after the performance Nebraska's put together so far, all indications out of Lincoln point to there being a new head coach next season.

In short, Callahan is Nebraska's Mackovic.

But keep in mind, even John Mackovic pulled of some upsets, most prominently against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Lincoln's version of Mackovic comes into Austin with a team that's a heavy -- and I do mean heavy -- underdog to the Horns, but the Huskers will be looking to pull off a Route 66 of their own (alright, maybe not a Route 66, but a win would suffice).

Nebraska suffered a monumental defeat at the hands of Texas A&M, 36-14, but the Huskers actually have a better record after a loss than after a win (8-6 vs. 9-11) and a win is something that they desperately need to salvage at least part of their season.

The Cornhuskers will be facing a Texas team that's had some consistency issues of its own, but nowhere near the struggles Nebraska's had. If the Longhorns beat the Huskers, it will be Texas head coach Mack Brown's 100th victory at the University of Texas, but Brown said, naturally, that the wins aren't about him.

"The importance of winning 100 games here is to give credit to the consistency of all the coaches and all the players that have been here during these past 10 years that have all done such a great job," said Brown.

It's still well short of Royal's 167, but it is a notable point in Brown's career at Texas. However, to get it Saturday, he'll have to make sure his team plays smarter, more disciplined football than the Huskers. Given the way Callahan's bunch has been playing, that might not be a difficult task, but it's much easier said than done.

NEBRASKA OFFENSE
Sam Keller was supposed to be the final piece.

It was understandable that Nebraska would struggle a bit in Callahan's first couple of seasons because he was transitioning to the spread offense with a team that for the entire history of its football program considered the forward pass a quaint novelty.

But this is the fourth season. This is the year where the team was supposed to turn the corner. The players that were recruited for the offensive scheme had experience and they now had a high-profile senior quarterback to get them the ball.

It was not to be. Keller has completed 62.8 percent of his passes, but also thrown 10 INTs to go with his 12 touchdowns. The running backs have been giving the ball away this season, putting 13 footballs on the turf and losing nine of them.

The team is balanced in terms of runs-pass, but the Huskers have had much more success through the air, grabbing 110 first downs on passes, compared to only 60 on runs. When they do hand off the ball, look for running back Marlon Lucky. Lucky has 721 yards on 146 carries (4.9 ypc) and six TDs.

Lucky is also the leading receiver in both receptions (49) and yards (388) for Nebraska. The next closest receiver on the team is Maurice Purify, who has 28 catches for 374 yards and a couple TDs, followed by Nate Swift and Terrence Nunn, who each have 23 receptions for 296 and 270 yards, respectively.

The offense is putting up the yards, 422 per game to be exact, but turnovers are killing the Huskers anytime they get momentum.

NEBRASKA DEFENSE
Giving up the football has come easily to the Huskers this season, but getting the ball from opponents has not. The team is -9 in turnover differential and a lack of pressure has a lot to do with it.

The defensive front on the whole has struggled to get penetration this season, but it has been a breakout season for 6-7, 285-pound DE Zach Potter. He leads the team in both tackles for loss, with 10, and in sacks, with 2.5. In fact, the defense as a whole only has eight sacks on the year. The Huskers just have not gotten to the quarterback.

The team's leading tackler is senior LB Steve Octavien, but there's another player in the linebacking corps whom Texas must keep an eye on. Statistically he may not be leading in many categories, but in terms of impact, the player that must be paid attention to is senior LB Bo Ruud. He's the leader of the defense and possess the athleticism to make an impact at the professional level as well.

Unfortunately for Nebraska, few other players on the defense seem to possess that quality. In recent weeks, the Black Shirts haven't been living up to their name and they've been criticized for being beaten in the run game. But they've been passed on too and, overall, they don't seem to have the team speed on defense necessary to keep up with most offenses in the Big 12.

That's why they must take advantage of every opportunity they get. The Nebraska defense generating turnovers could be the key to this game. The Cornhuskers must force the Horns to make mistakes if they're going to pull off the upset.

If they don't, well then, to put it frankly, they're shucked.


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