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Official Husker Locker Blog

2010 Oct 06

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: 5 Keys to KSU

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By HuskerLocker

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Forget the politics. Forget the farewell tour. Forget the storylines. Lord knows you’ll get drunk on all of that next week when Texas comes to town.

Treat Nebraska’s Thursday night showcase at Kansas State as precisely the kind of test NU needs before that emotional slugfest Oct. 16. Because the shoe is on the other foot. It’s KSU that looks at the Huskers with scorn. It’s NU that serves as the Wildcats’ biggest game of the year. Before it zeroes in on Enemy No. 1 in UT, Nebraska is Enemy No. 1 for the Big 12 North on this night.

So, for the Huskers, this ESPN-televised game becomes more about the enemy combatants - guys like running back Daniel Thomas - than what they stand for. There will be time for soapbox speeches and philosophical rants - plenty - next week, when it Nebraska’s turn to grind the axe.

On with the keys. We have been hitting on some variation of them for ten days.

Tempo: Kansas State wants to possess the ball, bleed the clock and play keep-away from the NU offense. Nebraska’s explosive, quick-strike offense puts the opponent on their heels and forces them off the their scripts. One of the two will have to give. The Huskers want to get Kansas State off the field quickly, while KSU wants to pressure Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez into mistakes by creating an atmosphere that makes him rush.

Unsurprisingly, the running game - for both teams - is important here. NU and KSU go about it in different ways, yet both choose to imprint their physical will on the opponent. Whichever team does that better probably controls the pace of the game, if not necessarily the outcome.

Talent Gap: I call it the 44 test. Take Nebraska’s two-deep and Kansas State’s two-deep on both sides of the ball and see which group has the advantage.

Sparing you the analysis, it’s fair to say, across the board - especially on defense, where several Nebraska backups would start for K-State - that the Huskers get the nod. Turn NU-KSU into a sandlot game, and Nebraska runs roughshod over the Cats.

But it’s not a sandlot game of raw-skill-on-raw-skill. So Kansas State must take its few strengths - Thomas, the offensive line - and parlay that into a game philosophy. Again - back to tempo.

Nebraska, meanwhile, needs to exploit its advantage of speed, agility, experience and sheer athleticism. Get guys out into space to make plays. Rely on corners Alfonzo Dennard and Prince Amukamara to play man coverage down the field. Get after quarterback Carson Coffman with speedsters like LaVonte David and Eric Martin.

Through four games, Nebraska’s been content to let offenses try to solve their complex, effective web of defense. I wonder if, in this game, it’s better to attack the Wildcats and put them on their heels, right away, to eliminate any notion of an upset.

The Chess Match: The game behind the game is this: Bill Snyder vs. the Brothers Pelini. That’s a lot of brainpower and innovation on one field.

Snyder’s formula is simple: Work, work, work. Plan, plan, plan.

“I had heard stories and took them for what they are,” said KSU safety Tysyn Hartman at Big 12 Media Days. “Then you see him in person, and it’s exactly what the stories are saying. The guy’s up there almost 24/7. Rarely sleeps. Rarely eats…first one in, last one to leave.”

I think of him as Job - a tireless, faithful guy in the face of poor resources and an iffy talent pool. His teams come ready. His script is almost always well-conceived.

“He’s a good coach a normal week and he’s an even better coach with ten days preparation,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said.

The Brothers Pelini have their own plan, but they’re even better at in-game adjustments. One constant, over their three years at Nebraska, has been the ability to identify a weakness, quickly create a fix, and apply it on the following drive. The Huskers rarely get beaten up for a whole game.

Snyder can be slow to deviate from his plan when it isn’t working. It’s a criticism that’s been leveled at him for years. When the guy stays on script, though, he’s tough to beat.

Taylor Terrific? That’s the question for Nebraska’s offense. Does anybody really know what to expect? The opaque, unreadable Martinez has presumably learned from mistakes made in the South Dakota State game - coaches don’t make him talk between games, so Martinez gladly declines the job to do it - but those lessons are best applied against a Kansas State defense that must have some bells and whistles designed for him.

We’ll put some of NU’s offensive performance on rest of the units - plus offensive coordinator Shawn Watson - but a lot of it goes back to Martinez, the straw who’s stirred NU’s spread option drink for four games. Can he make the necessary passes to beat the blitz? Can he identify a blitz as it comes? Can he make the right reads against a defense designed to confuse him? These are hard questions for any redshirt freshman to answer. If he can’t, does Watson pull the plug on the road? If so - to which QB?

The kid’s going to make mistakes. That’s part of the deal. You just hope they don’t create much harm.

Wildcat zoo: I’m expecting a loud, angry crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Profane. Cruel. Ready for Husker blood. In other words - a terrific atmosphere worthy of KSU’s “Octagon of Doom” at Bramlage Coliseum for basketball.

Nebraska’s team appears to relish these games. Bo Pelini feeds off of adversity and animosity, and his players follow suit. How the Huskers handle the crowd - especially when they’re frustrated - may play a big role in how they react on the field.

See also: 5 Keys to KSU, 5 NU Players to Watch, 5 KSU Players to Watch, The Matchup Edge and Guess The Score

Tags: kansas state game, five keys, taylor martinez, bill snyder, bo pelini, carl pelini, shawn watson

Comments (1)

Profile image for huskerfanbb
huskerfanbb

I think the biggest key here is Nebraska's O-line. K-State's D-line is an undersized unit. Iowa State and Central Florida pushed them around pretty good. Nebraska should be able to do the same. If they can't, it's going to be a long night.

– Oct 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm

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