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Official Husker Locker Blog

2009 Nov 25

Five Keys: Colorado

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By HuskerLocker

You're busy with turkey, stuffing, yams and the blowout game on the TV in the background. No preamble. Just on to NU-CU, and those five keys.

Win one for the Hawk: Even when Dan Hawkins sticks as Colorado's coach, the Buffaloes are perfectly aware of his embattled situation, and now that he's said about every mea culpa possible for this debacle of a season – just watch how hard CU plays on Friday. That doesn't mean Colorado doesn't get beaten. But I think you'll see the CU defense, inconsistent for much of the year, hone in on their talent for at least one game. Nebraska's offense is still learning how to move with power treads on its wheels, so our hunch is Colorado thinks it can win against NU's running game, and sell out everywhere else.

Expect, as a result, the kitchen sink approach on offense. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini even knows it's coming.

“We're prepared for a lot of different things we could see,” Pelini said after Wednesday's practice. “I'm sure they'll do some things we haven't seen. We've been dealing with that for a couple weeks now. A lot of teams throw things at us. We make adjustments and move past it. Our kids are pretty resilient that way. They don't get all caught up and flustered.”

Bo's right. But CU will have an extra dose of – something – for the Big Red.

The Specials: Colorado is among the nation's five worst teams in punting and punt returns, and kicker Aric Goodman remains one of the Big 12's spottiest performers. Nebraska, meanwhile, has two Mr. Reliables: Kicker/punter Alex Henery and kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic. Throw in much-better-than-average punt and kickoff return units, and Nebraska should have a whopping edge in an area where CU typically excels. Henery, meanwhile, has to be considered one of the MVPs of the entire Big 12, as huge punting performances helped turn around the Oklahoma and Kansas State games, while his reliable field goal kicking makes NU a threat anywhere around the opponents' 35-yard line.

Inside-Out: If you peruse the offenses that have had the most success against CU's defense – Toledo, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M – all but the Mountaineers exploited the middle of the Buffaloes' secondary for big plays at touchdowns. While Colorado has fair corners, and its linebackers run downhill pretty well, the deep middle has been vulnerable from the opening-season kickoff, and CU's interior line has been susceptible to inside zone, iso and counter plays between the hash marks. Nebraska can – and will – challenge the core of Buffaloes' defense.

Tyler, Cody and Zac: That's Cody Hawkins, for those of you keeping track at home, not Cody Green. Expect to see all three on Friday, warts, talents and all, and if Zac Lee's one game can outplay the combined efforts of CU's two, then Nebraska should win by ten points or more. Lee is a hybrid, of sorts, of Hawkins and the slightly taller, more mobile Tyler Hansen. Like them, Lee still makes head-scratching mistakes now and again. Like them, Lee is capable of some big passing plays – seemingly out of thin air. And Lee's becoming - almost against his instincts - a better runner.

Play the odds: Hawkins' shoddy handling of the quarterback situation, coupled with errors upon errors, has put a mask on a fairly talented team in each spot but defensive line. Certainly Nebraska wouldn't mind some of CU's receivers and tight ends, that's for sure. The Buffaloes are one or two recruiting cycles away from having the talent to win the Big 12 North, but there's enough on hand for an upset at home over a rival.

But the Buffaloes always manage to do something dumb. They're 118th out of 120 in penalties, and 117th in penalty yards. They're 82nd in turnover margin. They're 117th in sacks allowed.

Translation: CU pretty much leads in America in self-inflicted, big-yardage wounds. How an athletic director could look at those numbers and conclude Hawkins should stay is beyond us. Just hope that it benefits Nebraska on Saturday.

Tags: five keys, colorado game, alex henery, adi kunalic, zac lee, bo pelini, dan hawkins

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