In another win that isn’t going to be classified as “pretty”, the Huskers finished off their Dominate The North (forgetting that pathetic loss to Iowa State) Tour with a 28-20 win at Colorado. The Husker defense still manages to turn people away even though they are bending a lot more without breaking. Friday, they gave up 403 yards of offense to a Colorado offense that averaged almost 100 yards less. unfortunately, the Huskers will be facing a team that will likely not give up opportunities in the red zone like KSU, Oklahoma and Colorado. Because the one major difference in next week’s Big 12 Championship is the quarterback.
With a chance to seize a conference championship, a national championship game berth and a Heisman Trophy, it is going to take a superhuman effort by the Blackshirts to slow down Colt McCoy. Yes, the Blackshirts have been close to superhuman this season, but they haven’t faced a team as talented as Texas and a quarterback as good as McCoy. Is there anything left in the tank for Nebraska’s defense? They have been asked to step up time and time again since the Virginia Tech game. That’s almost three full months ago. They have been playing non-stop since the second week of October.
In other words, Nebraska’s chances of an Oklahoma-style performance out of its defense is very remote. The offense has to show up in Dallas, or Texas will continue their domination of the Huskers.
There were some signs of encouragement the last few weeks. Two weeks ago, it was the running game and the play action pass. This week, it was Rex Burkhead and in both cases, the offensive line began to assert itself when it mattered most. Now I can see some Husker fans salivating at the fact that UT gave up 190 rushing yards and 532 total yards to A&M on Thanksgiving. But before you get too excited, consider that with Jerrod Johnson the Aggies had superior QB play on Turkey Day.
Johnson both ran and passed against the Longhorns and his receivers made some tough catches – ones that I haven’t seen Nebraska receivers make this season. Texas isn’t an impenetrable defense, but Nebraska’s offense is one that sometimes can’t find its way out of a wet paper bag. Shawn Watson has put his eggs in Zac Lee’s basket, for better or worse. He has also reigned the offense in to the point where gaining 500 yards might take 2 1/2 games to reach. So don’t look too much into the A&M game when assessing the Texas defense for the Big 12 Championship.
So what will it take to pull the upset and ruin the Horns’ chances of playing for the BCS marbles? A performance in all three phases like we haven’t seen. Okay, maybe that’s not fair to Alex Henery. How about a performance on offense and defense like we haven’t yet seen plus the status quo from special teams.
Bishop Six Pack
Rex Burkhead. After Roy Helu’s third quarter fumble, the freshman was inserted in the game and gave his best performance of his young Husker career. He accounted for 55 yards on the only decent drive the Huskers had all game. In addition, his first 100 yard game of what could be many more. It may be safe to say that Burkhead has put his broken toe injury behind him.
Niles Paul and the case of the left footed kicker. Remember how Nebraska struggled trying to field kicks against Missouri? Rain was a significant culprit, but blame was also placed on the awkward spin of the ball off a left footed punter. Don’t know if you noticed, but CU had a south-hoof (as opposed to southpaw) punter, too. Paul didn’t have any issues with fielding the ball Friday and his 59 yard punt return for a score was critical after NU’s offense was sputtering with great field position.
Alex Henery. As far as pure punting is concerned, he is not as good as Sam Koch or Kyle Larson. But when it comes to directional kicking and finding a way to pin the other team deep, Henery is as good as they come. Now if we can just get him to find the accuracy on those long field goals……(partially kidding.)
-Go-To Plays Are Gone. Two weeks ago, NU started to rollout Zac Lee to his right on a play action pass to a shallow crossing tight end or receiver. Last week, Kansas State started to snuff it out in the second half. Friday, Colorado had it telegraphed. NU’s bread and butter will still have to be power running with play action off of that look – it’s too late to try and manufacture anything else – but the Huskers will have to open up the playbook a little more against Texas. Rolling out Lee is still a good idea, Watson just needs to find new looks and new pass patterns his receivers can run so that they don’t look so predictable.
-The final touchdown. This is unless you were one that bet the Huskers couldn’t cover the 9-11 point spread that Vegas had them favored. Bo Pelini said afterwards that the play epitomized the performance of his entire team on Friday. Harsh comments? Yes, but I think Bo was sending a message to his team that they have to be razor-sharp next weekend.
The Option. Will Zac Lee’s injury in the third quarter finally convince Watson (and Lee) that they cannot run the sprint option? Lee does not have the runner’s instinct to know when to cut it up inside when the perimeter defense spreads the field wide. The play looks mechanical and forced and is easy to defend when you know the quarterback isn’t adept at running it. Hang your hat on power football and the play action pass, that’s the dance that brought Nebraska through the month of November into the Big 12 title game.
Another one of the “discarded” Huskers is back in the MAC Championship. Last year, Turner Gill shocked college football with his Buffalo Bulls. This year, Frank Solich has Ohio back in the title game and once again the Bobcats will have to face Central Michigan. I have no idea how things would have worked out if Solich had not been fired. But his dismissal was inevitable considering the boob that was running the show around here. We can only be happy for Solich and his “Nebraska-east” program with assistant coaches Tim Albin, Jimmy Burrow, Gerry Gdowski, Ross Els, Keven Lightner all with Nebraska ties.
It’s pretty obvious that the SEC champ and Texas are on a collision course for the BCS Title game. Of course, the Huskers could screw that up in Dallas next week. As far as BCS at-large teams are concerned, here is my pecking order:
2) Boise State
3) Georgia Tech (if they lose ACC title game vs. Clemson)
4) Penn State
6) Oklahoma State
I still think Nebraska is destined for the Holiday Bowl. I don’t know how attractive the Huskers will look to the Cotton Bowl folks having just been in Dallas a month earlier. Sure, the matchup with LSU might be intriguing, but will Nebraskans travel to Texas again? Plus, a Les Miles vs. his old school could be better for the Cotton Bowl. I hope Okie State doesn’t make the Fiesta Bowl “just because” the folks in Arizona want to maintain a Big 12 presence. OSU’s resume is the least attractive of the potential at-large candidates.