Last Saturday's highly anticipated showdown with Texas didn't exactly go to plan for Nebraska. Thankfully, the Huskers will get a quick chance to redeem themselves yet again on national television (ABC) as they travel down to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on No. 14 (6-0) Oklahoma State.
Despite the Cowboys being undefeated, it's tough to tell just how good they truly are. Much like the Huskers, Oklahoma State has played some fairly weak opponents throughout the first half of the season. Nebraska struggled at home with South Dakota State, while the Cowboys needed every bit of the 60 minutes to squeak past Troy at home last month. However, if there's something that been consistent throughout those six games, it's the explosive OSU offense.
Coming into the season, the Cowboys looked to be in rebuilding mode after the loss of wide receiver Dez Bryant and quarterback Zac Robinson. But the reemergence of a now healthy running back Kendall Hunter and the surprise play of junior quarterback Brandon Weeden has brought the Cowboys from the land of the unranked, all the way up into the top 15.
This game will be an extremely tough test for the Nebraska defense. If Kendall Hunter, who already has 830 yards rushing in 2010, can get the ground game going, it could open up the chance for the Cowboys to take some shots down field with the play action. There's no question the Blackshirts are by far the best defense the Cowboys will have faced so far, but a strong performance from Hunter will open up the playbook for the OSU offense and make things very tough on the Huskers.
On the other hand, Bo Pelini has typically done a great job of getting his team to adjust and get back on track after tough losses. Husker linebacker Will Compton (who returned to game action last week after sitting out the team's first five games) could play a major role in this game. It's expected that Compton, who continues to get healthier, will get increased playing time this week which will do wonders for the run defense.
If Comtpon and the Blackshirts can shutdown Hunter and the run game, Brandon Weeden could be in for a long afternoon. Weeden hasn't very limited mobility, so I would expect Pelini to mix things up in an attempted to confuse Weeden and give him looks he hasn't seen this season. A key matchup to watch will be either Prince Amukamara or Alfonzo Dennard on OSU receiver Justin Blackmon. The sophomore has exploded onto the college football scene with 955 yards already this season, along with 12 touchdowns. But the Nebraska secondary is far and beyond better anything Blackmon has seen this year. It will be interesting to see how much of a factor he's actually able to be on Saturday.
I know Husker Nation is disappointed after the lackluster play by the Nebraska offense in the loss to Texas. But don't get too discouraged. Texas is easily the fastest, most athletic defense the Huskers will face all season. Oklahoma State's defense is among the worst in the conference, and I think it will show this weekend.
The Cowboys currently rank 92nd in total defense (36th against the run, 114th against the pass). While 36th might not appear to be too bad, I think it's appropriate to point out that of the teams they've face, not many had very good rushing attacks. In fact, if you take the average of the teams rushing offenses OSU has faced, it equals out to be 75, which is well below average.
Nebraska should be able to get back to running the ball and have success doing so. The OSU defense simply doesn't have the type of athletes that can keep up with Martinez like the Longhorns did. Even though Pelini stated after the game Saturday that Taylor Martinez is still the team's quarterback, don't be surprised if Zac Lee gets a few series as well. Lee looked solid against a great secondary, and I think Pelini and Watson want to get him in the game in case they need someone to change the pace or if something were to happen to Martinez.
I also wouldn't be surprised to see Martinez throw the ball a bit more. He may not have looked very pretty doing so, but Martinez was for 4-10 passing at halftime against Texas with six dropped passes. While all those passes weren't perfect, you don't have to be a math genius to figure out how impressive his passing stats would have been had they been caught.
For whatever reason, Nebraska seems to play much better on the road with Pelini at the helm than they do at home. I think Saturday's gut-wrenching loss will have the Big Red motivated to prove that it wasn't the real Huskers that fans saw on the field. I think the combination of Nebraska having the best rushing offense and defense Oklahoma State has faced this season will ultimately pay off for the Huskers as they bounce back and take down a top 15 on the road for the first time since a 27-14 win at Washington in 1997.
Prediction: Nebraska 35 - Oklahoma State 24