Nebraska's showdown on Saturday with the Longhorns could very well make or break the Huskers season. A win, and the Huskers are sitting pretty to make not only a Big 12 title run, but potentially a national title run. A loss, and Nebraska will be forced to regroup in a hurry as they have tough back-to-back games against Missouri and Oklahoma State the next two weeks. Husker Nation has been looking forward to this game ever since their hearts were broken when Texas defeated Nebraska with a controversial ending to the Big 12 title game last year, destroying Big Red's BCS game hopes and launching Texas into the national title game against Alabama.
It's not just the fans that have had this game circled on the calender all year, despite what the players and coaches might say. The title game loss, in which a single second was put back on the clock, allowing the Longhorns to kick the game winning field goal, has become a huge motivational tool for the Nebraska players and staff. At one point in the Husker locker room, pieces of paper that read ":01" were attached to each locker. The players also wore bracelets that state the same.
Now don't take it the wrong way, this isn't Nebraska saying they were screwed out of the Big 12 championship. The term is used as a way for the Huskers to remind themselves to focus on finishing games. Fans can debate whether or not the Huskers had the title stolen from them, but the fact of the matter is Nebraska made several crucial mistakes on that final Texas drive that put the Longhorns in position to win. If those miscues don't happen, the controversial ending doesn't happen.
I think the Huskers will be extremely motivated for the match up, but a look a history shows a win is going to be a very tough task for Pelini's squad. In his time as Texas head coach, Mack Brown...
- Is 7-1 against the Huskers.
- Is undefeated in the game after the Red River Rivalry.
- Has never lost three regular season games in a row.
- Is undefeated in Lincoln.
While those stats really don't have an affect this weekend, they sure are alarming.
For the Blackshirts to shutdown the Texas offense, they must force sophomore Garrett Gilbert to make tough decisions and force some throws. The Longhorn offense has been a huge disappointment this season after having an immense amount of success while Colt McCoy was under center. Mack Brown wanted to change things up for the 2010 season by attempting to install more of a power running game with Gilbert being a drop back passer. That hasn't worked out too well. The anemic Texas offense is currently ranked 82nd in rushing, 65th in passing and 71st overall. Not exactly what Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis had in mind.
The Longhorns have plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and I think many of their issues come from the offensive line. Like I mentioned, Texas migrated from more of a spread offense to a power offense, which is a huge adjustment for an offensive line. I think those adjustments are playing a major part in their struggles this season. That being said, I have a feeling Saturday is going to be a great day for the Blackshirts.
Nebraska silenced some critics last week by shutting down one of the best running backs in the country. The Huskers should easily be able to take care of the Texas ground game, which means Garrett Gilbert will be forced to pass against one of the nation's best secondaries. I also think Pelini has held back a lot of his defensive looks, which means Gilbert is going to have very little time in the pocket. Texas scrapped their conservative approach in the second half of their game two weeks ago against Oklahoma and had a fair amount of success. Don't be surprised to see Texas take their chances and throw the ball down field.
For the Nebraska offense to have success, it's pretty obvious they need to be able to run the ball. Texas has shown they are very vulnerable against the run, but their defense is also built to stop spread offenses similar to what Nebraska runs. I think the biggest advantage for the Huskers is how well Taylor Martinez is at running the zone read.
Numerous times in Texas's loss to UCLA, the Bruins were able to suck in the defense, causing them to bite on the fake, giving quarterback Kevin Prince room take off down the sideline for several big plays. I don't think any quarterback in the country does a better job of reading the defense, putting the ball in the running back's gut and pulling it out than Taylor Martinez.
I look for Nebraska to have a good amount of success with the zone read, but I also expect Nebraska to open the playbook a bit more, as they haven't had to show many much through their first five games. Much of UCLA's success came out of the pistol formation, which Oklahoma also ran a little against the Longhorns the following week. Don't be surprised if you see the Huskers give it a shot as well.
On the other hand, if Texas can somehow stop the run, it could be a rough afternoon for Martinez. Taylor has been very efficient through the air so far, but Texas is right up there with Nebraska with the talent they have in their secondary. That doesn't bode well for the redshirt freshman. I can see Martinez having success with the play action, but the Longhorn defense will be licking their chops if the California native is forced into obvious passing situations.
Nebraska should be pretty successful on the ground, but I wouldn't expect anywhere near 400 yards like we saw last Thursday. If I had to take a guess, I would say both Martinez and either Burkhead or Helu will hover around the 100 yard mark. I think the Huskers will come out victorious, but it's going to mainly be thanks to the Nebraska defense.
The Husker defensive line and secondary is the toughest the Longhorns will face all year and it will show on Saturday. The teams will trade blows early in the game, but Nebraska's offense will eventually wear down the Longhorn defense as the Huskers pull away late in the game. Nebraska remains undefeated, taking down Texas for the first time since 1999.
Prediction: Nebraska 31 - Texas 17