The undefeated Texas Longhorns enter Saturday’s Big 12 title tilt against the Nebraska Cornhuskers boasting possibly the nation’s most complete team. UT finished the season ranked 11th nationally in total offense, fifth in total defense, third in scoring offense and ninth in scoring defense. To say the ‘Horns have some Achilles heel teams can attack seems like a major stretch.
The depleted Oklahoma Sooners put up a tough fight when they met up with UT at the Cotton Bowl in October, eventually succumbing in a 16-13 loss. That OU team shares quite a bit in common with this Nebraska squad, which suggests the ‘Huskers could give 14-point favorite Texas a run for its BCS money.
The Great Equalizer(s)
A savage defensive line can play a key role in neutralizing a high-octane offense, as the Sooners showed in the Texas game. OU’s fearsome inside-out combo of Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle and Jeremy Beal at defensive end terrorized UT’s blockers from the jump, wreaking havoc in the Longhorns’ backfield. In DT Ndamukong Suh and DT Jared Crick, Nebraska has a tandem on its front four that can match Beal and McCoy in terms of disruptive ability.
Suh essentially requires two blockers to keep him at bay. The added attention can either open up spots for opportunistic blitzes or help clear a path for Crick, a beast in his own right. Alternatively, if Texas decides to go one on one against Suh with a guard or a center, that’s a battle the ‘Horns are going to lose way more often than not. Either way, accounting for the Crick-Suh tag team will force Texas to adjust its game plan accordingly.
The heat passers feel from Nebraska’s active defensive line can create bad decisions and errant throws. Combine that with a ball-hawking secondary, and you get one of the best pass defenses in the country, with opponents completing just 48 percents of their pass attempts and averaging 5.4 yards per throw.
The Cornhuskers are sturdy against the run as well, giving up 2.98 yards per carry. NU is one of the best when it comes to stopping the run on first down, allowing 3.13 yards per rush. As a result, opponents are forced into obvious passing situations on second and third down. In a 10-3 win over Oklahoma, for instance, Nebraska limited the Sooners to 2.76 yards per rush, forcing OU to throw twice as many times as it ran the ball.
U-G-L-Y, No Alibi for NU
Unfortunately for ‘Husker Nation, much like Oklahoma, NU’s offense is as mediocre as its defense is stout. Nebraska ranks in the bottom half of the country in: scoring offense (25.6 points per game, 72nd overall); rushing offense (4.12 yards per attempt, 69th overall); and passing offense (7.0 yards per attempt, 67th overall). Seeing as Texas has one of the best defenses in the country, this gives the ‘Horns a decisive advantage when Nebraska has the ball.
So what’s Nebraska’s best bet to pull off the upset? Essentially, the ‘Huskers will need to ugly up this game. Big time.
Offensively, NU has no shot at keeping up with Texas in a shootout like what transpired last week when the ‘Horns beat Texas A&M 49-39. The sooner the Nebraska coaching staff accepts that it won’t be able to sustain drives consistently against the Texas D, the better their chances of putting together an effective game plan.
Pelini will likely instruct the Cornhuskers’ offensive coordinator, Shawn Watson, to milk the clock, avoid turnovers and capitalize if the defense puts the ‘Husker O in good spots. Pinning the ‘Horns deep in their own territory is as good as a score, in that respect.
If Texas struggles–using that term in a loose sense–in one facet of the game, it’s running the ball. Therefore, look for Nebraska to exploit this relative weakness by taking a linebacker away from the line of scrimmage or subbing in an extra defensive back to help defend against the quick-hitters and short routes Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis loves so much. Texas fans can attest that Davis’ natural reaction to such defensive adjustments is simply to ignore them and hunker down in his routine. (Maybe it’s more appropriate to say his usual reaction is a non-reaction.)
In the end, Nebraska’s pop-gun offense makes a score from the special teams or defense an imperative if the Cornhuskers want to win this game and get back to the BCS. And that’s assuming everything else goes according to plan.
Nebraska’s a proud program that will be fired up by the opportunity to win the conference crown in Pelini’s second year as head coach. That’s all well and good, but it’s not like Texas doesn’t have anything to play for. Plus, NU needs so much more to breaks its way; Texas’ margin for error is much greater.
My guess is that the Cornhuskers give a game effort, but never really put a serious scare in the ‘Horns.
Texas wins, 28-17, in a game that entertains only those bleeding burnt orange.