We are now less than 24 hours away from kickoff of one of the most anticipated games for Nebraska in recent history.
There is no need to rehash the last second loss that the Huskers suffered at the hands of Mack Brown and the Longhorns in last years Big 12 Championship game. Simply put, it is that game that has the Husker fans in a frenzy awaiting to exact some revenge on the Bevo Boys.
While Nebraska has held up their end of the bargain in rolling into this game undefeated, Texas is reeling coming off of back-to-back losses for one of the very few times in the Mack Brown era.
Those back-to-back losses make this Texas team extremely dangerous tomorrow.
While we can go through a myriad of statistics illustrating the Longhorns domination over the Huskers as of late, the most striking realization is that Nebraska has NEVER, repeat, NEVER, beat Texas during regular season play as Big 12 members.
Time for a little payback? Maybe. Lets break this game down to its finest of parts.
QB: Without any doubt, the biggest reason for the resurgence of the Husker offense has been the dazzling and electric play of red-shirt freshman Taylor Martinez. Coming off of a season in which the Huskers ranked 99th in the country in total offense, it was supposedly going to be Nebraska's Achilles heel during the 2010 season.
Unbelievable the difference a single player can make.
While Taylor has seemed to master the Zone Read concepts of the new offense, it is his passing that has left a few question marks about his ability to lead the Husker offense. Likely, we'll get our chance to see just how far Taylor has come in that department tomorrow as Muschamp and the Longhorn defense will undoubtedly stack the box to slow down the Huskers powerful run game and force them to throw it effectively in order to gain the win.
Look for a bunch of new wrinkles in the Husker passing attack to be unveiled tomorrow that include more bubble screens, jailbreak screens, quick slants, and other offensive play packages that will look to take advantage of an aggressive Longhorn defense geared to shut down the run.
RB: With the emergence of Taylor, the duo of Helu and Burkhead have been a bit quiet thus far in 2010. While the Husker running backs have been given less chances to carry the football, they have also taken advantage of those chances by both averaging almost 7 yards per carry, or more. Expect this duo to get more touches tomorrow as the Huskers will look to diversify their rushing attack.
WR: Already mentioned above, look for Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie to have a much bigger impact on this contest than any other contest the Huskers have played in this year. Undoubtedly they'll get more looks from Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson, and will be looked upon to create plays for the Huskers in the passing game.
What also can't be forgotten about this unit is their solid down-field blocking that has been extremely important in a number of explosive runs out of the Husker offense thus far this year. Expect the wide receivers to be key in this department once again.
OL: Next to Taylor Martinez, the second most improved unit on the Husker squad this year has been the play of he big uglies up front. You don't average over 330 yards rushing per game with a poor to average offensive line, and this unit has been solid thus far for the Huskers.
Big question: Can the boys up front handle the toughest front seven that they'll face all year? The Husker offensive line will need to handle the solid talents in the Acho brothers along with the big time play-making abilities of Keenan Robinson. If Sam Acho and Kheeston Randle are able to penetrate the Huskers offensive line, it will set up the Horns solid LB crew to make a lot of plays at or near the line of scrimmage.
This is likely the biggest match-up facing the Huskers offense in this game, and a match-up that could easily end up in favor of the Longhorns.
DL: Make no mistake about it, the Huskers have missed the incredible talents of former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. While the defensive line has been solid, it is a far cry from last years dominating front four. Though, to be fair to this unit, they have been exemplary in their gap responsibilities while taking on constant double teams to leave lanes available for Husker LB's and Safeties to be effective in run support.
Look for more of the same out of the Husker front four tomorrow, but also look for more line stunts and up the field pressure from the defensive ends to put pressure square in the face of the young signal-caller from Texas. If there is a weakness that can be exposed on the Texas offense, it is their offensive line that has been extremely average for the Longhorns this season.
LB: The biggest question mark defensively for the Huskers entering the season was the lack of depth and experience at this position.
Enter Lavonte David.
While David was a bit sketchy in early games this season in making proper defensive calls, there is no denying his sideline to sideline abilities in making plays. Alongside David has been solid play put in by both Alonzo Whaley and Eric Martin. Look for this unit to be let loose on some blitzes tomorrow in attempts to rattle the Horns young quarterback as well.
DB: Best in the country? One can easily make an argument that the Huskers have the best secondary in the entire nation. With the solid lock-down cover abilities of Amukamara and Dennard, the safeties have been given a bit more freedom to roam around and make plays in the run and in intercepting errant passes.
The Huskers again will rely heavily upon Prince and Alfonzo to lock-down on the Horns two biggest receiving threats and allow for their safeties, Gomes, and Hagg to make the highlight reel type plays due to their hard work.
QB: Garrett Gilbert has been receiving much of the criticism surrounding Texas' somewhat inept offense thus far this year. However, it is not even close to being near all his fault. While Garrett hasn't played great football, he hasn't exactly stunk it up either. With a run game that has proved to be less than average, and wide receivers unable to get open much less make catches and plays, Gilbert has been under an immense amount of pressure to produce.
Gilbert has all the tools to be yet another great one in the long lineage of great Texas quarterbacks. Keep in mind, he is a true Sophomore and only has five starts to his credit thus far in his Texas career. He is mobile enough to create problems for the Huskers and has one of the strongest arms in all of college football. If the Huskers can't get pressure on Gilbert, he has the abilities to make enough plays even against the Huskers solid secondary.
When all is said and done, Garrett needs a little help from the rest of his offense.
OL: One word can explain this unit thus far. Ugly. I'm not sure that many would argue that this year's Longhorn offensive line may well be the worst offensive line that Mack Brown has put together in his stint at Texas.
The offensive line for Texas must be able to open up some running lanes for their RB's in order to take pressure off of their young quarterback. With the Husker defense having given up some solid numbers in the run game, it isn't out of the question that Texas will able to create some running lanes. If Texas can get 150 yards on the ground, it will give Gilbert some time in the pocket to exploit the Husker defense with short passes and clock controlling drives that can shorten the game.
RB: The musical chairs at the running back position for the Horns has been a problem thus far in 2010. Tre Newton, Fozzy Whitaker, Cody Johnson, and DJ Monroe have all been given their share of carries. None of them has stepped up to show that they want the starting job thus far.
However, make no mistake about it, these guys are talented, and if given running lanes they can make things happen running the football. Newton and Monroe are explosive shifty running backs while Whitaker and Johnson can pack a powerful punch. Texas running backs have a long history of having dominating performances against the Huskers, and often times it has been the lesser known guys who have delivered outstanding performances against the Huskers.
WR: Outside of the offensive line, maybe the most uninspiring play for Texas has been from their wide receiver unit. Williams, Kirkendoll, Chiles, Davis, and Goodwin are all extremely talented players that just haven't been consistent enough to give Gilbert a true 'go to' guy yet this season.
Goodwin is the game-breaking speedster that could erupt in Lincoln if given the chance, and Davis is on the brink of having a break-through performance. While the Texas wide receivers have been unimpressive thus far, they have the ability to make any defense look bad on any given day. One should fully expect some new wrinkles out of this bunch as Texas will look to get the ball in their play-makers hands as early and often as possible.
If the Huskers aren't able to get enough pressure on Gilbert, any one of these guys can step up and make Nebraska pay.
DL: The Texas defensive line is one of the most talented and deepest defensive lines in the entire country. Sam Acho and Eddie Jones are a spectacular one-two punch at defensive end and Kheeston Randle and Tyrell Higgins aren't exactly chopped liver at defensive tackle either.
These guys can easily create some havoc up front for the Huskers and can create enough up the field pressure to create problems for the Huskers Zone Read as well as Taylor looking to throw from the pocket. Muschamp is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, and I have little doubt that he'll bring in some new wrinkles to slow down the Husker run game along with pressuring Martinez into some poor and youthful decisions.
LB: Yes, this unit was gashed a bit by the UCLA pistol offense, but most of their struggles in that game can be attributed to simply being out of position. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho form one of the more solid linebacker duos in the entire country, and Robinson has a knack of making huge plays at critical times for this defense.
Look for Robinson and Acho to be 'spying' on Taylor Martinez as the Longhorn defense looks to slow down the Huskers dazzling, yet young, signal-caller. Martinez has shown that he can cough up the football, and one should fully expect the Texas linebackers to greet Martinez as unkindly as any crew the Huskers have faced this season.
DB: While you can argue that Nebraska may have the best secondary in the country, you can also make a very compelling argument that Texas is the best as well. Williams and Brown are as solid as Amukamara and Dennard and Blake Gideon is one of the best safeties in the entire Big 12.
If the front seven from Texas can cause enough problems for the Husker run game, the Texas secondary is more than capable of handling the Husker wide receivers in the passing game. However, if the Texas safeties are forced to be a big contributor for supporting against the run, the Texas safeties aren't as agile in years past to recover against Nebraska if they can get people open over the top. While this may sound like a familiar tune, the Texas secondary will be the best the Huskers face all season.
Nebraska has one of, if not the best, combination Kicker/Punter in the country in Alex Henery. In what may likely be a low scoring contest, it could well end up being his foot that makes the difference in this game.
Both teams have struggled this year on kick off and punt coverage as both rank in the lower half of the nation in both statistical categories. This could prove to be a critical phase of the game in which a punt return or kickoff return could spark either team to a victory.
The game is in Lincoln, and you'll likely see the loudest and rowdiest Husker crowd we have seen in Lincoln dating back to the 2001 Oklahoma game in which the crowd played an important part in that victory.
This game has been circled on the Nebraska calendar ever since the schedule was finalized for this season. The Husker players also have that same sour taste in their mouth since the Big 12 Championship game.
However, the Longhorns have owned the Huskers this decade, and beating an opponent for the first time after a long losing drought is always tough to overcome.
I fully expect a low scoring defensive field position battle to be waged between these two collegiate powerhouses. While it is easy to say the Huskers could well dominate this contest, make no mistakes in undervaluing the Texas defense, and in particular their front seven that are as talented, big, and fast a unit as Nebraska will see all season.
Look for Texas to stack the box and force Nebraska to beat them with Martinez throwing the ball along with long and sustained drives that the Huskers haven't been forced to do all season. Texas also has enough horses to take advantage of a Husker defense that has shown an ability to give up rushing yards to opponents who are willing to be patient and grind out long offensive possessions.
Texas has well more than enough talent to beat Nebraska, and are riding into Lincoln as angry a bunch as any Texas team Nebraska has ever faced coming off of two straight humbling defeats.
While it should be a tough and physical battle in the trenches, look for Nebraska to have enough explosive plays to keep the Longhorns defense off-kilter a bit.
Nebraska wins, but it will be another thriller in Lincoln that will likely go down to the wire. Keep in mind, Texas was all of a Landry Jones 'tipped' fumble away from going for two to tie up their game with Oklahoma in a contest that Texas didn't play all that well.
Nebraska 20 Texas 16