The loss to Missouri was a devastating blow to the rebuilding Nebraska Cornhuskers. The holes and weaknesses that were exposed show how vulnerable this Nebraska team can be.
The overtime loss to Texas Tech was a heartbreaker, but the development the Huskers showed from the Missouri loss to this game is significant. Problems were fixed, players came to play, the offense clicked, and the defense held.
In a game many thought would be a runaway, the Huskers very nearly shocked the seventh-ranked team in the country in Lubbock.
Where does that leave us, Husker Nation?
We're left in a must-win situation this weekend in Ames. Nebraska is 3-3 and winless in conference play. A rookie head coach is trying to make changes, and a well-versed quarterback wants to show how knowledge of the playbook can translate to success on the field.
And 4-3 certainly sounds better than 3-4.
Iowa State is not a pushover. They proved that last weekend against Kansas (unless Kansas is a pushover). They can come to play, and when they do, they bring a big game. They have talented receivers and a defense that can make big plays. The Huskers cannot afford to overlook the Cyclones.
With a win over Iowa State, Nebraska would have momentum going into the Baylor game and could very easily be 5-3 before heading to Norman against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners.
Momentum could possibly lead to an upset over the No. 16 Kansas Jayhawks, exposed and vulnerable after a poor performance against Iowa State, and a strong finish against Kansas State and Colorado.
If Nebraska takes care of business, the Huskers could very possibly finish 8-4 and go bowling once again. But that's a very strong "IF." Nebraska cannot afford to have another performance like the one against Missouri. There are a few keys to success the Huskers must use to beat Iowa State this weekend and finish out the season.
Joe Ganz must bring his 'A' game.
We've seen what happens when the man at the helm doesn't come prepared: He makes poor decisions, refuses to air out the ball long, throws over receivers, and cripples Nebraska's offense.
Ganz needs to keep the rhythm he had against Texas Tech and not give up because he threw a game-losing interception. He MUST come through in the clutch.
Nebraska must find its running identity.
Do we run? Do we pass? Will our backs make the plays? Can our offensive line make the blocks? There are too many questions surrounding Nebraska's running game, which was brutally murdered by the previous Callahan regime.
It doesn't matter if the running game is weak and can't be depended on—the coaches and players must, at least, recognize that fact. If the running game is not working, like against Missouri, we need to find other ways to make the yards instead of defaulting to wasting a down or two (or three) on a failing run game.
If the run game DOES show up and our line CAN get the blocks, use it. If not, find a way to make something else work until the running game is fixed.
Nebraska must continue to grow and learn.
If we don't go 8-4, no biggie—it's a rebuilding year, after all. But much can be learned from a season of adversity.
Oklahoma was rebuilding with Bob Stoops in 1999 when they went 7-5. They were able to learn from mistakes and create opportunities for the next season, when they won the national championship. This could happen to Nebraska. The similarities are so many that they warrant further investigation in another article (be looking—I'll write it).
If Nebraska takes the successes and problems to be fixed from this season and learns from them for next year, 2009 could be a great homecoming for Nebraska's national contention.
Throw to Nate Swift.
Texas Tech has Crabtree. Missouri has Maclin. Kansas has Meier—and Nebraska has Nate Swift. When the ball is sent his way, it's like magic happens. He's a big playmaker that had only 20 touches before last weekend.
Allow him to make big plays by throwing him the ball on deeper slant routes that have seldom been stopped when Ganz is given time in the pocket. Let him come through in the clutch.
Swift is arguably the most consistent receiver in Husker memory and could easily be the best in the offense we run. A simple game plan for success: GET HIM THE BALL.
If Nebraska can slow Iowa State's offense and get big stops, while finding a rhythm on offense and getting some yards, they'll win. If Nebraska loses to Iowa State, judging from the Huskers' recent past history, they'll just give up, and the season will be as good as over.